How fragile is my emotional state if a TV show can plunge me into a clinical depression? I’ve had such a challenging week and I can trace this latest visit to the Dark Side to my viewing of the “Six Feet Under” finale last Sunday. I’ve already written about that show twice in the past month and I don’t want you to think I’m the Fisher family equivalent of a Trekkie or one of those Star Wars nuts who wants to argue the physics of hyperspeed (oh, wait, maybe I am!). My first two “Six Feet Under” posts had more to do with my recent interview with Jill Soloway, writer and co-executive producer of the show. Her insanely funny book of essays, “Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants,” has just hit the stores, and if you’re in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, or Chicago, you should try to catch one of her upcoming book signings which are going to be part reading and part musical variety show. In New York and L. A. she’s going to have some of the great “Six Feet Under” actresses (Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Justina Machado, Maggie Holmes, Lili Taylor, and Ileana Douglas) on stage with her reading chapters from the book. Take a look at Jill’s cool website for more info.
As you know if you watched the finale (and if you didn’t see it yet, excuse the spoiler), the last 10 minutes of the show consisted of flash forwards to the future death scenes of every member of the Fisher clan (Nate Fisher had already died three episodes earlier) plus Nate’s wife Brenda Chenowith, David Fisher’s husband Keith, and the Fishers’ business partner Federico Diaz. It wasn’t the death of these fictional characters that freaked me out so much. Well, that’s not entirely true, it actually was quite jarring to watch these people kick the bucket, one after the other, even though most of them lived to a ripe old age. Ruth was the first to go, in 2025, in a Glendale hospital room surrounded by a much older David, Claire, and, George Sibley, who, what a surprise, had stuck around after all. Keith Charles was next, a few years after his wedding to David (gay marriages must have become legal some time in the late 2020s). Now the owner of his own security company, he is gunned down on one of his armored trucks. David drops dead in 2044 at a large family outing in Echo Park at the age of 75, and Rico is right behind him, keeling over while on a cruise in Puerto Rico with Vanessa, his wife of 54 years. 82-year-old Brenda’s last moments in 2052 were spent listening to her brother Billy (wearing by far the best aging makeup of the bunch) still talking about Claire after all those years and blathering on about emotional closure. Did Brenda die of boredom? Finally, we move to 2085 where we find 102-year-old Claire lying in her bed surrounded by the photographs she’s taken over the preceding decades. We see a close-up of her ancient eyes, covered by cataracts, as the old woman takes her final breath. These eyes then dissolve back into those of the young Claire, driving off to her new life, laden with hope and possibility. Oy.
The multiple death scenes, extending 80 years into the future, were a fitting end to a series that never shied away from looking at death head on. It purposely and brazenly denied us those comforting frozen-in-time images that we store in our memory banks when we visit our favorite characters for the last time. Can you imagine if the last episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore” had concluded not with Mary turning out the lights at WJM-TV Studios and walking out into an exciting future, but instead with an image of an elderly woman in a nursing home suddenly dropping her container of chocolate pudding as the fade to white revealed the words “Mary Richards, 1938 – 2023”? That much closure I do not need. Sometimes TV shows kill off characters quite unexpectedly such as when McLean Stevenson’s Lt. Colonel Henry Blake left “M*A*S*H” in 1975. We were all convinced that Blake would soon be having a raucously fun life stateside (that we’d possibly see in a spinoff) and we were horrified to hear that his departing plane got shot down before it even left Korean airspace. A harsh blow but an effective one considering the long-running series was about war and had never suffered a casualty among its cast. Sometimes TV deaths had more to do with actors’ contract negotiations than plot development. Remember the infamous Moldavian Massacre on the 1985 season finale of “Dynasty” when virtually the entire cast of the show was gunned down at Catherine Oxenberg’s wedding to a European prince? Come September, the folks whose agents had not alienated the producers had miraculously survived the hailstorm of bullets.
So, yes, it was a shock to see the Fishers bite the dust, one after the other, but what really knocked me for a loop was how this episode shoved my own mortality in my face. You’d think by the age of 45 (okay, I turn 46 a week from Sunday), I’d have long ago accepted the idea that we’re all going to die, every single one of us, every person living on my block, everyone who reads my blog, every kid in Leah’s class, and every newborn baby. I do understand that, of course, but it all seems so intangible, so vague, so much a part of an “I’ll think about that tomorrow” future, despite the fact that we could all get hit by a bus in the next hour.
When I went into Leah’s room on Monday morning, all I could imagine was her at 97, an old woman whose parents had died decades earlier. Who would be in her life? Would she be all alone? How would she die? Kendall woke up and I practically saw her fade to white in front of my eyes with the slow dissolve to those awful birth and death years appearing under her name and daring me to look. Wherever I went that day, the message was loud and clear: we’re all going to die so WHAT’S THE FREAKING POINT? Obviously this notion of looking into the future and seeing when we’re going to die was hitting some huge pre-existing stuff for me, I’m not really blaming “Six Feet Under” for my mental illness! It ties in with a general fear of the future that I’ve been grappling with for several months now. Where I used to daydream about the years ahead in such an excited way, convinced that so many fantastic things were in store for me and my loved ones, lately when my mind wanders to the future I experience more terror than anything else. Which loved one is next to die? What will my career be like in 10, 20, 30 years? What college will Leah go to? How will I ever afford it? What physical challenges will I and the people I know be facing in the coming years? What world conflicts will we be going through?
STOP! I know that a big part of the answer is to live IN THE MOMENT and I’m often able to do that and experience all the tiny joys of daily life, but this week it was difficult. Throwing myself into work was helpful, despite the tiny voice in the back of my head saying “What are we doing anything for? What does anything mean?” I do know that I am supremely grateful that it is NOT possible to fast forward to our deaths like they did on “Six Feet Under” and know how it’s all going to turn out. My biggest realization of the week is that I DON’T WANT TO KNOW, I want to get there slowly but surely and have it all be a surprise. When I was about 12 my sister and I were playing with a Ouija board and I asked the “spirits” when I was going to die. With our fingers lightly touching each end of the pointer, it slowly moved on its own across the board. First to 2… then 0… then 3… and finally to 1. 2031? Yikes, do I really have to die at the age of 72? I thought I had dismissed that episode as total nonsense but you can see I never forgot the date. (I didn’t want to scare my family so I added 10 years to my life in the above obituary!) Oh hell, I thought writing about these difficult feelings was supposed to make me feel better but now I feel even more anxious than when I started. Do I need medication? A drink? Just a little more time, I guess.