Spoiler Warning: The following review contains mild spoilers for the previous four seasons of Six Feet Under (and this one, to a lesser extent). If you haven't seen 'em already, keep those eyes squinted.
A funny thing happened to Alan Ball's Six Feet Under (2001-2005) on the way to the graveyard. It's a rare feat when any series runs its course through a few seasons---in this case, five---and comes to a close under its own power. The network didn't cancel it. The creative team didn't run out of good stories to tell. Fans didn't abandon it. It actually went out with a bang, something that your average television series usually can't do. Actually, I'd rank this fifth season of Six Feet Under right near the top: it may not reach the consistent heights that the show enjoyed during its first two years, but it comes very, very close. The fact that it follows a pair of seasons that gradually declined in balance and overall quality makes this resurrection and eventual death all the more satisfying.
After wading through the fourth year of Six Feet Under, my expectations were lowered. Each character suffered their share of abuse, often never getting enough recovery time to keep things moving---a problem which affected most viewers, as well. Though the larger picture dictates that we've got to go through darkness to truly recognize and appreciate light, this doesn't make the darkness any easier to stomach when we're in the middle of it. For this reason, it took a few episodes for Season Five to dig itself out of this emotional hole...but once it got going, Six Feet Under did a fantastic job of maintaining the balance that made the initial seasons work so well.
For starters, the beginning of several new chapters takes a few of our main characters in refreshing directions. Nate and Brenda finally embraced marriage together (not to be outdone by their attempts at having a second child), while David and Keith try their hands at adopting children of their own. Rico continues to fly solo for awhile, though his heart belongs to Vanessa and their family. Claire actually meets a nice enough guy, even though their political affiliations don't exactly match up. Newer characters begin to make themselves known, including George's daughter Maggie, who gets involved with Nate just before a critical time in his life. Ruth, however, proves to be the most interesting character this time around, by and large. Her loyalty to George is on the rocks, she loses several people very important to her and an old flame comes back into her life. She's as moody and frustrated as ever, but her emotional responses hold our interest the whole way through.
As much as the characters react with the outside world---not to mention the joyful and tragic events that life throws at them---it's their interaction with one another that accounts for the most memorable moments. Whether it's a night out with the kids, a family dinner or simply grieving together, the Fishers and those who love them are at their best when they're unified---a fact that's evident in this season, more than ever. The first few years showed many of them gradually coming together from outside lives; this final season fully realizes what these characters really mean to each other, and to us. In more ways than one, it's pretty difficult not to think of them as real people.
The fact that a show like Six Feet Under created such an illusion during the course of only five short seasons is a testament to both the writers and actors themselves. By the time one member of the Fisher family passes away with several episodes to go, it's hard not to feel like you've lost a friend. Even more moving are the closing minutes of "Everybody's Waiting", the 75-minute series finale, which stands tall as one of the finest conclusions to any television series in recent memory. While all of the 12 episodes in this season don't quite fire on all cylinders, the strength of the ending alone is enough to make this season extremely satisfying. Here's what's included in this five-disc set:
Complete Episode Listing
(12 total, presented on 5 single-sided discs)
NOTE: Individual Episode Recaps can be viewed here.
Disc One: A Coat of White Primer (First Aired on 6/6/05),
Dancing for Me (First Aired on 6/13/05)
Disc Two: Hold My Hand (First Aired on 6/20/05),
Time Flies* (First Aired on 6/27/05), Eat a Peach (First Aired on 7/4/05)
Disc Three: Rainbow of Her Reasons* (First Aired on 7/10/05),
The Silence* (First Aired on 7/17/05),
Singing for Our Lives (First Aired on 7/24/05)
Ecotone* (First Aired on 7/31/05),
All Alone (First Aired on 8/7/05), Static* (First Aired on 8/14/05)
Everybody's Waiting* (First Aired on 8/21/05)
* - Includes Optional Audio Commentary
As usual, the episodes do a fine job of standing on their own, but HBO has paired them with an excellent technical presentation and a few bonus features that help ease the pain of the series' passing. Those who loved Six Feet Under right from the start---no matter if you liked Seasons Three and Four or not---will certainly be pleased with the closing moments of the series. There's good times and bad, but everything ends with a profound state of excitement, closure and satisfaction. If you aren't deeply moved by the time the final curtain falls, perhaps you should check your pulse.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Right on par with Season Four, the final crop of episodes is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks as good as ever. Flesh tones are natural (dead or alive), black levels are solid and there are no major digital problems to speak of. Audio mixes are available in English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, as well as English, Spanish or French 2.0 Surround. This dialogue-driven show doesn't always make use of every channel, but there are plenty of instances where the atmosphere really fills out nicely. English, Spanish and French subtitles are provided for the episodes only, as well as Closed Captioning.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
If you enjoyed the presentation for previous seasons, you'll be glad to know that it hasn't changed much. The beautiful animated menus (seen above) are simple and easy to navigate, offering a somber atmosphere that suits the series well. Each episode is presented with 6 chapter stops and no layer change was detected during playback. Unfortunately, HBO continues to offer summaries on each episode selection screen, so be careful what you're looking at to remain spoiler-free. Of course, the packaging still looks great: this five-disc set is housed in a foldout digipak case, which rests peacefully inside a sturdy outer box. Several promotional inserts also sit loosely in the package.
We don't get a perfect batch of bonus features here, but it's safe to say that Season Five holds the most overall. First up are a series of six Audio Commentaries: "Time Flies" features writer Craig Wright and director Alan Poul, "Rainbow of Her Reasons" features actress Frances Conroy and writer Jill Soloway, "The Silence" features writer Bruce Eric Kaplan and director Joshua Marston, "Ecotone" features director Daniel Minahan, "Static" features actors Michael C. Hall and Lauren Ambrose, and "Everbody's Waiting" features creator, writer and director Alan Ball.
It's especially nice to finally hear from some of the cast, though Hall and Ambrose are fairly silent during their track. It's a real shame we couldn't hear from Peter Krause, Rachel Griffiths, Freddy Rodriguez, Matthew St. Patrick, James Cromwell and many more---their insight would have been especially nice, especially during the last few episodes. The bulk of these commentaries are fairly low-key, though Ball, Marston, Conroy and Soloway deliver especially interesting tracks.
The rest of the bonus features are held on the last disc---not counting the Season Four Recap, Series Index and the "Previously On / Next On" Segments, of course. First up is a two-part retrospective documentary entitled "Six Feet Under: 2001-2005" (45:56 total); we not only hear from members of the creative team like creator Alan Ball (above left) and several of the writers, but most of the cast is on hand to offer a few comments as well. As far as the format goes, it's fairly standard (set design, characters, etc.), but the strength of the material itself makes this interesting enough.
A related documentary called "Life and Loss: The Impact of Six Feet Under" is next (above right, 27:54); it's very similar in tone, but it covers the show's influence and technical accuracy. The extras close out with Bonus Music from the soundtrack "Everything Ends", including a track listing and the opening theme remixed by Fila Brazilia. Overall, it's a nice assortment that fans should enjoy.
Easily one of the best shows in recent memory, Six Feet Under successfully rebounded from a shaky fourth season and went out in style. The closing episode is particularly strong---enough so that you'll likely forget a few small missteps along the way---while the acting, writing, music and production values are uniformly excellent throughout. The DVD treatment from HBO is another highlight, featuring an excellent technical presentation and several interesting bonus features to sweeten the pot. Overall, this is most satisfying package yet for fans of Six Feet Under---and let's face it, it's always nice to see a landmark television series end on a high note. Very, very Highly Recommended.
DVD Talk Review Link: Previous Seasons of Six Feet Under
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.