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In honor of the 15th anniversary of Six Feet Under, which first premiered on HBO on June 3, 2001, creator Alan Ball opens up about the series’ iconic finale.
For Ball, the final sequence -- Claire (Lauren Ambrose) in her Toyota Prius, driving cross country from Los Angeles to New York City as Six Feet Under flashes forward to show the finals days of the Fisher family ending with Claire’s own death -- still resonates with tons of emotion, even 11 years after the series went off the air.
Even after all these years when I watch it, I don't cry but I’m on the verge of crying. It's the culmination of five years of my life and the culmination of everybody’s who worked on the show.
When we convened for season five, we knew it was going to be the last season. So, for the first time, we had to come up with the ending of the season first. There were a lot of ideas going around and some of them completely crazy like the discussion of Ruth developing Alzheimer’s disease and talk of there being a terrorist nuclear attack on Los Angeles and the whole season would be the Fishers working out a post-apocalyptic world. These didn't make sense to me.
Then somebody at the table said, “We should kill everybody.” Everybody laughed like it was a joke, but the more we talked about it, the more we realized that's exactly what we should do. That is exactly the organic way that the series needs to end. We should be with every character at the time of their death. It started out that way with Nathaniel's (Peter Krause) death and to end it that way seemed to feel like coming full circle.
We wanted Claire to be the last one because she's the youngest one. She was the one going off into the future. It made sense for Ruth (Frances Conroy) to be the first one because she's the oldest. But there wasn’t any particular reason for the chronology. It was a mixture of things, where they were age-wise in their lives and also what worked.
As we were shooting that final sequence in particular, something sort of “meta” happened. It had become like a family, we all working together on a thing. We had tremendous respect for each other. We liked each other. And it was fun to go to work, believe it or not, even though the subject matter was incredibly dark.
The last day of shooting was Claire and the Prius in the desert. I got to go up in a helicopter, which was really fun. (But everything else was actually shot throughout the episode by the time we got to the last day of filming.) When we wrapped, Lauren was emotional and she said, “It's so weird. It feels like I grew up on this show.”
My big emotional moment was when the family all gathered for dinner and toasted Nate. That certainly felt like you were saying goodbye to a big part of yourself. I started crying at the monitor.
I didn't watch it when it aired -- I had seen it probably 50 times at that point. There was no moment of, like, “Oh, wow,” but there certainly was an appreciation of how powerful the final scene was. I was relieved about that because it did seem to end in a way that felt satisfying and it’s so final. It also maintained a lot of what the show is about, life in the constant presence of death.
The entire series of Six Feet Under is now streaming on HBO GO and HBO Now.