With the exception of a handful of episodes, every installment of Six Feet Under began with a death. Some were gruesome. Some were quiet and peaceful. Occasionally there was one that made you chuckle with gallows humor in spite of yourself.
Which ones stood out among the dozens upon dozens of deaths after five seasons?
Putting aside the episodes involving Nate’s season two operation and his season five death — and the eighth episode of the fourth season where the first death didn’t occur until four minutes in — the opening scenes of the rest of the Six Feet Under episodes contained a death.
The pilot episode’s first full scene began with Nathaniel Fisher Sr. alive for a precious few minutes. It was Christmas Eve and he was crooning along with Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” while happily driving his new hearse and puffing away on a cigarette. He playfully fielded a cell phone call from a mildly irritated Ruth who called to ask if he’d taken his blood pressure medication then chastised him about how smoking would cause him to “die a slow and horrible death.” Ironically, after he tossed the cigarette out the window at his wife’s behest, it was his reaching for another cigarette after he got off the phone and preparing to light it that distracted him. He didn’t see the bus coming. Bam! Six Feet Under’s first casualty.
In several episodes, the writers tried to fake viewers out, getting them to think that one person was going to meet his or her maker, only to have another person unexpectedly die instead. Or they just had a mountain lion leap out of nowhere and maul a hiker, or an irate former telemarketer appear to mow down his colleagues with a shotgun. It must’ve been challenging trying to come up with unique ways for people to expire over the course of all those episodes.
And there sure were some really grisly deaths, such as the elevator accident in season four and the accidental impalement on an andiron in season five. There were some that were just heartbreaking, like Gabe’s younger brother accidentally shooting himself with a handgun, the baby who died of SIDS and the twentysomething man who was beaten to death after sharing a sweet moment with his boyfriend, all of which occurred in the first season. Others were downright bizarre, like the woman who was electrocuted in the bathtub after her cat knocked her electric curler set into the water and the woman who was killed when “blue ice” fell off a passenger plane and landed on top of her.
By my count, there were nine deaths related to motor vehicles, eight due to violent acts, 16 which happened accidentally, 19 that occurred due to disease or natural causes, three suicides and four involving drugs and/or alcohol. Five children died.
As for the most notable Six Feet Under deaths — other than the ones of major characters, particularly Nate’s and those in the stunningly affecting series finale that haunts me to this day — here they are by season:
Season one: The bread dough machine accident, the handgun accident involving a 6-year-old, the lethal conk on the side of the head with a cast iron skillet by a wife who was annoyed by her husband and the murder of a twentysomething man by violent homophobes.
Season two: A motor vehicle accident involving Santa Claus riding his motorcycle and the death by asphyxiation after a nursing home patient stuffed a hot dog down her irritating roommate’s throat.
Season three (which opened with viewers uncertain as to whether Nate died during surgery at the tail-end of season two): The killer nose bleed experienced by a woman in a crisp white suit while she was standing in line to attend the taping of a TV talk show, and the odd string of events, all related to a single bird, which ended with a woman’s death by blue ice which fell from an airplane and hit her on the head in her backyard as her husband listened on a cell phone with spotty coverage.
Season four: The “Rapture” car accident which occurred after a woman who was listening to a religious program in her car (which had an “I Brake for the Rapture” bumper sticker) saw helium-filled sex dolls floating through the air, thought they were angels and ran out into traffic; the death by distraction (GPS, BlueTooth/cell phone, video games) four members of a tech-obsessed family were killed after the father looked away from the road, and that awful elevator incident which literally ripped a man in half as he was trying to help others exit an elevator that was stuck between floors when it suddenly gave way.
Season five: The andiron death which happened after a woman’s boyfriend shoved her out of a chair he’d bought her and she landed, face-first (actually, eye-first) into an andiron he’d purchased for her.
Which Six Feet Under deaths, other than those of the main characters, do you think were most memorable?