People die a lot in Six Feet Under. In (almost) every episode, in fact. But five seasons of at least one death per episode didn’t prepare me for Nate (Peter Krause) biting the bullet in “All Alone,” the third-to-last episode of the series.
Nate finds out he has a deadly brain problem called an AVM in the first season, so he decides to get a risky surgery to fix it. We’re prepared for his death at this point– he sets up his affairs, even discussing his funeral wishes with brother David (Michael C. Hall). But he survives the surgery, and he’s in the clear. So we think. At the end of the last season, Nate’s AVM returns and he almost dies, but doesn’t. He’s in the clear again! Phew. Except not actually, because he suddenly passes away in his hospital bed post-surgery. This isn’t even the worst part though. The worst part is the episode following his death, the one showing everyone dealing — or not dealing, in classic Fisher fashion– with it.
The raved-about finale is powerful and beautiful, no doubt. Seeing everyone meet their respective ends was a tear-fest, not only because six — six! — major characters died, but because realizing that everyone does indeed die, even fictional TV characters, is brutal. In the finale though, we don’t get to see how anyone responded to those deaths. In “All Alone,” the response to death is all we see.
The burial scene in this episode is as close as you can get to going to a funeral without actually going to a funeral. There’s little dialogue, but David’s body language is all it needs to be heartbreaking. After the first attempt to lift Nate into the pit fails and his limp body falls to the ground, David clenches his face in horror as he turns away. Once Nate is in, David is the first to take a shovel and throw dirt over the body while his face turns ugly with tears. And when David cries, I cry. Its sadness isn’t the reason why I’ll never get over it though, but rather its raw depiction of grief. Six Feet Under isn’t so much a show about death as it’s a show about coping with death, and this episode exemplifies that. Death may be inevitable, but it doesn’t take away the pain it brings. Even David, Ruth (Frances Conroy), and Claire (Lauren Ambrose), who experience death on a daily basis, aren’t immune to it.
Then there’s Brenda (Rachel Griffiths). Brenda is living my worst fear: Losing someone close to you at a moment of tension in the relationship. Maybe “tension” is an understatement, since Nate straight-up says he doesn’t want to be together anymore before his death, but either way, they’re not on good terms when he dies. People lose their partners on TV all the time, but what’s different about Brenda is that she didn’t just lose her partner. She lost her partner and she’s carrying his baby, and she’s mothering his daughter, and he didn’t even want to be with her at the end. Basically, things are rough for Brenda. That’s what’s memorable about her character in this episode: She’s not just another TV wife crying over her dead husband’s grave. She’s trying to figure out how to process these feelings of grief that are just as complicated as her relationship with Nate was. And then here I am, feeling sad that this character I really liked is dead but also feeling anger toward him for leaving Brenda the way he did. Grief is complicated. Death is complicated.
The first time I watched “All Alone,” I cried as if someone close to me had just died. I also did that the second time… and the third time. Even watching Parenthood is emotional, because I see Krause as Adam Braverman on the show and occasionally have a moment of delusion where I think “Is Nate back?” (The answer is no, in case you were wondering.) Maybe one day this episode won’t make me tear up, but for now, one mention of it is enough to get my eyes watering. “I forget how anyone ever gets over anything,” Ruth says in “All Alone.” Me too, Ruth. Me too.