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‘Six Feet Under’ Masterfully Cut The Grief With Bizarre And Heartfelt Dream Sequences

For a show as centered on death as Alan Ball’s Six Feet Under, there was always a certain carefree whimsy to it which was showcased perfectly in the show’s numerous fantasy sequences. What started in the pilot as in-show commercials for mortuary products in-between continued to evolve with the show and added to its appeal — not just because one needs a little levity to cut through the smell of embalming fluid and the weight of tears, but because it offered a bit of insight into what these characters were really thinking; from the hilarious to the mundane, and on occasion, the profound.

Here’s a look at some of these moments from Six Feet Under, which is available to stream on HBO Now.

David’s nightmare about having breasts.

Keith (Mathew St. Patrick) confesses to David (Michael C. Hall) that he had an affair after they’d agreed to stop sleeping with other people. The catch here is Keith slept with a woman, which causes David’s insecurities to spiral out of control, even spilling into his dreams where he has a very brief, but vivid, flash of him having breasts — much to Keith’s approval.

Claire sings about her pantyhose being uncomfortable.

Claire (Lauren Ambrose), suffering through normal life as an art school dropout, tries to get used to life at a boring 9-to-5 job. After overhearing a nearby radio, she’s suddenly atop her desk belting out a song about the discomfort that she feels thanks to her pantyhose. Naturally, this is all set to the tune of “You Light Up My Life.”

Nate and David’s shared moment.

Nate (Peter Krause) suffers another stroke, which puts him back in the hospital. That night, David agrees to stay with him, and once Nate falls asleep, he finds himself back in the Fisher home, being called to a van by David, who looks like Shaggy from Scooby-Do. The two smoke pot with their father, Nathaniel (Richard Jenkins), who happens to be driving, and once they arrive on the beach David starts to call back to Nate as he runs toward the water. Now in his more customary suit and tie, David begins to realize the weight of the moment as his father offers him the chance to smoke some crack and transition to something harder, as he does when he wakes up beside Nate’s bed.

The coming of Death Man.

With Nate continuing to revel in his grief over the loss of his wife, Lisa, his dream takes him back to childhood, where he brings his dead dog, Yippie, to his father while working to “fix” him. Nathaniel, after offering the dog a nice sendoff, suggests that Nate climb into the coffin with him. As he tries to escape, only finding himself back in the basement workroom, Nathaniel then appears as Death Man (explaining that Marvel had a copyright on The Grim Reaper), assuring him that “no one stays behind.”

“Why are you standing there like that?”

While tending to the funeral of a man murdered by his wife for being “too boring,” Nate and David immediately realize that being boring is a trait they both share. As David vacuums the viewing room one night, he erupts into a garish song-and-dance routine, interrupted by his mother, Ruth (Francis Conroy) after she spots him.

Ruth goes shooting, carnival style.

While she’s out camping with her boyfriend, Hiram (Ed Begley, Jr.), Ruth storms off after an argument. Finding herself lost, Hiram again appears in front of her, just before the carnival music starts and Ruth pulls out a rifle and shoots him, followed by Nikolai (Ed O’Ross), Arthur (Rainn Wilson), George (James Cromwell), and even Nathianel, her first love. While it’s an empowering moment, it doesn’t get Ruth any closer to finding her way back home.

Nathaniel’s secret room.

Nate starts to look into Nathaniel’s past transactions with Fisher and Sons and discovers a number of secrets about his father which all lead up to a room he rented in trade for a funeral he’d performed. Crates of old records, lipstick imprints on glasses, and an old game of solitaire starts Nate down a path where he wonders what Nathaniel would do alone in this room above a restaurant.

Nate sees his future played out several times over.

After an episode that declared him dead in the beginning, Nate discusses death with his father, who’s too busy eating fenugreek to go attend his own funeral with him. Before long, he sees himself trying to learn words with flash cards, then seeing his life with Lisa, then with Brenda, and beyond. The coma fantasy eventually comes to an end, as Nate finds himself back in the life he was used to, realizing how lucky he is.

David’s egg-induced nightmare.

As Keith and David discuss their options in conceiving a child, Keith casually brings up the idea of Claire donating her eggs so the baby can be “part him, too.” This worries David a great deal, and his concern manifests itself in a literal nightmare involving a barn, a creepy puppet version of Claire, and, of course, lots and lots of eggs.

Claire’s Flashdance routine.

Waiting for her college evaluation interview, Claire nervously sits outside the office with her headphones on and imagines herself dancing in a scene that pays homage to Flashdance. After falling early on, she asks to go again and then accidentally removes her leg — a pitch-perfect anxiety dream.

“You’re in the game now, buddy-boy.”

Most of the show’s fantasy sequences were often an over-the-top affair, but while they came on unexpectedly it was rarely a challenge to separate those moments from what was “real” within the show universe. But as Nate sits on the beach reflecting on his own mortality and the realization that he is now, officially, a funeral director like his father, he walks towards the ocean to dance among the waves and get lost in the vastness of the thing. It’s a foreshadowing moment to his shared dream with David and a daydream about escaping it all, but it’s interrupted by another daydream as his father, Nathaniel, bluntly sums up the moment that Nate is facing: “You’re in the game now, buddy boy… whether you like it or not.”

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