[WARNING SPOILERS GALORE]
When we caught up with Oscar-winning American Beauty scribe Alan Ball a few years ago he had this to say about killing his darlings in the bittersweet series finale of his cult HBO drama series, Six Feet Under: “I’m not sure that that was hard, because I feel like it was earned, and it was also part of what the show was about: the fact that death is for everybody, nobody escapes it. When I wrote it I was up at my cabin at Lake Arrowhead and I had taken a couple of my dogs and as I was writing that final sequence I just started weeping. It was a good kind of crying, it was cathartic. I remember each dog just sitting on the floor and staring at me with my laptop just crying like a baby thinking ‘what the hell is wrong with him?'”
His execution of that moment is a true masterclass in storytelling but even Ball himself would have to admit that the weight of that episode, fading to white with a defiant slow-march to the afterlife in a seven minute montage detailing the various deaths of its remaining major characters, is indebted in equal measure to the sonic open heart surgery performed by Sia Furler and the best song she has ever written. In fact, we don’t think so. We know so. Balls says so himself (“I wrote the scene to fit that song, with that music in mind.”) in Vulture’s newly published oral history of Six Feet Under’s series finale, explaining why he and his team settled on “Breathe Me” to soundtrack the inevitable demise of the Fisher clan.
Here’s what they had to say upon reflecting on why that particular song was so affective and why it still sticks with them years and years later.
Gary Calamar (music supervisor): “We chose the Sia song for the fifth-season promo. Alan did tell me it might lead to what’s going to happen in the final episode, but he was very vague about it. The direction he gave was, “They’re driving to the final journey of life, for the characters and for the show.” He wanted something hopeful and wistful, but with a certain feel that they’re searching for something.”
Alan Ball (Creator, Showrunner): “Gary brought in eight or nine songs for us to listen to…there was another one by Iron & Wine. It wasn’t quite as poetic or as poignant as the Sia song was. I can’t remember any of the others. When I heard “Breathe Me,” I was like, “Okay, that’s it. That’s the one.”
Lauren Ambrose (Claire Fisher): “I cry when I hear the song. It’s Pavlovian. If it comes on when I’m at yoga or something, I’ll cry. I’m always worried people will notice and be like, Oh, is that the girl from the show? But I live in the woods in the middle of nowhere.”
Michael C. Hall (David Fisher): “I just associate it with an image. I see Claire backlit by the sun, driving, right on the crest of crying. It’s that image — boom — it sweeps into me.”
Alan Ball: “I wrote the scene to fit that song, with that music in mind. I didn’t, like, time out each shot to the song, because you can’t do that. But every shot was pretty specific. It’s not like we shot tons and tons of film and whittled it down to these seven minutes. We knew what we wanted those seven minutes to be.”
Michael Ruscio (Editor): “Certain things like that were storyboarded. And there were certain things that I wanted to preserve for specific areas of the piece. I love the part at Ruth’s funeral where Claire sees [her ex-boyfriend] Ted, Ted sees her, and then there’s a close-up of Claire that hits just when Sia is singing “Be my friend.” That’s really poignant.”
Jeremy Sisto (Billy Chenowith): “When the show aired the finale, I was driving a Prius at the time — the same color of Claire’s Prius — and I remember just driving around listening to Sia’s “Breathe Me,” crying. I was like Claire for two months [laughs].”
Believe us Jeremy, so were we [opposite of laughs].
Every damn time: Help, I have done it again. I have been here many times before 🙁
Read the whole thing over at Vulture.