Television

The Dark Lady of Six Feet Under

The end of a great villain and an astonishing season.

Still from Six Feet Under
A death in the family: premortem Lisa with Nate and Maya

A moment of silence, for we don’t have Lisa Kimmel Fisher to fear anymore. The dastardly hippie-villain, whose very name— Lisa—conjured nightmares of enforced normalcy and asphyxiating domesticity on HBO’s Six Feet Under, is dead. Sunday night’s episode saw her off, along with a riveting season of the show. The previous two episodes had been as spellbinding as any show on television ever has been, and, if the finale was less stimulating than the run-up, it was nevertheless just.

Lisa’s disappearance had left her husband, Nate, and his funeral-parlor family at harrowing loose ends. Increasingly convinced that she had died, possibly by her own hand, the family—and the show’s fans—would have been cruelly ripped off by a Dallas-like resurrection. So, we didn’t get one, though we were treated on Sunday to two glimpses of Lisa, posthumous. In one, she smugly tended to Claire’s aborted baby in the afterlife. In another, she demanded, from the backseat of Nate’s careening car, that he, too, cross over. And Lisa, whose moral hold on Nate and us has tightened since she vanished, is still no angel. Go ahead, honey. It’s the least you can do for me.

Amid concern about her vanishing—and thoughts of Lisa, we hardly knew ye—I had almost forgotten how morbid she could be. Played to perfection by Lili Taylor, Lisa has been an exquisite antagonist—a deadly figure whose every gesture rebuked the show itself, especially its insistence on the redeeming powers of sex and art. Lisa was jealous, possessive, secretive, ingratiating, joyless; she had been raising her child, Maya, to fear fun. Still, by dint of her moral high ground (values included monogamy, dependability, organic foods), she held despotic sway over the Fishers. She dominated them with her meekness and was, I believe, responsible for Brenda’s chastening depression, Claire’s disillusionment with art, and, certainly, Nate’s near-suicide.

Early in the season, the figures on the show appeared to have thrown off too many repressions; after the melodrama of the second season, they were living in a shapeless aftermath in which everything was dull because everything was permitted. But Lisa, as her nefarious character came into focus, changed all that. She had the baby, who, though silent, hampered the family. She brought down Nate, shredding his charisma and high spirits, as even wild-girl Brenda could not. She turned marriage into something furtive and closeted, casting suspicion on the marriage of Rico and Vanessa and now of Ruth and George. On the bright side, it’s no surprise that David and Keith, in the final episode, came to see their love for each other as—at least—less wretched.

Lisa has been the prime mover on Six Feet Under, the slave-moralist whose evil antics none of the show’s many violent schizophrenics or narcissists has yet even approximated. Sister, mother, friend, wife: Lisa will be sorely missed.