With Nate's health in limbo, Brenda checks out. A finale full of surprising departures gets Nancy Miller thinking about what should happen next season
Peter Krause, Six Feet Under

With Nate’s health in limbo, Brenda checks out

Along with the usual plot-pulsing fireworks, the end of ”Six Feet”’s second season seemed to indicate (with the departure of little Taylor and Brenda, and Nate’s potentially life-threatening surgery) that the Fisher family’s about to get smaller. Given ”Six Feet”’s phenomenal ratings, creator Alan Ball seems to know what he’s doing. Nonetheless, these twists are enough to get us thinking about changes that could give the show a boost next season.

Make the Fishers more like the Osbournes. Like TV’s other favorite dysfunctional family, the Fishers have their the best moments when the wacky main characters are alone together, playing off each other, without all the peripheral action to distract them (like the Kroner subplot or Brenda’s family). In the finale, for instance, Claire (Lauren Ambrose) has some rare — and entertaining — face time with her brothers. She and Nate share a tête a tête about her photography, and she talks about her startling breakthrough breakdown over the loss of her father. Later on, Claire and David (Michael C. Hall) smoke pot together and, despite orders from Ruth (Frances Conroy), they decide that Nate’s brain-mopping surgery is more pressing than Claire’s simultaneous high school graduation. One of the last moments, the distant shot of Claire, David, and Ruth huddled together in the hospital, waiting for the cranially challenged Nate to come out of surgery, is the best tear-jerking scene of the season.

Put Nate in a coma. In the finale, Nate loses a fiancée, gains a daughter, and acquires a serious brain condition. It’s time to give the man some rest! In the last scene, the beleaguered star lies on the operating table, his life hanging in the balance. Maybe it’s just his meds, but we see him jogging alone in a dream sequence, running to catch a bus. The bus stops, seemingly awaiting his decision to live or die. Will Nate get on or off the bus? Series creator Alan Ball once compared ”Six Feet Under” to the ’80s soap opera ”Knots Landing.” So why not do a sudsy standby and slip Nate into a coma for several episodes to see how the others fare without him? (This could also provide the rest of us with some interesting catatonic dream sequences, maybe even with Nate Sr.)

Lose Taylor and Lisa. The fight scene between her two dads is hotter than anything that’s happened since Keith’s niece walked in the door. Uncle David and Uncle Keith (Mathew St. Patrick) also have sex for the first time in months. So, sorry kid, but you ain’t coming back — at least I hope not. As far as Lili Taylor, who plays Lisa, Nate’s Seattle fling-turned-maternal thing, this actress deserves better than simply playing mama to Maya. Either give the vegan kook a meatier part or make her join a far-off commune.

Beef up Rico. As of this episode, Rico is now 25 percent part owner of Fisher and Sons (because of his financial bailout for funeral home repairs). Actor Freddy Rodriguez should get at least that much airtime next season. With his quick wit (and temper) and conniving wife Vanessa, Rico will provide plenty of conflict aside from Nate’s problems.

Bring back Brenda. Yes, Brenda’s character is awful, annoying, unsympathetic, and agitating. Yet in this episode, the compulsive sex addict/girl genius seems willing to change with a little group therapy and some guidance from Grant Show (”Melrose Place.”). Either way, the series needs Golden Globe-winning Rachel Griffiths. Perhaps there’s a way to make Brenda more sympathetic? A soap-opera-style twist, like amnesia, or even a good twin? In any case, Brenda should do a U-turn that includes leaving her irritating family (Joanna Cassidy, Jeremy Sisto, et. al.) in the dust.

So, what do you want to see on ”Six Feet Under” next season?

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