After All This Time, I Still Think ‘Six Feet Under’ Did Lisa Dirty
Now that all five seasons of Six Feet Under are streaming on Netflix, fans are getting the chance to revisit the series that explored our mortality like no show has done before or since.
Catching up with these characters feels like a homecoming, but as with any family gathering, there are a few things that still stick in my craw. Lisa Kimmel Fisher (Lili Taylor) is one of those sticking points.
Who is Lisa?
We first meet Lisa in season 2, episode 4, “Driving Mr. Mossback.” When the deceased Mr. Mossback’s children insist that his body be driven from Seattle to Los Angeles because he refused to fly while he was alive, Nate (Peter Krause) agrees to transport the embalmed corpse himself. He sees it as an excuse to return to his old stomping grounds, pick up belongings he left behind, and see some old friends. On a whim, he throws his sister Claire (Lauren Ambrose) a bone and invites her along to help with the driving.
In Seattle, Claire and Nate arrive at Lisa’s house, where Nate used to live. Over a questionable dinner of “vegan meatloaf,” Lisa reveals that she and Nate used to hook up once in a while but claims they were never really dating.
“I’m not still in love with your brother if that’s what you’re wondering,” Lisa tells Claire. Sounds exactly like something someone who is still in love with your brother might say, doesn’t it?
Nate confirms their “friends with benefits” status, later telling Claire that he and Lisa had sex “five, maybe six times, tops.” Uh-huh.
As a refresher, in season 1, Nate is diagnosed with a brain condition called AVM. While in Seattle, he suffers a terrifying seizure in front of Claire, and he’s so freaked out that he turns to Lisa for comfort.
Throughout the 5-season run, we see Nate use people like this a lot. He’s unable to handle much on his own, turning to the closest emotional support human and then, inevitably, wadding them up like a used Kleenex and tossing them away without a second thought. Case in point: after sleeping with Lisa “one last time,” he and Claire collect Mr. Mossback and head home.
So that’s the end of Lisa, right?
Nope! Guess again.
At the end of season 2, Nate is shopping in a grocery store when he runs into Lisa, who is obviously pregnant, and, you guessed it! It’s his baby. Through their conversations, we learn that Lisa got pregnant during their Seattle years, too, but she had an abortion. This time, she’s keeping it.
Nate may be in love with his (secretly sex-addicted) girlfriend Brenda (Rachel Griffiths), but he feels torn between feelings of duty and obligation and love, which is another recurring theme in Six Feet Under. The season ends with Nate breaking it off explosively with Brenda and deciding to go under the knife to relieve his AVM.
One year later
Nate is now married to Lisa and they have a beautiful daughter named Maya (Brenna and Bronwyn Tosh), who is adored by all. Watching the newlyweds interact, it’s clear that Nate doesn’t love Lisa the way she desperately wants to be loved. He’s still carrying a torch for Brenda, and it’s obvious that Nate never thought of Lisa as a romantic partner, just a “f*ck buddy,” but he’s trying to fake it. Everyone saw that coming, except Lisa.
Things further unravel from there. In season 3, episode 10, “Everyone Leaves,” Lisa goes to visit her sister after a big fight with Nate, but she never shows up. Lisa’s remains are found on a California beach in the last episode of season 3, and in true Nate form, it’s only a matter of time before he rushes to seek comfort from Brenda.
Did we ever find out how Lisa died?
Yes, but it took another season before we got the full story. When we did, some people weren’t very happy! Critics thought it was a hasty and slapped-together way to write her off the show.
Lisa was not a popular character. Audiences found her annoying, clingy, and unable to take Nate’s many hints that their union was doomed from the start. Still, she’s a sweet person who truly just wanted to be loved, so the way the writers ended things was off-putting. Here’s how it went down.
In the season 4 finale, Nate is speaking with Lisa’s sister Barb (Julie Dretzin) and her husband Hoyt (Jeff Yagher) about a book their daughter gave him. There’s a photo of Lisa inside the book, and it looks like it was taken on the same beach where her remains were found. His Spidey Senses tingling, Nate confronts Hoyt, who comes clean.
Hoyt is the key. Hoyt, the guy we just met
Here’s where this plot point starts feeling manipulative. In a Deus ex machina sort of moment, Hoyt admits to Nate that he and Lisa carried on an affair for years. They used to meet at the beach, though he denies being with her on the day he disappeared. Then Hoyt accidentally drops a bomb: “I couldn’t let her tell Barb,” he says imploringly. That’s when Nate knows. And so does Barb, who is listening outside the office door.
(Trigger warning: mention of suicide)
Hoyt hears Barb’s sobs and realizes he’s been overheard. In an instant, he pulls a gun from his desk and takes his own life.
Now we know how Lisa died, but if you’ve been invested in the Fishers all these years, you might feel the same way I did. Nobody liked Lisa, but inventing a last-minute affair seemed out of character. In fact, the actress who played Lisa even said in an interview with AV Club that she might have played the character differently if she’d known how Lisa died earlier on.
“I didn’t really find out until the third episode from when it happened. That’s huge information, and if I had that information, I would have done some things differently, but that’s the way it was,” Taylor said, adding that she didn’t realize “duplicity” was part of Lisa’s character.
“That’s a huge part of somebody’s character. If you were going to write down her characteristics on paper, if duplicity is part of, say, her main 25 characteristics, that informs so many other things. If she’s duplicitous, that means she is capable of dishonesty on many other levels. Once she’s crossed that line, her trust is called into question, then her relationship with Nate—there’s just so many other things.”
See what I mean? Lisa was a lot of things, but to say, in the eleventh hour, that she would lie and cheat on everyone closest to her? It just doesn’t feel genuine. This is the woman who was on her knees asking the ants to leave her house when we first met her. She couldn’t bring herself to harm an ant, but lying to her sister and husband? Sure, no problem!
It’s been twenty years, and I still feel like the writers did Lisa dirty. Her tidy disposal provided a shocking twist, yes, but her actions just didn’t match her character. While I was happy to see her hippy-dippy, dependent character exit stage left, she deserved better than this ending.
(featured image: HBO)
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