Episodes

Six Feet Under - Season 5 - A Coat of White Primer
Ep.1 - A Coat of White Primer
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Six Feet Under - Season 5 - Dancing for Me
Ep.2 - Dancing for Me
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Six Feet Under - Season 5 - Hold My Hand
Ep.3 - Hold My Hand
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Six Feet Under - Season 5 - Time Flies
Ep.4 - Time Flies
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Six Feet Under - Season 5 - Eat a Peach
Ep.5 - Eat a Peach
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Six Feet Under - Season 5 - The Rainbow of Her Reasons
Ep.6 - The Rainbow of Her Reasons
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Six Feet Under - Season 5 - The Silence
Ep.7 - The Silence
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Six Feet Under - Season 5 - Singing for Our Lives
Ep.8 - Singing for Our Lives
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Six Feet Under - Season 5 - Ecotone
Ep.9 - Ecotone
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Six Feet Under - Season 5 - All Alone
Ep.10 - All Alone
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Six Feet Under - Season 5 - Static
Ep.11 - Static
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Six Feet Under - Season 5 - Everyone's Waiting
Ep.12 - Everyone's Waiting
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Brenda struggles with morning sickness as she studies the home video of Nate's 2002 wedding to Lisa. Together, Nate and Brenda watch the Kimmel and Fisher families nervously prepare for the ceremony on the video. Brenda assures Nate that their upcoming wedding will be different from the first ceremony in every way.

Federico meets women through an online dating service, but his overly-high standards prevent him from settling on anyone special. When Vanessa won't agree to be Federico's wedding date, he invites a woman named Sharon instead.

Claire and Billy, who are happily committed to each other and rarely apart, decide to move in together. When Nate and Brenda host a pre-wedding dinner party for the family, Claire gets high with her brothers outside but is unable to convince them that Billy's mental health has improved.

After months of dealing with the consequences of George's Depressive Psychosis and electroconvulsive therapy treatments, Ruth is on the brink of mental exhaustion herself. Once he returns home from the hospital, George suffers from short-term memory loss and disorientation, but insists on attending Nate's wedding anyway. Ruth finally reaches her breaking point at the wedding when Claire takes a compromising photograph of George. To everyone's shock, an enraged Ruth slaps Claire, accusing her of "trying to make a statement" about Ruth's choice to marry George before she really knew him.

Two days before her wedding, Brenda suffers a miscarriage but Nate and Brenda decide to go ahead with the wedding anyway.

Listening to the ceremony inspires David to be more supportive of Keith's dreams of starting a family. Although David would prefer to adopt children who are looking for a home, he agrees to continue looking for a surrogate mother to bear their child if that's what Keith wants. At the wedding reception, David and Keith reach a compromise by deciding to pursue surrogacy and adoption at the same time.

After the wedding ceremony, Brenda wanders off alone, still high from pain medication and despondent over her lost baby. She imagines that Lisa is taunting her for having infertility problems. Nate finds Brenda and convinces her to re-join the party, telling her that the best days of their life together are yet to come.

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Nate and Brenda have unprotected sex for the first time since losing the baby, but their lovemaking is cut short when they catch Maya watching them. Brenda declines her mother's offer to get her out of an internship at a free psychiatric clinic, only to find that the job is much more difficult than she imagined. Nate handles the funeral of a former high school buddy and is flooded by memories of his uncomplicated youth.

David and Keith continue pursuing both adoption and surrogacy in their quest to have a baby. To David's extreme discomfort, Keith suggests they ask Claire to supply them with eggs for the surrogate.

Ruth shows signs of cracking after months of being George's main caregiver and George senses her resentment with increasing guilt. The couple experience temporary relief when George's daughter Maggie comes to visit, but it all quickly falls to pieces once Maggie prepares to leave.

Claire takes her photography in a new direction and is disappointed when her gallery owner prefers her old direction. Over dinner with a pair of Billy's art contemporaries she is titillated by stories of Billy's wild past. While Claire is inspired by these reminiscences, Billy is reminded how much he's changed.

Federico is concerned when his new love interest fails to return his calls. Fearing the worst, he gets her building manager to let him in to her apartment and is surprised by what he finds.

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George Sibley is haunted by childhood memories of his mother's suicide. While doing laundry, Ruth finds rotting, half-eaten food in the pockets of George's clothes. When she confronts him about the food, George regresses to child-like behavior and claims he planned to save the food for later. Later, George confesses to Maggie that his symptoms are worsening and he feels he needs another round of electro-convulsive therapy.

Billy's manic energy fuels his passionate relationship with Claire and he proposes they move to Spain to work on their art. When Claire's credit card is declined at a camera shop she contacts the family's lawyer in a huff and learns that access to her trust fund has been frozen. Claire confronts her mother, but Ruth reminds her that she's no longer attending college and Nathaniel didn't intend to finance her life while she "played house with a crazy person." To cheer Claire up, Billy goes on a spending spree and buys them both expensive digital cameras.

David and Keith continue pursuing adoption and surrogacy in their hope of starting a family. But for all their careful planning, the two are rejected by the adoption agency when the counselor uncovers David's Las Vegas arrest for "lewd and lascivious behavior with a male prostitute." Keith and David are heartened, however, by their interview with a potential surrogate who seems too good to be true.

Brenda counsels a disturbed student at the community college who shoves her against the wall violently. Afterwards, she is comforted by her co-worker Jackie, who invites her over for a family dinner. Brenda is struck by the lack of tension and envies the easy dynamic Jackie shares with her close-knit family. Meanwhile, Nate is at a family dinner at the funeral home, where he finally meets George's daughter Maggie. She tells Nate about her son, who died when he was a baby, and the two instantly connect over shared personal tragedies.

Federico runs into Vanessa at a church-sponsored singles mixer where she makes it clear that she's not interested in getting back together with him. At a funeral directors' conference, Federico meets Angela, the restorative artist who worked at Fisher & Sons briefly years earlier - when Federico was hired by Kroehner Services Corporation. The pair hit it off and end up sharing a wild, uninhibited romp in bed.

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Nate has a milestone 40th birthday and receives the surprising news that Brenda is pregnant. Nate's reaction to the news is less than ecstatic, leaving Brenda to question his desire for another child. Later, Nate comes home to an unwanted surprise party and lets it slip to that Brenda is expecting, creating tension.

Claire watches in annoyance and horror as Billy sinks deeper into un-medicated madness. Finally fed up with Billy's manic behavior, Claire has an unexpected one-night fling and ends her relationship with Billy.

David and Keith make an official offer to a surrogate and she accepts. David complains when he and Keith lose most of their day driving Roger's kids to a hair salon, but he quickly changes his tune when Roger's wife pulls some strings to get David and Keith a second shot at adopting a child - leaving them free, once again, to pursue both surrogacy and adoption.

Ruth admits to her knitting circle that she's tired of dealing with George and his madness. George apologises to Ruth for all he's put her through, but the sentiment does little to salve past wounds.

Federico lays into Vanessa for accidentally forgetting to pick up Julio from a play date. The argument leads to romance, resulting in a night of passion. The following morning, however, Vanessa makes it clear that their encounter was a one-time experience.

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Keith and David attend an adoption picnic, where David makes a connection with a skinny, African-American kid named Anthony. Mary, the woman hired as a surrogate mother, calls with news that she was successfully inseminated. David and Keith are elated but their plans soon change when Mary reveals that she was mistaken. Keith and David decide to foster parent Anthony and his older brother - named Durrell - instead.

Nate and Brenda argue about how much information they should tell Maya about her biological mother, Lisa. Nate wants to spare Maya the painful truth but Brenda wants the little girl to have a "coherent narrative." They decide the best strategy is to tell Maya what happened, but leave out the more sordid details of the story - including Lisa's relationship with Hoyt and the mystery surrounding her death.

Ruth confides in her friends from the knitting group that she has lost patience with George and can no longer stand the sound of his voice. Over dinner, Ruth's friends convince her that she's not responsible for taking care of a sick person for the rest of her life. They encourage Ruth to set George up with an apartment and a new job and then let him go. Inspired by the idea, Ruth suggests to George that they move out of the house and "make a fresh start."

Federico is irate when he learns that Julio bullied another boy at school. He meets with the school principal and cites his recent separation from Vanessa as an explanation for Julio's bad behavior. Vanessa is furious when the principal pulls her aside the next day and knows details about her personal life - including her problems with depression and her recent relationship with Kenny Sims.

Billy is desperate for closure with Claire. He assures Claire that he's back on his medications, but she still doesn't want to get back together. When Margaret and Billy gang up on Claire at a restaurant and insist that she reconsider, she feels ambushed and slips out the back without saying goodbye.

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Aunt Sarah comes to the funeral home to bury her friend Fiona, the woman who deflowered Nate when he was fifteen. The funeral provides temporary respite for both Brenda and Nate, who have spent the past few weeks suffering Billy's psychotically detailed analysis of his and Claire's recent break-up.

Keith and David fight over the best way to handle their new foster charges, Durrell and Anthony. After only two weeks with the children, Keith is ready to throw in the towel, tired of fighting with the caustic Durrell-while David secretly harbors hopes of permanently adopting the brothers. Things finally come to a head when Keith and David get an assessment visit from a social worker.

Ruth helps George settle into a new apartment all the while planning her escape from the marriage. Sarah's arrival provides Ruth with an excuse to spend a few nights away from George and she revels in the female kinship of Sarah and her high-spirited friends. George remains blissfully unaware of his wife's true intentions until Maggie visits and points out that Ruth's personal affects are conspicuously absent. In the end, George accepts the truth and surprises Ruth by setting her free.

Claire signs up with a temp agency while she awaits word on her application for an art grant. On her first office job, she quickly discovers the stifling corporate environment is a far cry from the world of art. However, when her grant application is rejected, Claire wonders if maybe the art world isn't for her after all.

Vanessa enlists the aid of a live-in nanny to help her manage the stress of running the house on her own. But when the nanny uses poor judgment one too many times, Vanessa fires her and invites a thrilled and surprised Federico to move back in.

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While Keith is working long hours with Roger, David is overwhelmed with parenting responsibilities. Durrell is embarrassed about an upcoming school play and refuses to let Keith and David attend. Despite the boy's wishes, David and Keith go and David relives the glory days when he performed in school musicals.

Claire meets a lawyer at work named Ted, who takes interest in her art. She joins her office friends for drinks after work, hoping to see him again. At the bar, Claire and Ted talk briefly, but she reveals very little about herself. Later, at the office, Claire opens up to Ted a bit more and admits that she's creatively blocked.

Federico is frustrated by the lack of passion in his marriage. Despite his best efforts to be amorous, Vanessa is mostly uninterested in sex. When she finally does agree to sleep with him, she's eager to get it over with.

Now that she's no longer taking care of George, Ruth tries to fill her life with other diversions. At a friend's party, she feels hopelessly out of place and can't find anyone her age to talk to. When George asks for a quickie divorce and admits he's fallen in love again, Ruth is in shock. His imminent marriage plans prompt Ruth to warn George's fiancee about his mental illness.

Blood test results have Brenda and Nate concerned about their unborn child. After speaking with Maggie about the emotional strain of caring for a child with special needs, Nate worries they can't handle the responsibility. Brenda's doctor recommends an amniocentesis to test for problems and Nate insists that she take the test. Brenda refuses, though, convinced that Nate's real problem is an inability to be present for their marriage. She decides to go forward with the pregnancy despite possible complications.

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Since learning of the baby's potential health problems, Brenda and Nate have grown distant from each other. Fearing Nate's negativity toward their unborn baby, Brenda goes to her ultrasound appointment without him, opting to bring Jackie instead for moral support. Later, she and Nate fight over his sudden interest in the Quaker religion, which Brenda believes is linked to his sudden interest in fellow Quaker Maggie. Nate proves her right when an innocent encounter with Maggie ends in passion, with shocking repercussions for Nate.

Ruth agrees to babysit Durrell and Anthony for the first time. Things go well until David and Keith return home to find Durrell pulling Keith's SUV into the driveway. David accuses his mother of not providing proper supervision, before learning that Darrell's joyrides have occurred more than once-a revelation that results in a violent confrontation between Keith and Durrell.

Claire runs into her former LAC-Arts classmate Anita while on a coffee run for the office. Anita invites her to an art opening that Claire intends to avoid until Ted offers to join her. At the exhibit, Claire reunites with her ex-boyfriends Russell and Jimmy and finally makes peace with her past and present selves.

Ruth wants to get a professional haircut and visits her old flame Hiram at his hair salon. The two quickly become reacquainted over dinner, which leads to a night of passion and a spontaneous camping trip.

David asks Nate and Federico to a partners' meeting to discuss the future of the funeral home. The meeting comes to a deadlock, however, when the threesome can't agree on the best way to invest in the business. For Federico, the friction at the funeral home sheds light on his strained relationship with Vanessa and he finally confronts her about it.

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Following Nate's AVM seizure, Maggie follows Nate's ambulance to the hospital. In the emergency waiting room with David, Maggie answers the doctor's questions about Nate's physical and emotional well-being in the moments before he collapsed. Although she doesn't state it explicitly, Maggie reveals that she and Nate had sex earlier in the evening.

Claire is dismayed to discover that her new boyfriend Ted is a Republican. The pair is heatedly arguing about politics when Claire gets a phone call with news about Nate's seizure. Ted goes with Claire to the hospital and stays by her side in the waiting room all night, earning her trust.

A doctor at the hospital tells the family that Nate was suffering from a new Arteriovenous malformation which ruptured, causing a hemorrhage in his brain. Nate is rushed into the operating room immediately to stop the bleeding, but during the surgery he slips into a coma.

Meanwhile, no one in the family is able to reach Ruth because she's camping in the woods with Hiram. Although Ruth isn't in the mood for sex, Hiram is feeling very amorous. When he doesn't want to take no for an answer, Ruth leaves him alone in the tent. The next morning, the two argue and Ruth stomps off into the wilderness by herself. Later, she happens upon a bus filled with Chinese tourists, who give her a ride back to Los Angeles

While unconscious, Nate dreams that his arm merely fell asleep the night before and there was no seizure. In his alternate, dream life, he and Maggie profess their love for each other, then Nate goes home and calmly asks Brenda for a divorce.

When Nate wakes from his coma the family delightedly rallies around him. He has some weakness on his left side but the doctors say that with physical therapy he will likely return to normal. Later, Brenda tells Nate that she knows about his affair with Maggie but she's willing to forgive him. Nate surprises Brenda when he says he's tired of fighting and thinks they should give up struggling to keep their marriage together.

With David seated by Nate's hospital bed, the two brothers take a nap and have a shared dream that they're on a surfing trip with Nathaniel, getting stoned in the back of the Deadwagon. When they arrive at the ocean, Nate jumps in the water and encourages his brother to join him but David suddenly becomes nervous about sharks. When David awakens from the dream, he finds that Nate has died.

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In the hours following Nate's death from a brain hemorrhage, David copes with his pain by planning his brother's funeral. He explains to Brenda and Ruth that Nate wanted a green funeral with no embalming or casket, just burial in a plot of land that's protected by a nature preserve.

Keith prepares Anthony and Durrell for Nate's memorial service but is interrupted by a frantic phone call from Roger. A tweaked-out actor named Trevor is trashing Roger's house and Keith needs to get Trevor out of town immediately. At the airport, Trevor reveals that he's seen footage of Keith and Roger having sex; the tryst between the two men was videotaped without Keith's knowledge. Furious at being betrayed, Keith calls Roger and quits his job.

With Ruth too bereft to take care of herself, Bettina comes to the house to help. When Ruth learns that there will be no preservation or viewing of Nate's body, she becomes even more distraught. She takes the last opportunity to see her son's body by helping David in the prep room as he washes the blood off Nate's scalp.

Maggie comes by Brenda's house with some food and Brenda accuses her of being responsible for Nate's death, asking, "What is this? Some Quaker thing? You f**k someone's husband to death and then bring them a quiche?" Brenda also struggles with how to tell Maya about Nate's death. Her mother Margaret is - unsurprisingly - of little comfort. Brenda soon succumbs to her grief and overwhelming anger with her dead husband. She drops Maya off at the funeral home, asking Ruth to baby-sit for a while.

Desperate to escape her misery, Claire asks Ted to take her for a drive and they hit the road with no particular destination in mind. Although she's only known him a short time, Claire feels comfortable crying in front of Ted and wonders aloud why she's only able to recall painful memories of her brother. When she's ready, Ted takes her back home and she arrives just in time for Nate's memorial service to begin.

At the memorial service, David is haunted by images of Jake, the hitchhiker who attacked him. While eulogising his brother, he suffers a panic attack and has to leave the Slumber Room at once. Federico speaks lovingly of his friend and business partner, and then George surprises everyone with his wisdom and comforting words. Afterwards, Ruth invites George to join the family at Nate's burial in a wooded nature preserve.

At the burial, David suffers another panic attack and seeks shelter in his car. Without his help, Federico, George, and Keith struggle to carry Nate's body out of the hearse. After Ruth helps David overcome his fears, he joins the family by Nate's open grave and Aunt Sarah reads aloud a poem from the Mystic Odes of Rumi.

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David still struggles with violent nightmares after six weeks of mourning his brother. When he learns about a criminal at large who's abducting children, he becomes overly protective of his sons. Eventually he snaps, and yanks Durrell and Anthony out of school in a panic. Fearing David's unpredictable behavior will upset the boys, Keith sends David away until he can get a hold of himself.

Maya has been staying at the funeral home for several weeks, where Ruth and George happily care for her together. Ruth decides she wants to have permanent custody of Maya and argues fiercely with Brenda about what's best for the little girl. In a moment of weakness, Brenda allows Ruth to keep Maya for a while longer.

While Brenda prepares for the arrival of her new baby, who is due in two months, Billy stays with her at the house. Brenda plans to raise Maya and the new baby with Billy's help but after she has a disturbing sex dream about her brother she asks him to move out. Later, Brenda resolves to take Maya home with her for good. She shows up at the funeral home to collect her daughter but goes into labor the moment she arrives.

Federico is eager to have a business discussion but David is too distracted by his inner demons to help plan the funeral home's future. Meanwhile, Vanessa urges Federico to invest in his own funeral home and they find a property for sale. Federico asks his wife to assist him at the office and Vanessa finds that she has a knack for consoling a grieving client.

When Claire is drunk and belligerent at the office for several days in a row, Ted confiscates her car keys. She verbally attacks a client at Fisher & Diaz, then fights with Ted and throws a glass of water in his face. Later, Claire drives to the nature preserve to visit Nate's grave, but strange noises frighten her and she speeds away. Trying to avoid a deer in the road, Claire crashes the green hearse. Her car is totaled but she makes $950 selling it for parts.

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Brenda gives birth to a premature baby girl named Willa who's immediately whisked off to neonatal intensive care, where she must rely on a ventilator, incubator, and feeding tube to survive. With Margaret out of town, Ruth is the only one by Brenda's side at the hospital. She's grateful for Ruth's support, but still haunted by cruel fantasies about Nate, in which he tells her that Willa will never survive.

Margaret collects Maya and brings her home to live with Brenda, sending Ruth spiraling into a deep depression. With her granddaughter gone, Ruth is finally hit with the full force of grieving Nate's death. George tries to comfort her but Ruth is too upset to appreciate his efforts. She's given a small amount of relief when she telephones Maggie and learns that Nate and Maggie were happy the last night he was alive.

When Ted encourages Claire to try photography again, she takes some intimate but tasteful pictures of him in bed. Later, she gets a surprise call from a stock photo production house in New York City and learns that Olivier recommended her as a photographer's assistant. Claire offers to stay in Los Angeles and help Ruth cope with her depression but Ruth insists that Claire move to New York. She unfreezes her daughter's trust fund, saying, "Take it and find whatever life has in store for you." As she's packing up for her cross-country drive, Claire learns that the stock photo company consolidated its operations and her job no longer exists. She considers calling off the trip but realizes that Nate would want her to start a new life in New York anyway.

Federico has the funeral home appraised and learns that it's worth $2 million. He tries to convince David to sell Fisher & Diaz, but David refuses. Instead, David and Keith pool their savings and buy Federico out of his 25% ownership of the business. Federico and Vanessa excitedly plan their future. They find a small funeral home for sale, where Federico can finally realise his dream of running his own funeral home.

At Keith's urging, David agrees to leave home until he can get his anxiety attacks under control. He seeks refuge at the funeral home with his mother and has a nightmare in which Nathaniel unleashes the menacing figure in the hooded sweatshirt. David is under attack, and forced to fight back with primal fury. Just when he's about to kill the hooded figure, David realises that all along the hooded figure has been his other self. He wakes up, grateful to be alive. Later, David and Keith redecorate the funeral home and move in with the boys. At a goodbye dinner for Claire, David recalls a favorite story about his brother and everyone toasts Nate's memory.

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SIX FEET UNDER - SEASON 5

One of TV's most acclaimed drama series, the Emmy®- and Golden Globe®-winning Six Feet Under, concludes its groundbreaking, five season run. Each of the main characters will come to embrace the cycle of life - birth, death, and re-birth - in ways that are both unique and interconnected. Everything. Everyone. Everywhere. Ends.

Cast

Nate Fisher
Peter Krause
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David Fisher
Michael C. Hall
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Ruth Fisher
Frances Conroy
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Claire Fisher
Lauren Ambrose
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Brenda Chenowith
Rachel Griffiths
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Federico Diaz
Freddy Rodriguez
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Keith Charles
Mathew St. Patrick
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Nathaniel Fisher
Richard Jenkins
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George Sibley
James Cromwell
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Lisa Kimmel Fisher
Lili Taylor
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Vanessa Diaz
Justina Machado
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Billy Chenowith
Jeremy Sisto
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Margaret Chenowith
Joanna Cassidy
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Sarah O'Conner
Patricia Clarkson
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Bettina
Kathy Bates
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Russell Corwin
Ben Foster
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Olivier Castro-Staal
Peter Macdissi
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Maggie Sibley
Tina Holme
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Peter Krause (Nate Fisher)

" I don't need therapy. It's not my fault there's a disaster every time I blink. I want to f***ing move on and leave it behind me"

Nate is the firstborn of the Fisher siblings, and arguably the one whose life was most drastically changed by his father's death. Until then, he hadn't dedicated his life to much of anything - except, perhaps, keeping far away from his family. At the age of thirty-five he was a college dropout who hadn't had a romantic relationship that lasted longer than two months and the pinnacle of whose career was Assistant Manager of Organic Produce at Seattle's "highest-volume food co-op." When he inherited half of Fisher and Sons Funeral Home, Nate's first impulse was to sell the business to his father's archrival, Kroehner Service International. But he thought better of it, convincing his brother David that Fisher and Sons should remain independent, with the two of them running it. As a result, Nate suddenly found himself totally immersed in the family business - and his family.

In addition, Nate had a stormy romantic relationship with Brenda Chenowith, a brilliant and complicated woman with family issues of her own. Nate feels deeply connected to Brenda and even planned to marry her, but a series of events pulled the two of them apart: on a trip to Seattle, Nate slept with Lisa Kimmel, an old "fuck buddy" and fathered a child, an infant daughter named Maya. Nate confessed this to Brenda, but his guilt quickly turned to anger when he discovered that Brenda had had several infidelities that she'd concealed from him. They split up and Brenda subsequently left town.

Coloring all of Nate's relationships at this time is a growing sense of his own mortality. He's diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a potentially life-threatening brain disorder. He tries to keep his illness secret, but his condition deteriorates, requiring highly risky surgery. Although he survives the operation and marries Lisa, Nate's life is still far from settled. He struggles to reciprocate Lisa's love for him, until the two of them come to an understanding that brings them closer - when something horrible happens. Lisa disappears on her way to visit her sister in Santa Cruz, and is later found dead.

Shocked with grief, Nate throws himself into his new role as a single father, coming to heads with Lisa's sister Barb and her husband Hoyt, who threatens to fight for custody of their niece. The tumult and trauma of coping with his own loss drives him to take a sabbatical from the funeral business, and he finds some escape in a low-stress job at a kennel. Forced to return to Fisher & Diaz in the wake of David's carjacking, Nate discovers he has some post-traumatic stress of his own to work out.

He turns to Brenda for emotional support, only to discover she's getting serious with a new guy, an even-keeled (French Horn) player named Joe. She tries to be there for Nate as a friend, though it's clear their feelings for one another are unresolved. On the brink of moving in with Joe, Brenda panics and visits Nate, and two end up having sex. She confesses her indiscretion to Joe and assures him it won't happen again, but soon finds herself drawn back to Nate. When the two are caught in a compromising embrace, Brenda's relationship with Joe is officially over.

Jumping back into things with Nate, Brenda impulsively tells him she loves him during sex. But he's unable to return the sentiment, claiming he's still adjusting to widowerhood and his guilt over Lisa - and this leads to another split. After a dream in which his father appears as a comic book incarnation of death - taking away everything he holds dear, including Brenda - Nate realises he wants to be with her, and the two get back together once again.

Soon after a memorial service held by Lisa's family, Nate finds a Polaroid of Lisa in a book given to him by Barb's young daughter shortly after Lisa's death. The photo disturbs him, especially when he notices that Lisa's outfit is the one she wore when she died, suggesting the picture must have been taken just before she died. Suspecting she might not have been alone when she died, Nate drives to Santa Cruz, where he learns the shocking truth about Lisa's relationship with her brother-in-law -- and the circumstances surrounding her death.

Traumatised by his discovery and Hoyt's sudden suicide, Nate races back home to Brenda: "Let's get married and have a baby."

Michael C. Hall (David Fisher)

"Now I walk around all the time feeling like everybody's gonna humiliate and murder me."

 

David, the middle Fisher sibling, refers to himself as "the stable one." He joined the family business at the age of twenty, lives in the same house where he grew up and is a life-long member of St. Bartholomew's Church. At the time of his father's death, David had been working at Fisher and Sons for eleven years - and was beginning to wonder whether he'd made the right choice. So while he initially resisted Nate's suggestion that they sell the funeral home, David realised it might afford him the opportunity to pursue the things he'd always wanted in life, like going to law school. When Nate did an about face, however, David pushed his own interests aside and agreed to keep Fisher and Sons going.

One of the things David wants most is a stable relationship with Keith Charles, with whom he has had an on-and-off romance. When they first started seeing each other, David and Keith continually fought over David's inability to come out of the closet. Eventually, Keith broke up with David and began a new relationship, while David embarked on a series of emotionally unsatisfying blind dates and hook-ups. David did eventually come out to his family, Federico and St. Bartholomew's. The Fishers and Federico were, to varying degrees, accepting; the church responded by asking him to resign his deaconship. Most important, though, Keith was proud of him.

David and Keith start seeing each other again, and shortly thereafter begin living together. At first David is thrilled, envisioning a perfect life, with hyphenated last names and at least two children. But cohabitation presents an entirely new set of problems: Keith walls himself off emotionally, making David feel "like a doormat." Despite attending couples therapy, David eventually decides to leave Keith. But after sowing some wild oats hitting the clubs and dating younger men, he realises he misses Keith. It doesn't help that his ex appears to be moving on with a new man - an E.R. technician. A run-in prompts a rekindling - though not necessarily a commitment to get back together. Despite the ambiguous state of their relationship, the two start talking about buying a house.

Just as he starts to feel settled again, David becomes the victim of a brutal carjacking - an ordeal that lasts several hours and ends with him pleading for his life, a gun inside his mouth. Coping with the effects of post-traumatic stress, he continues to struggle with a fear of being alone and feels threatened by anyone who might lure Keith away from him (including the ridiculous pop diva who seduced and then fired her new bodyguard).

Overwhelmed by his anxiety, David becomes violent with a rude patron at a sushi restaurant, who ends up suing him for a ridiculous sum of money. To settle the case, he allows Keith to offer himself as sexual payment to (Roger/movie producer). Soon after summoning this courage, David is forced to confront his sadistic carjacker in jail, and realises that the young man who has haunted his thoughts is insane -- and far more disturbed than he is - releasing him from some of the pain that has paralysed his life. Longing for a new beginning, David shifts his focus towards adopting a baby.

Frances Conroy (Ruth Fisher)

Ruth, mother of Nate, David and Claire, has spent most of her life taking care of other people. For the majority of her teen years she cared for her grandmother, whose legs had been amputated. She got married at nineteen and spent the next thirty-odd years keeping house, raising her children and tending to the grieving people who passed through Fisher & Sons Funeral Home. When she got the phone call that informed her she was a widow, Ruth's immediate reaction was to hurl a roast - and everything else she could get her hands on - onto the kitchen floor. Since then she has been trying to build a new life and reconcile feelings of guilt from her old one.

The guilt stems from the fact that for the last two years of her marriage Ruth had been having an affair. She met Hiram Gunderson, a chef-turned-hairdresser, at church, and they went on clandestine camping trips together. After Nathaniel Sr.'s death they began to date openly. When Hiram eventually broke up with Ruth, she didn't really mind; by then she was busy with other pursuits, notably her first job outside the funeral home. As a part-time employee of the Blossom d' Amour, Ruth discovered she has a gift for flower arranging. She also discovered that, against her better judgment, she was attracted to Nikolai, the flower shop's hot-blooded Russian proprietor, with whom she had a brief romance.

What Ruth wants more than anything is to feel close to her loved ones. "All I want is for us not to be strangers," she tells David, Nate and Claire in a moment of exasperation, "I want intimacy!" In order to achieve it, she tried "The Plan," a cultish, 70's-style self-help program that exhorted her to approach her life like a building renovation; but her convert's zeal only further alienated her children. When she tried to build an emotionally intimate relationship with Nikolai, her neediness caused him to pull away from her, too. An infatuation with Arthur Martin, an intern at the funeral home, led to another short-lived and unfulfilling pair-up. Ruth finally found a connection when she met George Sibley, a geology professor who had attended a funeral at Fisher & Sons, and comforted Ruth in the wake of Lisa's death. Over the protests of her children, she married George after only six weeks of dating. But no one knows better than Ruth that life is short and as she puts it, "...that's precisely why it's important to keep on living."

Her determined optimism is put to every test once George moves in, as his eccentricities multiply and secrets are revealed - an alarmingly hostile son, a trail of broken hearts, and a propensity to withdraw deeply into his own bewildering world. After several attempts to draw him closer, Ruth gives up and leaves George -- escaping to Topanga to stay with her friend Bettina. The two set out on a liberating adventure south of the border, but when the horse she's riding dies unexpectedly, Ruth is ready to go home to her family again. She returns to find her husband preoccupied with apocalyptic visions as he stockpiles a "bomb shelter" in her basement. After an encounter with George's daughter, who cryptically inquires about her father's "problems," Ruth finds him in a heated conversation with an imaginary person.

Lauren Ambrose (Claire Fisher)

"You know what? I have no f***ing idea what these pictures mean."

 

The baby of the Fisher family, Claire struggled through a difficult childhood and adolescence. She grew up in a house constantly full of people who are either dead or grieving. Her father was killed in a hearse/bus collision one Christmas Eve and she had to drive herself to the hospital high on crystal meth. As a result, she finds it difficult to connect with most people, and the prevailing opinion of her during her high school years was that she's a freak. On the rare occasion that she trusted a guy enough to have sex with him - and accede to his request that she suck his toes - she was greeted the next day by classmates' calls of "oink, oink, little piggy," and "foot slut."

But Claire is resilient - and resourceful. To pay back Gabe Dimas, the toe lothario, she boosted a foot from the Fishers' embalming room and put it in his locker. After that Claire would have been happy if she never saw Gabe again, but when he came to the Fishers to arrange his six-year-old brother's funeral, she found herself reaching out to him. A friendship and romance ensued, but Gabe turned out to be far too troubled for Claire to help; he became a drug dealer, then committed an armed robbery and disappeared.

While Claire, for the most part, believes that life is a study in futility, she's finally found something she wants out of it: to be an artist. She was accepted to LAC-Arts, a prestigious art school she describes as the "Island of Misfit Toys of colleges." At first, her art school experience was positive; she felt she'd found a place where she could finally express herself and she fell in love with Russell Corwin, a fellow student. But the relationship quickly soured and the politics and egos at art school have turned out to be as bad, if not worse, than high school.

Claire continues to search for a place to fit in. Growing up in a mortuary, she's always possessed an old soul. Recently, though, she's distanced herself from the traumas and tragedies that have gripped the rest of her family by embarking on a number of adventures, from dabbling in lesbianism with her friend Edie to experiencing her first orgasm with a guy from art school. An ecstasy trip with Russell inspires an imaginative photography installation, which earns Claire a gallery show and an elevated new status - much to the consternation of her ex, who feels she's ripped off his idea.

Dismissive of Russell's feelings, Claire is preoccupied with her new pursuits, including a re-ignited crush on Billie; Brenda's estranged brother stepped in as a substitute photography teacher at LAC-Arts. Emboldened by a newfound confidence, Claire pursues Billy romantically.

Rachel Griffiths (Brenda Chenowith)

"I can't compete with a dead woman."

 

Brenda, once the great love of Nate's life, is highly intelligent, highly protective of her emotions and highly skeptical of the possibility of being happy. She comes by her misgivings honestly: at the age of six she was declared a genius and placed in the care of psychiatrists who manipulated and scrutinized her every move. To make matters worse, her hell wasn't even a private one - it became the subject of a best-selling book titled, "Charlotte Light and Dark."

In addition, Brenda's family life is dysfunctional in the extreme. Her relationship with her parents (her father is recently deceased), both psychiatrists, has always been openly antagonistic. And while she loves and is protective of her brother, Billy, he's a manic-depressive who used to have the habit of going off his medication. The last time Billy quit taking his meds, he became dangerously violent and Brenda had to have him committed.

The one thing in Brenda's life that brought her happiness was her relationship with Nate, and yet she compulsively sabotaged it. She asked Nate to marry her, then engaged in anonymous sex - with individual men, a pair of twenty-something stoners, a husband and wife at a swingers party - behind his back. When he discovered her "secret life," Nate broke off their engagement, devastating Brenda and driving her to do something she vowed she never would: seek psychiatric help. She attended a support group for sexual addicts and later confessed to Nate that her behavior was motivated by "...the fear, of feeling...something real."

The experience inspires her to return to school to become a licensed therapist, a decision that pleases her self-involved mother. On steadier footing, she starts a relationship with Joe, the introspective musician who lives next door, and the relationship moves quickly, with talk of moving in together and even having children. When Nate appears, lost and still grieving Lisa's death, Brenda offers consolation, which inevitably leads to a rekindling. Eventually recognizing her old patterns, balking at commitment, Brenda ends the affair and confesses her infidelity to Joe. He reluctantly forgives her, until he catches Brenda and Nate in a compromising embrace. This time, Brenda has forced another ending. She runs straight back to Nate and, in a rare departure, impulsively tells him she loves him. Taken aback, he pulls away from her. But a series of traumatic events leads Nate to realize he's ready to build a future with Brenda.

Freddy Rodriguez (Federico Diaz)

"I apologize. This is all my fault. To be close to someone else, I betrayed my marriage."

 

One of the best restorative artists around, Federico got his start at Fisher & Sons shortly after the death of his father, Mauricio Ricardo Diaz. Mr. Diaz had been severely disfigured in an accident, and when Nathaniel Fisher was able to restore the body for an open viewing, the young Federico was grateful and deeply impressed. He struck up a relationship with Mr. Fisher and started doing odd jobs around Fisher & Sons; later Mr. Fisher put Federico through mortuary school.

At the time of Mr. Fisher's death, Rico had been working for him for five years. But when Nate and David took over the business, Federico - who had a pregnant wife and a young son - began to feel he wasn't being paid what he was worth. When mortuary conglomerate Kroehner Service International offered him a substantial pay increase to leave the Fishers, Federico told David and Nate he'd stay - if they made him a partner. Unable to do that, the Fishers watched helplessly as their most valuable asset joined their competition.

Federico wasn't at Kroehner's for long, however. The hours were bad, the work was not as challenging as promised and, even for a funeral home Kroehner was a cold and impersonal place. So when Nate offered to match what Kroehner was paying him, Federico gladly returned. But as fate would have it, Federico did finally get what he wanted: he unexpectedly inherited a large sum of money at a point when David and Nate were in desperate need of cash. So, for seventy-five thousand dollars, Federico is now the owner of twenty-five percent of the funeral home, rechristened Fisher & Diaz.

Matters at home are a different story. His wife, Vanessa, usually strong-willed and in control, slid into a depression in the wake of her mother's death. The bout creates a distance between them, which is exacerbated by Rico's interest in a needy single mother and her child. When Vanessa discovers that Rico's "charity case" is a stripper, she refuses to believe the relationship isn't sexual, and kicks him out of the house. This ultimately sends Rico into the arms of the stripper.

Mathew St. Patrick (Keith Charles)

"When someone sees you as you really are and wants to be with you, that's powerful."

 

Keith Charles, the love of David's life, is charming, handsome and tough - for years he was a gay officer in the LAPD and didn't care who knew it. Being out is important to Keith, and when he and David were first dating it was a major source of conflict between them. Keith was continually frustrated because David couldn't - or wouldn't - be open about his homosexuality. So Keith broke up with David and began a live-in relationship with Eddie, a handsome emergency medical technician David referred to as "Mr. F***ing Superguy E-R."

But that relationship was short-lived. When Keith's drug-addicted sister left town suddenly, Keith brought her nine-year-old daughter, Taylor, into his and Eddie's home. Eddie moved out shortly thereafter and Keith and David, who had remained friends, started seeing each other again. Eventually, Keith asked David - who had developed a close rapport with Taylor - to move in with him.

Things were not easy for the new nuclear family. Keith believes that life is about "striving for perfection," which puts a lot of pressure on him - and everyone close to him. His powerful sense of obligation caused him to badger his sister into rehab; but later, when she killed a man in a hit-and-run accident, Keith turned her in to the authorities. When he shot and killed a man in the line of duty, Keith became a chronic insomniac and lashed out at David whenever he tried to talk about it. In another incident, Keith lost his temper while trying to subdue a suspect, beating the man and subsequently being suspended for it. Not long after, against David's wishes, he sent Taylor to live with his parents in San Diego and quit his job.

They eventually rekindle their relationship, and begin hesitantly talking about a future together. Keith takes a more lucrative job as a security specialist for the stars, which includes going on tour with a young singer - adding a long distance strain on his relationship with David. After learning that her hunky bodyguard is gay, the pop star decides to seduce Keith, and he succumbs (he and David have agreed to an open relationship, after all). His tour of duty ends abruptly when the songstress fires him -- for sleeping with her. Keith returns home to David, who is recovering from his traumatic carjacking - and has never needed him more.

After David is sued for attacking a patron at a sushi restaurant, Keith offers himself up as a sexual payment to Roger, then man who is pressing charges. The man follows up with a phone call, offering Keith a job as a security specialist.

Richard Jenkins (Nathaniel Fisher)

"Infinite possibilities and all he can do is whine. You can do anything you lucky bastard. You're alive! What's a little pain compared to that?.

 

The paterfamilias of the Fisher clan, Nathaniel Sr. had a fatal accident while driving a brand-new hearse and singing, "I'll Be Home for Christmas." And although he is no longer of this world, he shows up from time to time to kibitz with his widow and children.

Nathaniel was a decent man, summed up by his epitaph as "Father, Husband, Caregiver." He served as a volunteer medic in Viet Nam, carrying a snapshot of Ruth in his pocket the entire time. He was also hardworking, rarely taking time off from the funeral home. But he had another side - one that Nate discovered accidentally and only after Nathaniel's death. Years earlier, as payment for a couple of funerals, Nathaniel accepted some "favors" in lieu of cash: from one client he received a monthly supply of San Francisco's finest organic marijuana, and from another he got the exclusive use of a spare room. The room became Nathaniel's secret refuge, where he went to smoke pot and listen to the Classics 4. When Nate went there, he saw that there was more to the father, husband and caregiver than anyone had suspected.

Lately Nathaniel has been making appearances to guide his sons through their troubled times, sometimes appearing as himself, sometimes appearing as a mythical version of himself, but always nudging them to see through the smoke and haze to the bigger truths they might be missing - buried under their own weight of their own fears.

James Cromwell (George Sibley)

"Life is a series of accidents, one after another."

 

Geology professor George Sibley entered the Fishers' lives serendipitously. After attending a funeral at Fisher & Diaz, he returned to retrieve a pair of reading glasses and ended up with an emotionally devastated Ruth sobbing into his lapel. Lisa had just been reported missing and Ruth, desperate for comfort, collapsed onto George. When she apologised for weeping in front of a complete stranger, he gently replied, "Not anymore, I'm not."

Immediately thereafter George and Ruth began a romantic relationship and, following a six-and-a-half-week courtship, were married - the seventh time for George, who's been divorced four times and widowed twice. Whereas Claire and David are wary of their new stepfather ("I like him better than Nikolai at least," David allows), Nate has been openly hostile towards him. But Ruth has found George's preternaturally kind demeanor to be just what she needed in the weeks following Lisa's disappearance and is determined to make him a part of the family.

The kindness that initially drew Ruth to George quickly recedes after the marriage. He becomes argumentative and distant, neglecting to share anything about his life, including the fact that he has an estranged son who is now threatening them both. Dismissive of Ruth's attempts to bring him closer to his own children and to hers, he is nonetheless shocked when he finds a note from her explaining that she is leaving for a while. Her absence sends George deeper into himself, and he becomes increasingly preoccupied with apocalyptic visions. After his daughter Maggie surfaces, concerned about her father's "problems," Ruth chances upon him in a heated conversation with an imaginary person.

Lili Taylor (Lisa Kimmel Fisher)

"You know what's weird about dead people? How they look so perfect... When I die , I want to be one big mess. That's what life is, messy."

 

At first glance, Lisa could appear to be the exemplar of what Claire calls the "crunchy-granola, back-packy" Seattle woman. A strict vegan whose wardrobe consisted of baggy dresses, overalls and clogs; she didn't go to movies because film, which is processed with gelatin from animal hooves, contributes to the "global slavery of animals"; and when she wanted to get rid of ants in her kitchen she sat on the floor and politely asked them to leave. When Nate lived in Seattle, Lisa was his friend, co-worker, roommate - and occasional sex partner.

In Nate's view, he and Lisa were "fuck buddies, nothing more." But Lisa harbored deeper feelings and always hoped that one day Nate would feel the same. While in Seattle on business, Nate stayed with Lisa and, feeling frightened and vulnerable because of his AVM, ended up sleeping with her. Five months later, Lisa ran into Nate in the produce section of his local supermarket. She told him that she was now living in the Palisades, working as a vegan chef for a movie producer; she also informed him that she was pregnant and that he was the father.

Lisa's earth mother exterior belied how tough she could be. Hurt and angry that Nate had become engaged to Brenda - and disgusted that he hadn't told his future wife about his impending fatherhood - Lisa took matters into her own hands; she made him terminate his parental rights. But when the baby, Maya, was born, Lisa softened. She had always been in love with Nate and eventually married him and moved into the Fisher home. Although the marriage was a turbulent one, she and Nate seemed to have gotten past the worst of it when tragedy struck: on her way to visit her sister out of town, Lisa disappeared. State police found her car in a state park and, weeks later, they discovered her remains.

Justina Machado (Vanessa Diaz)

"We can't go back. Everything has changed. I never expected this, and I feel really sad. But it feels right. You know we got together so young. Being on my own is good for me now - and good for you too"

 

Vanessa, mother of Julio and Augusto, has been with Federico Diaz since they were kids, so she overcame any squeamishness about his profession long ago. In fact, she often steered business to Fisher & Sons from the nursing home where she worked and has lunched with Federico in the prep room, a few feet away from a draining corpse. Vanessa has a strong will to go along with her stomach; she makes sure her sons obey her, and she can more than hold her own in an argument with her husband.

The above-mentioned arguments have often been about money. But Vanessa and Federico's money problems were unexpectedly solved one day, just when things were looking bleakest. Vanessa had been fired from her job for failing to notice a hotdog in the throat of an old woman she was attempting to resuscitate. But shortly thereafter, she and Federico inherited one hundred forty-nine thousand dollars from an elderly neighbour. It was Vanessa's idea for Federico to use the money to buy a partnership with the Fishers, telling him, "nothing's worth as much as being your own boss."

For a while Vanessa had difficulty maintaining her take-charge attitude. The death of her mother triggered a clinical depression that caused her to neglect Federico and her sons. Her situation worsened when she began supplementing her physician-prescribed regimen of antidepressants with drugs - including amphetamines - she'd taken from the hospital where she'd started working. With the help of her psychiatrist, however, she's managed to dig herself out of what she felt was "a deepening hole."

Just as Vanessa appears to be on the mend, Rico becomes increasingly concerned about a stranger's emotional and financial problems - a struggling single mother with a younger child. When Ruth casually asks Vanessa about Rico's "vivacious friend," Vanessa becomes suspicious and follows him, soon discovering that her husband's "charity case" is a voluptuous stripper. After wrestling the woman to the ground, Vanessa kicks Rico out of the house, refusing to listen to his pleas that the relationship was not sexual. No longer prone to wallowing, she immediately starts dating, and allows Rico to visit the kids just in time for his high school nemesis to pick her up at the house for a night out.

Adjusting to her husband's absence and her new life as a single woman, Vanessa seems to shed her anger towards Rico. When he pleads with her for a reconciliation, she tells him that they can't go back. She thinks they are both better off on their own now, and she wants a divorce.

Jeremy Sisto (Billy Chenowith)

"You start out with whatever your f***ed up parents and genes give you. Then, if you see enough shrinks for long enough and get your cocktail right, you can get over yourself - and have a life."

 

Billy is Brenda's younger brother, a bright but disturbed young man. He's a diagnosed manic-depressive who, as Brenda says, "always seems to pick the holidays to go off his meds." In the past, Billy - who could be charming one moment and hostile the next - was highly possessive of Brenda, who seemed to have made taking care of him her life's work. As children the two of them were nearly inseparable, and as adults it was Brenda who Billy turned to when he felt overwhelmed. For example, when Billy, a gifted photographer, had a show at a local gallery, he couldn't select the photos himself - he had Brenda choose them. The reason for this, he told Nate was that, "sometimes she gives me her eyes because sometimes I go blind."

When Nate came into Brenda's life, Billy's jealousy and instability drove him to become genuinely dangerous. On one occasion he followed Brenda and Nate to Las Vegas, slipping into their hotel room and photographing them while they slept. Despite Brenda's assurances that Billy would never harm anyone, he broke into her house one night and attempted to cut a tattoo from her back with a mat knife. Immediately after that, Brenda did something she'd hoped she'd never have to: she had Billy committed to a mental health facility.

Billy's doctors got him back on his medication and, as he puts it, "pumped so much electricity through me it could light up the eastern seaboard." After several months he was released, and came to see that being committed to the "home for the tragically inappropriate" was the best thing that could have happened to him. On his therapist's advice, he disengaged for a time from his "toxic" relationship with his sister. When they eventually resumed seeing each other, Billy, once again emotionally strained, made an advance on Brenda and she fled his apartment, once again leaving Billy completely alone.

His father's death and his distance from Brenda have forced Billy to become more self-reliant, and after an art grant took him to Patagonia, he's back in LA substitute teaching at LAC-Arts. When his mother collapses and undergoes an emergency hysterectomy, Billy must face Brenda again in the hospital and they manage a civil lunch.

His new teaching job also reconnects Billy to Claire - who happens to be one of his students. No longer seeing her as Nate's kid sister, he coaches her through her first photo exhibit, and seems pleased when she invites him back to her place.

Joanna Cassidy (Margaret Chenowith)

"...you have to leave. I've got some stuff coming up. I need to lay down and sob for an hour."

 

Margaret Chenowith has been a wife (of Bernard Chenowith), and is a mother (of Brenda and Billy Chenowith) and career woman (psychiatrist). By her standards, she and her late husband met cute; while an intern, she was one of his patients. As Margaret tells it, she walked into his office in a "tight blue Givenchy skirt slit up to my wazoo" and, with a few notable exceptions, they were together until his recent death from cancer.

Margaret and Bernard, AKA Bern, had an "agreement"; they were allowed to sleep with other people as long as they adhered to certain rules. When Bern violated the primary protocol by taking a new partner without first notifying Margaret, she was livid. She had Brenda accompany her while she staked out a spa where Bern's "whore" was having a treatment. When the very attractive - and much younger - woman emerged, Margaret decided to "humanize the situation" by lunging at her. Margaret subsequently left Bern, but the separation was brief; when the whore dumped Bern, Margaret welcomed him back. In spite of everything, she still believes that Bern was her "soul twin" and when he died from cancer she was inconsolable.

Margaret's relationships with her children are also thorny. But whereas Billy is trying to accept his parents - "Who else would have either one of them?" he asks - Brenda refuses to. She is openly contemptuous of them and holds them responsible for her and Billy's emotional problems. Margaret, however, refuses to accept blame. After one especially rancorous confrontation, she looked her daughter in the eye and told her why: "Listen, Miss High-and-Mighty, this is life. People have crises. They push each others' buttons, they inflict pain on each other. And once in a f***ing blue moon they bring out the best in each other...but mostly they bring out the worst."

Having recovered from her husband's death, Margaret is now involved with Olivier, Billy and Claire's former art teacher - the one who managed to lure both Billie and Claire's ex Russell into sexual affairs.

Now that Brenda has undergone treatment for sex addiction and decided to become a therapist herself, she appears to be softening towards her mother.

Patricia Clarkson (Sarah O'Conner)

"God, there's so much emotion to navigate where family is concerned... Vicodin, anyone?"

 

Sarah is Ruth's younger sister and, outside of her children and grandchild, her only living relative. A free spirit, Sarah lives a life very different from Ruth's: she's into Tai-chi, feng-shui and magic mushrooms; she's traveled the world and counts many important painters and writers among her friends. She once shared a flat in Berlin with Allen Ginsberg until she "got fed up with the parade of Aryan starfucker boys." Every year in her Topanga Canyon home, she honors her old flat-mate by hosting a "Howl weekend," an excuse for aging hippies to get together and read poetry, do drugs and dance naked in the great outdoors.

Until Sarah showed up on the Fishers' doorstep, she and Ruth hadn't seen each other for years. Claire, who'd never met Sarah, assumed from the way Ruth spoke about her, she was dead. In fact, Sarah's re-entry to the Fishers' lives was Ruth's doing - as a requirement of The Plan, Ruth had phoned her. (Sarah understood completely; she'd done The Plan herself in the 70's, "when it was still called 'Transitional Focus.'") In short order Sarah had unintentionally pushed just about every button Ruth has, by invading her kitchen and, even more galling, by forming an instant rapport with Claire.

Ruth's resentment goes even deeper. For one thing, Sarah facilitated Nate's first sexual experience, when he went to stay with her at age fifteen and was deflowered by one of her artist friends. For another, Ruth has always blamed Sarah for leaving her alone to take care of their invalid grandmother. The major source of Ruth's anger towards her sister is, simply, that she believes Sarah has had a better life than hers. When Sarah heard this, she set her sister straight, informing her to the contrary: she's childless, the love of her life is dead and she is only too aware that she has no artistic talent. On top of that, her recreational drug use turned into an addiction to Vicodin. (When she suffered the throes of withdrawal it was Ruth who tied her to her bed and saw her through it.) "It's all hard, Ruth," she once said to her sister, "We just made different choices."

Kathy Bates (Bettina)

"Lucky, unlucky, I don't know. I'm unlucky I ran through three husbands. I'm lucky I got to retire early off the insurance. I'm unlucky my son set fire to the house. I'm lucky I've never had a urinary tract infection. I don't even care if it works out fair in the end. I'm sure it doesn't. I still have to haul my own ass out of bed in the morning."

 

Bettina is Ruth Fisher's only close girlfriend. They met at the home of Ruth's sister, Sarah, whom Bettina was helping though Vicodin withdrawal. "She begged me to make sure she got through it no matter what," Bettina explained and despite her qualms, Ruth pitched in to help. As she watched Bettina set about her task - lashing Sarah to her bed, rooting out her hidden drug vials and threatening to tape her "yappy mouth" shut - Ruth quickly came to admire her strength and directness.

Like Ruth, Bettina has had plenty of heartache in her life. Her first husband died at the age of thirty-five after a ten-year battle with cancer; her third husband succumbed to an undiagnosed heart defect at forty-six. The one in between was, as Bettina puts it, "just a dog who tried to sleep with every one of my girlfriends." In addition her daughter, who like Ruth was once a devotee of The Plan, is a "nut job" who got into legal trouble for "hoarding firearms in a compound in Montana."

Unlike Ruth, however, Bettina doesn't dwell on life's low points. She firmly believes in letting go of past mistakes and has counseled Ruth to do the same. She also believes in creating one's own fun and has gotten Ruth to do things - get her first-ever massage, shoplift a pricey lipstick - she would never have dared on her own. Bettina has a simple credo: "I think if you're afraid of something? It means you should probably do it."

Ben Foster (Russell Corwin)

"I have this theory, that every now and then a person should get what they want right when they want it. It keeps you optimistic."

 

Shy, sensitive and self-effacing, Russell was for a brief time the love of Claire's life. They met as first-year students at art school and had an immediate rapport; Claire found she could talk to Russell about anything, including her travails with men. When she once expressed guilt at bending his ear so often, Russell was quick to set her at ease. "Women tell me this kind of stuff all the time," he assured her, "I'm the guy who listens."

Unlike other guys to whom Claire's been drawn, Russell's nature isn't testosterone-driven, but sweet; he painted blue streaks in Claire's hair and confessed that as a child he cried whenever he saw "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." As a result, his sexuality seems ambiguous to most people - even Claire, to whom he finally had to state, "I'm not gay...Most people think I am, but I'm not." When he and Claire had sex for the first time, it was Russell's first time ever.

Although his relationship with Claire seemed strong, one day he did something that caused her to abruptly end it: he confessed that he'd had sex with Olivier Castro-Staal. Russell tried to explain that he was drunk and high when it happened and that Olivier took advantage. But he finally had to admit that while he'd never had sex with a man before this incident, he'd thought about it many times. "I think I might be bi," he told her, "but...I'm so confused."

There's one thing, however, of which Russell is certain - he loves Claire deeply and is not giving up hope that they'll get back together. Even as Claire becomes enrapt in others - from Edie to Jimmy to their new art instructor, Billy Chenowith, Russell does not seem ready to let go. He has a fling with her friend Anita in what appears to be an attempt to get Claire's attention. His preoccupation turns darker when Claire's photo spread for art class, inspired by the pictures he took of her one drug-infused afternoon, earns Claire accolades and a prestigious gallery show. But Russell is determined not to remain in the shadows of Claire's sudden glory - or her life.

Peter Macdissi (Olivier Castro-Staal)

"You were my student and my assistant. Now we're competition."

 

Painter Olivier Castro-Staal, exotic, charismatic and opinionated in the extreme, swept into LAC-Arts as a last-minute substitute for Claire's "Form in Space" instructor. His first act was to announce that the course, listed as a lecture, would instead be a studio class. Declaring, "I don't do lectures," the question of whether he had the authority to make such a change was irrelevant. Olivier, to put it mildly, is not constrained by the expectations of others.

Multilingual and well traveled, Olivier is highly intelligent and given to grand pronouncements about art and life: "Ambivalence is poison for art." "Pain is good for an artist." "An artist never questions her right to experience everything the world has to offer." But he just as often stoops to the puerile, once characterising a comment by Russell Corwin as "phony baloney caca shit." But Olivier's egotism belies a deep self-loathing. A highly touted artist in his youth - a painting he made at twenty is in the permanent collection of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati - he failed to live up to that youthful promise. He copes with his disappointment by manipulating and even seducing his students. He had sex with Russell and years earlier slept with then-student Billy Chenowith in order to help dissipate the "static" around Billy's sexuality.

Olivier doesn't confine his attentions to his students. Not long after seducing Russell, he had a fling with the recently widowed Margaret Chenowith. They met at a student/faculty art show at LAC-Arts, where Margaret paid twenty thousand dollars for his painting, "Bird Boy" - a hyper-real depiction of a man, naked but for knee-high boots, with a large, menacing crow where his penis should be. Afterwards, Olivier escorted Margaret and her purchase home, where they had sex - during which Olivier gazed at "Bird Boy." For Olivier, this was possibly the most satisfying encounter he'd had in a long time. So satisfying, in fact, that he soon found himself living with Brenda and Billy's mother.

Tina Holme (Maggie Sibley)

"If you look hard enough, you'll see the man you fell in love with is still in there"

 

A sharp contrast to his troubled son, George's daughter Maggie is a stable and caring force in her father's life, "the one thing I did right," as he puts it. She has fond memories of camping and hiking with her dad as a kid, but has also witnessed his wavering mental health over the years. Now a pharmaceutical rep who makes her own schedule, Maggie is increasingly called upon to step in and help her father.

The Collection