HBO Final season of 'Six Feet Under' promises smart TV

The family matriarch will have a meaty plot line in the fifth, and last, season.
"Six Feet Under" is hardly at death's door.
The show's fifth and final season (beginning 9 p.m., tonight, HBO) reveals a show that's as lively as ever. The characters are familiar, but not stale. The writing is wonderfully dark, but manages not to be bleak and hopeless.
It's a shame that writer Alan Ball thinks it's time for the show to end. Television rarely gets this engaging, and weekly dramas with continuing stories are never this intelligent.
With the mystery of his wife's death solved, Nate (Peter Krause) resumes his relationship with Brenda (Rachel Griffiths). They're ready to have children, and Brenda is even more determined to begin a new career.
Nate's brother, David (Michael C. Hall), wants to be a daddy, too, though he and his significant other, Keith (Matthew St. Patrick), have a difficult time deciding on how that can be done. Nate and David's sister, Claire (Lauren Ambrose), dives into an unwise relationship with Brenda's creepy brother (Jeremy Sisto), who fears he's losing his edge because he's on meds.
But of all the stories, matriarch Ruth (Frances Conroy) has the meatiest. Having discovered her second husband, George (the wonderful James Cromwell), suffers from paranoia, she is burdened to be his caretaker.
She is resentful because he never disclosed his mental problems to her before they married. Now she feels trapped because she must go from being his wife to being his full-time caretaker.
She sees her husband as a time bomb that could explode at any turn, and she is angry about it. It's a superbly written story for an actress who has the chops to explore the depth and the huge emotional range of a complex situation.
Conroy's Emmy-caliber performance is what distinguishes "Six Feet" from being just another TV soap opera.

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