August 12, 2014 11:26 AM EDT

Alan Ball’s all-in-the-funeral-family drama expanded on the themes of his movie American Beauty: families keep secrets, people maintain facades, and while death may be final, life is messy. The saga of the Fishers reveled in its characters’ contradictions: matriarch Ruth (Frances Conroy) was both uptight and free-spirited; artist daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose) was insightful yet whiny; son David (Michael C. Hall) was repressed yet brave; other son Nate (Peter Krause) was idealistic yet could be a total jerk. In its bravura last few episodes Nate dies of a brain hemorrhage — just after splitting up with his wife from his hospital bed — and the Fishers themselves became the mourners, celebrating Nate’s imperfect life and moving on. The elegiac epilogue, fast-forwarding through the lives and deaths of each remaining main character, was the series’ best imaginable epitaph.

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