Today was the series finale of one of the great serials of my generation, House. I’m watching the final minutes of the show and am having a difficult time trying to figure out in which direction the show is pulling my heart strings. If you haven’t seen the episode then you should really try and find it and witness it for yourself. Spoilers as always are plentiful from here on out, consider yourself warned. If you have never seen House then you have missed out on a pretty awesome program in my opinion. Eight seasons and 177 episodes of of the most magnificent bastard of a protagonist that viewers love and love to hate.
Allow me a few paragraphs to indulge myself in the serial narrative complexities of the show which I find very interesting. The titular protagonist is a doctor, also he is an ass. The format is relatively simple, take a brilliant but flawed doctor, surround him with well intentioned but quirky doctors and have them solve medical mysteries. The first season was fairly straight forward in that few things happened that followed every episode, i.e., there wasn’t much of an overarching plot. Sure there was interactions between the characters and the whole “will they or won’t they” between House and Cuddy, House and Cameron, Cameron and Chase, and a few other combinations. As the years went on, the surrounding cast shifted and changed, some left others died but there was always one person that was always there. I am of course talking about Dr. James Wilson, mostly known as Wilson, the Jiminy Cricket conscience and best friend to House.
It’s kind of difficult to describe how House Wilson work together without witnessing it first hand. At first glance it seems dysfunction to the point of an abusive relationship as House takes advantage of his good nature, while Wilson is more than ready to lend a sympathetic ear or helping hand to his friend when life seems to collapse around his friend. If you’ve seen the most recent Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. then you have a really good idea how such a friendship can exist and survive throughout all those years. Now as for the rules of serials, the core relationship structures stay fairly consistent throughout the years. The interactions remain mostly the same even as the characters grow. House has his poignant moments but ultimately he is an ass to everyone. Wilson has almost infinite patience towards a friend wo barely deserves it. Foreman is always serious, Cameron is nice and personable, Chase wants to escape being under people’s shadows, Cuddy struggles to maintain balance between logic, ethics, and how to protect the entire hospital as House does something crazy that ultimately saves lives.
It is perhaps the formula of each individual plot that is so formulaic but so entertaining as well. Person gets sick during everyday activities, probably collapses or starts bleeding from a random orifice. The diagnostic differential between House and the team continues. A disease is suspected and they start treatment, only making it worse. New symptoms appear and the patient is now knocking at heaven’s door. Then, a revelation, probably originating from an interaction with WIlson or something dealing with the subplot of the day. Mystery is solved and nine times out of ten the patient survives, most likely after revealing some deep disturbing secret, and everyone comes out learning a little bit about themselves. It is here that you see that it’s not about diseases or doctors, but the program is about people. The human condition is revealed with two central themes that are constant for the series. The first is House’s catch phrase of sorts: “Everybody lies” The second theme comes in the form of the Rolling Stones song that often times shows up being quoted directly, other times as background music: “you can’t always get what you want but if you try real hard sometimes you get what you need.” It is in that search for equilibrium between what we and reveal, between the conflicts of our desires and our necessities that we as viewers connect to the characters. The fact that for eight seasons, the conflict continued in that no one was ever really happy after spending time with House, even if they are healthier and have faced the truth, especially House himself. The point of serial narratives is that you delay the happy ending but you keep the hope that it will come, maybe not for everyone, but that the conflict will ceratinly end. Sometimes they do it with having the characters ride into the sunset, maybe it’s with a wedding, other times with a funeral. House decided to pull an all of the above.
Now I’m the first to admit that I have not seen the show consistently over the last couple of seasons so I was not up to date with the most contemporary plot lines beyond the basics mentioned above. Perhaps the biggest change was that Cuddy, former love interest of House, was not around for the last season at all. Before the finale, they did an entire behind the scenes special talking to cast and crew. Perhaps the weirdest part is hearing Hugh Laurie in his natural British accent the entire time. In the context of serials, a look behind the scenes is great for serials because they allow for the people behind the scenes to be placed into focus. Seeing the actors be people and not characters makes for a better connection for the readers. It lets you take a moment to give a proper send off and really achieve closure. The finale itself surprised me in that you didn’t have a long preview to help viewers catch up, it just started in medias res in a pretty dangerous situation. I was able to go through episode guides to check the lead up and the fact that it was the last season was apparent in that you can do some crazy stuff to your characters. The most important detail to know is that Wilson has cancer of the I don’t know but it will definitely kill him soon variety. He had tried some treatments but none of them worked, so he decided to stop trying to look for a cure and live his remaining time as best he can. With only five months to live, Wilson and House are slightly at pece, but House gets in some sort of prank war with Foreman and he ends up destroying a floor/medical equipment that turns into vandalism that will put House in jail for six months minimum. And with that in mind, let’s talk about the finale.
The opening shot is House awakening in some sort of abandoned dark building, heroin needles all around, and a body lies next to him. The other person is revealed to be dead by none other than Kutner/Kumar. This was Kal Penn’s character that committed suicide several seasons ago. If there’s one thing I love about final shows is that old characters reappear to add another dimension of growth for the characters that have sticked around. Having Kutner show up as the personification of his subconscious, something that the show had already done before, allowed for an exploration of the character of House and what led him to this moment. Oh and did I mention that the abandoned house he is in is on fire!!!!!!!!!!!!! Nothing beats a journey of self discovery than one that is done on a time limit when your life is on the line. The corpse in the corner is a junkie that went to the hospital to score some powerful narcotics, House catches him, but finds that he is actually sick. Somewhere down the line the guy is about to die but House notices what’s wrong and what can save him. The revelation of the medical case is done through flashbacks of House facing his hallucinations. First it was Kutner, then it was Amber. As House gathers the strength to try and get out of the burning building, the floor collapses under him, he struggles to bring himself up, but ultimately falls and is now surrounded by flames (so metaphoric). As he lays collapsed on the floor, a new subconscious apparition appears in the shape of Stacy, the woman he loved but that left him with excrutiating emotional and physical pain in the name of doing what was best for him. As House is about to give up, one final form manifests itself, Cameron. One of the first cast memebrs to leave, Cameron returned and looked as if she was going to help House be at peace with dieing but ultimately convinces him to take actual action, change, and live. While this is happening, Wilson and Foreman team up to find House, who has been missing for days. Both feel guilty, in that House approached them for help so that he wouldn’t go to jail, albeit through unethical means, but both chose that they could not help him cheat the system, not this time. They find the building, and Wilson thinks he sees House just about to leave. Then the building collapses, then it explodes, and it was still on fire.
Staring at his own mortality looming, he witnesses the death of the man that most infuriated him but the one whom he considered a true friend. The body was identified with dental records and a funeral soon followed. Characters from seasons past and present came together to say their goodbyes. Noticibly absent from the cavalcade of characters was Cuddy. Each one said how House had changed their lives by making them confront the lies they told themselves. Wilson begins his eulogy by singing his praises for his friend but ultimately says that he was an ass that had to be the center of attention. Then he gets a text message and leaves abruptly. He goes around town and finds House, alive and well, who got out the back door, switched some dental records and ultimately faked his own death. Without the threat of jail time, House is now free to ride into the sunset (on motorcycles) with Wilson to celebrate what little time he has left. The epilogue showed that the characters had their own happy endings. Cameron is now married and with a kid, Chase is now head of diagnostic medicine, and everyone else was okay. Closure was provided in a way that only the magnificent bastard known as Dr. Gregory House can dish out and man was it a Hell of a ride.