In its early years, House was always one of my favorite TV shows. Seasons 1 and 2 are, bar none, the greatest procedural seasons I’ve ever witnessed. With a tremendous performance by Hugh Laurie, playing one of the cleverest ‘Sherlock Holmes’ updates of all time, and a string of fascinating medical mysteries, this was the rare procedural one could describe as genuinely unpredictable. It was surprising from week to week, if only to see how House himself reacted to a variety of situations, and I still enjoy revisiting early high points like “Three Stories” from time to time.
Starting with the third season, though, I began enjoying the show less and less. The writers started struggling to find interesting twists on the formula, ongoing story arcs became messy and unappealing, and the lack of dynamism among the characters – House isn’t the only person afraid of change on this show – grew tiresome. The introduction of a new team did nothing for me; apart from breakout star Olivia Wilde, none of the new characters held a candle to the old ones.
The series seemed to rebound with its two-hour sixth season premiere, “Broken,” where House dealt with his personal issues in a mental institution. It remains my favorite episode of the series. After the writers quickly hit the ‘reset’ button on six seasons of character development in the following episodes, though, I decided it was better to keep my good memories of the show in tact and quit before I got too frustrated. Following plot summaries occasionally ever since has only reinforced my decision (House drives his car through Cuddy’s house? Really? WHY?).
Thus, tonight’s series finale is the first new episode I’ve watched since season six, and the question is whether or not I felt it lived up to the brighter aspects of the show’s legacy.
In short? It absolutely did.
“Everybody Dies” was as close to a perfect House finale as I could possible imagine, a fabulous hour of television that cut straight to the heart of what House has always been about, evoking the best performances, characters, and stylistic flourishes of the series at large in the process.
The best choice David Shore and company made with their last hour was to focus solely on House himself. The show has always relied on a typically strong supporting cast, and I suspect some will be disappointed we didn’t get more resolution for certain side players. But apart from Wilson, none of them were ever truly important enough to focus on at the end of the story, and much of the power of “Everybody Dies” came from giving the entire hour over to one final in-depth examination of why this gloriously flawed human is worth loving, even in the worst of times. And it wasn’t the audience, or even House’s friends who needed that lesson reinforced. It was House himself, and it was a tremendously moving experience to watch House overcome the only hurdle the writers hadn’t exhausted in the last eight years: learning to cope with his self-loathing and find a reason to truly live.Next
In one final, grand reference to Sherlock Holmes, though, living means dying and I suspect many will feel the show took a step too far in closing with House having faked his own death. Forget for a moment, that on the scale of ridiculous House moments – getting shot by an angry patient, forced to do medicine at gunpoint, hallucinating dead people in every other episode, driving a car through Cuddy’s house, inciting a prison riot, etc. – swapping dental records is relatively insignificant. Focus instead on the literary and thematic allusions at play.
David Shore and company have never been ashamed to admit that House is their interpretation of Sherlock Holmes and I think it’s entirely fitting to end with an homage to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Final Problem, the story where Holmes and arch-nemesis Moriarty went off the Reichenbach Falls together after a fist-fight. Watson – and contemporary Victorian readers – thought Holmes dead for years, until he returned later on. “Everybody Dies” plays out in similar fashion, but instead of Moriarty, House’s greatest nemesis is revealed to be himself.
So throughout the hour, House grapples with his one true enemy by hallucinating departed (literally or figuratively) friends to speak for his subconscious. It’s a stylistic and thematic device the show has used many times before – in “Three Stories,” “House’s Head/Wilson’s Heart,” the final arc of season five, etc. – but they’ve always done it well, and this was, in many ways, the trope’s most meaningful implementation.
With Wilson dying, House heading back to prison, and all possible solutions exhausted, House had truly hit rock bottom. In that moment, it was time to finally confront his nemesis, the person responsible for all this misery. As he discovers speaking to the hallucinogenic projections and reexamining his final days, he only has himself to blame.
I love the way each of the hallucinations was implemented. Kal Penn’s Kutner character was always a bland, boring black hole during his time with the series, and House had no emotional connection to him. Due to this, Kutner was the introductory exposition device, the person House could speak to just to make sense of his surroundings.
Anne Dudek’s Amber Volakis, a spectacular side character who tried out for House’s team and dated Wilson before dying in season 4, serves as a mirror for House’s conscious mind. She’s his intellectual equal and he respects her, so she can force him to be honest about his feelings. It’s during this phase of the episode that House enters a serious, meaningful level of self-reflection, realizing why he considered suicide and recognizing the greatest dichotomy of his life: “Everybody dies, it’s meaningless,” he says. But if it’s truly meaningless, why would House be a doctor? Why would he devote his life to saving others? The puzzle itself isn’t enough, as Amber insists. She’s right. House knows she’s right. But on a conscious level, he can’t resolve this fundamental contradiction.
The next two figures are born from his subconscious. Sela Ward’s Stacy Warner, the woman House had his healthiest relationship with, both before the series opened and in season 2, represents the best of Gregory House. She is one of the few people in his life he can be truly proud around, because even though their romance didn’t work out, it wasn’t destructive or damaging either. So she’s the one who prompts him to think about God – a figure House has always railed against for obvious reasons – and makes him realize that even if he’s not religious, he does have faith. He believes in love. He has always had the capacity to love others. Stacy. Cameron. Cuddy. And most importantly, Wilson. House loves Wilson as truly as one person can love another, and it’s in this phase of the episode that House realizes how poorly he’s treated that love.Previous Next
There’s the great sequence in the cafeteria – flawlessly played by Robert Sean Leonard – where Wilson finally stands up to House and says NO, as he’s always needed to. House realizes that Wilson was his conscience, and if he’s acted without one all these years, it’s because he had Wilson’s on loan whenever he needed it. This is the first step in House’s ultimate revelation. As Stacy explains: “You’ve been looking to him to find what you have got to find within yourself. Something you can find.” This is the first hint House gives himself that even though he is flawed – tremendously, hilariously flawed – he really does have the capacity to change and, more importantly, to stay true to that change.
With this established, the last hallucination is obvious. It has to be an embodiment of House’s shame. House has to confront the darkest part of himself, the part that has destroyed every relationship he’s ever had and the lives of several people. To my mind, this could only be embodied by one person, and I am so, so glad that the writers didn’t mess this one up.
It’s Cameron, Jennifer Morrison, the original woman on House’s team. The writers destroyed Cameron’s character in later seasons, showing such naked contempt for what was always one of the show’s better creations that they unceremoniously kicked her out the door midway through season six. That’s actually the event that convinced me to stop watching, because it was largely House’s fault that Cameron broke up with Chase at all, and I thought that was a step too far for even Gregory House to take. But by making Cameron the embodiment of House’s shame, the writers admitted to the mistakes they made, and infused those mistakes into the characters. House has plenty of other reasons to feel shame around Cameron; the way he toyed with her emotions in the early years, the tough attitude he always had to her ideas, the aforementioned incident with Chase, etc. Of all the people on this show, Cameron was one of the only ones House ever loved – not romantically, but platonically – and time and time again, he failed to live up to that love. It had to be Cameron appearing to him at the end.
Jennifer Morrison was tremendous in her scene, gently explaining to House the truth he’d always wanted to deny: That he led a dark life, and he had no one to blame but himself. That when he or his friends suffered, it was typically because of a mistake he himself had made, not because of an external force. That because of this, House had plenty of excuses to die: “They’re all different,” she says. “But the reasons are all the same. You’re arrogant. You’re self-destructive. You only care about yourself.” She is a projection of House at his worst, the part of House’s personality that should not exist and deserves to die. And unsurprisingly, she’s the only figure House can’t argue with. House’s greatest nemesis has always been, and will always be, himself.
But before departing, House has one final tidbit to share: that by saving the drug addict, he forfeited a chance to get out of the entire parole situation clean. He performed a truly selfless act. Cameron – House’s subconscious, rather – picks up on this. It undermines the conclusion he’d just come to. In any mystery, there can be a million pieces of evidence that point to one conclusion, but if there’s one contradictory idea, the answer can never be certain. House can’t just lie down and die ignoring this. Combining it with what Stacy told him, the clues point to a brighter future, a future where House could focus on the good and purge the bad. A future where he could overcome his own worst enemy by slowly robbing it of the personality traits that fuel self-destruction.
For a moment, I thought the episode would climax here, on this revelation, and I prepared for disappointment. House has seen his inner demons before. He’s recognized he has the capacity for change. The problem – his core problem, I would argue – is that none of it ever stuck. House would have to do something much more….explosive to truly enact lasting change.
And explosive is exactly the option he takes. Just as John Watson witnessed his best friend Sherlock go over the Reichenbach falls, Wilson arrives on the scene only to see House engulfed in flame. It’s in this moment, I assume, that House gets his last, most brilliant idea: the solution that will actually, permanently fix his life.
With his best friend watching, he kills Gregory House.
Yes, the man himself escapes out the back, swaps some dental records, and lives to motorcycle another day, but he lets Gregory House, the man we’ve known, loved, and loathed for eight years, perish in that monstrous fire. He has to. Gregory House is his Moriarty, the reason for all his suffering, and if he continues living in a situation where Gregory House is enabled to do his worst, he will never get healthy. So he lets Gregory House die. He severs all ties with the world he used to know, and decides to focus all his energy on a selfless action: giving Wilson the last five months he deserves.Previous Next
I think House got the idea when he saw Wilson standing outside the building, come to rescue his friend from the fire. In that moment, I doubt House could ignore the depths of Wilson’s selflessness and he decided that he would go to drastic measures to be there for Wilson the way Wilson was always there for him. Again, Gregory House was a poison in their relationship. Gregory House was abusive to Wilson, no matter how kindly Wilson treated him. But with Gregory House out of the picture, this new, improved man can devote all his energy to paying Wilson back for every kind deed he ever performed. To take on Wilson’s pain, if need be, and allow his best friend to live in the moment, rather than dreading the future. To be there to tell Wilson that “Cancer’s boring” – a perfect final line for the series – and give him an exciting new series of adventures to occupy his final days.
And it starts, of course, with a motorcycle ride.
I honestly couldn’t be happier, or more moved, by what David Shore and company achieved in this final hour. As a show, House has made almost as many missteps over the years as its title character did, and by embracing and owning up to those mistakes – House’s subconscious exploration of his flaws played like a thinly-veiled meta-commentary on the show’s own stubborn refusal to make meaningful change – they crafted a finale that honored and improved upon everything that came before, rather than just cherry-picking and revisiting the best moments in a rocky eight-season run. The finale was everything I loved about House distilled into one wonderful hour, and after years of feeling hurt and betrayed by the downfall of what started as such a great series, I now feel nostalgia and warmth towards the show once more. If that isn’t above-and-beyond what we require of any finale, let alone House, we’re being far too critical.
I will miss House now that it’s gone. I’ll miss the good Doctor’s one-liners. I’ll miss Hugh Laurie’s flawless, iconic performance. I’ll miss the hallucinations, the cane, the whiteboard, the Vicodin, and the ball. I’ll miss many of the characters, especially Wilson, and I’ll miss the understated beauty of the Princeton Plainsboro set. I’ll even miss the medical mysteries, as repetitive and uninvolving as they got in the later years.
But what I’ll especially miss is the opportunity to examine one of the most fascinating characters in the history of television, a character whose own personal struggles revealed so much about the ways in which we all harm ourselves by clinging to our flaws to maintain a stable sense of identity. Gregory House was as universal as he was singular. There will never be another like him.Previous