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House, M.D. Series Finale Review: “Everybody Dies” (Season 8, Episode 22)

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.


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.

About the author

Jonathan R. Lack

With ten years of experience writing about movies and television, including an ongoing weekly column in The Denver Post's YourHub section, Jonathan R. Lack is a passionate voice in the field of film criticism. Writing is his favorite hobby, closely followed by watching movies and TV (which makes this his ideal gig), and is working on his first film-focused book.