Endings: House M.D.

Warning: Here be spoilers! Read on only if you a) don’t care about spoilers or b) are well familiar with the ending of House.

I’ve had an idea. I want to record my thoughts and feelings on different pieces of artwork/media, but I didn’t want to just do normal reviews. I was re-watching House for the second time and as the final season concluded my existence was punctuated by that special bittersweet melancholy that pervades in moments of finality. Whether it’s a great book series, an epic movie trilogy, or a silly procedural drama centered around a fake (albeit excellent) American accent, you can find that special feeling as you credits roll or last pages are turned.

So, let’s try this out.

House M.D., hereafter just “House”, is one of the shows I grew up on. Spanning 8 seasons from 2004 – 2012 I remember enjoying the paradox of a misanthropic healer immensely when I’d manage to catch an episode. I didn’t follow religiously though, and in a pre-streaming era it wasn’t as easy as it is now to make up a missed episode here and there.

As a result of this uneven exposure in my younger days I returned to it years later to watch from beginning to end. Most recently I finished a complete re-watch for the second time. There are not many shows that I could tolerate twice, but there’s something about an extremely predictable procedural that hits a sweet spot for something to watch when you don’t want to think. Folding laundry has no better accompaniment.

At the conclusion of the series we see a few arcs tied up neatly.

Taub’s family of twins is seen united and happy complete with two mothers, a happy ending to a story of man who shirked relationship responsibility for many years of his life.

Chase inherits the diagnostics department, a few episodes after leaving the hospital with a sense of graduation. He’s cast as the son House never had, the longest serving staff member under House. We watched him grow and discover himself and what he wanted across the series. From a hot, surfing womanizer to a man with a few more wrinkles and a lot more depth, Chase exemplifies the idea that House’s improper methods can yield tremendous results if you can just learn when, exactly, to ignore him.

The major arc, starting towards the last 1/4 of the season centers around Wilson and his diagnosis with cancer. After a good college effort he finds out the cancer is terminal, and he has only five months left. House takes the news predictably horribly, and a fight ensues lasting a full episode between House (“don’t give up and keep taking horrible chemo so you get a few more months” and Wilson (“I’ve seen the end results of that too often to want it for myself”). The irony of a oncologist turning down treatments he’s prescribed countless times to others is ever present.

Eventually, House capitulates just as Wilson does. They both come to terms with things outside their control, and we reach the final episode with House having turned the spotlight of mind internal as he knows the real issue was never Wilson, but his own fears. The patient of the week is a heroin addict, and although the details are a little sparse eventually House ends up in a veritable crack den with this patient, high as a kite on some sweet, sweet opiates. What happens when House is particularly high? We’ve seen it time and time again: hallucinations, whee! House sees a steady stream of his biggest hits, starting with those who killed themselves over the course of the show, and leading up to Dr. Allison Cameron. A fire is seen burning in the background as they talk to him, and it grows steadily. Eventually Cameron’s bit of reverse psychology seems to do the trick, and he makes an effort to escape the burning building.

Meanwhile, alarms have been raised. House has been missing, sight unseen, for 2 days, and this just after he’s been told he has to return to prison. Naturally, the remainder of his prison sentence (6 months) is just enough to ensure he’d never see his best friend again. People assume the worst, knowing that House hasn’t always gone for the happiest of coping methods.

We come to the climax of the show as Wilson and Foreman show up outside the crack den. Wilson sees a figure emerge from the smoke through the glass of the front door, but before House (now clearly visible) can reach the door a beam seems to fall on top of him and the fire consumes everything within our (and Wilson’s and Foreman’s) view.

Cut to the funeral, and the greatest hits of House’s (still ambulatory) acquaintances say saccharine things about him. Wilson closes out the eulogies with nice comments…then pauses and starts to say true things about House: He was an ass!

It’s all sad, and poignant, and a bit funny watching Wilson disparage House, and then a cell phone buzzes. Surprise, surprise, Wilson sees a text with an acerbic message that could only have come from a very particular medicine man.

Cut to Wilson seeing House outside his apartment, and pointing out that House is in huge trouble for letting his death be assumed. House shrugs it off, and asks Wilson what’s next, looking ahead to five months of being the best best friend he’s ever been. Wilson smiles in a huge way and we come to our final scenes, flashing through the aforementioned narratives of secondary characters we had to wrap up.

In addition to Taub and Chase, Foreman is seen stumbling across House’s name badge in an auspicious location in his office. He pauses to think, confused, and smile grows across his face. “The madman actually did it.” Foreman, perhaps the smartest person House worked with understands what’s happened and is happy that House is alive, all their difficult history aside.

I think Foreman’s reaction is what I was feeling as well when we get to the final scene, a typical “into the sunset” affair with Wilson and House seen clad in leather atop classic chromed-out hogs. Wilson starts to make a request to House regarding his end of days but House cuts him off. They’ll deal with that when it comes, but today we’re living out our dreams as best friends. Someone who has spent years finding reasons to be unhappy in the moment has shifted his focus 180° to instead highlight the joys of life. He’s truly selfless, and even though maybe it’s just a short-term act to make Wilson’s final months happier, I felt that it indicated a truly changed person.

In the end isn’t it change that we want to see? A view from the peak is made more enjoyable when you can just barely make out the starting point below you. Similarly, in this show we see every character end up happier, stronger, and better off for having House in their life (that is, every character that hasn’t killed themselves). Is it realistic? Not at all. Should we even allow a story of a generally horrible human being end so happily? Maybe not–we don’t want people to think that saving lives, or any other positive thing justifies being an ass. However, if you had made it 8 seasons with House, you’ve given up on reality a long time ago, and if you’re going to enjoy a fantasy, why not make it end happily?

In the end, I think I took a few lessons or thoughts away from this series. One, everybody lies, but that doesn’t make them bad, only human. Two, that we can choose to let the world tear us down and make us angry, or to resist negativity and find happiness. And third, that this happiness is always going to be based on the people in our lives; our relationships define our lived experience perhaps more than any other thing.

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