[SPOILER WARNING & TRIGGER WARNING FOR TALK ABOUT SUICIDE] It’s been eight years since House M.D. first aired on Fox and during that time we’ve ridden what sounds clichÃ©d but can only be aptly described as a rollercoaster. In the series finale, we tag along with House on his final joyride as he battles his greatest diagnostic challenge: himself.
The series finale begins with House waking up next to his heroin-addicted patient inside a burning warehouse, a little disoriented and unsure if his patient is dead or alive. We have no idea how he got here but like Uncle Scrooge (a fitting comparison), he’s visited by the ghosts of his past who help us piece together the story. First up: Dr. Lawrence Kutner.
Kutner was one of House’s “contestants” in The Great Game to earn a spot on his team after Chase is fired and Cameron and Foreman quit at the end of Season Three. With Kutner being a little clumsy, superstitious and an ultimately “intriguing” character, House lets him stay when he comes up with a creative solution to a case involving getting the patient drunk. Kutner is in a way the comic relief of the show until his departure in season 5 by suicide (Kal Penn, who played Kutner, left the show to join the Obama Administration) which leaves all the characters spinning, looking for answers. But Kutner leaves no suicide note, leaving House to believe foul play is afoot as Kutner’s actions are irrational. So Kutner returns to House in the hour of his death to help him rationalize his own behavior and maybe prevent his death as well.
Walking House through the days leading up to his current situation, Kutner helps House remember the details of his heroin patient’s case. During the course, we are reminded that Wilson is dying and House is headed back to jail but strangely he seems nonchalant about it, almost indifferent, when talking to his team during discourse on the patient. House tried to prove his subconscious wrong by recalling himself begging Foreman to lie in order to keep him out of prison for the sake of Wilson, of course, charging him with the platitude, “Come on, be a friend.” Kutner pulls him back to the present reminding him of his situation in a burning building and says to him, “I guess we’ve figured out why you’re seeing me, your suicidal friend.” (An allusion to what we all already know: House is reckless with his life and the lives of others, often acting out of pure selfishness that usually leads to undesirable ends.)
In House’s annoyance with Kutner, his subconscious brings back another old haunt of his past: Amber Volakis. Amber is just like House–she’s manipulative, she lies, she’s motivated, and she believes she’s the best. This is perhaps why House decides to call her “Cut-Throat Bitch” at the beginning of her role (fourth season) but later calls her “Amber” (the only doctor in the show who is referred to by her first name, which we presume is because he respects her as his equal). Amber returns at this time to remind House that Wilson is not yet dead and that there is still something worth living for. She takes him back to the patient’s room where House pulls the guy out of unconsciousness with a simple shot (the cures in this show are always remarkably simple!) and the man wakes in a rage yelling, “I’m not going to stop doing drugs! It’s reality that sucks!” –a sentiment that obviously resonates with House’s choices, though Amber quickly reveals to House that while those things were said, House has altered the memory. In reality, the man started doing heroin to escape the pain of his bum leg, injured during a skiing accident, and he says heroin made him feel as if God entered his body and there was no more pain or unhappiness in his life or anyone else’s. And thus we have a nice summary of House’s life and why he is here in the burning building: he wants to escape the pain of his own bum leg, the disappointments of his life, and the pain he’s experiencing as Wilson faces down death with cancer. House believes true happiness can only be achieved in death where pain is no longer present. Amber, being just like House (but more literally, his subconscious), uses rationale to show House that there is still meaning and happiness in his life to be found in puzzles/cases. House, believing her, gets up to go home only to find he’s too late and the fire has blocked his exit.
House falls through the second floor and finds himself on the ground floor in a room remarkably unconsumed with fire, where he is visited by the third ghost of his past: Stacy Warner. Stacy is a lawyer who met House years before the show started and was his longest lasting relationship. She was there when he first discovered the aneurism and clot in his leg and as his longtime girlfriend, she made the decision (against his wishes) to cut out his thigh muscle while he was in a coma. The surgery was successful but left House with immense pain for the rest of his life and as such, he blames Stacy for everything so it’s no surprise that she arrives on the scene just as he’s giving up on the fight to live. Stacy asks House to hold on to something, maybe God, and House says, “You can’t base your life on something you don’t believe,” to which she retorts, “But you can end your life based on something you don’t believe? What about love? “¦I know you believe in love.” But does he? By recalling the rest of his day leading up to the burning building, House discovers that he doesn’t love himself but Wilson does, and as Wilson’s dying, what options does he have left? Stacy shows him the future and the possibility of a child and a family with Dominika (his sham wife who he actually does love but fears she’s only in the relationship for her visa), which House declares all a fantasy and lays back down to die in the fire.
And in walks Satan, House’s final ghost, also known as Dr. Allison Cameron from the original diagnostic team. House remarks, “Is this hell? An eternity of people trying to convince me to live?” Cameron was the golden girl of the show. She’s sincere, kind and moral, leaving House, her husband (Chase) and the team for good when Chase murders a patient, Dibala (an African dictator), and chooses House’s immoral support over a life with her. In her parting, she says to House that she’s leaving as he’s corrupted Chase, making him “unable to see right or wrong and not to see the sanctity of human life.” Cameron believes in helping people for altruistic reasons, while House is a doctor for selfish reasons (he likes puzzles), and so she is here to appeal to his nature as the devil’s advocate. She tells him he deserves death, not as a punishment but as a reward for all that he’s given and all that he’s suffered, to just accept death the way Wilson did. In his final moments with Cameron, House remembers one last bit of conversation with his heroin patient. After telling the patient that he’s going to die, the patient offers to take the blame for House so he can avoid jail and enjoy his last days with Wilson. House, completely confounded, asks why and the man says, “Because I have nothing left to lose.” Likewise, House has lost everything–all three of his true loves, his ability to walk, his team, his freedom, his drugs, and now his best friend, but he realizes that even in the face of death, his ability to find happiness in helping others is not yet lost. Instead of waiting for death, instead of waiting till the end of his life to find happiness, House realizes he can change now and still have a chance at it. He doesn’t have to be a coward and wait for fate to take his life.
Getting up, House tries to leave the burning building. Meanwhile, Foreman and Wilson have arrived on the scene to save House and get a final glimpse of his silhouette in a window, just as fiery beam falls into his path and the warehouse explodes. Cue tears. Firefighters drag out a body which the coroner confirms is House’s, and House’s family, friends, and co-workers say a bunch of nice things about him at his funeral. Wilson is the only one who speaks the truth, calling House a selfish ass only to be interrupted with a text message from an unknown number saying “SHUT UP YOU IDIOT.” Aha! He’s faked his death! How very Sherlock Holmes!
Later, House confesses to Wilson his escape and switcheroo with the dental records (the dead body was the addict), and says, “I’m dead, Wilson. How do you want to spend your last five months?” And so the show is wrapped up nicely; Chase takes House’s position at the hospital, Taub is happy with his daughters and their two mothers, Cameron smiles over a picture of the original team and then meets her new husband and baby, Formen finds House’s security tag under his side table (it’s implied that he knows House isn’t dead), and Wilson and House ride off together into the sunset on the back of motorbikes. ClichÃ©d? I think so.
While the series finale does a good job summing up the main characters and linking back to previous plots, we learn nothing new. House’s change of heart at the end and decision to do something altruistic is nice but not believable because it’s not sustainable. If we have learned anything from watching this series, we’ve learned that House, like everyone else in the series, is true to his nature. Consider his confession to Cuddy that he loved her (he ultimately went crazy). Consider his time in drug rehab (good progress but he went back to the Vicodin). Consider his stint in jail (he tried to be good but he went back to his old ways). Though he might take a short vacation from his bad boy nature every now and then, he always returns to his selfishness.
The finale falls short in other ways too – we never get a resolution with Dominika (I really believed it would end in their happiness together), we don’t get to see Park hookup with Chase (I really wanted the nerdy girl to get the hot guy for once!), Cuddy never comes back (not even to the funeral which is surprising and disappointing because we love her) and we have no idea what House will do when Wilson dies. The series had been going downhill for sometime (I’m thinking Season Six was probably the last good one). Every cure is predictably reached with an “Ah-hah!” moment where someone stops talking and runs out of the room. Also, the cures are always so simple–just give them a shot of X and they’ll be fine. It was just a calcium deficiency! Why didn’t we think of that?? And finally, the cases have become very repetitive and now every case is guessed to be sarcoidosis and every serious illness involves coughing up blood (which is pretty much every episode). The high points of the series were brining tough topics into the living rooms of America, topics like sexual orientation, morality in saving bad people, the ethics of euthanasia, drug addiction by medical professionals, sexual affairs amongst hospital staff, mental health, suicide, abortion, the ethics of lying to get to the truth, disabilities, the value of the subconscious, abusive friendships/relationships where one person manipulates the other, and sexual harassment.
Ultimately, it was a good series that while once being revolutionary, has long been stock-standard. It’s out of stubbornness that I continued to the end rather than quitting the show two years ago along with many of my friends. Was it worth waiting for the finale? I don’t think so. Instead of venerating House M.D. by casting my series DVD box in gold, I’d rather turn the channel and get stuck into something new. Like House, I’m a bit bored with these unintriguing cases. I’m ready for a better, bigger puzzle. Breaking Bad‘s fifth season starts July 15th; I’m looking forward to the change.