First things first: Dear Creators of House – Thank you very much for the happy ending (and for the last eight seasons). Dear Powers That Be At Fox – In the closing minutes of the show, we see Chase taking over House’s position at PPTH. I think I would much rather watch “Chase M.D.” than that show with the firemen Jesse Spencer is doing over at NBC. Could you perhaps pencil it in for later?
So, everybody got to be right tonight – House did kill himself, more or less, and he and Wilson hit the road a la Thelma and Louise (minus the final leap into the abyss). We got final appearances not only from Chase and Dominika, but from Kutner (Kal Penn), Amber (Anne Dudek), Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), Stacy (Sela Ward), Martha M. Masters (Amber Tamblyn), and Thirteen (Olivia Wilde). The one name conspicuously absent from this list is Lisa Edelstein as Cuddy, but Andre Braugher did turn up as Dr. Nolan.
The plot for tonight’s episode was fundamentally quite simple: House is lying on the floor of a shooting gallery, next to the corpse of a recent patient who was also a junkie. Smoke is coiling up through the floorboards as the building goes up in flames. As in the final episodes of season four and five, House hallucinates and debates with his former friends and associates as he wonders whether to bother escaping.
Kutner appears first, pointing out how apt it is that, at this moment, House would hallucinate a friend who chose suicide. He’s followed by Amber, who apparently speaks for his intellect, telling him that his love of puzzles is what keeps him alive; the “eternal nothingness” of death is simply boring. When Wilson dies, he’ll cry, and then go on to the next puzzle. Stacy, his ex-wife, appears next (somehow I never quite believed in that relationship). She hands him a baby, the child he might have had, tempting him with visions of domestic happiness, and telling him that she and Cuddy are not the only women in the world capable of loving him, as we get a glimpse of House and Dominika (House opts for a team of cheerleaders instead). She says that he always let Wilson be his conscience, and perhaps he’ll be better on his own. Cameron appears last, in the initially surprising but very effective role of his angel of death, telling him that maybe he’s given enough, and suffered enough, and it’s time to let go. (Excellent work from Jennifer Morrison here.)
Through flashbacks, we learn about his contacts with the patient who led him here – but plenty of ends are left dangling. (And was that “blah blah blah” dialogue inspired by the Supernatural episode “Tall Tales,” which I just watched again last week?) Meanwhile, Foreman and Wilson, who’ve realized House is missing, track him down. They’re walking towards the burning warehouse (I assume it’s a warehouse) when they see House inside; a flaming roof beam blocks him from view, and then the building explodes in flame.
House’s friends and colleagues gather for his memorial service, each speaking about his legacy in their lives. But just as Wilson finally departs from the script, talking instead about what an ass House was, his phone starts ringing, and there’s a not-so-cryptic text… “Shut Up You Idiot.” House switched his dental records with the dead junkie’s, effectively faking his own death. Only Wilson is let in on the secret.
We end with the two of them on the road, on motorcycles, in black leather jackets. The sun is shining, the trees are green, a river sparkles in the sunshine, and Robert Sean Wilson is sporting a surprisingly badass mustache. “When the cancer gets bad…” he begins. House cuts him off: “Cancer is boring.” The two drive off as the song “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)” plays on the soundtrack. ( I’m guessing the version by Louis Prima. Anyone?) Everybody dies, but we’re not going to have to see it.
And – I really liked it. I’m grateful not to have been put through some Titanic-style tearjerker of an ending that would have hung like a cloud over future viewings of early episodes – I’ll be able to enjoy the characters in the future without being haunted by the fact I’ve already watched them die horribly. There are far worse notes to end on than warm, funny, and a bit sentimental. I think the creators managed both to give us some sort of closure and kept things somewhat open-ended, and I think that in doing so, they showed a certain savvy and tact concerning the way viewers relate to ongoing shows, as opposed to one-shot narratives such as movies and novels.
I was happy to see that Wilson’s cancer really paid off in narrative terms, rather than just making us very sad. Instead, it becomes the motive for House to “kill” the hated self he’s been trapped with all these years and, once he’s literally selfless – there’s a death certificate on file for Dr. Gregory House, M.D. – he’s free to be as generous as he wants.
I’m also glad I didn’t have to watch the show’s creators smash up the world of the show as thoroughly as Joss Whedon and company did in the finale of Buffy (which made me feel, at moments, they were only too happy to see the last of Sunnydale). Instead, this finale reminded me of the ending of my second-favorite Buffy episode – the underrated “Lie To Me,” from Season Two. In the shows final moments, Buffy and her mentor Giles wait at the grave of Buffy’s grade school crush, who chose to become a vampire rather than die slowly of a brain tumor. Buffy asks Giles to tell her if life ever “gets easy”:
Giles: What do you want me to say?
Buffy: Lie to me.
Giles: Yes, it’s terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats and we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.
Buffy (affectionately): Liar.
This is essentially the ending that the creators of House gave us tonight: I know these characters aren’t going to live happily ever after, but I’m glad they let that be the final image we have of them.
And now to the issues fans will no doubt be debating for ages to come:
Did House plan this? We never do see what happens with the patient between the time that House finds the twig in his neck vein, and when he’s lying dead on the floor of the shooting gallery, having presumably OD’d. Is this the final version of the patient’s earlier offer to take the fall for flushing the hockey tickets down the toilet? If the patient – a fatalistic former stockbroker who preferred being a heroin junkie – was willing to give up his freedom, could he have volunteered (or been persuaded) to OD for a cause, so to speak? Even if it was all a plan, I can see House being conflicted and frightened enough to hallucinate his old companions – Greg House is not coming back out of that building. (And could some of them, especially Stacy, have been hinting at a possible future?)
I can see House carefully crafting a trail for Wilson and Foreman, engaging Dr. Nolan in conversations about his junkie patient and the lure of artificial oblivion, making an appointment with a hooker, then deliberately standing her up, leaving the half-eaten Chinese food in his apartment, making sure the patient’s fake address would lead people to the right neighborhood… But how could he have timed the fire to coincide with Wilson’s and Foreman’s appearance?
Or was it a spur-of-the-moment thing, House going on a genuinely self-destructive bender, then taking advantage of a fortuitous convergence of events? But if that’s the case, how did he have the presence of mind to disappear and take care of the dental records? The thing with the records suggests to me that it was planned in advance… The arguments can go either way, and I suspect they’re meant to.
And when Foreman finds House’s old ID badge in his office, and smiles to himself, has he guessed the truth?
Finally, does anyone else think Stacy’s scene in the warehouse was probably written with Lisa Edelstein in mind?
Let the debates begin. Either way, House seems to have done a very good thing, by doing a very bad thing. And that’s more satisfying, in the end, than seeing him either suddenly reform or succumb completely to his own dark side. Leave to House (show and character) to find a way to do both.