Movies & TV
House Recap: ‘Holding On’ (Season 8, Episode 21)
Sometimes the worst thing about being a pessimist is how often you’re right. I would have been much happier if the hopeful commenters on last week’s recap who said House’s reaction to Wilson’s scan could mean any number of things were right. But they’re not. Wilson is dying; without chemotherapy, he’s got about five months, and he’s refusing chemotherapy.
Sometimes the worst thing about being a pessimist is how often you’re right. I would have been much happier if the hopeful commenters on last week’s recap who said House’s reaction to Wilson’s scan could mean any number of things were right. But they’re not. Wilson is dying; without chemotherapy, he’s got about five months, and he’s refusing chemotherapy. Underlining the themes of loss, mourning, anger, and acceptance, the patient of the week is a nineteen year old who hears the voice of his little brother, who died ten years before. Tonight was mostly a sad, slow buildup to the series finale, and I’m left feeling a little like Erich Segal – What do you say about a beloved show and character who are dying?
Making my job harder is the fact that what seems like tonight’s comic subplot actually leads up to a final punch in the gut. For the sake of retrospective irony, I’ve marked the stages in this process with an asterisk.
We start with Wilson, turning off his alarm clock and looking shell shocked as, presumably, he remembers what’s going on. House shows up at his front door, and Wilson greets him by explaining he doesn’t want to do any more chemotherapy. House, understandably, doesn’t like this. It’s very painful, because I can see both sides – Wilson’s unwillingness to subject himself to even more pain, and House’s need to hold onto his best friend.
At the hospital, Foreman greets House with tickets for the upcoming hockey season,* which will start about a month after Wilson’s “expiration date,” as House puts it. He notes that Foreman is trying to be his new Wilson, and is not amused, though I think it’s sweet of Foreman.
The team is somberly watching videos of cheerleading routines – the new patient is a male cheerleader, like George W. Bush in his Yale days. But this cheerleader had a nosebleed bad enough to land him in the hospital. Still, House would rather talk about the 46-year-old male oncologist who’s refusing treatment, but the team wants to keep things normal. “Chase is gone, Wilson is dying, how normal can things be?” says House, and he’s got a point. Jesse Spencer’s departure leaves another hole. Chase knew how to be snarky at even the darkest moments, and I could have used that tonight.
Taub and Park figure out the patient is hearing something by the way his brain lights up on the MRI, which I think is pretty cool. When the team hits the patient’s smoke-filled dorm room, they find a picture of a prepubescent boy hidden in his sock drawer. “Creepy,” offers his stoner roommate. Not really – as anyone who saw the previews knows, it’s his dead brother. Whom no one in the family ever mentioned again.
Meanwhile, House drugs Wilson (again) and hooks him up to an IV. It’s not a secret dose of chemotherapy — he’s decided to give Wilson a foretaste of the oblivion of death, to convince him life is preferable. When that doesn’t work, he’s got Wilson’s first ever PPTH patient sitting at their lunch table – the boy is about to graduate, and go off to Princeton, and then to medical school, and here’s where I started flashing back to the episode where House hired a fake son for Wilson. It turns out the cafeteria is packed with alleged former patients of Wilson’s, who speak touchingly of the years they’ve lived since their diagnoses, before Wilson figures it out.
Taub, who regards House’s ultimate implosion from this blow as inevitable, drops by Foreman’s office to get his signature on a letter of recommendation he’s thoughtfully written himself, so Foreman won’t have to. It’s then that he notices the water flowing under the door of Foreman’s private bathroom. House has flushed the hockey tickets down the toilet;* he explains that he pranks Wilson all the time, so if Foreman really intends to replace Wilson…
Thirteen is back! Olivia Wilde has her hair in a bun, I assume to hide the fact it’s now blonde. Wilson wants to talk about what it’s like to live with a terminal diagnosis. She doesn’t see why he can’t give the chemotherapy a try. Wilson says he can’t envision spending the last months of his life in the chemo wards of PPTH; he just wants to spend his remaining time with family and friends – “friends or friend?” says Thirteen significantly.
House is leaving yet another message for Wilson’s parents and the team is arguing about the possible role of repressed grief in the patient’s case when they notice the sinks in one of the restrooms overflowing.* Park raises the issue of unresolved grief with surprising gentleness and tact while performing a spinal tap, but is distracted by the high pressure of the patient’s spinal fluid.
Thirteen talks to House while he sits watching chemo patients. House is understandably upset that Wilson is “angry because I want him to live longer,” but Thirteen urges him to accept Wilson’s decision. Wilson is sitting in his office when a white flag of truce – actually a handkerchief tied to House’s cane – comes fluttering in. It should be schmaltzy but I’m touched. House tells him he has dinner reservations – no parents, no nagging, just hanging out.
The patient’s mom shows up as the team is trying to figure out what’s up with the excess spinal fluid. The patient almost panics when she sees the photo of his dead brother on the bedside table, but then starts asking her about him. He tells her he can’t even be sure if it’s really his brother’s voice he hears, because he can’t remember it. Mom politely excuses herself to get a coffee; now that’s repression.
At dinner, House tells Wilson that’s he’s “ordered off the menu” for dessert: Oreos. Apparently this is an in-joke about a camping trip. House didn’t hang the bag with the rest of their food high enough to keep it safe from bears, and Oreos were all they were left with. It’s a sweet gesture, and they’re enjoying themselves, and Wilson starts to entertain the possibility of trying chemotherapy, when he catches himself. He says that House is trying to manipulate him, just as he always does. The horrible irony is that I don’t think House was really trying to manipulate him. At least, not entirely. House confesses that he does need Wilson around for as long as possible. Wilson says that their relationship has been all about House, but “my dying is about me.”
Wilson sits crying in his car, where he’s joined by House. House tells Wilson he clearly doesn’t want to die. Wilson says he needs his friend, that he needs to hear that his life was worthwhile and that House loves him. House says that Wilson won’t hear that unless he’s willing to fight. This was a very painful sequence to watch, and I have to say that Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard are really wonderful in it.
Maybe it’s a metaphor for all the pent-up emotions bursting out in this episode, but while the team is giving the patient an MRI, the ceiling bursts under the weight of flood water, destroying the MRI machine.* Taub is tending to Park and Adams in the ER when House finds them. Adams is disheveled and bleeding and mad, and for once I almost like her. House coldly informs them he’s “done with” Wilson, and then has his eureka moment when Park mentions that the patient mistook her for Adams (I didn’t quite get this). House hurries off to stick a needle in the patient’s ear – he should just get air, but he gets blood. The patient has a blood vessel which usually disappears in the embryonic stage pressing on his temporal lobe. He needs surgery, but he should be OK.
Taub confronts House about Wilson, accusing him of being “an ass” for expecting his friend to accept more pain. “Life is pain!” yells House. No one knows that better than he does. Do people think he hasn’t thought of ending it all? Everyone’s staring and Taub looks genuinely stricken. More good work in a painful scene from Hugh Laurie.
It’s not over yet. When Park tells him the patient is refusing surgery, because he doesn’t want to lose his brother’s voice, House tries to strangle him in order to prove his urge to live is even stronger. Park grabs his cane, and tells him “You’ve spent your whole life looking for truth, but sometimes the truth just sucks.” Meanwhile, Wilson tells Foreman he wants to leave his position immediately, because he’s not responsible for House’s happiness. Foreman gently suggests that Wilson has, in fact, made himself responsible by making his friendship with House the greatest constant in his life for twenty years.
As Hugh Laurie plays the piano, everyone finally makes up. Wilson shows up at House’s door, and the two settle their differences, possibly over Oreos. The patient has the surgery, and he and his mother look at old photos of his brother. The next day, House and Wilson are planning another hiking trip when Foreman comes in with the hospital lawyer. The hockey-tickets-in-the-toilet prank, which the firemen reported to the police, violated House’s parole. He has to report back to prison. For six months.
And the finale’s entitled “Everybody Dies.” Great.
So here we are, looking at the end. It’s all come down to House and Wilson. Thoughts?
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