Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"House" ends


Tonight, I watched the series finale of Fox's "House" on Hulu. Because I watch all TV on Hulu (I no longer have a TV, you'll recall), I'm often a week to a month behind the rest of the world. I had to avoid reading any press or blog commentary about the series, which was a task in itself: it's surprisingly difficult to avoid coming across certain information on the Internet.

I first caught a glimpse of "House" while I was tooling around Korea with my parents, who were visiting me at the time. It was the fall of 2005; "House" had begun its run in November of 2004. My parents and I were shacked up in a yeogwan somewhere south-- maybe Gyeongju-- and the show was playing on TV. I watched a few moments, shrugged, and turned away. At the time, I'm not sure I even knew what the name of the show was, and it didn't really grab me. That's often the case when I happen upon a show in medias res.

I'm trying to remember when I did begin watching "House." I had to have been in Korea, because I've seen several seasons of it, mostly from Season 3 onward. I continued watching the series when I was back in the States in 2008, and have been a faithful viewer until the bitter-- or should I say bittersweet?-- end.

Ultimately, the show wasn't about hard science so much as it was about the loopy nature of human psychology. It was also, quite frequently, an extremely clever comedy. Dr. Gregory House is an unbearably arrogant asshole as well as a coward, a manipulator, a druggie, a mooch, and an inveterate prankster-- but his saving grace is his towering intellect, which allows him to get away with murder. Through it all, House has only one faithful friend: his oncologist buddy Wilson who, by the end of the series, is dying of cancer. (Yes, the show takes time to note the irony.) This fact leaves House facing a future in which no one will have his back. The suspense leading up to the series finale, then, comes from our not knowing how House, who is in many ways still a child, will handle being forced into emotional adulthood.

As I usually do when a series is about to end, I mentally flipped through a variety of possible scenarios for the final episode. Would House die? I dismissed this off the bat as too trite. Would Wilson die? This was a harder question, since previous episodes in Season 8 had established that Wilson was resigned to his fate. If Wilson died, would House finally be a blubbering wreck, or would he somehow maintain his impish aplomb? My guess was that Wilson would die, and that there was a chance we might at last see House bare his soul.

The actual ending, while not spectacular, did manage to defy most of my theorizing. As I suspected, House didn't die; I had flirted with the idea that House might commit suicide, but he predictably managed to think his way out of the cowardly route. And surprise, surprise: Wilson didn't die by the end of the episode, either: he and House played out their final scene of the series on motorcycles, riding off into the forested distance to enjoy Wilson's final five months on earth, secure in the knowledge that they'd deal with Wilson's cancer once it became impossible to ignore. Any tears, weeping, and wailing-- such as would be front and center in any Korean TV drama-- would occur only in our imaginations.

I had seen an interview in which one of the people involved with the series said that the ending would remain true to the spirit of the show, and the finale did manage that feat. One of the underlying themes of "House" is the conflict between mythos and logos, with House very much on the logos side and the rest of the world, from House's diagnostic team to his Patients of the Week, on the side of mythos. That tension was sustained until the final scene, giving us a series capper that was simultaneously sentimental and unsentimental. Because everyone else thinks House has died in a building fire (only Wilson, and arguably Foreman, knows better), I also couldn't help thinking of the ending of Frank Miller's breathtaking graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. In the fourth and final chapter of Dark Knight, Batman fakes his own death, then rises to an uncertain future, with only Superman aware of the chicane. On "House," we finish with House and Wilson riding off into the distance, facing an unknown future: it's hard to think of a more mythological, yet mundane, ending.

"House" was a good series while it lasted-- not my favorite, but eminently watchable. It ruthlessly followed a structural formula that occasionally made viewing wearisome (opening exposition; pranks, conflicts, and misdiagnoses; epiphany ten minutes before the end), but it also dealt with Big Issues (a must for me as a viewer, especially as I get older), had many laugh-out-loud moments, and offered some interesting character arcs. My favorite episode? "Frozen," with the lovely Mira Sorvino, who is one of my crushes.

I wish the cast of "House" well as they move on to new projects, but I worry that, after such a good run (even if Season 8 was flaccid in comparison to most of the previous seasons), the cast might suffer the same curse under which the cast of "Battlestar Galactica" now labors: the "What now?" curse. It'll be hard to find a gig that tops being a regular on "House."

And it'll be hard to top "House."



  1. If they are smart, they will take a cue from this guy in maybe his best performance of his long career. The episode is "The First Day of the Rest of Your Life."

    While the show isn't exactly top tier, Shatner more than made up for it. It's right up there with his role on "The Twilight Zone." He's that good in it!

  2. I loved 'House' so much I have bought all the DVDs (except this last season--which I WILL get when available.)

    I don't know what I will do to replace it, although 'Mad Men' will be watched and perhaps 'Dexter' since Sheldon has those on Blu ray (but I haven't started to watch them yet. Soon...)

    I DO adore Hugh Laurie. He's a fabulous musician, and I caught him on PBS and enjoyed that. I think he was exploring Jazz in the USA, so that was really cool. He lives in a tree house in my back yard, in case you don't know. Or maybe that was a dream.


    I don't think I can list a 'favorite' episode of 'House' although the most memorable one to me was the one with Mos Def in it. I am not familiar with his music, but I loved his work in this episode. (The episode was called 'Locked In'. He had 'locked in syndrome'. LOL)

    I can talk about 'House' for days. But I won't. Glad to hear you liked it almost as much as I did.



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