tue 19/08/2014

House, Series Finale, Sky 1 | TV reviews, news & interviews

House, Series Finale, Sky 1

The melancholic medical drama wraps up on an almost upbeat note

House (Hugh Laurie) debates whether to be or not to be

It seems fitting that the final ever episode of a show that has revelled so gleefully in its main character’s willful refusal to change should pivot on the question of whether, finally, he can. This introspective swansong found our misanthropic medic in by far his direst straits yet – no small feat, when you consider that previous finales have seen him get shot, go clinically insane and, most recently, end up in prison.

As we pick up, House’s (Hugh Laurie) best friend and lifeline Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) had been given five months to live, and just as he'd begun to grapple with this devastating reality, a (tremendously clunky) plot twist saw him ordered back to jail for six, effectively ensuring he wouldn’t even get to say goodbye to the one person he has always unequivocally needed. And so House did what any self-destructive anti-hero worth his salt would – he dropped off the map, shot up heroin with an ex-patient, and ended up in the basement of a burning building debating whether to be, or not to be. 

Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) with House (Hugh Laurie)The sudden introduction of suicidal thoughts could easily play as soapy, a cheap means of dragging some melodrama back into a show widely accepted to be past its prime. But House has always been a character with one foot in the self-inflicted grave – from his Vicodin abuse and intermittent drug overdoses to that one time he jabbed a knife into an electrical socket to find out if there was an afterlife. When he told underling Taub (Peter Jacobson) last week that he’d thought frequently of ending it all, it didn’t play as a shock reveal, but a gentle reminder of what we already knew.

The procession of – to make the obvious but inevitable reference – ghosts of past, present and future that appeared offering guidance was as good a way as any for House to wrestle with his inner demons, and allowed for the pleasing return of a few familiar faces including House’s ex-fellow Cameron (Jennifer Morrison, pictured above), ex-girlfriend Stacy (Sela Ward), and deceased colleagues Kutner (Kal Penn) and Amber (Anne Dudek).

These actors were in the curious position of playing mouthpieces rather than their characters, each representing a different argument for or against suicide. The most compelling was Kutner, House’s one-time protégé who seemed happy-go-lucky until, in one of the show’s most startlingly bleak episodes, he shot himself in the head. His argument was that “death isn’t interesting”, and thus makes no sense as an option for the puzzle-obsessed House.

But in the end House opted to have it both ways, and did so in a fashion that recalled the show’s Holmesian roots. It’s been easy to forget of late that this character is in every way inspired by Sherlock Holmes, and so a finale in which he fakes his own death and reveals the truth only to his Watson could not, in one sense, be any more fitting.

House (Hugh Laurie) and Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard)The show’s creator David Shore and his team have been wise to place House and Wilson’s relationship at the centre of this final arc – even as the show’s quality wavered in recent seasons, this dynamic has remained a compelling anchor with Laurie and Leonard (pictured left) consistently bringing out the nuanced best in each other. The past three episodes, which have centred on the pair grappling with Wilson’s increasingly grim cancer diagnosis, have been so wrenching and rich in emotional payoff that this more detached, cerebral offering felt somewhat anticlimactic by comparison.

On the other hand, it’s a relief to be offered respite from what was shaping up to be an irredeemably bleak resolution for fans. It’s hard to conceive of a crueller end than Wilson’s death, and thanks to Shore’s shameless have-your-cake-and-eat-it approach, we’re spared this as a reality. What we get instead is not House making a sudden transformation into a reformed character, but House making an entirely plausible and wholly selfless decision that just may be his first. He gives up his career and his life to spend five last months with Wilson, because he has finally found the person he loves more than the puzzle.

And if that’s still too downbeat an ending for you, consider this: in how many episodes have we seen one of House’s patients of the week diagnosed firmly with cancer, only to have it turn out to be something much weirder and cooler and more treatable? Given the show’s track record, there’s every reason for fans to live in denial and believe House will pull a miracle diagnosis out of thin air now that he and Wilson have ridden off into the sunset together. “Everybody dies,” the finale’s title grimly informed us, but just maybe this time nobody does.

House has always been a character with one foot in the self-inflicted grave

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