House MD 8.22: Everybody Dies

Broadcast Date: 21 May 2012
Director: David Shore
Writers: Eli Attie, Peter Blake, and David Shore
Cast: Odette Annable, Omar Epps, Peter Jacobson, Hugh Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard, Jesse Spencer, Olivia Wilde, and Charlyne Yi

© Copyright 20th Century Fox
© Copyright 20th Century Fox

I don’t envy the minds behind “Everybody Dies”, who, after eight seasons, had to come up with a definitive end for a series that’s proven largely directionless since its sophomore year. I don’t mean this as criticism. As the title suggests, House MD works best as a character study. It’s got no big mystery to solve or conspiracy to explain. The point is to show how our hero copes with different challenges. As such, when the producers threatened last week to take Wilson away from him, I didn’t perceive closure so much as a new status quo I would’ve liked the show to explore.

Writers David Shore, Eli Attie, and Peter Blake know this, of course, and have made the contradiction inherent to concluding House’s journey the sole focus of “Everyone Dies”. We don’t spend much time with Taub, Adams, or Park because their paths are already set. The story pertains to our favourite medical Sherlock Holmes, who doesn’t believe in change, true, but forgets the two greatest constants in his life: his desire to grow and his reckless abandon when desperate for solutions.

Time is running short for House. Not only is his series ending, the parole board wants him back in jail, his platonic life-partner is dying of cancer, and he’s just woken next to a dead body in a burning crack house. Every week, House MD serves up a procedural intrigue on which to hang the character drama. In a clever meta-fictional twist, its final case centers on our hero’s specific themes and personality flaws: can the self-destructive diagnostician find peace without negating everything for which he stands? As usual, the answer comes in the final act, right after the prerequisite brush with death.

This approach allows the writers to tease (and then undercut) different possibilities for the finale, including the clichéd “ghost of Christmas past” ending, in which guest stars from previous seasons get paraded out to pat our hero in the back. Mercifully, House hallucinates only three supporting characters, all of whom left the team before he could figure them out. Season four is by far my favourite, so I was delighted to see Kutner and Cut-Throat Bitch again, but I find it unfortunate Lisa Edelstein didn’t reprise the role of Cuddy. Cameron works well enough as the fake angel of mercy, but her character is an obvious placeholder for the one that got away, the true failure of his life.

These cameos speak to House’s specific obsessions, you see. They don’t just show up out of nowhere to exclaim, “Wow, you’ve come a long way!” While I understand the tendency in long-running series to celebrate the familial spirit the cast and crew developed over the years, I’m glad all this sentimentality was relegated to a behind-the-scenes special before the episode. I find this sort of schmaltz distracting even in finales like that of Lost, which expressly deals with the notion of community. With House MD, the approach would have proven devastating.

© Copyright 20th Century Fox
© Copyright 20th Century Fox

The same goes for the notion of our hero having an epiphany and turning his life around. House suddenly becoming a healthy human being through sheer will alone would’ve made as much sense as Spider-Man realising he can switch his powers on and off so that he only has great responsibility when it’s convenient to him. More to the point, it would’ve been the last thing anyone wants to see. In fact, I was relieved when the fiery beam seemingly crushed the bad doctor’s head.

Yes, I fell for it, largely because House’s death would have made an adequate if brutal conclusion to the series, answering the question of whether he can change in time with a resounding “No!” Mind you, I imagine many will have figured out the doctor staged his own death, what with the producers refusing to show us the body. More to the point, I’m grateful for the fake-out. I’d much rather see our hero ride off into the sunset (literally), recognising his dysfunctions at last but remaining, at his core, the same delinquent extremist.

This, I suppose, leads us back to the issue of any new chapter in the character’s life coming off like just another status quo. After all, it’d take at most a day after Wilson’s passing for him to find a fresh puzzle to solve. The setting works well for our hero, but I have no interest in watching this particular story unfold. In essence, House MD gets over the “status quo” hurdle by openly jumping the shark. If the solution seems ill-advised to you, remember that this is precisely why Gregory House would do it.

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Editor in Chief / Movie Critic: When he started this site, Dimitri never thought he'd be writing blurbs about himself in the third person. In his other life, he works as a writer, translator, and editor for various publications in print and online. His motto is, "Have pen, will travel."