Thoughts on “House M.D.” (Season 8)

So this is it, the last season of House.  Because it had a somewhat odd way of dividing up its episodes per disk, I had to look ahead at the beginning of the season — and, in fact, in the previous season — for planning purposes and saw that the last episode was entitled “Everybody Dies” (a callback to the first episode entitled “Everybody Lies”) and mused that it would be hilarious if the end of the episode really was that everyone died, in some disaster or something.  Of course, I was pretty sure that that wasn’t what happened, because if it had happened I was sure that I would have heard about such a controversial ending for a show that was known in popular culture, like the ending to “The Sopranos”.  Given that, I was a little surprised when malcolmthecynic commented on the previous post that some people really didn’t like the finale.  I’ll get into what I thought about it later, but first I should go through what I thought of the season as a whole.

The season starts with House in prison for running his car through Cuddy’s living room window at the end of the previous season, which was a plot point that I didn’t care much for.  It got even worse since Cuddy did not come back — Lisa Edelstein had a bad contract dispute and left because of it — and so there wasn’t really any way to resolve it or show any real follow-up from it (although the creator said that if he had known she wasn’t coming back he wouldn’t have done it).  So perhaps it’s not surprising that I didn’t care much for the prison opening either.  The worst part about it was that it had to contrive a medical drama for him to solve, which meant that he needed to find a sympathetic doctor to allow him to actually try to do that.  The only saving grace from that is that the doctor — Adams — actually sticks around for the rest of the season, but the problem I had with that was that they didn’t really make that clear.  The problem is less that they didn’t mention it — although they pretty much dropped a couple of lines to reference it — but that the actress changed her look significantly between the first episode and later episodes and so we couldn’t really tell that it was her by looks, which then meant that they really should have made it a bit more obvious that she was the doctor from the prison instead of going for clever lines instead.

Another issue with the prison opening is that they built it so that House gets his sentence extended at the end of it — he was supposed to be let out on parole but what he does to investigate the case breaks enough rules that it gets revoked — but since they weren’t going to have a complete season with House in prison they need to find a way to get him out of prison, which comes in the form of Foreman — the new head of the hospital, replacing Cuddy — swinging a complicated deal to get him out so that he can solve a strange medical problem, with a whole set of conditions including having an ankle bracelet and having to listen to Foreman.  The issue is that all of this could have followed on from the original parole hearing, especially given that House wasn’t exactly co-operative in the hearing.  So they could have used the original idea to get him out and have him not be reported because he only did it to save the other inmate and things would have been exactly the same, without having to contrive a new agreement to get that to work.  In addition, Foreman brings House back but has closed the diagnostics department, which then forces House in the first few episodes to try to raise the funding he needs to bring everyone back and open it again, which also involves some antagonism with the department that took it over, and all of this is the same-old “House is a jerk” model that we’ve come to know so well and that I had lost patience with in Season 7.  House as a jerk only works when he’s somewhat sympathetic for whatever reason and so we feel free to laugh at the nasty things he does, but if we aren’t sympathetic to him — like, for example, when all of his problems are his own fault and he knows that going too far will get him sent back to prison which even he has to know isn’t a good thing for him — then it all falls flat, and the early part of the season is pretty much House being a jerk for no real good reason.  Sure, you can argue that getting his team back might be good for them as well as for him, but that’s not much to hang sympathy on and it’s undone by the fact that he deliberately tries to court rich patients in the most obvious and stupid way possible to get them to donate the money to keep the department open.  I would have far preferred House having to convince his team to come back than having to raise the money for his department, and ending up getting more money than he really needed.

This isn’t helped by the fact that the two new team members aren’t all that interesting.  What the show seemed to be attempting was to make these characters interesting by making them self-contrasts, with aspects of their personality seeming to be inconsistent with other parts, which actually isn’t a bad idea.  Adams (the doctor from the prison) is the more interesting, as she fits into the role of the liberal moralizer who wants to work for those causes but being wealthy is quite comfortable with her literal privilege, who is willing to use her money to her advantage and to mess with Park (the other new doctor), which would appeal to House.  But they didn’t really focus on that and keep up with it, so Adams kinda fades into the background and all of that is lost.

As for Park, I really didn’t care for her.  They seemed to be trying to set her up as being a more shy and passive person who had a temper and could be aggressive at times, but the only real evidence they gave for that seemed to be that she wasn’t all that attractive, was a bit mousy, and was Asian, and you could perhaps add in the stereotypical Asian notion that she was subordinated by her parents.  However, they never really made that more passive nature something that came out in her behaviour.  She is introduced as being in trouble for punching out her attending because he grabbed her butt, and from what’s said it’s not that he had done that frequently or that she had had that happen to her a lot and finally snapped, but more like an instinctive action, and when Adams starts messing with her Park quite quickly brings up that incident as a threat (which Adams doesn’t take seriously, which actually helps her character more than Park’s).  For the most part, Park acts far too aggressively for the contrast to work and her constant aggression is just annoying.  It also hurts one of her main arcs, as she starts to worry that no one likes her and when called out on it by House ends up trying to get to know them better … by specifically asking Chase out for drinks in what could have been a kind of date.  This does not make her sympathetic, because knowing everyone involved this is a way for her to, well, pretty much offend all of them.  Chase might have been offended by her asking him out, especially since when he demurs on the basis that he doesn’t want to date a co-worker she brings up that he married one (Cameron), which should have had him reply “And look how well that turned out!” instead of making him agree to it.  There was a hint of some chemistry between Adams and Chase, and so Park risked annoying Adams by making a move on someone that Adams might have liked or at least someone that Adams thought was more appropriate for someone like her to date than someone like Park (both Adams and Chase were, of course, very pretty), so she risked alienating the person that kicked off Park’s paranoia about not being liked.  As for Taub, while it’s possible that he would be offended that Park wasn’t interested in him, it was actually more likely that given that everyone knew that Park was worried about not being liked he would be offended that she would exclude him from things like that and so wasn’t worried about whether or not he liked her, which is entirely consistent with his personality.  So Park wants to be liked and when spurred on that decides to try to get a date, which is not the way for her to get what she claims she wants.

Ultimately, that’s my main problem with the character in its entirety:  she is set up as wanting to be liked and respected, but sees no need to actually act towards people in a way that would get them to like and respect her, instead in general insisting that because she’s worked hard for what she has that they should respect that.  But her original fight with Adams is over being unable to accept any favour from anyone else, even a cup of coffee, because she can’t accept charity, which is something that someone who is incredibly socially stunted would do, and is going to annoy a lot of people.  Moreover, the writers seemed to want to use her as a contrarian character, and so give her a lot of controversial opinions that clash with the views of everyone else, especially Adams.  So she seems to care little for social conventions, is aggressive, disagrees with everyone all the time, and yet is incredibly worried about people liking and respecting her, so much so that when she decides to do something about it she goes about it in the worst possible way.  And this could have worked, if she had been called out on it and if it had gone badly for her.  But she isn’t called out on it and we never seem to see her aggression as being a bad thing that causes her problems (er, beyond her almost getting fired for punching her attending doctor, which itself is a sympathetic case).  That makes Park, to me, just a really annoying character.

So for the first part of the season I was feeling that the show was the same as it was in Season 7:  some decent moments but overall mediocre, with one really annoying character that wasn’t House.  And then right around the episode “Chase” it got a lot better, for one simple reason:  they figured out that what they needed to do at this point was get House to stop acting like a jerk just to act like a jerk but instead to act like a jerk because he’s trying to spur other people to be better and to help his patients.  In the episode, House replies to Chase’s comment that House is trying to make him miserable like him by interfering that if he wanted Chase to be miserable he’d let him do what he wanted to do — try to break the faith of a nun who wanted to leave the convent and date him but then after almost dying wanted to go back — as that would be the easiest way for that to happen.  From that point on, House is generally doing these things to help people, help patients or make people better.  Even the humourous one where he’s trying to ambush Taub because Taub, after Chase was stabbed by a psychotic patient, was taking self-defense courses to get his confidence back is done not because he wants to shatter that confidence but because he wants to shatter that overconfidence.  The other cases are ones where House himself is feeling miserable and acting out, which is also more sympathetic because, again, he’s not trying to hurt anyone and we can feel sympathy for the circumstances that trigger it, even if we wouldn’t do the same thing.

Which leads into the finale, actually.  Towards the end, Wilson is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and wants to take a very risky procedure that if it works has the best chance of shrinking the tumor enough to operate but could kill him.  House reluctantly agrees to help him with it, but it doesn’t work.  Then Wilson is advised to take regular chemotherapy to extend his life and doesn’t want to do it, and House keeps challenging him on it and when called out by Taub on not supporting his friend who doesn’t want to go through pain again neatly points out that he (House) lives with pain every day and has wanted to give up a number of times, and hasn’t, so yeah, it makes sense for him to feel that Wilson is giving up and shouldn’t.  The show does link that feeling to House somewhat selfishly wanting to keep Wilson around a bit longer, which also works in conjunction with the previous comment.  At any rate, House eventually accepts it and agrees to help Wilson live out his remaining time well, but before that happened Foreman tried to show House that there would be life after Wilson by giving House season tickets to hockey right beside Foreman’s, which annoys House so much that he flushes them in various places clogging the pipes, which eventually results in a pipe bursting over an MRI machine that Adams and Park were using, that is traced back to him, which gets House’s parole revoked, leading into the finale, which is House in a burning building with a patient who was a heroin addict who, unfortunately, is dead.  House then has hallucinations again — Amber, Cutner, the love of his life from Season 2 and finally Cameron — as he ponders letting himself die in the fire, only to conclude that he can change and so wants to live, but he goes to the front door and is highlighted there for Wilson and Foreman to see … and then the building explodes, seemingly killing him.  After a funeral where people come back to talk about what House meant to them, Wilson starts to disparage him but gets a text on his phone (that isn’t his) telling him to shut up.  It turns out that House has faked his death and the two of them go off on motorcycles to live out Wilson’s final days.

So … what really happened with the burning building?  The episode sets up that House has a number of devious plans to get out of prison at least until after Wilson dies, so is this one of his plans that he set up from the beginning, or was he really pondering death but decided to change and saw this as a good opportunity to do that?  This is actually really important, because if it’s the former then he would have arranged to burn a building down and possibly even to kill someone — or let someone die — just so that he could avoid prison, which isn’t going to make us feel good about him at the end.  I think that the latter is what’s intended, but then we don’t have an explanation for how the guy died in the first place and how the building caught on fire (the episode does hint that the patient had a habit of falling asleep while smoking, but the fire is a bit too much to be caused by that), but even then we have issues with House doing that, because he denies the patient the dignity of being buried as himself (he had no family and friends left as far as we know, but it’s still not good for him to just disappear) and also leaves his own friends and family grieving over his death when he isn’t.  If he runs off and changes his identity, then they still grieve, including his mother, who we know he does care for.  And if he returns, he’s going back to prison for a while which would indicate real change but will put a damper on any plans he might have to connect with other people.

Now, I know from reading the TV Tropes back and from malcolmthecynic’s comment that some people really like the finale, some hate it, and some are in-between on it.  I think that I can try to analyze why based on Shamus Young’s discussion of the ending of Mass Effect 3, and the things that he says endings are expected to do:

Generally speaking, an audience is probably looking for three key things at the end of a story:

Affirmation – Love conquers all, hope endures, freedom is worth fighting for, the truth will set you free, justice can’t be denied, etc. You save the little kid, the evil overlord is defeated, somebody gets married, everyone celebrates the hero, cupcakes and ice cream. Ex: Frodo drops the ring into Mt. Doom and Saruon is defeated forever.

Explanation – All questions answered. Making sure it all makes sense also falls under this category. Ex: How did Gandalf come back from the dead? What made the Witch King undefeatable? What happens to the Three Rings if the One is destroyed?

Closure – How did things turn out? Did the characters have a happy ending? Ex: Sam married Rose. Frodo and Bilbo went to the Havens. Aragorn was crowned king.

While that doesn’t really seem to be the case for malcolmthecynic, I think a lot of people who really liked the finale do so because they assume that House is going to change his identity — I saw this a lot in the analysis part of the TV Tropes page — and build a new life where he actually manages to genuinely connect with others.  However, I think those that dislike it — and note that I haven’t read the review that malcolmthecynic references — do so because that option means that House probably hasn’t actually changed and is just as much a jerk as he’s always been, and so doesn’t deserve a new life and will probably squander it anyway.  After all, he still manipulated people in a way that causes them pain and seems utterly unbothered by all of that, and the only reason to think that in any way not selfish is because he’s doing that to help Wilson live out the rest of his life, but the show had established that House helping Wilson is not necessarily altruistic.  So they can’t get Affirmation, can’t get Closure, and there’s nothing left to explain.  This would only be made worse by the fact that the entire finale is built around House again resolving to change, and if they don’t feel that he has really changed that all seems wasted.  I chided “Frasier” for doing that, and it’s fair to do that for House as well.  If House has not changed, then the revelation in the finale was wasted, and given what he would have to have done at a minimum to get to this point without being concerned about it we don’t really have good reason to think that he’s changed, and have to think that if this gives him a second chance he’s going to blow it again just like he has all the other times because nothing has really changed about him to make us think that this time it’s going to work.

For me, though, I think the biggest issue with the finale is that it doesn’t really fit into or resolve any of the themes of the series, nor does it reveal what the theme of the series really should be.  To me, the best finales either wrap up the series by appealing to and resolving the major themes and arcs that were already established, or else are a celebration of what happened in the series itself.  Comedies tend to do the latter, while drama series it seems to me do more the former, while Star Trek DS9 did both (which actually confused some people since it did the celebration in the middle of the episode before resolving the last arc).  The House finale is not a celebration of the series, despite all the people who talked about House during his funeral.  So it needs to resolve the arcs in a way that fits with the theme of the series, but the ambiguity here doesn’t do that.  On the one hand, you can feel that House is getting a new life and is going to take advantage of that, but on the other hand the series has shown that House tends to screw up those chances, and so we can’t feel that he’s going to do it this time.  So we don’t know that he’ll fail and don’t know that he’ll succeed, and that ambiguity leaves us thinking that nothing was really resolved.  Yes, you can have “And the adventure continues” endings, but even then you need to resolve the issues and tie back to the themes of the series itself so that “And the adventure continues” seems like something that gives Closure to the series, as things go on in the way they should (the “Justice League Unlimited” cartoon’s ending is a really good example of this).  But here things change too much for that and yet House stays too much the same for that to work.  It doesn’t end on a “the old order changeth” line because we don’t know if or how much House has changed, but things do change enough — like Chase taking over the department — that things will never be the same.

To give an example, if House had actually died in the fire it would have been depressing and disappointing, but it would have tied into the overall theme of the series quite well:  House resolves to change but loses the chance because of his own actions, in this case the schemes he put into place to try to get out of going back to prison and deciding to bury his feelings in drugs, proving that House ultimately did make people better — the funeral scene — but was his own worst enemy.  Or if he had ended up going back into prison and so wasn’t able to spend Wilson’s last few months with him, it would have hit the same theme:  House is his own worst enemy and always screws things up with everyone he cares about.  Yes, that would be depressing, but it would be consistent with what the series had shown over the past eight seasons and so would have dropped Affirmation in favour of Closure.

But that’s not how I would have done it.  What I would have done was make the entire sequence through the funeral a hallucination.  So there never was a burning building and no fake death, and the patient with the heroin would have done that with him and survived.  Since the episode had shown that the patient had offered to take the blame for House’s flushing of the tickets, I would have had the patient get House out of going back to prison by still taking the blame.  Then, House would talk to Foreman about going off with Wilson, and Foreman would have offered to keep the department open for him, and House would say that he isn’t coming back.  Then, at the end, Wilson would ask him why, and House would reply that there are only two things that made him happy:  Wilson’s friendship and his job.  Now that he’s losing both, he has to find something else to make him happy, which ties back into the hallucinations with the love of his life where she comments that he’s certainly lost his chances to be happy with her and with his fake wife, but he could still find happiness out there somewhere.  Why I like this is that it both confirms and repudiates a couple of House’s major philosophies:  everyone lies as the patient and Foreman or Wilson lies to keep him out of prison, but people can do things just to help others.  House comments that the patient is a better person dying than he ever was in life for offering to help him, and notes that actually curing the patient cost him a shot at that, so the patient helping him anyway shows that he was wrong about the patient and, in some way, about people in general.  But it also gives us a reason to think that House really could change this time because he’s giving up the job that spared him from his pain to seek out other ways to be happy, in a way that directly follows from the revelation that he supposedly had.  Maybe he won’t succeed, but this time does indeed seem to be different.

I also have to note here that the finale was going to be disappointing to me because of what it does to my two favourite characters in the entire series.  Wilson, obviously, is going to die and they bring back Masters only for the funeral scene where she only gets to comment that House gave her the courage to quit, which hardly seems worth bringing her back for and, on top of that, isn’t actually true, as House actually broke her and made it so that she couldn’t be there anymore.  And on top of that, we don’t find out if she did her internship somewhere else and became a doctor or went on to do something else, and in her last episode it was left ambiguous about what she’d actually do.  I wanted to find out what happened to her and, well, I didn’t.

That being said, I think I fall firmly into the “in-between” camp.  I don’t dislike the episode.  I think it does wrap up the series and doesn’t leave me frustrated because I want there to be another week or season to wrap up all the leftover issues.  It also doesn’t ruin the rest of the series so that if I wanted to watch it again I wouldn’t enjoy it knowing how it ends.  However, I also think that it doesn’t really manage to close off the series all that well either.  The series ends and I’m okay with the ending, but I feel that given what they had set up it could have been so much better than it was.  So not a classic, but not a travesty either.

Next week, I’ll give some final thoughts on the series as a whole, including whether or not I’d watch it again.

2 Responses to “Thoughts on “House M.D.” (Season 8)”

  1. malcolmthecynic Says:

    So I can tell you why I liked the last episode. Unlike you, I did not watch the whole show start to finish. I’d seen a few episodes (some I don’t remember, some I do – “Three Stories” and the Amber duology stood out as particularly outstanding, as did the rehab duology). Then I skipped to the finale, which seemed to have great user reviews but mediocre critic reviews.

    I enjoyed it because I enjoy Christmas Carol type stories and faking House’s death (filling in the last piece of the Sherlock Holmes puzzle besides) seemed like appropriately finale-ish stakes. However I could not judge, as you could, if it really paid off all of the plotlines the show had set up. If it didn’t, yeah that’s a flaw. And it was obvious even to me that it was a damn shame Cuddy wasn’t there; whatever you think of the character she played way too big of a role in House’s life for her to just not be there at all.

    However, I think those that dislike it — and note that I haven’t read the review that malcolmthecynic references — do so because that option means that House probably hasn’t actually changed and is just as much a jerk as he’s always been, and so doesn’t deserve a new life and will probably squander it anyway. After all, he still manipulated people in a way that causes them pain and seems utterly unbothered by all of that, and the only reason to think that in any way not selfish is because he’s doing that to help Wilson live out the rest of his life, but the show had established that House helping Wilson is not necessarily altruistic.

    That’s exactly it.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      That’s the reason I’m ambivalent towards the finale. Considered just as a finale, it is structured well and has the elements in terms of the specific plot that work, and it doesn’t do something really stupid or annoying to make us hate the finale or the series after viewing it. However, as the finale to this series, the ambiguity over the big point about House resolving to change means that it doesn’t seem to connect to any of the main thematic elements that were prominent in the rest of the series. So it’s a decent finale episode that could have done a lot more and is in itself a bit confusing thematically.

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