Home > Media, Television > House Must Die – Why That Ending Is the Only Ending

House Must Die – Why That Ending Is the Only Ending

I’m going to say this once: there could possibly be spoilers all up in here.  You have been warned.  Don’t be pissed if I say something that you weren’t aware of.

I never liked House when it first started to air.  Actually, that’s a lie.  I never really found it that interesting, because the ads for it always played up the medical drama and played down House being House.  It wasn’t so much a matter of disliking it, but rather I just wasn’t into medical dramas.

The Cast of House

Had I seen the show before my surgery I might have been less willing to let them cut me open.

It wasn’t until I was facing a winter break with my then-girlfriend out of the country and a recovery from an unexpected appendectomy—aren’t they all unexpected, really—I ended up noticing USA airing endless House marathons.

I think I mention in every post that I have my degree in literature.  Usually it’s to warn you off from taking me too seriously or to tell you to do more research based upon what I’m talking about, but in this case—reading way too much into House—it’s what I do best.  I make no caveats.  These are merely evidence-supported arguments about a reading of House that I’ve always stood firmly behind,.

Anyway, in a post I haven’t put up because it’s crap, I talk about TV shows I have mixed feelings about, and House is undeniably one of those.  While I love the titular character and I think they do an awesome job handling House/Cuddy (most of the time), the shoehorning in of the medical cases sometimes undermined the generally great drama.

With House now ending—news of which only reached me a week or two ago via a timely Facebook update from the House page—I figured I’d get out my argument for the way the show should end.  I have, since I started watching the show around the end of 2008, always thought this is the only way for the show to end.  Recent developments only further convinced me of this.

I’ll put it my basic argument in the form of an easy-to-digest thesis statement (sup semi-academic writing, from which I’ve been absent for years), and give you some more explanation here shortly:

House must necessarily end with the titular character—Dr. Gregory House—dying; ending the show in any other way would be to do a disservice to the “tortured genius” character the writers have spent so much time developing.

Finally, I have not seen anything but a few episodes of the most recent season.  About as far as I got is that House is relapsed and his team is gone.  While I have an idea of what has been happening in the most general of senses, namely that his team is getting back together or something of the kind, I have to play catch-up quite soon.

I say this so that, if I happen to somehow predict correctly something that has happened (which I don’t really expect, but am just covering the eventuality) and I play it off as my own idea/creation, it’s probably because I had no idea that it happened.  So there is that.


Dr. House: Tortured Genius

Tortured Artist

You can tell he’s a tortured artist because of the serious expression and the hat.  Also the stock filters from Photoshop.

The idea of the tortured genius has followed us throughout history, but never have we really gotten to sit by and watch the torture inflicted upon him in such detail.  We hear stories about artists like Coleridge fighting a crippling opium addiction, Van Gogh cut his own ear off, and there are countless other examples of people of immense genius who faced some form of tragedy resulting from it, both real and fictional.

I think that there are people in this world that are always questioning the world around them.  These people—the ones always asking questions—do not always find themselves facing permanent happiness, in many ways due to that tendency.  Instead, they face the realization that there is something about them that will never allow them to just skate through life with a grin, but will be faced with periods of intense sadness and difficulty.

I do not want to spend an inordinate amount of time talking about those people.  In fact, I am only going to leave that mention above as the proof they exist.  I am not concerned with whether or not those people actually populate the world (they do, I’d say I am one of them), but with House and the reading too much into it.  So for the purpose of this, accept that those people exist.  I think we can definitely say they exist in fiction.

I don’t think it’s a leap to make that judgment, however, as anybody who has seen House can tell that Dr. House is very much one of those people.  Throughout the entire show House questions everything he can.  He tries to change other peoples’ beliefs, he challenges his own.  He electrocutes himself to try to force a near-death experience.  House is a show about a doctor who is constantly trying to realize his place in the world and realize a relationship with Cuddy—he just happens to practice medicine on the side.

No caption necessary.

That assertion may be a little less easy to swallow, but I think the later seasons definitely showed that, as the medicine took a back seat to all of the things happening to House.

Either way, House is a medical genius.  He has the ability to see problems and read people in manner of which others could only.  As such, he is masterful at everything he does.  (One could argue otherwise, since they always get it wrong about 10 times before finally curing the disease.  But that is, really, more an artifact of the fact that the show must remain entertaining for an hour.  If House were fixing everything early they’d have nothing else to show. Or they’d be forced to write more than 10 minutes of non-medical dialogue per episode.)

So House is a tortured genius archetype.  He has numerous demons: his leg pain, his vicodin addiction, what appears to be some pretty serious depression, etc.  All of these demons come to a head when he crashes into Cuddy’s house with his car.


What Happens If House Fixes Himself?

Consider, perhaps, that the best argument against House relapsing and dying is the speculating on what will happen if he doesn’t.

In some way, I have no doubt that this season (especially the series finale) will force House to evaluate himself and to face down all of the demons.

I’m sorry all these pictures are the same, but you try finding any pictures relevant to what I’m saying. Instead, I figured I’d just use shitty fake memes to say what I want.

Were house to remain clean he would be forced to actually face those demons and come to terms with them.  Much of House’s misanthropy is the result of various issues in his life, and this misanthropy has only been reinforced, to an extent, in the most recent seasons.  Nonetheless, everything House loves seems to be tainted, die or driven away by his own actions.  Those things in his life he can’t control seem to be shitty, even without him tainting them.

House coming to terms with these would mean that we would be left with a House that isn’t a misanthropist and; as far as the people who stick around despite the misanthropy, he would also have to avoid alienating them—among other things he’d fix.  Like not being dependent upon Vicodin, for one.

I know that misanthropy and alienating people really seem like the same function of his personality, but when you really consider it they manifest differently.  House alienates Wilson and Cuddy in any number of ways and, to play armchair psychologist, it seems more like it’s out of trust issues with his family than out of straight misanthropy.   The relationship between these two character traits is complex, but I think that even if House were to adopt a new attitude toward humanity he’d still alienate people, and I think that situation would apply in reverse order as well.

I would argue, however, that these two major features of his personality are key to his ability to perform medicine.  When House interacts with people his misanthropy causes an immediate mistrust (“Everybody lies”) and he treats those patients like shit.  Additionally, he isn’t afraid of alienating his subordinates, Wilson or Cuddy. He is all too willing to tell them to shove it if he thinks he’s right.

Were House to instantly solve his problems and become a nice guy (which, in reality, the process would probably be shown as one in progress at the last episode), I would argue he would lose his edge in medicine.  He would go into rooms and instead of immediately doubting the patient, believe their stories.  How often did House badger the patient into revealing that he/she was lying and, as such, found out that there was some piece of medical history that was ignored?

And if House creates lasting bonds he is afraid to lose, is he really going to bust into Cuddy’s office (or whomever the Dean of Medicine may be at the time/place) and badger her, too, into submission?  Probably not.

At it’s very core, House’s gift for medicine is dependent upon his being an enormous asshole.

So if you were to, then, end the series with House on the road to facing his addiction and putting it down permanently, then fixing the misanthropy, bolstering old relationships and rebuilding new ones, what of his gift?  To fix House you effectively doom him to mediocrity.  He will practice medicine, perhaps, but not have the same ability to fix every medical problem as he once did.

While we wouldn’t, likely, see the long-term aftermath, I can only imagine that this would be an incredibly difficult transition.  To go from a world-renowned doctor and asshole to being just like any other would be devastating.

So House Must Relapse (Hard) and Die

At his core, House is an addict.  I do not ascribe to the NA/AA belief that once you are an addict you’re always an addict.  But House is a fictional character, and he can exist as someone who is defined by his addiction.  That Vicodin was his fuel and his crutch.  He uses it to get past every struggle, as any addict would, except instead of taking away from the world he saves lives.

Dr. House

Seriously, House not on Vicodin would be like watching ER. At that point, why bother?

And while his misanthropy and ability to alienate anybody are pretty impressive, the fact is that without it he is not practicing medicine with the same expertise he once was.  This, alone, would set him up for future failure.  Consider House 10 years after fixing these issues, realizing he is an undistinguished doctor.  It’s totally feasible that he’d collapse back into addiction, then into his old asshole ways.

But that would not be suitable for television.  House cannot do it over the long-term.  Instead, this season needs to slowly build up tension while making it clear to the viewer that House is near the breaking point.  As he goes through his final days (which he won’t identify as such, necessarily) he needs to get gradually more desperate.  The demon inside of him that says “I need more drugs” must sound ever more appealing with each passing day.

In the series finale I envision a series of events similar to the following:

House, losing those around him begins to question whether or not he needs to really reevaluate his life, but realizes (as I suggest above) that if he does this he might become just another mediocre doctor. He begins to question what, exactly, he is going to do with himself.  The world around him has changed drastically and while things slowly return to normal, he knows it is not the same.  This pressure, along with the pressure to perform his job well and deal with his issues (pressure put on him by peers and friends) will drive him further and further into his addiction.

The season finale will be the climax of this, with little denouement.  Instead, House will be confronted with some kind of ultimatum or other device that turns into “you need to stop the drugs or I’m out”.  I’m sure that, from what I’ve seen of this season so far, it could even be some kind of professional conflict, wherein his drug abuse is brought to the knowledge of some governing body that tells him he must complete rehab or never practice again.  We’ve been down that road before, but his brilliance was enough to send the people who wished that upon him packing.

Knowing that he needs a team to be successful (he has shown this, repeatedly) and that he needs a license to practice, House is faced with the impossible choice of losing the ability to use his gift completely or losing the people who are letting him make use of this gift. Facing this impossible decision, House will take an obscene amount of Vicodin (like the time he ODed on the Oxycontin) and die.

You may think that killing the main character at the end is trite, but it is in this case the only way I can see this series ending well. This is the choice House is, and always has been, facing in the series.  The end of the series must just bring this to its necessary conclusion: the tortured artist would rather lose his life in his prime than lose his gift to mediocrity.

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