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Still Lying: How "House" Ended The Series

Photo of Caryn James By Caryn James | James on Screens May 22, 2012 at 12:19AM

It would not  be true to the spirit of House to get all sappy at the end – the show didn’t and there’s no reason for us to either. Most of the series’ last hour seemed bizarrely off, not like House at all as he sat in a burning building, visited by the ghosts and hallucinations of friends, employees and cast members past, apparently suicidal enough to stay there. Was Hugh Laurie’s House ever so passive before?
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House finale

It would not  be true to the spirit of House to get all sappy at the end – the show didn’t and there’s no reason for us to either. Most of the series’ last hour seemed bizarrely off, not like House at all as he sat in a burning building, visited by the ghosts and hallucinations of friends, employees and cast members past, apparently suicidal enough to stay there. Was Hugh Laurie’s House ever so passive before?

I’m not saying I saw the twist coming, (and if you haven’t seen the finale, read the rest of this later), just that the off-kilter scenario seemed a lame, atypical way for the series to end. Sure enough, House had one final, delicious last-minute trick that did a lot to redeem the wrong-headed fiery plot leading up to it.

The clue came early on, pre-fire, when House’s team wondered why he was taking on a new case just as Wilson was dying and House himself was about be dragged back to prison for violating parole. “Didn’t you ever see Dead Poets Society?”House said, “Carpe Diem!” -- a wry reference to one of Robert Sean Leonard’s first films.  

Here’s that Carpe Diem moment:

Wilson’s cancer and impending death gave the series’ recent weeks great heart and impetus. Like so many series without a future, House came through with some of its strongest episodes near the end. And it was great to see Leonard as Wilson given a great run; sometimes it seemed that years went by when Wilson had nothing to do except sit in the cafeteria while House stole bites of his lunch.

Wilson was again a near-bystander in the final hour, though, as House follows his last patient, an unapologetic addict uncomfortably and all too obviously mirroring House, to an empty warehouse to score heroine. Somehow House wakes up to find the patient dead and the building in flames.

Among others, the ghosts of  Kutner (Kal Penn) and a hallucination of Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) appear, talking House through his suicidal decision. Cameron urges him to give in, to let go of all the pain just as Wilson decided to forget cancer treatment and enjoy the five months he had left. Really? An indecisive House, even if it is his unconscious speaking? Just as unconvincing, he decides he can change and heads for the door, just in time for Wilson and Foreman to see the roof collapse on him.

It was a lovely funeral; Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me In Your Heart For a While” playing in the background sounded like a touching way for the series to go out. . . . but  . . . there was a text to Wilson, and then House sitting on a stoop having faked his own death so he could help Wilson enjoy his remaining time. (And avoid prison himself, by the way. Even to the end, House may be emotional and caring but never uncomplicated about it.)  

The series’ true ending saw House and Wilson riding motorcycles off into the sun, with the song “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later than You Think)” in the background – not as poetic as carpe diem, but it circled back well enough and ended the series on a more upbeat note. “Everybody Dies,” as the episode was titled -- except we didn’t have to watch as anybody really did.  

Like Sherlock Holmes, who inspired the character, House seemed to have only one friend; he said so himself. But that wasn’t entirely true. Near the end there’s a great image of a smile on Foreman’s (Omar Epps) face, when he realizes that House is alive. The fake death is not only pure Holmes; it’s a sign of House’s friendship that he cares enough to let Foreman know, and trusts that he’ll get the clue House planted.

The dry-eyed sendoff started with a behind the scenes retrospective narrated by Laurie in his genuine British-accented voice. Better than most homages, this one didn’t take itself too seriously. Why did people around the world like this harsh, cranky, miserable human being, Laurie asked the show’s creator, David Shore, who answered. “Your blue eyes.” Actually, that’s a pretty good answer; no argument here.

But Laurie is also a dazzling comedian as well as dramatic actor – elements that combined perfectly in House. Laurie’s sharp-edged wit and sense of just how to use it allowed House to seem charming in all his manipulation and self-destruction. And the series ended as it began, with the hard truth that Everybody Lies. No show ever took that tough idea to heart  -- or faced its rock-bottom cultural truth – as much as House. That’s another reason the series was so powerful; its implicit plea for honesty in the face of inevitable lies hit a nerve in our age of “truthiness.”

Last week Laurie's old partner Stephen Fry tweeted the suggestion that they would team up again soon --  and later revealed that they will do the voices for an animated version of The Canterville Ghost. That’s far from a Bit of Fry and Laurie or Jeeves and Wooster reunion, but I’ll take it. It’s good news for  once and future fans of Laurie the wit, who will still, always and wonderfully, be the lying, lovable House.

This article is related to: Hugh Laurie, House, House series finale, Television, Television Review, Robert Sean Leonard, Kal Penn, House. M.D., Dead Poets Society, Omar Epps, Stephen Fry, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Jeeves and Wooster, carpe diem, David Shore, The Canterville Ghost

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