My wife and I knew Hugh Laurie as a gullible Prince Regent from Black Adder and the foppish man-boy from Jeeves and Wooster long before he embraced his inner curmudgeon and ditched his accent to play doctor as Gregory House, M.D. for six seasons of FOX’s hit show. I’ll probably break down and pull up Hulu to watch the first few episodes of season 7, but I’m trying to resist. I’m afraid they’ll jump the shark (even though House shouldn’t be skiing with his bum leg). Last season’s finale was one of the best, unintentional SERIES finales I’ve ever seen, and I don’t know how Hollywood can follow up on what seemed like the perfect epitaph for this character and story.
As a narrative, House M.D. took the classic story of a man with brilliant deductive skills who lacks social graces (London’s Sherlock Holmes and Watson, meet New Jersey’s Sherlock House and Wilson) and scaled up the addictions, excesses, and consequences. Surgical mysteries simply replaced murder mysteries. House has also served as a larger-than-life example of the uninhibited, cynical, no-nonsense, authority-flouting, self-serving, self-worshipping human being that looks like both a train wreck and something incredibly alluring to all of us.
From his legendary grudges to the self-medicated bitterness and pain, House’s various outlets have provided a cathartic journey for many viewers experiencing various physical, emotional and even spiritual parallels of various (probably less garish) degrees. Even his low view of humanity – everybody lies, etc. – express our own sad-but-true assessment of mankind’s fallen condition. As much as we want to think we’re basically good people, House consistently surfaces the hidden things and hypocrisy of his patients, making the the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital a microcosm for the human condition. Diagnosis? Bleak, probably terminal.
So, many viewers have experienced this wreck of a diagnostician – tooting his own horn for six medicating years – shocked but secretly envying elements of Gregory House’s virtually amoral life track. Then came the end of season 6, where the man who thinks he’s always right – and often is, for better or worse – admitted a whole lot of wrong. In last year’s finale, “Help Me”, (spoilers ahead) Gregory House is confronted with a similar amputation choice that he faced earlier in life, and says to the distraught patient – and millions of viewers – that his prideful choices have “Made me a harder person. A worse person. And now … now I’m alone. You don’t want to be like me.”
Prior to his confession, House joins the woman in prayer, albeit begrudgingly, punctuating an ongoing struggle with God that seems to surface each season at least once, his disbelief often shown to be as much about bitterness and emotion as much as his professed intellectual reasons. While I’m not espousing the effectiveness of directionless prayer to an undefined God, this portrayal of prayer, confession, and utter ruin were a tremendous end punctuated by Cuddy’s offering of grace-based relationship.
House’s efforts at self-redemption by proxy are foiled in last season’s ender; helping the trapped woman make the choice he refused years earlier doesn’t end with catharsis, just more heartbreak. Poised with pills in his bathroom, wavering on what choice to make, and external offering of relationship ultimately provides the touching end as Cuddy offers love that House knows he doesn’t deserve.
“You think I can fix myself?” he asks, and adds “…I am the most screwed up person in the world,” House says. “I know,” Cuddy sighs, but then offers: “I love you.” While this is a human interchange, it poignantly touches on truths such as our inability to fix ourselves and the need for the kind of undeserved love that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. When the episode ended, I looked at my wife Kat and said “The show is over. It needs to be over. It can’t possibly have a better ending. If they go on, they’ll just screw it up.”
Rarely does American television let a show end on its high note; they usually milk it until it is a pale imitation of its glory days. I enjoyed watching House the character as a train wreck, but now I fear I’ll watch House the show become a train wreck. Last season’s climax was the best I expect any mainstream show to get in hitting on the shared realities of our existence. Maybe it will keep the beat this season, but I’m expecting it to flatline on the television table.
Or maybe House’s cynicism is truly infectious.