“Everybody Dies” — an apt title for the series finale of House. Not necessarily because of the events that take place during the episode, but because of the spirit that the show and its title character have carried for their eight season run. Dr. Gregory House makes his living, and his identity, as a healer. He fixes people’s illnesses, deriving great thrill from the process. But whereas on medial dramas like ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Nurse Jackie and company you’re treated to emotionally invested, humanistic, often idealistic doctors, House is anything but. He’s a cynic, always conscious of and never concerned with the fact that his patients will eventually die. He doesn’t practice medicine for them. He does it for his passion for solving mysteries. He does it for him.
And right up through the finale House is a self-serving figure. Hoping to avoid jail time for the little “roof caving in” fiasco that fans might recall, House pleas with his best friend Wilson to take the fall, sure of the fact that Wilson will never actually face incarceration due to the fact that he is dying of cancer and only has five months to live. But Wilson is fed up with always being House’s crutch, and is sure that he would be better serving his friend to teach him now, before he is dead, that House needs to start taking responsibility for himself.
The episode opens with a depressed Dr. House waking up in a burning building, mid heroin trip. House undergoes a series of hallucinations as he contemplates allowing himself to die; his subconscious projects old friends like Kutner and Cameron and ex-girlfriend Stacy, guiding him toward different potential decisions. Stacy represents his deeply buried aspirations for something more, for happiness. Cameron, on the contrary, assures him that he has done enough for this world, and deserves an end to all of his suffering.
The finale features flashbacks to the hospital, where House treats a heroin-abusing patient (with the nasty habit of smoking cigarettes while dazed out, leading to the nastier habit of starting fires — hence, you know, the fire) who has led him to where he presently lies, beside that very man, who has overdosed. Although the episode serves primarily as a parable for Dr. House’s internal struggle, and as such appropriately takes place inside the hostile, solitary environment of a burning building, it almost feels like a bit of a robbery to keep the doc out of the hospital for nearly the entirety of his final hour on television. Whether that is where he belongs or not, that is where we have known him.
But the episode does do plenty of things right. It hammers in the theme that House is, and always has been, his own worst enemy. And now that he is losing the one thing in the world that has served to combat that enemy, the one person who has accepted him not as an enemy, but as a friend, he no longer feels capable of going on. After all, without Wilson, House will be stuck with himself. And who wants to be alone with their own worst enemy?
And it is Wilson who saves House’s life. Not literally; House does that on his own. But it is the sight of his best friend — who, along with Foreman, has apparently learned a thing or two from the title character and solved the puzzle of where the missing House actually was — that convinces House to make his way out of the burning building. Wilson has come back for him; he does have something to live for.
However, House doesn’t reveal himself as alive until after he is presumed dead (thanks to his own devices — he switched the dental records between himself and the corpse in the building). And even then, he only tells Wilson. It’s the only way he can get out of going to prison. But more importantly, it’s the only way he can get out of the prison that has been his life for years. And now, he can spend the next five months together with his dying friend.
Of course, Wilson is dying. But the final scenes of the episode indicate that House, for the first time in his life, is opting for joy, for idealism, for embracing the moment, rather than logic, forethought and cynicism. He is allowing himself to be happy while he still thinks he can. It’s a bittersweet ending, but that’s a step up from the way House has led his life so far.
The theme is drilled in by a comment begun by Wilson. He starts on the topic of his cancer, which will eventually get worse. But House assures him that they need not worry about that yet. For a character who has been so defined by his penchant for analyzing every possible detail, consequence and future scenario, he has reached the best kind of conclusion he could get. House finally wants to be happy. So maybe he can.