House Ending Highlights the Great ‘Series Finale Problem’

It was fitting that in tonight’s final episode of House, our eponymous diagnostician faked his own death.

Over the years, a host of fictional characters have done exactly the same thing, but it was particularly apt that House did so because it was a nod to Sherlock Holmes (and we’re not just talking about Benedict C*mberbatch’s version here..) a man who has inspired the House writers more than anyone else. We all love tortured genuises, but these two are in a league of their own.

The real point that Hugh Laurie’s on-screen farewell highlighted was the intrinsic difficulty of ending a highly popular TV series. Should you go with ambiguity or closure? Risk leaving fans unsatisfied or placate them with a happy-ending?

For many viewers, last night’s ‘Everybody Dies’ might have been better if it had ended as Wilson smiled at a text – mid-funeral-rant, leaving House’s fate open to interpretation. While it was good to see Hugh Laurie’s grumpy doctor finally achieve redemption, commit a selfless act (making an effort to live) and ride off into the sunset with his BF, it all felt very cute.

It was a functional and satisfying denouement but in the end it didn’t challenge the brain, which from a show which has spent so long delving in introspection, is a bit of a cop-out. Of course, you can’t win either way. When The Sopranos ended on an ambiguous cliff-hanger that will never be answered back in 2007 some fans went mental.

The truth is that the longer a series has run for and the more successful it has been, the greater the pressure upon it as it bids farewell. As such, crafting a finale has to be one of the most difficult things in the industry. TV wasn’t even a glint in John Logie Baird’s eye when Mark Twain exclaimed that “you can’t please all the people all the time” but the American’s wisdom couldn’t be more relevant. House fanatics have endured their fair share of cliff-hangers over the years (jail, mental institutions, etc..) but after eight years many of them had prepared themselves for a resolution, but did this one fit and should we get what we want?

If you assume that no ended can satisfy everyone in a series’s army of fans, then we must judge them by whether they fit with the rest of the show. As drama that redefined many of the TV rules, David Chase was entitled to end The Sopranos the way he did. The mystery of that final family dinner was a fine compromise between killing the lead (in what would have been an exceptionally brave move) and giving him a happy ending that many think would have clashed with the tone of everything that had come before.

Don’t get us wrong, tonight’s House finale got a lot of things right, but for some, watching a complex and deeply self-destructive character have an epiphany that has been eluding them for years as the curtain came down, was a bit too pat. “I can change!” he told Cameron, before orchestrating a rather contrived escape from the burning building. Got out the back? The place blew up a second after we saw you at the front?

So characterisation aside, why did they decide to allow the bloke such redemption? Well one explanation might be that after ratings have tailed off slightly in recent years, the writers wanted to give fans who’ve stuck with the show a high to finish on. There was still a slice of ambiguity to be had as we wondered whether the rest of the cast knew that House had survived – although judging by Foreman’s doleful smile as he looked at House’s card, we’d say they did. Or maybe they wanted to break with the recent trend of dramas ending on lows rather than highs? Maybe the message was that any adversity can be defeated or that House had finally learned to appreciate his mate? Maybe they were so attached to them that they couldn’t bear to see him blow it again? If so we can’t blame them, because he’s been good fun.

One thing that we CAN all agree on is the disappointing absence of Cuddy. Apparently when Lisa Edelstein said she wasn’t returning she really meant it! So what did you make of ‘Everybody Dies’? Perfectly judged or complete cop-out?

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