First to Last: Watching House, MD‘s Pilot and Finale

Comedy Features

First to Last is a biweekly column where the pilot episode and series finale of a TV show are examined. But there’s a catch—the author has never seen a single episode of the show before viewing these two episodes! This week’s show: House, M.D.

House, M.D., unlike Lost or Mad Men, was a show I’d always been interested in (but, y’know, still never bothered to watch). From my understanding, the show is about a brash doctor whose tendency for being sarcastic was matched only by his ability to make successful diagnoses.

I watched two episodes of the program: “Pilot” (2004) and the series finale, “Everybody Dies” (2012). Here are the impressions I’ve gathered:

First off the bat: Dr. Gregory House is clearly a complex and damaged man. “You see that? They all assume I’m a patient because of this cane.” Those are the very first words he utters, so it is safe to assume that his leg (which has gone through muscle death) is the source of his torture. His preoccupation with his disability is likely what robs him of his ability to give a fuck. His arrogance seemingly knows no bounds and is shown to be rough around the edges with his co-workers.

When head oncologist Dr. James Wilson (who we later learn is House’s best friend) asks him to treat a patient who (he claims) is his cousin, House curtly says she’s going to die of a brain tumor, and laments how boring the case is. His relationship is especially strained with his boss Lisa Cuddy, and he gives heavy doses of tough love to his understudies Drs. Allison Cameron, Robert Chase and Eric Foreman. I’d like to note that That ‘70s Show was still on the air when House premiered, but Topher Grace left the cast the following year, as if Fox had decided their network had room for only one Eric Foreman.

Throughout the episode we see House popping pills several times, and a child’s fixation on his bum leg makes him uncomfortable to the point of abruptly leaving the room during a consultation. These things, I’m sure, will be the focus of House’s personal story arc.

House is a man who is most fascinated by the puzzles presented by difficult to crack cases. He may fix the patients, but he is still unable to fix himself. I’m not drawing conclusions here—those things are stated by patients and colleagues in bits of blatant exposition. It was a bit heavy handed, but I suppose I can forgive such an offense from the pilot episode. Will subsequent episodes be as obnoxious with their exposition? I’ll never know, because it’s time to watch the last episode, “Everybody Dies!”

And, oh, man, things have gone downhill for House! In the finale he wakes up in a burning building, is suicidal, and before long he starts hallucinating. This is the most interesting aspect of the episode, and what sets it apart from the pilot: the story is told from House’s point of view, and he quickly proves to be an unreliable narrator, with characters’ dialogue literally being reduced to “blah blah blah” during parts he finds boring.

House hallucinates several people from his past, all of whom help him come to understand himself. It’s all of the blatant exposition of the pilot, yet in the context of House hallucinating, it actually make sense. I like this a lot better. The bulk of the episode focuses on House’s self-actualization, but we do see a few familiar faces. Foreman no longer works for House—House works for him. Also Wilson has cancer, which is bittersweet for an oncologist.

House ultimately decides that he wants to live, but moments later a burning beam collapses from the ceiling. This is really deep and powerful stuff. There’s a funeral, and it’s mostly funeral-y until Wilson snaps and has to remind everybody that House was kind of a big asshole.

And then… House is alive? Ugh. Wilson receives a mysterious text message mid-rant and is next seen meeting with House at an unknown location. House explains that he switched some dental records in order to fake his death, which, to me, is a finale-ruining cop-out.

Unless… what if House is dead? The whole episode has been about House imagining his old friends in order to cope and come to terms with himself. What if Wilson is now doing the same thing? Imagining House’s presence in order to cope and more fully enjoy his remaining time before the cancer overcomes him. What if Wilson is the unreliable narrator now? When Wilson is explaining to House how he’s ruined his career and life, House replies “I’m dead, Wilson,” which seems less like “stop worrying about my personal problems” and more like “let your imagination run wild.” Wilson is the only one who interacts with House after the funeral, and the ending shot is of them riding off on motorcycles. That’s the most dream-sequency thing I can imagine. Plus, the episode is called everybody dies.

In the pilot, this was a show about House, sure, but it was about his practice, his technique, and also his colleagues. In the end it is all House all the time. The one patient he treats only serves to further the understanding of House.

I found the show to be very well done. In fact, I have a greater and more coherent understanding of the show than I ever would have expected to gain from watching only the first and last episodes. We start with a gifted yet tortured man, and in the end he is able to make peace and acceptance with himself. The show lasted eight years, and while the stakes are certainly higher during the finale, it doesn’t come off as silly or as a show that is past its prime. Unless House really is alive. That would be whack.

Final verdict: I really liked this show. I’m super mad that they ruined the powerful moment that was House’s death, but I’m just going to assume that Fox forced them to shove in a happy ending and that my take on House dying is what the writers truly imagined. Please let me imagine this.

Have a suggestion for next week’s show? Contact Matt Pass on Twitter @mattpasscomedy!

Matt Pass is a comedian.

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