The Doctor is no longer in the House

I don’t usually write about TV shows here, but hey – TV is, when you stop and think about it, one of the most amazing technologies to come down the pike, and also arguably the one that has had the most influence (for better and worse) on our society. It’s also interesting – and often laughable – to watch how the TV script writers handle technology-related issues. Don’t they have technical advisors? Do they really have that little grasp of how technologies work? Or do they just make the conscious decision to sacrifice accuracy for the sake of a more dramatic story and/or some lucrative product placement?

It seems the two subjects that are most popular for television dramas are cops and doctors. So you can imagine what a critical audience they have in my household, with me a former police officer and Tom a former neurologist. Our television viewing is often interrupted by one or the other shouting, “No, no, no! That’s not the way it’s done!” Maybe that’s why we’re both such fans of science fiction, where at least the stories are supposed to be over-the-top.

Oh, well. Entertainment is all about suspension of reality, and one can overlook female detectives who wear 5 inch stilettos and necklines down to their navels on duty (even when not engaged in undercover prostitution stings) or diagnosticians who perform brain surgery and send other doctors to break and enter into patients’ homes, if the story is compelling enough and/or the characters sympathetic enough.

That still doesn’t quite explain why we’ve stuck with House until the bitter end. Oh, the first couple of seasons were brilliant. But then the medical mysteries that made the show so unique and so much fun slowly faded into the background, edged out by the soap opera life of a smart but miserable and obnoxious man who makes life difficult for all those around him. I already know a few of those in real life; don’t really need to dwell on the details of their personal failures when I sit down to watch TV. Recently the program has spent maybe 1/4 of the time – when we’re lucky – on the patient and the diagnostic puzzle, and the rest on the rather mundane problems of Gregory House and his not-at-all-brilliant personal decisions, and/or the private lives of his loyal (and sometimes not so loyal) servants.

But it was a little like an airplane ride. No matter how scary it gets, or no matter how boring it is, once you’re locked inside and in the air, you’re not getting off until it’s over. Now it’s almost over. Last night’s episode was the last one before the series finale.

Of course, some folks had the sense to get out earlier. Cameron left; Cuddy left, 13 left, Stacy left, Kutner died. Chase jumped off the plane just as it was coming in for a landing. Now they’re killing off Wilson, which just proves that no good deed goes unpunished and only the good die young (and probably a few more clichés that don’t come to mind at the moment).

I’m not at all sure how I feel about that particular storyline. Oh, that the oncologist ends up with terminal cancer seems almost inevitable. But that this particular man, given all we know about him from the past, would forego treatment – that seems totally out of character. And don’t you love the way they know that he has “five months to live?” How precise is that? Not “around six months,” which is the kind of prediction that docs actually make – when they go out on a limb and make predictions about such things at all. No, Wilson has five months. And of course House now has to go back to prison for six months, missing out on the end of his best friend’s life.

There are several things that bother me about the “messages” being conveyed in this endgame. Let’s go back to Wilson’s decision not to get treatment. Chemo is rough, I know – I was with my mom as she endured it for the last year of her life. But dying is worse. I was also with her after they gave up on the chemo, after they convinced her that it was time for hospice, and I watched her go downhill rapidly. An oncologist, of all people, would know that the advances in chemo have made it much less onerous than it once was.

Call me overly suspicious (there’s that cop thing again) but I can’t help wondering whether Wilson’s “brave” choice to live out the rest of his life his way is really about empowering patients to choose what they want to do with their own bodies (which I heartily applaud) or is subtle propaganda meant to encourage terminal patients to go away and die quickly and not use up expensive medical resources. There seems to be a trend in that direction lately, and it’s not about choice at all; it’s about saving the insurance companies and/or government (whichever happens to be funding the treatment) money.

The second thing that bothers me about the way this is wrapping up is the way House was portrayed last night as a victim of the system. That mean old system is going to lock him back up at the time when Wilson needs him most. Never mind that it was all his own doing. Never mind that his destructive behavior sent him to prison in the first place, and more destructive behavior got his parole revoked. Most viewers are going to see the “system” as being at fault. This is a man who has gotten away with one outrageous, illegal act after another throughout the series’ nine year run. In real life, he would have had his medical license jerked and he would have gone to jail long ago (assuming one of his long-suffering staffers or a patient’s family member didn’t blow him away first). We’ve finally started to see some consequences for actions, a little bow to personal responsibility – but I don’t think that’s the message that’s coming across. And that’s because of the Wilson situation.

And what about the abrupt departure of Chase? Yeah, yeah, I know Jesse already has another job and needed to get to the firehouse. And sometimes people really do just pick up and leave like that. But the reactions of those left behind is generally a little different. Park was halfway in love with him; now she’s forgotten him already? Taub and Foreman worked with him all those years. In a hospital, everyone gossips all the time. Yet nobody’s talking about Chase. Weird.

The name of last night’s episode was “Everybody Dies.” That applies to TV programs as well as people. House has been terminal for a while, and like Wilson, resisted undergoing the kind of painful treatment that might have made it better. The acting was mostly excellent, but great actors can only do so much with bad scripts, and if I had to diagnose House’s illness after the fact, I’d say that was the cause of death.


Debra Littlejohn Shinder

About debshinder

Technology analyst and author, specializing in enterprise security. Author of or contributor to over 25 books, including "Scene of the Cybercrime." Fourteen-year Microsoft MVP, married to Microsoft FTE Tom Shinder, and proud mom of two wonderful grown-up human children and three amazing Japanese Chin pups. In my spare time, I love to travel - especially on cruise ships - and write about my grand adventures.
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