The Kubler-Ross grief scale first emerged on House in the season two premiere “Acceptance.” At the time, House (Hugh Laurie) had been struggling with the return of Stacy Warner into his life. Stacy, whom House (Hugh Laurie) both loved and resented; he both desired her and was repelled by her presence. It seems so long ago, lifetimes of tragedy and angst for House—seven seasons for us—since that moment in season two.
And here we are at the penultimate episode of season eight—the last season of our beloved House, M.D. And like House, trying desperately to deal with Wilson’s (Robert Sean Leonard, in arguably his best performance to date in the series) decision not to have chemotherapy, we are right there with him, going through the stages of grief, not only for Wilson, but for a beloved television series.
Like the series showrunners must have agonized over whether to end the long-running series, Wilson grapples with whether to die a quicker, but more dignified life, or to die little by little in agony. A prolonged and senseless way to go. And Wilson's decision would be easy, but for House, who will not take Wilson's demise well.
Although last week’s episode “Post Mortem” was heartbreaking, this one just broke me, leaving me in tears as I watched House desperately try to get Wilson to see “reason”—or at least “reasons” to stay alive for at least a little while longer. House cannot understand giving in to the nothingness of death; cannot accept that Wilson simply wants it to be over before life gets too maudlin. It is his right to die, and something for which House has argued over and over these many seasons.
The episode opens with viewers learning that Wilson will have only five or six months to live without chemo, which would give him another two or three more years—much of which would be spent confined to a hospital chemo suite and in pain.
But Wilson has decided to die “with dignity,” something in which House neither believes nor accepts. “You can only live with dignity; you can’t die with it.” The passion in House’s words to Rebecca Adler from the series pilot still resonate as his mantra for lo these many years. There is only living; there is only dying.