I’ve done a lot of thinking about “Moving On,” the House, M.D. Season 7 finale. I decided after watching its original airing, I’d let it rest a week and watch it again without preconceived notions fueled by spoilers and promos, and without the news of Lisa Edelstein’s (Lisa Cuddy) departure too fresh in my mind. It’s sunk in by now that she’s not returning, and in a way, the finale—whatever you may think of it—gives the series an way to make the break permanent if that’s what the parties want. (Although who knows? There’s no reason to believe she’ll stay away forever, and wouldn’t it be spectacular for her to make a surprise guest appearance sometime this season?)
Many people came into the finale already upset and feeling betrayed by the series Powers That Be as well as the network(s) involved in bringing House, M.D. into our homes each week. The network took forever to finalize a deal to renew the series for an eighth season, and Edelstein’s departure was collateral damage from the deal ultimately inked. So, too, all other contracts forged between the actors and the network.
So, a week later, distanced from the news, and having by then already seen the shocker of an ending—and having chatted with the episode’s writers—I jumped back in to watch again. Before I talk about the ending, which will be most of this commentary’s focus, I want to say how much I loved everything leading up to it: from House’s (Hugh Laurie) interactions with the patient, with Wilson, and with Cuddy; his introspection regarding the damage done to himself in “After Hours,” and his efforts to move past it—and desire to change.
House comprehends that what had been done in the self-surgery was idiotic if not irrational, although, in true House fashion he’d rather sweep the ramifications under the carpet with an “I’ll never do it again,” than deal with the sort of emotional (and physical) pain that drove him to do it in the first place. Laurie does a wonderful job of expressing House’s attempt to convince himself that he’s going to change, while telegraphing the fact that it’s simply a whitewash.
House is a drowning man in his own way; drowning in self-loathing, deflecting all help—denying he needs it. All his friends can do is stand by and watch as he self-destructs (in an interesting parallel between this week’s patient Afsoun and her assistant/lover Luka). That is nearly what happens in “After Hours,” until a last minute rescue by Cuddy saves him from himself.
In “Moving On,” House insists that he recognizes the self-destructiveness of his “After Hours” action and is ready to move on and past his hurt and anger. He’s deluding himself, even as Wilson and Cuddy want to believe him. They know he’s in pain; they know he’s not really off his self-destructive path. How can he be with a wave of his hand and a bad experience from which he’s (once again) been rescued? I think that’s why Wilson and Cuddy are so insistent that House get beyond whatever corrosive is eating away at his heart and soul—get it out of his system.
But would they have been more successful (and certainly result in something less destructive) had they let House work it through himself? I’m not only thinking about “Moving On,” I mean since the beginning? Would the Ketamine treatment have worked better had Wilson and Cuddy not conspired to get House “to change” while a window of possibility was still open, for example, at the beginning of Season 3? Are they truly enablers—or have they been dis-ablers? Is their friendship at once co-dependent and corrosive? Did House need to break completely with his closest companions to truly get a fresh start?
I’m not entirely sure, but I wonder how much of that is running through our (decidedly unheroic) hero’s mind during the Season 7 finale. And was the conclusion to it, shocking as it was, more inevitable than it might have appeared? Which brings me to the final moments of “Moving On.”
I think perhaps through editing or direction (since there is no dialogue until the very end), some of House’s confused, complicated motivations might have been made clearer. Although it may have been intended to keep things ambiguous as to why House would barrel his car at full speed into Cuddy’s dining room, it is not clear (as the episode’s writers told me) to many, even very careful viewers, that House isn’t actually homicidal.
Something obviously snaps inside him when he observes Cuddy clearing the dishes from a quiet, nice normal dinner with her sister and an (apparent) new suitor. For what it’s worth, I believe that when House exits the car with Cuddy’s hairbrush in his hand, he fully intends to be an adult and give it back to her, symbolically and in fact letting go of the pain through the last intimate connection to her. (How much more intimate an object—her hairbrush residing so domestically in his bathroom?) As long as it is there, there’s a chance she’ll come back to him; giving it back renders it final, reminding me of House’s admonition to Wilson in Season 2 about calling a divorce lawyer when his marriage breaks up. House needs to make it final; to move on and past the pain of this relationship. Except he can’t.
I have always said that it’s not that House feels too little; it’s that he feels too much—and much more than he wants to feel. Maybe the gesture with the brush is House’s way of praying “for a different answer this time.” Maybe the prayer is to let it simply end; maybe for reconciliation.
When Wilson finds him back at his apartment in the scene just before the crash, House is already pretty close to despair. He sits alone in his flat, popping pills, sitting in the dark and not answering his doorbell or phone. Wilson interrupts House’s despair to be a friend. “Let’s go the Saw Mill,” he suggests. Go out for drink to drown sorrows and maybe “talk about it.” But House wants to return the brush first. “It’s been on my mind,” he says.
As he walks up the steps with the brush in hand, so solemnly and with such difficulty, he stops, lifting his eyes to the domestic scene inside. And where he thinks perhaps he can move on—and that the break with Cuddy might be clean; or maybe believing that showing up with the brush will erase their mutual hurts and there’s still a chance for them—he now knows better, and his heart is broken all over again.
So what is he thinking then, as he makes his way back to the car and Wilson? I don’t think it is at this point that he makes the impulsive decision to ram Cuddy’s house; I think he’s determined run away—to anywhere. He pushes Wilson away, demanding that he exit the car and leave him alone. He doesn’t want platitudes or even commiseration. He just wants to be alone; House can’t let even Wilson see him like this.
So, he drives off, and I can’t really tell who he’s angriest with; is it himself—or Cuddy? Or just generally furious with the world? But as he’s driving, he impulsively turns the car around. The Vicodin meant to numb him (he’s certainly taken enough of it) isn’t helping, and he simply snaps. Does part of him know what he’s doing? Maybe. Is he aware enough to realize that the room is empty as he barrels into Cuddy’s home? It’s possible, but I just don’t know.
Would he have stopped, or veered away into another part of the house had he seen people in the room, as Peter Blake suggested to me? It’s impossible to know since the camera is in House’s POV, not the living room’s. We see what he sees, but not the expression on his face, which would have given a better sense of what is going through House’s mind at that moment.
But it’s irrelevant in a way, because although what he does is shocking and (in some ways) in character—and I even understand it—that final action makes House persona non-grata in the hospital and its universe. Eventually, it will probably make our self-loathing House despise himself even more for having driven away Cuddy, Wilson, and everyone else who’s meaningful to him.
We, as the audience, I believe, are meant to react to House just as Cuddy has; she is shaking and furious. So are we. Whatever demons House possesses, he’s never really been malicious. His most destructive qualities have almost always been aimed at himself (with rare exceptions); House hurts himself, not others. But this House is not our House; he has betrayed us as he’s betrayed Cuddy and Wilson. And perhaps that is what we are meant to feel.
We are left stunned and confused at what has driven him (literally). The writers help explain his motivation, although they rightly remind us that all writing is open to layers of interpretation: the director, the actor, and the viewer. House could not emotionally break away from Cuddy, even after all they’d been through. She’s apparently moved on; he cannot, they explained.
Although what he does isn’t rational, it serves to burn his bridges, making it impossible for them ever to be emotionally involved again. (How could she even think about it, given the enormity of what House has done?).
In a way, the ending—House walking calmly away from Wilson and planting himself on some real or imagined tropical island sipping pina coladas—is the culmination of seven years of people telling him to change, to do something other than repress whatever rage of emotion roils inside him. “I expressed my feelings,” he tells Wilson simply. “Screw you all,” is what he’s really saying. “Just leave me the fuck alone.”
We actually don’t know that House ends Season 7 on an unimaginably gorgeous beach in Figi or Rio or Hawaii. It is real enough, and said the writers, there is no reason to believe for now that it’s not real. But I have to wonder.
I suppose it could be real—that House hops a taxi, picks up his passport, and heads to the airport: no suitcase, no change of clothes. On the other hand, it’s just as plausible that House is actually back in his apartment and staring out the window as he had been when Wilson visits him earlier. That all remains to be seen next season.
The creative team at House has never been risk averse. The very notion of House as the hero of a network television series was a risk, even as we first met him years ago. But taking a risk like this—making House unsympathetic and destructive—at the end of Season 7 with the ratings slipping—is a huge gamble. Whatever else happens to House or any of the other characters on the show, they can’t leave him this unsympathetic for very long or the audience will stop caring. And that would be deadly to the show. We need to care about House; we need to be able to be on his side (at least most of the time). And therein lies the challenge.
So the creative team: the writers, producers, directors, and actors have their work cut out for them. The writers have told me there will be a price to be paid by House, there will be consequences—and we will see them as he tries to repair the damage he’s done. But can they redeem a character that seems to have fallen so far off course? And with that challenge comes opportunity to explore House in new directions. Unfortunately, that will be without Lisa Edelstein’s Lisa Cuddy—unless she puts in a guest appearance.
If season finales are meant to leave viewers mouths agape and wondering how the hell they’re going to get out of it, the House team has succeeded. And although many viewers didn’t think the ending of “Moving On” was anything but in character, many others are still trying to wrap their heads around House’s actions. The trick will be to get everyone to come back at the start of Season 8, excited and enthusiastic about what’s to come in what may, indeed, be the series final season. I can’t wait.