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Talking about the House season finale and more with the episode's scribes.

Digging into the House Season Finale: A Conversation with Writers Peter Blake and Kath Lingenfelter

The House, M.D. season finale “Moving On” is without a doubt the most controversial episodes in the series history. Some fans hated it, and others not. To take a character like House (Hugh Laurie), who really skates on the edge of likability and have him crash into the home of ex-girlfriend Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) may have been a long step too far over that edge for some fans. Other fans hate what House (the character) has done, even while understanding what drove him (as it were) to that brink, but are more than curious about how the series writers will redeem his character next season. Others still have felt that the way Season 7 ended was completely in keeping with both the character and the series and quite like where the end of the episode found him—on a beach sipping a cocktail. I’ll have more on that and my own thoughts on the episode later this weekend.

The writers are just now coming back to the studio after a brief hiatus to begin sketching out Season 8, which many believe might be the final season for the series. Russel Friend and Garrett Lerner told me last week that determining whether next season will be the last will be among the first things discussed as the creative team now gets back to work. But also high on that list, and perhaps even more important for the first part of the season, is where to take the character of House from where we last see him at the end of the season finale. Have they painted themselves into a corner, or does the Season 7 finale open new avenues to explore?

This year’s finale was written by Co-Executive Producer/Writer Peter Blake and Writer/Producer Kath Lingenfelter. Blake has been with House, M.D. since the very beginning. His first script “Maternity” (1×04) still stands as one of the series best, presenting a classic Housian ethical dilemma into the hands of the man whose ethics are often questioned. Lingenfelter is new to the House creative team, joining the show only this season. Her episode “You Must Remember This,” proved to a great entry in what has turned out to be a very controversial season. I caught up with the two writers earlier this week to talk about “Moving On,” Season 7 and where Season 8 might be headed.

Where did the idea for the “Moving On” come from?

Blake: We knew that the season had to end with House getting to a different place. We also knew that [House and Cuddy] were going to break up in the middle of the season, and then we knew that the rest of the season was going to be dealing with the after effects of the breakup. So we went back and forth a number of times about in our plotting out of the entire season, where it would end up. At one point, [House’s] car crash was going to be episode 19. Then we were going to show the fallout of that for the next few episodes. I shouldn’t talk about what that fallout was going to be because we might use some of it next year; we’re just not sure yet. But I think the network, the studio, and the writers decided that it would be better to go out on a bang. So it got moved up to the last episode about a couple months before we started filming it.

There are obviously some parallels between House and his patient, and he’s really affected by her. Do you want to talk about that? I know that the writers are always drawing parallels between House and his patients, but this one really seemed to get to him.

Lingenfelter: At the beginning of last season, I pitched [a story] about a performance artist who revels in her treatment rather than suffering through it, preferring to experience the pain publicly—to share it with other people. That pitch kind of fell by the wayside, but a little while later Blake resurrected it with a new spin. We thought that it was just going to be a good way to look at where House is now with his pain—and with the personal walls he continues to put up.

Blake: Obviously [House and the patient, played by Shoreh Aghdashloo] are extremely good at their jobs; they both have a lot of pain in their lives. We had a line or two about how she had witnessed her mother’s death. I think that survival thing took over [for her]. She uses her job to deal with the pain, which she shares with House; he does the same thing. But her obsession with work and the walls [she constructs] between her and other people is to keep out emotional pain, just like House has done.

I think even if the writers have something in their minds, what ends up on the screen might be open to interpretation. But I think what seems very clear is that House, after five episodes of feeling really badly about the breakup—and not just the breakup but also his unhappiness with his life, and his loneliness… For five episodes he’s dealt with it in sort of childish and self-destructive ways. First childish, the way he acts (in “Fall from Grace”) jumping into that monster truck and into the fake marriage. Then he gets more self-destructive in the form of taking more and more Vicodin, and finally, and especially the incredibly dangerous, stupid maneuver to fix his leg, which ends up being something that could of killed him (“After Hours”). So he went from dealing with his pain in a childish way to dealing with the pain in a very destructive way. At the end of “After Hours,” he realizes he’s got to make a change, and he sort of says as much to Wilson—or at least acknowledges as much to Wilson. That’s where this episode begins, with House realizing he is going to make a change. It’s not going to be easy, but he is going to stop being self-destructive. He realizes that he’s got to stop being so sort of passive-aggressive with Cuddy and just get over. He just decides he’s just going to use his power of mind to try to get over this breakup.

Lingenfelter:    So yes, he’s going to rely on his mind to get on top of it. And he finds kindred spirit in Afsoun who devoted to her work above all else and has found a lot of satisfaction in it. So and then, of course, ultimately feels betrayed by her [when she decides living her life and loving is more important than her work].

Where is House coming from here?

Blake:  This episode is it’s an incredibly stressful episode for House because he’s trying to be friends with Cuddy and be professional with her. And what she’s saying is: “That’s not enough’ we have to actually get to a deeper place; you need to express your feelings, you need to express your anger.” And he’s denying that he needs to do so. And then when House and Cuddy have that scene in the hallway together, they have a bit of a breakthrough. They’ve never even had a fight really about their breakup to this point. He finally admits to her that he was hurt, and it really is a breakthrough. So, at this point in the story, House is on the verge of getting better and being healthy and doing the right thing, he forgives her [for hurting him]. But he still hasn’t really processed his anger. He’s just sort of forgiven her. And then, and then things started to fall apart. And in his patient Afsoun, he sees himself. He thinks maybe, “my life sucks and I think that I can throw myself into work and everything will be okay.”  But when he sees Afsoun [eventually] saying the exact opposite—that work isn’t enough, that your personal relationships are enough, it just underlines House’s life for him. He just feels betrayed by her because she had given him hope to believe that he could have handled his loneliness. But then he realizes, “No, I can’t.” So it makes him feel even worse about the way his life is going. And that, of course, then leads him into the car crash.

So that car crash. It was a very controversial ending to the episode; it was an amazingly risky thing to do.

Blake:  Yes.

And I’m going to get back to that part of it in a second. But I want to understand the why—House’s motivation. Yes, he’s feeling betrayed by Cuddy, but beyond that. Is this a buildup of seven (or more years) of frustration over Wilson and Cuddy constantly trying to get him to change, trying to get him to be better, trying to psychoanalyze him? And, and it’s like wham, he explodes?

Blake: There’s no one simple, there’s no one simple answer. But, I mean, we can tell you some of the things that led up to it.

Lingenfelter:    Well, I think there’s always been kind of the background noise from the people in House’s life of, you’re doing it wrong, in terms of being a person, that there’s more for you, there’s more you need to do, you need to open up, you need to reach out, you need to connect. And these last few years of his sobriety I think were for House were real attempts for him to make changes. It really was an effort and really goes against the grain of his character and who he is. And I think there’s frustration in him of “why does it seem so easy for other people and not for me?” I think there some anger at himself for denying his true nature and trying to be something else, compromising himself.

Do you remember from the episode that House had kept Cuddy’s hairbrush? (Cuddy asked him to return it.) House knew exactly where it was. In my mind, and again, I have to reiterate what Peter said that we all bring something into the project and we all have our ideas, but House was holding onto that. That was that last vestige of Cuddy. And when he was willing to try and give it back to her, that was it for him. Intellectually and logically he had gotten to the place where, “I’m okay with it, I’m going to move on, I won’t be emotionally compromised anymore or tortured over this.” But I he gets up those steps with [her] hairbrush [to return it to her], he gets up to the steps and he sees her and the lightness that she has about her, and that it seems like she’s moved on, and it wounds him. And I think he’s furious with himself, among many other emotions, that he’s still emotionally compromised. He’s not able to completely turn that switch off. And I think part of, one aspect of his choice to drive into her house—although, I wouldn’t say it was a clear-cut, logical choice—but was to make it an impossibility for him to ever reconnect with Cuddy. He couldn’t turn that switch himself, and so he had to just, you know, destroy the whole thing. That’s one take.

Blake: Another part of it is  that I think he was angry because he felt like he had gotten to an honest point with Cuddy. He had asked her, “Are you dating anyone?” She had said, “No.” And then it seemed to him—although she wasn’t lying—it seemed to him that she had been lying to him about all of it because she seemed to be with this new guy having this romantic dinner with the family. So he felt hurt about that. But that was only part of it. This is a guy who never really processed his anger about the breakup. And everyone throughout this episode, especially Wilson and Cuddy were saying to him, “you’ve got to process, you’ve got to, let it out, say what you’re feeling. Stop drowning yourself with Vicodin. It is not going to work.” So he finally said, “You know what? Fuck it, I’ll do it.” And he lets out his anger. And then in a weird way he feels better. And that’s partially why we put him on a beach. Wilson tells the cop earlier, [that House is] going to be in a place that reflects his mood because he’s in his darkest hole. He’s going to be in some bar, you know, that’s the darkest hole in Princeton. And, nope, he’s in Fiji or something.

So is that final scene where he’s at the beach, is that real or is that in his mind?

PB:      That’s real. Well, I can say that right now. We’ve got a writers meeting next week, but let’s just assume the audience has no reason to think that it’s in his mind.

The episode’s ending got a very mixed reaction—all of it very strong. I have to admit it’s taking me a while to really completely wrap my brain around it. But in a way it makes sense for him to be at that point and to just say, “You know what? Screw this whole thing; I’m just going to do this.” But part of me doesn’t understand this House. In any event, I think it was like a really huge risk for the show to have House do something so destructive and potentially tragic. I mean, there are people in the house!

Blake: I totally see that. But when we were writing the script, we thought that what House was doing was crazy and destructive, but we did not think of it as homicidal at all. We believed that House sees everyone leaving that front room and going to the back room for coffee. So at least in our mind, House was not ever trying to drive into a room where anyone was there. In fact, you know, could House actually know he was going to drive into the house? I kind of doubt that.

Lingenfelter: It was really impulsive

Blake: I think he was just trying to be self-destructive, or maybe even destructive of her property actually, but neither of us thought he was being homicidal. I hope it’s clear, but it does worry me. It upsets me that some people on Twitter thought that he was trying to kill Cuddy or kill anyone. We really did not intend that. But we wanted him to come to a point where he’s in a serious, self-destructive time. And we’ve known that for a long time. But we certainly did not want him to appear a character that was homicidal or anything like that. Another way we thought that House was in no way being homicidal—although, he was being crazy and reckless and self-destructive—is when he’s driving up Cuddy’s lawn. If he had seen that anyone was in that room, he would have turned into another part of the house. And he did have a clear view as he was driving into it and he could see that no one was in it. But the question is could he turn in time? I think so. [It’s possible to believe that] House was not thinking of things very clearly at that moment. Or was he?

David Shore once said that, I mean, and it’s obvious you guys push House to the limits of likability, to the limits of, okay, we can forgive him for this because ultimately he’s trying to do the right thing. But are you aware of the level of negative reaction from parts of the online fan community that you’ve taken him a step or more over that limit?

Blake: It was obviously, a very traumatic episode for a lot of fans, and I sympathize with them. But “Moving On” was always going to be an episode where House really, even more than their breakup puts a wall up between [himself and Cuddy].

But the question in my mind is, how do you redeem him from this? He has crossed this line of doing something so destructive that if he shows his face in Princeton, he’s going to get arrested! How do you come back from that?

Blake: That’s what Season 8 is going to be about.

Lingenfelter: I think it’s a place to rebuild from, and so it gives us a lot of opportunity to look at the character. Is [this episode] a breakthrough for him? Or was this a reset, that he goes back to the way that he was more towards the beginning of the series?

Blake: It was obviously a self-destructive crazy act. But there was something in it. House was already being self-destructive and crazy. And doing what he did was both those things. But the most dangerous thing he’s done isn’t driving his car; it was his self-surgery, which almost kills him in the previous episode. In a way, there’s nowhere to go but up. So there’s some hope that maybe this will actually, this actually was the breakthrough that he needed, as ironic as that is.

Lingenfelter: For those in the audience that feel like House has to redeem himself, it reflects the same position for the other people in his life. And it’s certainly one direction for Season 8. We’re meeting next week to discuss it, but certainly a possible the direction: does House believe he has to redeem himself to the people that were in his life, and does he even try?

That could be very compelling to watch.  I have a question about Taub. All right. He’s a doctor. Doesn’t he know about condoms? Hasn’t he ever watched an After School SpecialTwo women pregnant in a week. That’s pretty impressive.

Blake:  Yeah.

Lingenfelter: I think that there are many ways that something like that can happen; not all birth control is 100% effective.

Blake:  I think the history of men shows that it’s a very possible, possible outcome.

Lingenfelter: Yeah, well at least she’s not living in his house. But, you know, Taub is juggling a lot of things, and not necessarily staying on top of things as well as he should.  So these things happen.

Yes, they do. And they happen to Taub.

Lingenfelter: Yeah, they happen to Taub, but he kind of asks for it.

Now that the House-Cuddy romance appears to be over, and with Lisa Edelstein leaving the series, what are your thoughts on their relationship?

Blake: I think all shows have a, have a lifespan, and we had to get them together at some point.

Lingenfelter: I also think that for the development of House as a character, it’s something he really had to try. He had to make a go of it. And I think that we all would have been incredibly frustrated if he had never taken that chance.

If he had never stressed himself to that point to see if he can be the type of person that participates in true happiness. And I think, you know, we all went into it with high hopes. The characters went into it with high hopes. As writers, we went into it with high hopes for them. You know, [David] Shore and the executive producers are very mindful about being honest about who House is and what he’s capable of. So I think it was an inevitability to put them together.

Did not knowing whether House would be back next season affect the season finale?

Blake: When we wrote this episode we assumed House was coming back. There was always a chance it wouldn’t, but it looked very likely.

How does Lisa Edelstein’s departure affect the series going forward? Think she might come back for an episode or two (or ten)?

Lingenfelter: And we were also completely surprised by Lisa’s departure. Because it just happened we now begin the process of digesting it and looking at how it affects the story going forward.

Blake: In terms of her coming back, let me just read you a quote from David Shore in an interview with Mike Ausiello. Ausiello asked, “Would you be interested in bringing her back in a guest?” And Shore said, “I would be, absolutely.” I mean, so that’s all that we know. As a viewer, I would love to see that too.

Lingenfelter: Yeah, me too.

They need closure. They really need closure.

Lingenfelter: Yeah.

Anything else you want to add before I let you go?

Lingenfelter: I just wanted to give kudos to Hugh Laurie for his driving skills. If you watched the crash, the part where he tried stopping, throws on the brake and does the 360 was actually Hugh driving.

That was really him?

Lingenfelter: Yeah. But then it was a stunt driver leading up to the house, something Hugh was desperate to do himself. Of course, we couldn’t let him. And also, just how amazing the production crew was on this particular episode because they actually rebuilt Cuddy’s house on a stage: the front of the house, and the dining room and the family room down to the last flower. So that car crash was actually shot in three pieces on two different days. And when I watched it, it seemed real.

Blake: Yeah, I was on set the day it was shooting. When I first watched the cut, I couldn’t believe how good that car crash was directed by Greg Yaitanes, and produced by everyone there.

And I think Greg did a great job with this episode. Also, Shohreh Aghdashloo who played Afsoun was really great and it was good to have her in the episode.

Lingenfelter: I’d also just like to give a shout-out to Shohreh because when she came in [to play the role], she had done all this reading and research of art. She came with a head full of ideas. She was super excited about the character and being a part of the show. And the last scene she shot was the MRI scene where House said, “You have CNS, primary CNS lymphoma,” and she admits that she does. She acts the entire scene with her head in this cage in the MRI. And when the scene finished and wrapped, the crew applauded. She teared up and cried because, I think that she was quite emotionally invested in the role. And I think that really comes across. So I just wanted to thank her for being as great as she was.

Blake: We would also like to say to the fans, thank you for watching, and keep watching. I really want them to keep watching, even those who haven’t been happy, even though they’re angry with us for this episode, to see how we deal with House next season. We would also like to tell the Huddy fans that we feel their pain. We really do.

About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."

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