“It doesn’t hurt here. I don’t want to be in pain; I don’t want to be miserable; I don’t want him to hate me.” — House, hovering between life and death with Amber
Back on the bus that has haunted House’s dreams since the terrible crash last episode as he tries to remember exactly what happened, the now-deceased Amber is the avatar for House’s subconscious, wrestling with whether he should let go or stay and fight. Stay in the warm white glow of the bus with Amber or get off and face life, as sorrowful and painful as it is? And that, it would appear, is House’s destiny. Because House is not a coward; because he cannot allow himself to die without reconciling with his closest friend (as painful for him as that will surely be); because there is no life beyond, and as unfair as it is, as random as it is, it is the hand of cards House has been dealt, and he isn’t ready to go “all in.”
Life, living life, is sometimes brutal and fraught with tragedy and pain; things we cannot control — and things we maybe could have, but have let careen out of control. A solitary figure sits in a bar trying to escape from the pain and loneliness that enshrouds his life; a bartender takes his keys after one too many, and a young woman dies as a result. It’s no one’s fault, but everyone carries some responsibility with them. “Am I dead?” the comatose House asks Amber as they sit bathed in white light. “I should be… lonely, misanthropic drug addicts should die on buses; young do-gooders in love who are called out of their apartments in the middle of the night should walk away clean.” And so House trudges on to face himself — and Wilson. As Wilson reprimanded House earlier this season (in “Games”), “Dying is easy; living, that’s hard.”
“Wilson’s Heart,” the House season four finale, was the heart-stopping, heartbreaking conclusion to last week’s “House’s Head.” Moving the badly injured and ill Amber to Princeton Plainsboro from another nearby hospital, her heart stops en route. Rather than try to revive her right away, Wilson convinces House to lower her body temperature and place her on heart bypass to keep her alive while continuing to retrieve pieces of his memory, searching for any sort of clue.
Unable to rest, not certain whether he betrayed his best friend, House’s mind continues in overdrive and each time he tries to sleep, Amber invades his subconscious. Why were they together? Could they, as Taub suggests, be beginning an affair? A devastated House honestly cannot answer Taub’s accusation. Is this the terrible truth House’s mind won’t allow him to recall, that he and Amber were cheating on Wilson? If only it were that simple. House is living on a knife’s edge as the physical and emotional toll on him mounts. Exhausted and “barely coherent” (as he tells Wilson), House is too emotionally invested (on several levels) in the case as he tries his best to diagnose Amber and to remember something that may be too painful.
As in “House’s Head,” the dreams are fantasy infused with fragmented reality, and they emerge as parts of a whole, providing vague clues. In one incredible fantasy, House dreams that Amber pours him sherry and seduces him. Passive, but completely into the moment (he doesn’t touch Amber at all as she climbs on his lap whispering in his ear and caressing his face), House awakens as the word “electricity” sparks a new clue. Why is “sherry” important? Was there really a seduction? Or was Amber’s lap dance simply a new reflection of the lap dancer from “House’s Head?” He doesn’t know, but the fantasy helps him recall that electrical stimulation of his hypothalamus might recover vivid images of his broken memory. Wilson and Cuddy veto this dangerous and possibly fatal procedure, telling him that he needs to rest. But we know that House will not rest until he discovers what is missing.
House experiences a flash of memory about Sharrie’s bar after Kutner notices House fixating on Amber and sherry as they argue with Wilson about how much to risk Amber’s life for a diagnosis. House grabs Wilson and they head down to the Sharrie’s bar, but not until he tells the team to play it “safe” and do as Wilson requests. It is a path House has chosen out of friendship and supportiveness. He wants to do this right, to not hurt Wilson, to not have Wilson “be mad at him.”
So they were there together, at Sharrie’s bar. Again, more questions. The barkeep insists that Amber and House were drinking together. Wilson seems crushed; House is upset, but to him this is secondary to finding out what is wrong with Amber. He wants to plow on, not believing (or wanting to believe) that he and Amber were actually together in that way.
As House’s team calls him on his lack of aggressiveness, Foreman finally goes to Cuddy. Telling Wilson to let House do his job, she gives House the support he needs when he does not want to fight Wilson.
Ultimately Wilson asks House to do something no one should ever ask a friend, or anyone else, to do. He asks him to do the brain stimulation procedure that he and Cuddy had earlier vetoed for its risk to House’s life and cognitive function. It was at that moment that I burst into tears (well, not really) and couldn’t stop until long past the final scenes of the episode. “You want me to risk my life to save Amber’s?” House asks gravely, making certain that he and Wilson both understand what he is asking.
House pauses for a beat as Wilson waits hopefully, grimly, and finally acknowledging that, yes, that is what he wants House to do. Understanding ultimately that Wilson would sacrifice House for Amber hits House very hard, but he agrees to do it. It is an act of pure selflessness; pure friendship; pure love. It is the essence of House; it is House, stripped of all defenses, of all bullshit. And at that moment, Hugh Laurie lets House’s ultimately decency shine through House’s resolute and sorrowful eyes. No words pass between Wilson and House as they ready House for the procedure. House is scared, and we notice a flicker of disappointment, as he glances over at Wilson, who says nothing and instead looks away — both feeling the gravity of what’s being asked, and the danger ahead.
And finally the memories come flooding back. The unbearable set of circumstances that led to Amber’s death. “Dial-a-Wilson,” which sets off a chain reaction of events that lead to Amber’s death. The call is a fateful moment in time for all three of them: Wilson, House, and Amber. A tragic set of circumstances, seemingly random — any one of them could not occur and Amber lives — but which result in the loss of her life and Wilson’s love, irrevocably. “I was on call,” Wilson remembers.
“I told her to find you,” House recalls, telling it haltingly, emotionally, as the terrible impact hits him, recognizing his responsibility in Amber’s situation. It’s a quiet moment of grief, sadness, and regret. And recognition. And with that recognition comes House’s understanding that this is something than cannot be fixed. It is raw emotion, made exquisitely powerful by the close-up twin shots of House, agonizing over what he has (albeit inadvertently) caused, and the moment when Wilson knows that he’s going to lose Amber. Their fates are sealed. Amber is going to die. “There is nothing we could have done. I’m so, so sorry,” implores House, tears streaming down his face.
Now knowing that Amber is going to die, Cuddy begs Wilson to wake her up, so that he can have closure, have a chance to “say goodbye.” It is a powerful moment as Wilson wonders why she isn’t angry at him; at House, at the world. “Anger isn’t the last emotion I want to feel,” says Amber, resigned to her fate, and comfortable in the knowledge that for maybe the first time, she has experienced both love and respect, which is what she originally told House that Wilson gave her, and something she said that has always eluded her.
And House is left in a coma, having suffered a complex partial seizure, worsening his already badly injured brain. In yet another powerful moment, House wrestles with whether he can face life (and Wilson). “I want to stay here with you,” he tells Amber on the bus now bathed in a comforting white light, that clearly beckons House. It beckons him to a place where you don’t hurt and there are no betrayals. It is safe and free of despair. But it is not his time. “You can’t always get what you want,” she says. And Amber sends him back to the land of the living because (I think) she knows, that as angry as Wilson might be with House, Wilson will need House more than ever to get through his grief.
And so House struggles through the fog to awaken, and finds Cuddy, teary-eyed at his side, grateful to simply have him alive and aware. He tries to speak. “I’ve got to…” (I believe the rest of the sentence is “speak to Wilson”). But Cuddy only quiets him, telling him not to try and speak, to just rest. And as weak as he is, he can do nothing else. And Cuddy, House’s guardian angel so often, sits vigil at his at his bedside, holding his hand and weeping for him, for Amber, and for Wilson.
But the effect of Amber’s death, which began with House’s first drink in Sharrie’s bar, ripples on, making those around her give pause and reassess their own lives and the value they place on love, on life, and on death. Taub, returning home to hold his wife, to maybe cherish her just a bit more; Kutner, thinking about his own family tragedy; 13, deciding that it’s better “to know” than to “not know;” and Cuddy, understanding the value she places on House and the love she feels for him.
And what about Wilson? Will the selfless, noble act that House performed out of love and friendship mitigate the anger that Wilson may now feel towards him? Or, will Wilson let it fester on? He looks in on House as Cuddy sleeps by his bed, coming in, but not speaking to him. House’s eyes express such regret and sadness, grief and pain. But Wilson cannot look him in the eye and walks away wordlessly. It is a moment that will leave House pondering much as he recovers.
Why was House drinking alone in a bar, getting plastered? Will we ever know? Was House testing Wilson’s friendship? Measuring it against his love for Amber (as a friend – Blacktop – suggests)? Another attempt to drive a wedge between Wilson and Amber? How long would she put up with Wilson running out of the house in the middle of the night to rescue his wreck of a friend?
Or was House escaping the inevitability of losing Wilson as Wilson drew ever nearer to Amber? Finding himself friendless and alone, crippled, broken — a shell of a man? Has House’s self-loathing become full-on self-destructiveness? But those are questions for next season, certainly, as House has to deal with the tragedy that his actions indirectly caused.
Looking into my crystal ball (well, it’s not really crystal, and not even a ball) I see Emmy nominations: writing, direction, editing, and acting. And, ahhhh, what sublime acting. Robert Sean Leonard’s emotionally wrenching performance as the grief-stricken family member, helplessly watching the love of his life die; asking his best friend to do the unthinkable and risk his life to save another person. Ann Dudek as Amber in a great guest starring role; and, of course, Hugh Laurie. An incredible performance, as he allows us into House’s mind and into his heart and soul, showing us House’s baser instincts, but also his great nobility — his resolute willingness to help Wilson by undergoing the risky procedure was perfectly portrayed as a combination of fear, disappointment that Wilson would ask this of him, and fearlessness to go ahead and do it to help his friend. Between last week’s “House’s Head,” and this week’s finale, Laurie has put in a tour de force performance that the Emmy people cannot this year fail to overlook. Bravo to all involved in the episode.
And that is it (for the show) until September. I will continue to write “revisited” commentaries on old episodes, as well as do a season four wrap-up over the summer… and maybe a new trivia quiz (or something). Other ideas are in the works as well. However, I want to take the opportunity of the House season finale to thank all of my readers and friends for their support during my first season writing about House for Blogcritics Magazine.