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Thinking pop culture

Season Finales and Farewelling the Good Doctor

House (2004-2012)

I don’t like people leaving my life. By ‘don’t like’ I mean hate.

This situation is based on a variety of personality quirks, notably rampant sentimentality and a distaste for change.

For a normal person, such an affliction would stop at flesh-and-blood folks; departing lovers, say, or friends. Not me though. No, I mourn fictitious people too. Such is my capacity for anguish.

The academic in me rationalises that John Hurt gets away with such infatuations in Love and Death on Long Island. Charmingly so. If it’s good enough for John…

Love and Death on Long Island (1997)

So it was my loathing of losing people - losing characters - that had me postponing the last episode of House. Much like books I don’t want to finish, or songs I don’t want to end, apparently my delusion was that in delaying my viewing I could stall the end.

I’m yet to decide whether my preoccupation with the Good Doctor is because I - arrogantly, granted - see him as an embodiment of my very best and worst manias and fetishes, alternatively, because he’s the gorgeously screwy man I always fall for. Either way, he is my favourite TV character.

Was my favourite character.

I’d been crying throughout episodes 1 through 21. My sketchy assumption for the finale was me in the foetal position burning effigies of everyone who didn’t sign a new season contract.

Strangely though, I was completely dry-eyed. At least for the first 37 minutes. Dry-eyed, bored and a bit angry: where was my spectacularly heart-wrenching finale? Where were my doubled-over sobs? Where was my agony, dammit?

And then, almost abruptly at the 38th minute, it got good. It got moving and - watching on my iPad in a café - I quickly became a spectacle. By the time the Warren Zevon track came on I hastily made my exit.

(Interestingly - and in line with television’s spectacular use of music to manipulate - the very same Zevon song was used to equally weepy affect in Californication).

Californication - RIP Lew Ashby.

During those first 37 doubtful-looking minutes, I was forced me to ask some very serious TVLand questions. Could any farewell do the Doctor justice? Was it inevitable that the episode would be a victim of the impossibility of a good series ending?

On one hand, there probably couldn’t have been any “good death” with House: the show hadn’t jumped any sharks, House was still delectably screwed up and I most certainly could have gone another season.

More than this, however, I think there’s an inherent problem with season finales in that they get judged in ways that no other single episodes ever are. Viewer expectations are simply too high.

A final episode is expected to encapsulate everything we loved about a series. How is this possible?

There’ll be some viewers who want answers; they’ll want the doorbell fixed as in the final episode of The Cosby Show, or - as in Boston Legal - they’ll want the delicious chemistry to culminate in marriage. (Compulsory heterosexuality or not).

Boston Legal “What do you say? We take our relationship to the next level”

I don’t fall into this camp. I love loose ends and ambiguity. Not in my private life - never in my private life - but on screen I’m delighted when I’m trusted to decide what happens. The season finale of The Sopranos goosebumpily worked for me: the screen went blank and I was left to decide what happened. Perfect.

The Sopranos - final scene.

Then there’ll be those viewers who want the promise of future; who’ll hope that the characters go on in perpetuity and, perhaps one day, reunite for a cringe-worthy reunion episode. I fall into this camp. If I can’t have them on my screen forever, at least I can have them in my head. Heart.

After dealing with my loss, after over-thinking the final House a little too much, I’m committed to the idea that it had one thing in its favour. One lesson for future series finales. It ended with what was important.

The show was always the Holmes/Watson House/Wilson affair. Even after those first 37 minutes vomited out a stupid procession of distracting cameos and even at that point where it looked dangerously like treading the hallucinatory - and dreadful - Roseanne finale terrain, it returned to the central platonic love affair.

No, it wasn’t perfect - rarely do TV finales get this honour - but it stayed true. And true is good enough for me.

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