In the end, House's titular grumpy doctor almost literally rode off into the sunset with his best friend.
House finale: So, did "Everybody" die?
Although it seemed like a suicidal House (Hugh Laurie) was trapped in a burning warehouse just before it exploded, it turned out that the good doctor escaped his fiery fate and faked his death in order to avoid a jail sentence and, more importantly, be there for cancer-stricken Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) during his final five months.
It was as close to a happy ending as one could possibly expect from House, but was it always planned that way? We chatted with series creator David Shore about the finale, its parade of guest stars (Amber! Kutner! Stacy!) and House's final epiphany. Plus: Just what kind of trouble might House and Wilson get up to on those motorcycles?
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You started plotting this ending around January, right?
David Shore: We came up with this idea and it still wasn't defined whether this was the last season or not and we had a semi-backup plan. But you can't work on two shows at once. We had to decide which show we were doing: Season 8 or the final season. Ultimately, I made the decision that I couldn't allow it to drag out any longer and we proceeded with it.
So this was always the end of the cancer arc you planned for Wilson?
Shore: This finale was part and parcel with what we mapped out. Wilson has cancer. House deals with it well, House deals with it badly, and both of them reach a level of acceptance at different times. Pretty early on we knew it was going to be House debating "How am I going to deal with this?" and ultimately doing what he did.
At that point, did you know he would be debating it with hallucinations of former cast members?
Shore: I liked the idea in general, but a big part of it was that it gave us an opportunity to do what so many shows do at the end, which is have all the other people come back from the past. But this was having them come back in a very different way. As we started to write it, we started discussing which people from past shows it should be. There were certain availability issues, although really not a lot. [We had] four of them come back, including two that were dead, and discuss with House the value of his life in different contexts.
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Did you ever consider not doing that because so many other shows do parade the old familiar faces in for the series send-off?
Shore: We never want to do anything exactly like [someone else]. But it's all about execution. I don't want to do an idea because somebody else did it, but I also don't want to reject it because somebody else did it. I do reject it if we're just repeating what they did, but if we find a different way to approach something, I am more than happy to do it. I think that's what we had here.
Did you worry that having almost every major character back would make it more glaring that Lisa Edelstein's Cuddy was missing?
Shore: I don't want to go into it too much. I did want her back. That's all I'm going to say.
Tell me about House's big epiphany before he strides toward the exit. The show has always sort of suggested that people don't change, yet it seems House wants to try.
Shore: That's exactly right. I don't know that House can change, and I don't know that he needs to change. But the recognition, the striving for change, the striving to constantly be better in spite of our nature, which doesn't make it easy, is one of the thing that keeps us human.
How does House's finale compare to the greatest series-enders of all time?
Do you think it's possible for someone with a bad limp to escape that quickly out the back door of a burning building? Dramatic license?
Shore: With the fire and that explosion and the timing and what you actually saw and what you didn't see, it was certainly intended to make the audience believe it's going to be very, very difficult for him to get out. The collapse was supposed to be possibly on him [or] possibly in front of him. It certainly would have been tricky for him to get out, but we don't have a full understanding of the geography of the interior. It was supposed to be almost impossible, but possible.
How did you land on having House fake his death?
Shore: We always like having a little twist. We don't want to make things straight-ahead. We don't want it miserable, we don't want it happy. We thought of all sorts of things, but then we started talking about this. The text message, to me, was the moment where I was like, "Oh yeah, that's good." That still tickles me.
It also echoed your inspiration for House, Sherlock Holmes.
Shore: We didn't sit together as a group of writers and think "How did Conan Doyle deal with Holmes?" We thought of ideas and then we had the idea that he's dead but he's not dead for Wilson's sake. I instantly realized that the faking death is exactly what Conan Doyle did with Holmes, which was just another reason to do it.
You've said that "bittersweet" was the best we'd get from the finale, though it seemed a little sweeter than I expected.
Shore: We're bordering on that. But one of those two guys on the motorcycle has five months to live. I know it's a cliché, but it's House and Wilson riding off into the sunset almost literally. That is a cliché, but the fact is, Wilson is dying. I like the fact that we're doing that while he's dying. And it's just House again assessing, "What's important here? And what do I need to do to achieve that?"
Check out photos from House's eight seasons
Did you ever consider writing Wilson's death into the finale?
Shore: Yes we did, but not that seriously because then it would have been an episode about Wilson. Now, Wilson motivates what happens in this episode and Wilson is a huge part of what happens in this episode. But this is an episode about House assessing his life and his choices, which I think makes sense as a final episode.
Do you have the epilogue mapped out in your mind? How do you think House will react when Wilson ultimately dies?
Shore: The story is the story and the story ends where the story ends where the story ends. I do like the fact that we're leaving the audience with something to fill in for themselves. I just wanted to think about House and Wilson on the road.
Was it important for you to have Wilson finally stand up to House and not reward his bad behavior?
Shore: This season was about consequence. House lost Cuddy. He went to jail. We spoke to a lot of lawyers about that and he wound up serving way more time than a person would have in that circumstance. That was him accepting the consequence. He's certainly a man who's paid a huge price personally. He's not physically healthy and he's not happy. And he's paid a huge price to pursue what he wants to pursue, which is solving puzzles.
What kind of puzzles do you think he will look for since he can't practice medicine?
Shore: Who knows what will happen, but he is giving up a lot. Although he didn't have a choice at the end, he is giving something up to spend time with Wilson.
I liked the montage of the original team members at the end.
Shore: It is the end of the series and they were an important part of the series. We wanted to leave the audience with where they are now and what's in their future.
Does Foreman (Omar Epps) realize in that last moment that House is still alive?
Shore: It was House saying to Foreman saying, "Don't worry, I'm OK."
What do you think the legacy of this show will be?
Shore: I'm proud of the show and everything we did. I'm proud that we did 177 episodes very well. Not all equally well, but we did 177 episodes that I'm proud of. In terms of legacy, that was there almost from the beginning. That character and what that character stands for — the pursuit of truth — I'm so honored and lucky to be able to put that in front of millions of people and make people think a little bit.
What did you think of the House finale?