'House,' and Laurie, ride to a fiery farewell

Well, wasn't that a sad farewell.

(And if you haven't watched yet, obviously, read no further.)

Yes, the series finale of Hugh Laurie's eight-season-long Fox hit, House, did eventually get around to a semi-happy ending: a not-completely convincing solution where House fakes his own death to avoid jail and go on one last road trip with the dying Wilson. But goodness, it was a long, dramatic haul getting there, one that trapped House in a burning building while pulling out every subconscious-fueled, super-chatty, flashback fakeout trick in the show's repertoire.

This is a series that always loved the big gesture - and it went out with that love on full display.

The dilemma set up for House by the prior episodes was dire indeed: He was facing prison and the loss of his career - not to mention the loss of his best friend. He responded by fixating on a heroin-addict patient (James LeGros, at the center of the series' last medical mystery) and contemplating a fiery suicide while hallucinating conversations with faces from his and our past - Kal Penn's Kutner, Anne Dudek's Amber, Sela Ward's Stacy and Jennifer Morrison's Cameron among them.

And when he decided not to commit suicide, driven back to life by his love of the puzzle, he was trapped in that building - a trap he was unable to escape.

Except that he did, a surprise he revealed to Wilson at his own funeral.

And that was it, the end of eight years of a drug-abusing doctor emotionally abusing his patients, bosses and staff while figuring (or guessing) his way through a weekly medical mystery. The mysteries grew stale; the character grew so ridiculously, hideously unpleasant you wondered why anyone put up with him - and how he could imagine they would. But what never grew stale was the show's central, brilliant performance by Laurie.

Who would have expected such a bravura, leading-man star turn from Laurie, up to then best known for his fabulous, hilarious interpretation of upper-class British twits in Jeeves and Wooster and The Black Adder? Who could have imagined the depth, drive, anger and sexiness he brought to this medical Sherlock Holmes?

And even if you had imagined Laurie and House, you never would have put them on Fox. Indeed, when the show premiered, most critics were afraid it was too good for its network. House changed all that, and the network and viewers were better for it.

Watching the opening recap hour, one was reminded of how good the show was back then, and how much better our memories of it would be had it ended while it was better. Before House was institutionalized. Before he crashed his car into Cuddy's living room. Before he went to jail the first time. And, obviously, long before he faked his death Monday night to get out of a second prison stint.

We'll miss him. But not as much as we would have if he'd ridden that motorcycle off into the woods a few years ago.

And that's sad, indeed.


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