Ten Years On: The Best and Worst of ‘HOUSE M.D.’

Created by David Shore and starring Hugh Laurie as its anti-hero, HOUSE M.D. ran on FOX from 2004-2012, ending its eight season run on May 21, 2012. The series introduced viewers to Dr. Gregory House (Laurie), a Vicodin addicted acerbic genius, and launched Laurie into international stardom. In 2011, the series broke a Guinness World Record — making Laurie the most watched leading man on television, with the show’s viewership reaching 81.8 million people in 66 countries. It has been exactly ten years since everyone’s favorite misanthropic doctor left us and as Screen Speck’s resident Hugh Laurie stan, I’m looking back at the best — and worst moments of the series.

BEST: THREE STORIES

Season one, episode twenty-one, entitled “Three Stories”, is the episode where audiences finally find out what caused House’s disability. The title is self-explanatory; when House is forced to lecture a class of medical students he presents them with the stories of three patients who are all presenting with the same affliction – severe pain in one of their legs. A young woman plays volleyball, a farmer in his mid-fifties, and a man in his thirties who is deemed a drug seeker by doctors. As the episode goes on and House tells each story, it becomes clear that the man in his thirties he’s talking about is himself. It’s revealed that because doctors dismissed him as a drug seeker they missed a clotted aneurysm in his thigh that led to an infarction and muscle death. House has surgery to break up the clot in his leg, resulting in him being in unbearable pain as he does not want the muscle removed from his thigh. His attending throughout all of this is Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), who suggests to House’s then girlfriend and medical proxy Stacy Warner (Sela Ward), that there is another option – to remove the dead muscle from his thigh in the hope of saving his leg and relieving his pain. Stacy agrees, and when House is placed under a medically induced coma, she goes against his wishes and has the muscle removed resulting in the permanent pain in his leg that ultimately leads to his narcotic addiction.

Hugh Laurie as Dr. Greg House. (COURTESY: FOX)

This episode is one of the best of the show as it gives audiences the backstory of the series’ protagonist with a complete understanding of why he is so misanthropic after having been betrayed by the people he trusted most. Ultimately, he is the one living with the consequences of their actions every day of his life.

BEST: THE SEASONS 4 – 6 FINALES

House provided the Golden Age of Television with three consecutive emotionally devastating season finales at its peak.

In season four, we’re gifted with a two-part finale, one that could’ve been lackluster considering it took place in the middle of the 2007-2008 writers’ strike which brought virtually all productions to a staggering halt and caused episode orders to be drastically cut to make up for the lost time. In “House’s Head” and “Wilson’s Heart”, we follow House as he tries to piece together the events leading up to a bus accident where he was one of the passengers. More importantly, we see him trying to piece together the identity of the mysterious woman who was on the bus with him because he thinks her life is in danger. He refuses medical treatment for his concussion, immerses himself into a sensory deprivation tank, and goes through a deep electrical brain stimulation all in the hopes of restoring his memory and in the end it helps – but it’s too little too late.

The woman in question is Amber Volakis (Anne Dudek), Wilson’s girlfriend who has been MIA since the accident because Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) had assumed she was at work. It turns out that House had gone on a bender at a bar (typical) and the bartender had confiscated his keys. When he’d called Wilson for a ride home, Amber had answered and picked up her boyfriend’s best friend instead. They’d ended up on the bus together when House had refused to let her drive him home, and when the bus was hit by a truck, an unconscious Amber was taken to a different hospital. The impact of the accident does significant damage to her kidneys, and as she was on flu meds before the accident, a reaction from the meds essentially causes her to go septic; meaning there is no way of saving her, and House has inadvertently caused the death of his best friend’s lover.

It is an absolutely devastating reveal as a usually stoic House apologizes to Wilson just before he has a seizure in the midst of his procedure and slips into a coma. Everyone rallies around Wilson as he must face the fact that his beloved girlfriend is going to die and their final scene together is utterly heartbreaking as she tells him that it’s okay to let her go.

Season five’s finale, “Both Sides Now“, deals less with literal death, and instead more with figurative death – the death of House’s ego to be exact. The series’ fifth season is not kind to its protagonist – well, no season is ever kind to him, but season five takes the cake. It starts with the aftermath of the events of the season 4 finale. In the wake of Amber’s death, Wilson no longer wants to be friends with House, blaming him for the unfortunate accident that took her life. Things get progressively worse for House as his abusive father dies and he’s forced to speak at his funeral.

As he is emotionally stunted and unable to cope with what is going on around him, it makes the pain in his leg worse, so much so that he goes to extremes to try and find some sort of solace by means of using ketamine, you know, the horse tranquilizer, for his pain. The ketamine does do the job, but it’s so dangerous that it’s just not a viable option to continue as a form of treatment. The icing on the cake comes when one of House’s fellows, Lawrence Kutner (Kal Penn) commits suicide, blindsiding not only House himself, but his entire team. Unable to accept that Kutner’s suicide is not a puzzle he can solve because sometimes there just aren’t any signs, House’s already fragile mental state takes a turn for the worse.

Laurie as Dr. Greg House in Season 5, Episode 24 “Both Sides Now” (COURTESY: NBCUniversal)

He’s become so heavily reliant on Vicodin that he starts hallucinating Wilson’s dead girlfriend, Amber, an exacerbation of the guilt he still feels towards her death. The biggest hallucination is where he spends an entire night with Cuddy as she helps him detox from Vicodin, which ends with them finally sleeping together after years of their back and forth. House is elated to have finally bagged his boss, but when he realizes it was a hallucination, it all comes crashing down. The culmination of the events of the last few months lead him to have a mental breakdown in Cuddy’s office where he finally accepts that he needs psychiatric help and must check into rehab as soon as possible, no longer able to process things the way he had before.

Help Meare the first words uttered by House in the series’ sixth season and it is coincidentally the title of the season finale. Season six shows us a different side of House – a sober side where he’s still a genius, even if he’s struggling to accept that he’s still himself, just without the narcotic addiction. It’s also House at his loneliest, as Wilson has gotten back together with his first ex-wife (yikes!) and Cuddy is in a serious relationship for the first time in the series’ history, and frankly as much as he claims to not need others, he actually does.

When a crane falls and causes the collapse of a parking garage, House and Cuddy are the ones who are at the accident scene – an odd combination, as Cuddy is usually doing administrative work as the Chief Administrator of the hospital. Not soon after they arrive at the scene, she tells House that her boyfriend proposed the night before and House takes it as best as he can – by pretending it doesn’t bother him. As first responders search the debris for survivors, House hears a tapping sound coming from a pile of debris, and when he investigates further by going into a crawl space, he finds a woman unable to move because one of her legs is trapped beneath a thousand pound slab of concrete.

House has first responders come down to try and free the woman to no avail. Cuddy, aware of the situation, tries to persuade House into talking the patient, Hanna, into having her leg amputated as it’s the only real way they’ll be able to get her out but he refuses as he is the only person involved in the situation that knows the real value of a leg. This causes an argument between the two to break out, a culmination of everything they’ve gone through in the last two years, where Cuddy tells him that everyone around him is moving on and yet there he is, still miserable. It’s the harshest she has ever been with him and rightfully so.

Laurie as Dr. Greg House with Lisa Edelstein as Dr. Lisa Cuddy. (COURTESY: Adam Taylor/FOX)

There are two moments that stick out in this episode that show how much House has changed as a person throughout the last year. The first is when Hanna asks him to pray with her. House, a known atheist who has been seen to bash religion and believers on several occasions throughout the series, takes that moment to silently pray with her. The second is when he realizes that the only way to save Hanna’s life is to amputate her leg, even though it’s what they’d so desperately wanted to avoid. He tells her about his own leg and how he wishes he had amputated it when he had the opportunity because the pain it has brought him has made him a worse person. It’s the first (and last) time in the series that he ever admits that and it is a sucker-punch to the gut to audience members.

Ultimately, Hanna’s leg is amputated in vain. Whilst being transported to the hospital, she suffers a pulmonary embolism and dies. This absolutely devastates House because he did everything right to save his patient, and she died anyway. It’s the most distraught he’s ever been over a patient’s loss, so much so that when he returns to his apartment, he finds his last stash of Vicodin and contemplates relapsing.

His saving grace is when Cuddy appears to let him know that she has broken it off with her fiancé because the events of the night have caused her to realize and accept the fact that she’s in love with him. “I love you, I wish I didn’t, but I can’t help it.” are the words she says to him as he looks up at her from the floor of his bathroom. When she helps him stand he looks down at her and he asks, “How do I know I’m not hallucinating?”, a callback to season five’s finale, and the season ends on the bittersweet note of the characters finally getting together.

These stellar back-to-back finales are a reminder that broadcast dramas these days just can’t hold a flame to the dramas from the early aughts. They just aren’t doing it like this anymore – especially not on FOX.

BEST: HOUSE AND THIRTEEN’S FRIENDSHIP

Olivia Wilde as Dr. Remy Hadley/Thirteen with Laurie as Dr. Gregory House (COURTESY: Jordin Althaus/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

The most underrated dynamic of the series is between House and Remy ‘Thirteen’ Hadley (Olivia Wilde). There’s a sense of kinship between the characters as they’re both cynical rebels from the get-go. In a way, Thirteen is House’s female counterpart. Like House, she too is dealing with a disability — a diagnosis of Huntington’s that’s confirmed after House urges her to take the blood tests that will ensure whether or not she has inherited the disease from her mother. Throughout the series, it’s made clear that she’s the one friend in House’s life who accepts him for whoever he is at any point in time.

When caught in the middle of a hostage situation by a disgruntled patient in season 5, the perpetrator insists that Thirteen be the one to try any medications brought in before they’re given to him in order to make sure they’re not meant to harm him. House insists that the medications be given to him instead as Thirteen is in the middle of an experimental trial to treat her Huntington’s. It’s the first time House is selfless in regards to one of his team members, and it’s not the last time he does so for Thirteen.

In season six, a newly sober House struggles with adjusting to the changes around him. While everyone is glad to see him sober, Thirteen is the most genuine of the bunch, letting him know that she’s glad he’s better and that she actually liked working for him – something that none of the other characters would ever be brave enough to admit. She’s even one of the few who stops by his apartment to check in on him. By the end of the season, she’s inviting him out to lesbian bars with her.

Season seven gives viewers an entire episode dedicated to the dynamic. House picks Thirteen up from prison, the only character aware of where she had disappeared to at the start of the season. Hi-jinks ensue as they go on a road trip together where House takes her clothes shopping before taking her to a spud launcher contest where the two share a cabin (with two beds of course) and eat pies in the middle of the night. Throughout the course of the episode, House catches her up on what she’s missed — most notably the entirety of his romantic relationship with Cuddy, where there’s genuine concern from the younger woman when she learns about the breakup. The crux of the episode is when Thirteen reveals the real reason she’d gone to prison was that she assisted her brother in committing suicide — he had lost his capacities because of the progression of his own Huntington’s diagnosis. She expresses her concern about not having anyone to do the same for her when the time comes, and at the end of the episode, House promises that he’ll be there when she needs him to do the same for her as she did for her brother.

Ultimately, when the time comes for Thirteen to leave House’s team for good finally, House chooses her needs over his desire to keep her around for a semblance of normalcy when he returns to Princeton Plainsboro at the start of season eight. He fires her, knowing that it’s what is best for her, and allows her to go on and live out the rest of her life before he has to fulfill the promise he made her in season seven.

It’s one of the many platonic friendships between men and women on television that people claim television has so desperately lacked.

WORST: CHASE AND CAMERON’S DIVORCE

Before House and Cuddy’s relationship crashed and burned, viewers had to watch Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer) and Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) go back and forth for four seasons about the status of their relationship. The pair started off as friends with benefits in season two, before moving into a full-blown relationship at the end of season three — and then leaving to pursue new positions at a hospital in Arizona. When the pair returned in season four, they were engaged and in the season five finale. They finally tied the knot. Their marriage lasted a grand total of four episodes, with Cameron pulling the plug on the relationship after Chase allowed their patient of the week, a diabolical, genocidal, dictator, to die. It’s an interesting line to draw on Cameron’s behalf, considering she helped euthanize a patient who wanted to die in season three because she thought it was the humane thing to do instead of letting him go home and suffer as his health deteriorated. But was it not humane for Chase to stand back and let their patient die because it meant that hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent lives, would be spared? While the ethics of the situation are at the end of the day, subjective, it’s interesting that this was the final nail in the coffin of their relationship and not one of the myriads of other issues they had somehow managed to compromise over. In fact, the most significant bridge they previously seemed to cross was Cameron wanting to keep the sperm of her dead first husband in case things with Chase didn’t work out, which should’ve been the first indicator to fans that this relationship was not going to end well.

Jesse Spencer as Dr. Robert Chase and Jennifer Morrison as Dr. Allison Cameron (COURTESY: Mike Yarish/FOX)

WORST: HOUSE DRIVING HIS CAR THROUGH CUDDY’S LIVING ROOM

Perhaps the worst and most out of character moment in the series takes place at the end of season seven — when House drives his car through Cuddy’s living room. After spending years in a game of cat and mouse, the characters decided to jump headfirst into a romantic relationship at the end of season six; a moment that had been building up between the characters since their ill-fated one-night-stand in college nearly twenty years earlier. When Cuddy has a cancer scare that looks terminal, the fear of losing his girlfriend is enough to cause House to relapse after almost two years sober. Cuddy’s realization of his relapse leads to the end of their romantic relationship after nearly a year together. It’s a bit of an overreaction, considering she is a doctor after all and should be aware that 85% of addicts relapse within the first year after rehab.

It’s all downhill from there.

When House sees her with another man in her home after telling him she wasn’t seeing anyone (she wasn’t), he plows his car through her dining room. Yep, you read that right. It’s an atrocity to witness as it is borderline domestic abuse from a character who was emotionally and physically abused as a child, made even worse by the fact that this scene is the last audiences ever see or hear of Cuddy, as Edelstein exited the show at the end of season seven and even refused to return for the series finale. It was disrespectful not only to the fans who loved the character but to Edelstein as well, considering she was the lead female for seven seasons and the cast member who easily held her own against Laurie.

WORST: WILSON’S FINAL STORYLINE

Robert Sean Leonard as Dr. James Wilson, Laurie as Dr. Greg House (COURTESY: Jordin Althaus/NBC)

In one of the final episodes of the series, it’s revealed that Wilson (Leonard) has cancer, specifically stage II Thymoma, and he does not want to go through chemotherapy. He claims he would rather live out the time he has left — approximately six months — than to try and extend his life and be miserable in the process because he’s spent his entire career watching people go through chemo only to barely extend their lives by a few months in the end. While the irony is not lost that an oncologist would succumb to the very disease they’ve spent their career specializing in, it was a predictable and lazy choice on the writers’ behalf, showing that they’d run out of creative ideas for their characters at the series end.

WORST: EVERY TIME HUGH LAURIE LOST THE EMMY

Hugh Laurie was nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Emmy a total of six times throughout the show’s eight-season run and he won a total of zero. It’s mind-boggling to any fan of the series considering Laurie’s performance elevated as the series progressed and his character was continuously put through the wringer. House wasn’t an easy role to play – from the limp to the addiction, to the American accent that was so perfect it shocked series’ creator David Shore to find out Laurie is English. It’s enough to make one wonder just how vital accolades are. While this isn’t a fault of the series itself but of Emmy voters, it still belongs on the worst list because it’s genuinely blasphemous. That isn’t to say Laurie didn’t receive his flowers throughout the series; he received two Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, two Golden Globes (rip), and perhaps the most notable award – a Teen Choice Award.

Like all television shows that make it past the 100th episode mark, House went through its ups and downs. However, ultimately most of the series still holds up after so many years mainly because of the myriad of topics the series covered – from immigration to identity politics to women’s rights, issues that are still ravaging the world today.

The series is available to stream on Amazon Prime and Peacock for anyone looking to rewatch.

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