Everybody Dies*

Monday nights won’t be the same.

The season (and, sadly, series) finale of Fox Network’s House aired on 21 May, ending an eight-year, 177-show run with the single best last episode to a TV show that I’ve ever seen.

Admittedly, that doesn’t make for a large field of contenders. Throughout my adult career (not quite as long as the career of TV itself, thanks very much), I haven’t watched a hell of a lot of prime-time television. By and large, I find today’s lineup tedious and repetitive, replete with cop shows whose only difference is the name of the city, carefully-scripted “reality” programs that bear no more resemblance to reality than The Wizard Of Oz, and…well, that’s about it. When your default choice for weeknight entertainment is Food Network, you’re in trouble. (And even they’re getting increasingly stupid of late.)

But that’s not really what I came to tell you about. If you’re a House fan, as I unabashedly am, great; if not, it’s not necessary that you be one to follow along.

What made House‘s swan song so memorable for me was the way the writers managed to wrap it up. The ending was both fitting and satisfying, and provided logical answers to the major characters’ long-term story questions. For the irascible Dr. House and his best (perhaps only) friend, the terminally-ill Dr. James Wilson, the resolution was simplicity itself: they just rode off into the sunset.

Big deal, you say. What’s so special about that?

Glad you asked. What made it special was I never saw it coming. When we last saw House, he was standing inside a burning building, gazing out a second-story window. As Wilson and Dean of Medicine Dr. Eric Foreman look on, a crash of burning timbers obscures House from their view. Later, a badly-charred body is brought out. Dental records confirm that it is indeed their friend and colleague.

But no. During the funeral, Wilson’s eulogy is interrupted by the tweeting of a cell phone in his pocket. The phone isn’t his, but the message, “SHUT UP YOU IDIOT,” clearly is. When he meets his friend later, he finds out how he worked it. House got out the back way when the flames crashed down in front of (not on top of) him. The body was that of one of House’s patients—if you didn’t see the show, take my word for it that they were both there for what to them were logical reasons—and House merely switched his dental records with those of the victim in advance.

Of course, I thought…but not until after it happened.

And that’s the trick.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a writer, as I am. The lesson is a simple one: in order to satisfy the reader, our endings must not only provide a fitting answer to the main story question; they should also be logical and unexpected**. House’s writers did it perfectly. I’m sad that the show is over; but happy that it ended the way it did.

That’s a 30.

*Everybody Dies is the title of the final episode, and a play on Dr. House’s series-long mantra, “everybody lies.” Interesting but coincidental that this post should immediately follow one titled Nobody Lives for Ever.

**The “logical but unexpected” lesson is not mine, but rather one of writing coach and author of 80-plus novels Jack M. Bickham, whose writing textbooks I unreservedly recommend to anyone wishing to improve.

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