The end of House

When I originally watched the series finale of House, I was bitterly disappointed. (Some spoilers below the break).

I wanted him to kill himself. Indeed, I didn’t think the show could end satisfactorily any other way. House was a narcissist, an atheist, a drug addict, lovelorn, next-to-friendless (and soon to be just friendless, once the cancer claimed his best and only friend), borderline jobless and basically unemployable — relying on nothing but a string of personal connections to the office of the chief of medicine, manipulated by mindgames to stretch out the inevitable termination of his employment one grueling week at a time — and, oh yes, destined to return to prison for a petty act of vengeance enacted bitterly against the ex who rightly left him. Of course he needed to kill himself. The title of the finale was a permutation of one of House’s favorite sayings: Everybody lies. His other favorite saying was Nobody changes. Why should House be different?

So, yes, I wanted House to die. Don’t lie: you probably did, too. What does that say about us, about you and I, that we could not even muster goodwill for a fictional character in extremest agony?

House was a metaphor for modern man, but there are ways modern man can go that don’t involve being crushed under a flaming I-beam one floor down from the corpse of an overdosed patient after a brief and fruitless existential crisis. House took that other way. He followed the advice of The Last Psychiatrist:

“Help me, please, I think I’m a narcissist.  What do I do?”

There are a hundred correct answers, yet all of them useless, all of them will fail precisely because you want to hear them.

There’s only one that’s universally effective, I’ve said it before and no one liked it. This is step 1: fake it.

You’ll say: but this isn’t a treatment, this doesn’t make a real change in me, this isn’t going to make me less of a narcissist if I’m faking!

All of those answers are the narcissism talking.  All of those answers miss the point: your treatment isn’t for you, it’s for everyone else.

If you do not understand this, repeat step 1.

And that’s what House understood in the final, critical moments of the finale. What I initially mistook for a deus ex machina redemption was, in fact, not a redemption at all (but isn’t the fact that it isn’t seen as a redemption precisely that which makes it so redemptive?). In the final moments of the show, the show itself ceased to be House: House as the main character, everyone-not-House as the supporting cast. It became something else. Something better — something better, even, for House, though he probably lacked the immediate perspective to realize it. House, in other words, abandoned narcissism. He repented of the sin of pride.

Whether or not House secretly conspired to be reactionary entertainment, it succeeded at it. God bless them.

16 thoughts on “The end of House

  1. I actually always thought House was “reactionary”. All the characters, specially House, exhibited the pathologies of people that don’t have anything to hold on, that don’t believe in anything except what can be “proved” through the scientific method. Effectively, all became compulsive and addicted to something to make them forget about their meaningless existences. House, the drug and puzzle addict; Taub, the compulsive womanizer; Foreman, the workoholic; Chase, the former seminarist that murders dictators; Cameron, the self loathing doctor, etc.

  2. I tried watching House, but I only made it through two episodes. Couldn’t take the nonstop flow of bile, bitterness and contempt.

    It was rather the same for Mad Men. Like House, a clever, well-done, handsome production, but by the end of the second hour I couldn’t see spending any more time watching people lie and insult each other.

    • This thread is old now, but I’d like to join Gabe Ruth’s implicit request for a TLP thread. I find that blog compelling and bizarre. TLP seems to talk enough sense that I feel like I often agree with him. On the other hand, the comment section is overrun by cultural Marxist whackadoodles. So, I must be missing something, or, more accurately, a lot.

      Consider a passage from this post, for example. TLP is explaining the impetus for the potential adoption of hebephilia (sexual attraction to teenagers, roughly) as a pathology by whatever board of head-shrinkers does such things. This presents the problem that it makes approximately all heterosexual men insane, but, on the other hand:

      Once you “normalize” sexual interest in 14 year old girls, you either normalize it for boys or you quietly suggest homosexuality in general is slightly pathological. You can only pick one

      OK, I read this as a very slightly veiled endorsement of the idea that homosexuality is pathological. The TLP comment section largely but not exclusively seems to view it as a very slightly veiled endorsement of the idea that homosexuals lusting after 14 year old boys is A-OK.

      Similarly, two of TLP’s obsessions seem to be narcissism and freedom. He is apparently opposed to each. Yet, his comment section is stuffed with people whose world view seems to rest on being strongly in favor of each: that is, the comments are full of progressives.

      I am slowly reading backwards in the blog as time permits.

      • One can’t help but notice he never posts in his own comments section. I wonder why. We can’t fault him for being followed by leftists; there are precious few others to read blogs nowadays.

      • Oh, I don’t fault him for being followed by leftists. I wonder what they are seeing in him. He looks to me to be kryptonite for them, but they huddle ’round. Don’t get it and I want to get it.

      • It may just be a lemming effect. They see leftist cynicism and, being autists insensible to nuance and context, assume it’s kosher.

        On the other hand, perhaps they have some innate glimmer of self-awareness and are responding appropriately. Is there anything more narcissistic than leftism?

      • I’d like to join Gabe Ruth’s implicit request for a TLP thread. I find that blog compelling and bizarre.

        I’d like to join Bill’s expression of fascination. Truth be told, I shouldn’t be surprised that some of you guys read TLP, too.

        TLP seems to talk enough sense that I feel like I often agree with him.

        I agree, but there’s more. His writing style can be witty, but often subtly so.
        Sometimes I can’t tell whether he’s making a really good point, or whether I’m taking away a different point from the one he intends, or whether I’m missing his point, or whether he *has* a point at all, and if so, or if not, whether it’s my fault, or his. Sometimes I think he’s a genius, and sometimes I think he’s schizophrenic and I’ve secretly been deceived into thinking a crazy person is a genius. I can’t say I’ve read another blog quite like his.

        On the other hand, the comment section is overrun by cultural Marxist whackadoodles.

        Yes, but on the other hand there are a few sensible commenters. It’s one of the few blogs I’ve seen that appeals to SWPL-liberals and traditionalists alike, each of whom seem to think that the author is supporting his or her respective point of view. TLP himself does a great job (I think) of keeping you guessing about his actual personal politics.

        OK, I read this as a very slightly veiled endorsement of the idea that homosexuality is pathological. The TLP comment section largely but not exclusively seems to view it as a very slightly veiled endorsement of the idea that homosexuals lusting after 14 year old boys is A-OK.

        Exactly what I mean.

    • I must have missed this comment until recently. I only just found TLP myself, maybe 2-3 weeks ago. Like Bill, I am on the fence about it myself. It’s often very hard to tell what TLP actually believes about anything or why (and this is, of course, calculated), but his writing style strikes me as leftist cynicism turned inward. Still, a man can salvage some useful insights from watching how leftist hermeneutics worked when used against other leftist hermeneutics, so I guess this is useful. And there is much on the blog to recommend it, such as his (her?) attacks on establishment science, the mainstream media, etc. If nothing else, s/he has his/her priorities straight.

      • I only just found TLP myself, maybe 2-3 weeks ago.

        I’ve been reading, on and off, for several years – currently “off” since I got a little skeptical about whether or not he was really saying anything worthwhile.

        It’s often very hard to tell what TLP actually believes about anything or why (and this is, of course, calculated),

        You know, we aren’t even sure if he’s an actual psychiatrist, although I tend to believe he is.

        but his writing style strikes me as leftist cynicism turned inward.

        I could buy that interpretation, although it’s not really how I’ve always read him. I’ve tended to view him as someone with (some) conservative inclinations (you can’t be a psychiatrist and not get exposed to realities about human nature) who nevertheless marinades in SWPL culture (like most doctors) and so isn’t quite comfortable making the leap to radical traditionalist.

        Partly I think this because I guess that anyone who questions modernity as much as he does has *got* to be conservative in at least some way.

  3. I wouldn’t be shocked if he was a believer, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I do feel confident that he is at least seeking Truth, though.

    As insightful as his “the problem is you” stuff is, his thoughts on our current political situation are the most interesting thing to me:

    http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2010/04/the_conspiracy_theorists_guide.html
    http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2011/08/the_nature_of_the_grift.html
    http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2010/11/the_terrible_awful_truth_about_1.html

    After reading through some of the archives, I was struck by how his main piece of advice for a confused modern person is similar to Pascal’s wager: fake it till you make it. The hedonist persona (and a complacent attitude towards divorce) aside, he’s supportive of the family. He even has kind words for traditional ways of understanding ultimate questions, and I think his main project (besides asking people to come to terms with the choices they’ve made) is to get people to accept that they were born into obligations to the past and the future, they are not their own person, and they are freer within these constraints than they think they are when they imagine these obligations are fake.

    Then again, I could be projecting.

  4. I’m pretty sure – although I looked and couldn’t find it – that he had a post about television advertising, in which he argued that the real message of an ad is often not the ostensible one. For instance, an advertisement for toothpaste is really telegraphing and normalizing the idea that modern career women have 2 kids. As a concept this probably isn’t anything new to most of us, but the way he wrote it (if I’m remembering correctly) was quite intriguing and struck me as undeniably reactionary, at least in the sense that questioning the dominant liberal paradigm has to lead a person to some reactionary truths.

    The hedonist persona (and a complacent attitude towards divorce) aside, he’s supportive of the family.

    Yes, this and other of his tendencies lead me to agree that he’s not a sold-out traditionalist, but he’s at least meandering in that direction after having become very (very) disillusioned with modern liberalism. I have a lot of time for people stuck in this stage of development. In fact, you know, I find hedonism pretty forgiveable (because understandable) as long as it’s tempered with at least some vague sense of unease that maybe it’s not really a satisfying life strategy after all.

    Then again, I could be projecting.

    Nah, I don’t think so, especially because, as I said, that would be more or less in line with the stance taken by a lot of psychiatrists I’ve met. It’s hard to deal with psychiatric problems day in and day out and and still believe that a solipsistic, “every man for himself” worldview is workable or admirable.

    • I think you’re watering hedonism down to being human. Hedonism has to mean the elevation of our noxious passions to primary status, and when he implies that’s how he rolls it’s always tongue in cheek. All of his advice is about living for something greater than yourself. Sometimes I think he’s trying to reverse engineer Christian morality from post-modernism and observed human behavior.

      And his media deconstruction, particularly of advertising, is eye-opening.

  5. “reverse engineer Christian morality” – truth be told, I think this is less uncommon than it may seem. In my view a lot of blogosphere evo-psych devotees do this.

    Also worth mentioning about TLP is that his blog attracts some of the best trolls and counter-trolls I’ve seen. There are often comments that are oddly insightful and seem to have been made by very intelligent people, but are phrased in just such a way that I can’t tell if they are for real or not (which is actually a hallmark of a skilled troll). The effect is potentiated by the unusual blend of commenters with diametrically opposing worldviews.

    I think I’m done pimping TLP.

    • “reverse engineer Christian morality” – truth be told, I think this is less uncommon than it may seem.

      If you believe in natural law, then an honest, intelligent, knowledgeable person seeking rules is going to get pushed in the direction of Christian morality. Related is the strange tendency of science, in the post 1960s period, to steadily “discover” that all those 60s delusions were, ummmm, delusional.

      Right now, TLP seems a Roissy-like figure to me in that he combines a personal internalization of modernity with an acknowledgement that modernity is fundamentally flawed. How traditionalist you are is maybe how much of that internalized modernism you have dug out, since we all have it crammed into us from birth.

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