Last week's House episode, "Post-Mortem," ended on a cliffhanger: Will Wilson's intensive chemotherapy shrink his tumor? Or is cancer actually going to kill the oncologist?
Within thirty seconds of "Holding On," we find out that Wilson's disease has not gotten any better and that he's decided not to pursue any further treatment. The episode opens with Wilson's alarm going off. Not only is it time for Wilson to get up, but it also serves as a reminder to him of how little time he actually has left.
It's time for Wilson to wake up.
Wilson does grapple with his decision, but after watching hundreds of his patients wither away in the Chemotherapy Suite, he just can't envision his own life ending in such a manner.
What's interesting about this episode is how little House can do to control the situation. House, even when his own life has been spinning out of control over the years, has still maintained some level of control over his own future. When Wilson says he won't take the chemotherapy, House says to Wilson: "I'm not going to let you just die."
But, really, what can House do? Here's what: he can attempt to make Wilson recognize death isn't peaceful by dosing him (Wilson on drugs is still funny, by the way), he can try to make Wilson see that his life gives other people life by hiring a number of fake former patients, and he can make Wilson realize that he'll miss House terribly and want to fight for a longer time on earth by treating him to dinner with nostalgic Oreos for dessert.
While House tries out these various strategies to get Wilson to stay just a little longer, Wilson contacts Thirteen to discuss mortality. While Thirteen gives Wilson some advice on dealing with the surreality of impending death, the team, under Foreman's instructions of keeping things business as usual, try and diagnose a patient.
House isn't having it. He implores his squad to figure out a way to get Wilson to see the light, and not the one that he's reaching for in five-six months time. Adams pipes up: "He's just trying to die with a little dignity." Paying homage to the series' pilot, House quickly corrects her and snaps: "There's no such thing."
The patient's storyline dovetailed nicely with the rest of the episode, even if I could have dealt with a little less of him. Derrick, the patient, is hearing his dead brother's voice in his head. Even when House correctly diagnoses him, Derrick would rather continue hearing his little brother than move forward with his life and accept his brother's death.
House clearly can't accept Wilson's choice to accept death and not try and extend his life. But rather than explode at Wilson, House copes with his frustrations in different ways throughout the episode. He takes Foreman's offer of hockey tickets and shoves it into the hospital's water system.
At first, the overflow is small, starting with Foreman's bathroom. But as the episode progresses, and House becomes more and more desperate to hold on to Wilson, his one action of flushing Foreman's tickets continues to block the water system from flowing correctly until it culminates in a huge explosion, raining onto the patient, Park, Adams, and the MRI, a million dollar fix at the least.
When Thirteen appeared in the halls of PPTH, House looked as though he’d seen a ghost. Thirteen reminded him of what House did for her and called it the most selfless thing anyone’s ever done for her. House took this in, but it wasn’t until House’s confrontation with his patient that House began to see that there was no fighting Wilson in his final wish.
Taub tried to appeal to the House who understands pain, but it's because of this that House ultimately lashes out at Taub, raising his voice, which rarely occurs. Taub tells him he's being an ass, that Wilson just doesn't want to live in pain. House explodes, "Life is pain! I wake up every morning in pain! You know how many times I just wanted to give up? How many times I've thought about ending it?"
Realizing he's in public and sharing too much, House retreats while Taub stands stunned by the veracity of House's words. But what House neglects to acknowledge here is that the pain Wilson would have to endure would still inevitably lead to death. Yes, House combats his pain daily, but his life isn't in imminent danger; Wilson's is.
Just as it seems like Derrick has been diagnosed, Park delivers the news to House that he has taken ammonia in an attempted suicide. House, angry and upset with Wilson for giving up on himself after an extremely heartfelt and tearful confession of his love for House and need for a friend, takes this patient's attempt at ending his life personally.
He wraps Derrick's IV cord around his neck and begins to choke up, forcing him to fight for his life: "You're resisting because it's our human responsibility to stay alive!" It's only Park who finally stops him, in an attempt for a poignant acting moment (fail!) when she says, "You spend your whole life searching for the truth. But something the truth just sucks!"
I bought Taub's similar philosophy at the beginning of the episode much more that Park's. Taub told Adams and Park before they attempted to help House, "Sometimes the truth is that there's nothing any of us can do." And it’s this truth that forces House to retreat back to his apartment and misanthropically play the piano.
I’m glad to see House rely on his music; it’s been too long since we saw House with a drink in hand, stroking the keys. This time he’s also nursing a head injury from Park’s cane assault, the only way she could stop him from killing his patient. As House plays, we see the patient and his mother attempting to cope with their loss.
And then, as House opens his door for Wilson, he finally accepts that what Wilson wants is to live out the rest of his life happily. He even admits to Wilson that he could learn a thing or two from him.
Just in time for the episode to come to a close, Wilson and House being planning their next few months together when Foreman and a lawyer come in and tell House that his latest prank counts as a felony and House is going back to jail. How long, you ask? Six months. And with that, the credits roll.
Last year’s finale was entitled “Moving On.” Cuddy left, House ran away to an island, and the audience was left reeling. This year, we’re given “Holding On.” As much as House clings to the idea of people not ever changing, circumstances certainly can, and House works this week to accept that. I can only imagine what an episode entitled “Everybody Dies” will entail.
Next week is the House series finale. When I spoke to David Shore about series’ endings last summer, he spoke highly of the controversial ending of The Sopranos. With Jennifer Morrison, Amber Tamblyn, Olivia Wilde and Kal Penn all slated to return, one has to wonder exactly what kinds of last minute tricks Shore has up his sleeve to shock his audience one last time. Anyone else a little nervous?