House: Season 4 - Wilson's Heart (Season finale review)
Review by Jack Foley
INDIELONDON singles out notable episodes from current television series for stand-alone reviews. On this occasion we take a look at the final episode of House: Season 4 entitled Wilson’s Heart.
What’s the story? In the aftermath of the bus accident, House (Hugh Laurie) struggles with his head injuries and short-term memory loss and must remember the symptom he saw before Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard)‘s girlfriend and his former colleague, Amber (Anne Dudek) dies.
Why so good? The fourth season of House has been one of the most riveting in the show’s history, effortlessly sweeping aside suggestions that it would have trouble sustaining such a restrictive formula. The season finale, Wilson’s Heart, went one step further, however, to emerge as one of the greatest stand-alone episodes in all-time TV history. It was tense, exciting, thought-provoking and tear-jerking… and left plenty of questions for the approaching fifth season without the need for a massive cliffhanger ending. As ever, the show’s writers deserve maximum credit.
Digging a little deeper: Like its name suggests, the season four finale Wilson’s Heart was designed to pull at the heart-strings. It did so brilliantly – but audiences never felt manipulated or in need of the sick bucket.
Ironically, the seeds had been sewn right from the very first episode with the arrival of Amber (Anne Dudek) as part of House’s potential new team of diagnostic surgeons. Initially, we’d all hated her manipulative, scheming ways… and all sighed with relief when House fired her instead of choosing her.
But then came the surprise revelation that she had started to date Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), House’s best friend and loyal colleague. Was it another manipulation designed to get one over on House? Or were her feelings genuine?
The latter episodes of the series had found a tormented House pondering the circumstances and attempting to find any way he could to scupper the relationship in a bid to avoid his friend being hurt.
Then came the jaw-dropping revelation, in the penultimate episode, that Amber’s life was in danger. That House had been with her on the night of the bus crash that left him with a fractured memory – and that she was dying. But why?
Like the very best detective stories, Wilson’s Heart built cleverly towards its heart-breaking case resolution. Initial suggestions that House and Amber may have been having an illicit romance proved unfounded, while suspicions that she had been hiding a mystery ailment also fell by the wayside once the tragic circumstances surrounding her condition came to light.
In the final analysis, Amber’s plight was caused by nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. To make matters worse, it was House himself who had put her there, as the result of a drunken night out and more typically arrogant behaviour.
To confound the issue, there would be no happy ending. Amber’s decision to take tablets to ease her flu had caused irrepairable damage and she was beyond being saved. And yet the minutes surrounding the terrible diagnosis were couched in a million life or death variables, providing audiences with plenty to sink their teeth into.
House, for instance, had only been able to arrive at the diagnosis by undergoing electric shock therapy to his brain in an attempt to stimulate memories. It meant putting his own life on the line to save Wilson’s girlfriend. House had even checked that Wilson was, in fact, asking him to make such a potential sacrifice… to which he confirmed that he was.
In a friendship marked by its volatility, this was a painful place for both men to have to find themselves.
And yet post-diagnosis, the implications of Amber’s subsequent death could yet have deeper ramifications for the relationship. House was to blame for Amber’s death by virtue of the fact he had called her to the bar he’d been drinking in to help get him home. He’d then spurned the offer of a lift in favour of taking the bus, only to find Amber on the vehicle with him. The “what if” of life has never seemed so relevant; nor the unfairness of it.
As House himself reiterated, it should have been him that perished in the crash… not Amber, whose life had recently found happiness, and whose imminent death had been caused by doing the right thing.
In typically beligerent House fashion, though, there wasn’t much time afforded for sentimental gushing. For one brief moment, we thought House might cry… until Amber (in spiritual after-life form) told him to get off the bus and on with life – to face the consequences that will surely follow.
Wilson’s Heart was, as ever, impeccably acted. Laurie was superb – more grouchy than usual as he made uncharacterstic decisions on behalf of his friend and barked orders at anyone foolhardy enough to question his judgement; yet somehow more humble and vulnerable than ever. Even in adversity, it was abundantly clear that this apparently selfish character was selfless in his desire to protect a friend from unhappiness.
Robert Sean Leonard was also excellent, balancing the anguish and torment of the situation with the diagnostic complexities of the case. His final decision – whether to wake Amber up for a final goodbye – was utterly heartbreaking and there shouldn’t have been a dry eye in the house as they said farewell. Likewise, the final look he gave a bed-ridden House was loaded with ambiguity, posing some mouthwatering questions for the start of season five.
And Anne Dudek, so often the manipulative bitch of the series, won over our sympathy as the full extent of her feelings for Wilson became clear.
House may have its detractors and sceptics, but in the case of episodes like Wilson’s Heart it underlined its position as one of the all-time great American series. The big question now is whether such consistently high standards can be maintained for yet another series?
What did you think?