House premiered on FOX in 2004, running eight years before wrapping its run in May of this year. Throughout that run Dr. Gregory House diagnosed a deluge of mysterious medical ailments while navigating his addiction to vicodin, interpersonal problems with his coworkers and the odd existential crisis. A homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, the character of House was the brainchild of David Shore, who was kind enough to discuss my remaining questions about the show -- some questions being more obscure than others.
Over eight seasons, House was as much about investigating ethical, moral and theological debates as it was the medical mysteries that defined each episode. This was especially prevalent in those penned by creator David Shore, such as the season two finale "No Reason," where a labyrinth of hallucinations brings House to the realization that his physical well-being and happiness may be more meaningful than his intellect. "Philosophy has always fascinated me," confesses Shore, "what should we do and why we do or don't?" However when discussing how philosophy became such an integral part of House, Shore reveals that it wasn't a conscious decision on his part, "I don't think there was a moment where I decided to highlight [philosophical themes]; my writing has always just been an excuse to explore those areas."
Having always been drawn to this side of David Shore's writing, the third season episode "One Day, One Room" was an immediate favorite of mine. Like many a great House episode, "One Day" cleverly deviates from the show's formula. Whereas House and his team would normally debate the diagnosis of their patient du jour, "One Day" subverted this structure by having those around House advise him in how to help rape victim Eve, who refused to confide in anyone but House. What followed was a series of rapid-fire philosophical discussions between House and everyone in sight as he desperately tried to intellectualize Eve's problems, while she was more interested in developing an emotional connection with him. Such an episode is a risk for many reasons. Rape, as a subject has to be treated very delicately but even more so for a network drama -- a balancing act of avoiding being exploitative while steering clear of after-school special territory. Even if you find this balance, things get more precarious when you underpin the episode with a series of philosophical debates. These concerns were not lost on Shore, "the overt philosophical discussions of ["One Room"] did worry me but I felt that the intensity of the situation would allow us to sustain that."
Beyond the third season, House began examining its protagonist's sanity. As season five went on it became clear that all was not well with House and, while there were multiple catalysts for his possible mental breakdown (beginning with Amber's death in season four), David Shore is reluctant to pinpoint the actual trigger. "House's sanity was always a delicate thing," Shore reveals. "I hate answering questions about what was going on in a character's head. The answer should be way more complicated than I can answer briefly and all points of view in the episode should have elements of truth." As hesitant to add his insight as Shore may be, one can't deny the intricate ways in which House's worst nightmare, losing his sanity, was written. Clues spanned the season, building up towards the season's end with the death of his fellow Kutner.
Throughout season five, the DP, directors and post-production team conveyed House's fall from sanity with an ever-evolving color palate. The episode in which Kutner died was shrouded in a foreboding black hue. In the episodes that followed, however, the color palate would change as House began self-medicating and hallucinating. When House was at his most inebriated, the show would adapt a surreal brightly lit, hazy aesthetic, which would contrast even more with the sudden shift towards grays and blacks as House's sanity came crashing down around him in the finale. Like other shows, the look of House also changed each season -- often complimenting that year's arc. The first season was somber and introspective and as a result had a golden autumnal look to it, season two had a more hopeful feel and consequently was one of the brighter seasons and so on and so forth. Shore doesn't take credit for these aesthetic decisions though, "certainly individual directors, in conjunction with our DP and others, made choices about colors -- and certain palates undoubtedly worked for certain tones which could change from season to season (and episode to episode)."
As the saga of House's sanity came to the fore, some fans noticed a shift in focus in the show. The importance of the patient of the week's medical mystery was seemingly marginalized in favor of a greater focus on the supporting cast. "I'm not sure [that's] really true," Shore protests, before offering a possible reason for why he may have subconsciously taken the show in that direction, "But as an audience (and the writers) gets to know the characters better, there's a natural tendency to explore their personal lives more." And between House's relationship with Cuddy, Wilson's doubts about his career, Thirteen's struggle with Huntington's and Taub becoming a parent (twice-over), House certainly dug deeper into the lives of its characters as it went on. Regardless, Shore never strayed too far from the show's original paradigm of using medical mysteries as an entry point into the characters' lives, "I always intended the way into our people's psyche to be through the patient of the week. That was true throughout."
Ultimately, House came to an end this past May. Shore and company did not know at the beginning of the season that it would be its last and by the time they found out, a season-ending arc -- Wilson being diagnosed with cancer -- was already in place. This made crafting a finale that would wrap both the season and the series up tricky when word came at the eleventh hour that FOX wouldn't be picking House up for a ninth season. Shore rose to the challenge, creating a final hour that incorporated every aspect of the show's eight-season run. Hallucinations, montages, a parade of returning characters, a Houseian prank and a tribute to Sherlock Holmes all rounded out the episode. In addition to this, while fighting for his life in a burning building, Greg House came to terms with many prominent themes from the show: life, death, futility, change, happiness, perception and the search for meaning. "How did I do it?" Shores ponders when asked how he condensed so much into a forty minute episode, "I don't know beyond: the writers and I worked very hard for a very long time."
Considering House ran for eight years, boasting a plethora of seminal episodes that broke its own formula, ambitious season-long arcs and great performances by the cast, asking David Shore what he's most proud of seems like a natural question. "I'm proud of them all (to an admittedly greater or lesser extent)," he asserts, "I see nothing to be gained by picking favorites (I'm not sure there's anything to be lost but... )." At first glance, this seems like a reasonably logical response -- one that might reflect the kind of answer his creation House might give. But David Shore isn't House, eventually revealing, "Okay, 'Three Stories,'" the non-linear first season episode that earned Shore an Emmy for writing.