Last Sunday, the magnificent Sherlock, BBC’s modern take on the storied detective, aired its last episode of the season stateside. The next day,House, M.D. concluded its eighth and final season. And much like the characters, the shows are now inextricably linked.
When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sought inspiration for his soon-to-be-legendary sleuth Sherlock Holmes, he looked no further than two doctors. One, Dr. Joseph Bell, Doyle had worked for at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and made the kind of “elementary” observations that made Sherlock so unique. The other, Sir Henry Littlejohn, worked as a police surgeon and lectured on forensic medicine.
And when House creator David Shore sought inspiration for his prickly, smart-assed, but brilliant doctor who was more interested in puzzles than people, he looked no further than Sherlock Holmes. House, Holmes. Wilson, Watson. Tiny details leading to huge conclusions leading to life-saving miracles. Social ineptness bordering on and occasionally flaring into hostility. Drug addiction. A friendship that borders – to some – on bro-mance, if not romance.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 4 novels and 56 short stories featuring Sherlock and Watson, though the series took a three-year hiatus starting in 1891 as Doyle had grown tired of writing the character and wanted to move on to more creatively satisfying projects. “The Adventure of the Final Problem” featured not only the introduction of Professor James Moriarty, but the apparent death of Sherlock Holmes, both plunging over the Reichenbach Falls during a fight. Doyle obviously brought the character back to life only after public demand (and more pressing demands of the pocketbook) became too great to ignore.
Which brings us back to House and the modern-day Sherlock.
Both chose to end series and season, respectively, by having House and Holmes fake their own deaths. And this is interesting not only because of the doctor-detective-doctor link that the creators forged, but also by the incredible coincidence (?) that the finales aired a mere 24 hours apart.
Sherlock‘s endgame, “The Reichenbach Fall” followed an epic battle of wits that had been building with Moriarty since the beginning of the series. Unlike the Moriarty of the stories, this one chose to destroy Sherlock with a massive disinformation and smear campaign that very easily turned disbelieving citizens and bitter police against the notoriously asocial detective. “The Final Problem” is solved when Moriarty demands that Sherlock commit suicide- in disgrace – as the only way to save his few friends from sniper bullets. And, in a horrible twist, Moriarty kills himself first, ensuring Holmes has no other way out. In a gut-wrenching phone call to a horrified Watson, Holmes discredits himself and then leaps to his apparent death.
House, following an eighth season that I have been less than impressed with, ended in “Everybody Dies” with Wilson looking down the barrel of a five-months-left cancer diagnosis and House staring at six months in prison after breaking parole. Facing life without his only friend, House predictably self-destructs and finds himself in a burning building with a dead former patient. House has never had a Moriarty to match wits with, largely because he’s his own worst enemy, so instead he battles his own demons, talking to hallucinations of former and dead team members and his ex-wife. Just as he reaches an epiphany and decides to change things for the better, the ceiling falls in.
Neither man, of course, is dead. Sherlock, with the aid of the young coroner that has always harbored an inexplicable crush on him, neatly substitutes Moriarty’s corpse for his own and slips away only to resurface at the graveyard as he watches Watson pay his respects. House manages to slip out the back of the building before the collapse and later texts Wilson as he’s delivering a suitably-frank eulogy. The two friends are last seen riding away on motorcycles, free to spend Wilson’s last months together.
And while the similarities are certainly intriguing, and the collective homage they represent delightful, the execution was certainly different. House’s finale was abrupt and all-too-pat, giving yet another chance to a character who’s already burned through more than his fair share. As much as the viewer likes a happy ending, even House‘s bittersweet-happy felt…wrong…somehow. Sherlock, on the other hand, was brilliant, weaving Moriarty’s complicated plan and Sherlock’s counter-plan with furious intensity. The mercurial nature of fame is also explored, an even-more apt callback to the cause of the original Sherlock’s “demise.”
I can almost assure everyone of one thing, however. Both series have and will continue to succeed at paying tribute to the original works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle more than the Robert Downey Jr. movies or CBS’s upcoming Elementary ever will.