James Wilson

Written by @EllieDangerous
Aw, Wilson is such a bloody good guy. Played by a cuddlesome Robert Sean Leonard in medical TV drama ‘House’, Wilson is there to be House’s best and only friend, even though House spurns the emotion that Wilson welcomes and takes as much as Wilson gives. But who knows, maybe our bloody good guy has taken more from their relationship than either of them know: maybe he’s only such an angel because House is such an ass.

Spoiler Alert
After all, just how great was this compassionate oncologist before he became friends with all that grizzled sarcasm?

Dunno. But most of what we can glean from his pre-House years doesn’t make him seem so angelic. Yes the teenage Wilson was such a people-pleaser that he smiled benignly when his prom date snubbed him for another boy, but other times he didn’t seem so keen to keep the peace. He once hung up on his fragile brother so he could focus on studies instead, and another time got violently impatient and threw a thing at a mirror, sparking a bar fight.

So he was occasionally selfish and occasionally smashy. Perhaps, to stop these things from happening again, he needed someone in his life who is always selfish and always smashy. Meet Gregory House. Standing next to the flagrant curmudgeon that is House, anyone would look absolutely delightful. On his own Wilson is just like you and me, but next to House he’s a paragon.

After all, the best twosomes are well-balanced. House and Wilson have such a resilient friendship that their balance works awesomely; Wilson is as nice as House is nasty. House steals food, Wilson pays for it. House insults someone, Wilson apologises for it.

Incidentally, apologising is a big deal. If you’re a nice person and you go around with a jerk like House, you have to apologise for him unless you want to look like a jerk yourself, and House is sure as hell not going to apologise for himself. Wilson is constantly padding House’s fists and sweeping up his debris; Wilson wouldn’t seem so nice if there were no punches to pad or rubble to clear.

Wilson is House’s conscience and House is Wilson’s scepticism, so together they succeed well enough at real life, which is why they’re at their healthiest when they’ve lived together. Think about it: from behaving like a married couple in season one, to rehabilitating while pulling pranks in season six, these two thrive as housemates. And Wilson's healthiest romantic relationship is with Amber, a woman he himself admits is disturbingly similar to House. There's a reason why Wilson and Amber make such a good couple. Hey, there's a reason why Wilson and House make such a good couple.

Because his grumpy, sceptical, selfish side is locked away safely in another human being, Wilson doesn’t have to express it much himself. He can busy himself with being extremely amicable, donating major organs to passers-by and spooning the terminally ill. Without House, Wilson would have to be his own jerk.

Despite this, sometimes House is a corrupting influence on Wilson. In season five for instance, after yet another attempt to distance himself from House and give up unhealthy food at the same time, he grabs a steak the moment he and House become friends again. Wilson isn’t so angelic around House. But this is a good thing: by using House as an uncaring outlet for his flaws, he can appear more flawless to the wider world. House is the cushion he screams into.

House also keeps Wilson’s self-righteousness mostly in check. He sneers at Wilson’s attempts to help him. “What an ego", he tells Wilson in season seven, half-amused. "You think you're some kind of emotional paragon? You’re my rock?”

But their relationship is best tested and epitomised right at the end of it.

Late the show's final season, Wilson is diagnosed with stage II thymoma and is given months to live. Having been an oncologist for 20 years he’s seen countless patients go through cancer and hates the idea of deteriorating like they did. So he toys with a quicker way out. But House is scared of a world without his other half, and selfishly tries to stretch out his lifespan.

As Wilson goes through traumatically intensive chemotherapy, he cracks, dragging their friendship into the light. "I should've spent my life being more like you”, he growls. “I should've been a manipulative, self-centred, narcissistic ass. Brought mystery to everyone and everything in his life."

House is unmoved: "You'd still have cancer”.

"Yeah”, says Wilson, “but at least then I'd feel like I deserve it."

The angel dies young, and the ass lives forever. It's entirely undeserved, and that's the point.

So too is the fact that, in the end, they switched consciences: Wilson got to ditch his patients and friends and spend his last few months in self-serving carelessness, and House sacrificed his medical licence and his freedom to break his parole, fake his own death, and be there for Wilson.

As they ride off into the sunset in that final scene, comfortably sunny and uncomfortably stubbled, Wilson is selfish and House is selfless. So they ended as they began: a perfectly balanced duo.
I've taken a meaningful vow to lead a less meaningful life.
Wilson: "I am not giving you advice just so you can distort it to suit your own warped world view."
House: "But it's been working so well.
Ellie Ball is the founder of Good Characters, and someone who enjoys coffee cake a great deal. She is a graduate of the Scriptwriting MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. For fun and respite, check out her TV analysis articles on Bang2Write or tweet coffee cake at her @EllieDangerous.
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Published on 25 June 2015

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