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A House United: Celebrating the End of Jesse Spencer’s Underemployment

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For more than two years on FOX’s House we’ve watched a new team of fellows — 13, Taub, and Kutner (well, okay, not Kutner; Kal Penn got a better job last year, and the writers staged his suicide) — pitch diagnostic solutions at Princeton Plainsboro. What was initially intriguing was that these three weren’t all recent med school graduates when House hired them as fellows. The new team came into House’s world with a more mature and more cynical view of life than the original team.

This group already saw their futures with or without an opportunity to work with a brilliant doctor — 13 knew she would likely die of Huntington’s disease, the 40-year old Taub, his wife feels, leaves plastic surgery due to a mid-life crisis, and Kutner had seen his own parents shot at a young age. There was nothing new that a sarcastic and bitter mentor could really teach them about life that they didn’t already know. Gregory House never really got inside their heads.

Indeed, House can read people, not just patients, and his most compelling reading this year is done with original team member Chase (played by Australian actor Jesse Spencer), who leaves surgery to return to fellowship status, even after being fired by House in season three. Writers, perhaps unsure of what to do with Chase after that plot twist several years ago, made him a surgeon, and we received occasional operating room scenes with Chase, but his minutes on screen were usually in the single digits. This marginalization of the character left fans frustrated, fans who enjoyed seeing House change three innocent, naive med school graduates into conniving, anarchistic doctors who refused to recognize authority.

What makes Chase especially compelling is that, of all the original fellows, he is the one who clearly idolizes Hugh Laurie’s House, to the point of adapting mannerisms and facial expressions that he either purposefully employs or just picked up from House by accident. When the team feared that House had brain cancer, Chase was the only one to embrace his teacher and literally cry on his shoulder, as if he was losing a family member instead of an instructor who mocked him on a regular basis.

More importantly, Chase is now on a path of self-destruction that directly parallels House's own drug addiction and the hallucinations that eventually drove him to a psychiatric ward. Chase’s guilt over killing a genocidal tyrant by choice, not accident, drives him first back to his Catholic roots, where he begs a priest to forgive him and absolve him of his sins. When the priest refuses to provide an answer besides “turn yourself in,” Chase remembers his mentor’s own coping mechanism and heads directly into the nearest bar. He even admits to his wife that he was upset but then got “hammered and everything was okay.” When the team discusses how they each spent Thanksgiving, Chase admits that his holiday “must have been good because he cannot remember it.” When Taub asks him if he drank alone, Chase mocks the question and avoids answering.

To see Greg House as the sane mentor scolding his protege for not getting psychiatric help is a delightful twist. After all, if ER was right when they claimed the way to learn a skill was to “watch one, do one, teach one,” then House’s own skill of learning to develop genuine relationships seems to follow that same trajectory this season: he had watched his best friend Wilson openly share emotion, but it took institutionalization to get him to the next step, which was to become vulnerable himself.

Now, House gets to teach others how to change their lives from destructive to constructive, which he does well in diagnostic puzzles. In the past, however, he never quite excelled at giving personal advice without increasing the misery of the person who requested it.

If any of the team members, new or old, resembles the son that House never had, it’s Chase. Both come from wealthy backgrounds but truly hated their fathers. Both are opportunists, capable of manipulating others to get what they want (Chase even betrayed House in season one, feeding the new hospital board president information on House’s behavior, and he admits in season three that he “double dips” or tries to earn twice the fellowship funds by doing rotations in other departments).

Most specifically, both remain prime candidates for falling into patterns of addiction. Even though Chase hadn’t ever shown a daily trend of drinking in seasons past, the viewers know by now that his own mother died after “drinking herself to death,” that Chase often feels most threatened by patients who show signs of addiction, and that he loves drink enough to risk killing himself at his own bachelor party. House admits that he has seen Chase suffering from a hangover more than once, but such remarks have remained jovially expressed and incidental to whatever tragedy occupied the main part of the show’s plot.

Now, without a wife or a church or a true friend beside him (despite 13, Foreman, and Taub’s efforts to bond with their teammate), Chase is living the life that House lived for five years. When 13 mentions a counselor who once helped her, Chase dismisses her, saying “I just want people to leave me alone.” He plays the misanthropic role just as well as House did, making the group dynamics shift in a manner that is truly interesting to watch.

Instead of seeing Wilson drive House to the insane asylum at the end of the season five, I’m hoping that it’s House behind the wheel this year, and that he’s driving Chase somewhere safe. If "watch one, do one, teach one" is the appropriate method of training both in the hospital and outside it, then it’s time House was the emotional crutch for someone else.

Season six is a joy to watch, not because a character is guilty of malpractice or drowning himself in alcohol, but because a character, played by a great actor, is finally receiving the attention he deserves. The more time that House and Chase have to play off one another’s demons, the better the season becomes.

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About Shannon H.

  • Sacha

    Thank you so much for great insight into the most underrated relationship on the show. I have always thought that Chase/House is the most intriguing factor of the whole series, and was yearning to learn more about it, but somehow it got lost for a while in favour of Huddy et al.

    The two together were a joy to watch this season, as they were in the previous seasons. I can’t believe how much I missed them!

    It’s been wonderful to see Chase back in full time, although it worries me a little to think what might lie ahead of him. He never seemed self desctructive to me, so I hope he’s not going down that road. And even if he does, I just hope the writers won’t be so cruel as to write him off in a most unpleasant manner. Let House watch over him! He failed with Kutner, now give this guy a chance to make good. ;)

    If House should take care of him I’ll be OK with it. Let him drive Chase to somewhere safe (I loved that phrase!), but please let him stay with House on PPTH. I guess it’s the only place for him to be now.

    I totally agree Chase comes closest to the son that House has never had!

    Again, thank you for expressing your thoughts so adorably well. Great article and long overdue. Well done!

  • chris

    I loved the House/Chase dynamic since season 1 and I’m so glad, that Chase is back on the team.

    Great article!! You’ve written down what I’ve always thought about them.

  • Sacha

    I would like to add how much I enjoyed Jesse Spencer too. He did grow as an actor (although I always thought he had great chemistry with Hugh Laurie from the beginning), and I truly love the show again after two years of being more or less indifferent towards House.

    Season six is going to be my favourite. I do hope they’ll let Chase stay, he’s to good to be missed. Celebrating the end of the unemployment and hoping for a safe place.

    I hope a lot of fans will read your article Shannon, especially those who still see Chase as a sock puppet.

    Kudos and a Merry Christmas to you!

  • Melly

    I love seeing Chase get some well deserved recognition! His father/son dynamic with House is one of the best things about the show.

  • Rhoda

    “Both came from wealthy backgrounds” ???

    House’s father was a Marine pilot, his mother a housewife. That’s wealthy?

    And I may be one of the few people who — while enjoying seeing Chase’s arc — hope it doesn’t follow the tired cliche of alcoholism. I’d much rather he follow his own roads to hell rather than merely aping those of House or his parents.

  • Sacha

    “. I’d much rather he follow his own roads to hell rather than merely aping those of House or his parents.”

    I am sorry to read comments like that. I truly don’t think Chase did something so evil that he ought to be punished for it. Well, coming from a Jewish background, I may have a different approach to it.

    He may suffer from guilt and yet, I don’t think he will “follow a road to hell”, or at least I don’t want him to.

    I agree with the alcoholism though. However, Chase has a family history and they’re probably going to explore that.

    Since House is turning into a more mature and slightly changed person, I think he will handle him in his own unique way which I am really looking forward to.

  • Shannon Howard

    I think my assumption about background in terms of House’s parents came more in the form of inferences from the way they dressed at dinner, the nice funeral for the father; but you’re right–there’s no overt statement that they were rolling in money.

  • Silveryme

    Interesting read, but I disagree with some of what you’ve said…

    First, as Rhoda said, there has never been any indication that House grew up in a wealthy family – though he does seem to have developed fairly expensive tastes as an adult.

    Also – you consistenly refer to the original ducklings as “new graduates” and “recently graduated med students.” They were neither – they were hired as Fellows, which means that they had graduated college, completed medical school and residency and were completing an advanced stage of training. Granted, only Omar Epps was actually old enough to have done all that without being a prodigy – both Jennifer Morrison (Cameron) and Jesse Spencer (Chase) were younger in real life than their characters would have been when the series started.

    Finally – when the team though House had brain cancer, Chase hugged him… but Cameron kissed him. Thoroughly. Sure – it was a ruse to try to get a blood sample. But there was definitely emotion there. Chase wasn’t the only duckling to have an emotional connection to House.

  • sarah

    I totally agree. For me it was a huge mistake to sideline Jesse Spencer. I loved the dynamic between him and House, they played so well off each other and was a big reason why I kept watching. But season 4 & 5 was difficult viewing, especially the lack of chemistry between Foreman and 13, very painful. It’s telling that Foreman has become interesting to watch again, it has a lot to do with the interaction between him and Chase. I just hope the writers are smart enough to keep him on the show. There’s a reason why the ratings are up and especially in the key 18-49 demographic and I think Dr Chase’s return has a lot to do with it.

  • Shannon Howard

    I believe Chase in particular had to be fresh out of med school. House calls him a “26 year old male” when his father visits in Season 1. If one were to finish his/her undergrad degree at 22, then med school completion would occur at 26.

    There is some controversy about Chase’s age since in a later episode he says to a young female patient he is 30, but the evidence that he is lying is strong. Foreman notes that Chase lies to patients frequently, especially regarding personal stories and personal details. He apparently does so as a way to get ahead and sometimes to distance himself from the truth (with the young girl, who had a crush, it was much safer to call himself 30 than admit he was younger).

    I’d definitely argue that the blood sample as ruse makes that particular moment less meaningful than the moment with Chase. Further, women have often shown odd attraction to House for his intelligence and aloof, mysterious behavior, but not necessarily because they would ever view him as a father figure.

    I’ll admit that I’m not entirely clear on Cameron and Foreman’s ages except to say that when they wonder why they got their fellowships, they compare grades from med school rather than reference recent jobs.

  • Shannon Howard

    I agree that Omar Epps and Jesse Spencer together are a delight. What surprises me is how much I actually enjoy seeing 13 and Taub play off Spencer; the two characters are justified in being overprotective of their new teammate, especially since they didn’t “catch the signs” of Kutner’s depression and suicidal ideation. I relished the moment when Taub invited Chase to Thanksgiving dinner, and Chase quickly brushed him off with the commnent, “You don’t have to worry, I’m not Kutner.” Taub responds, “Good, because I never invited Kutner to dinner.”

    Obviously Taub and Remy recognize that spending 60-70 hours a week with someone does involve a social contract of sorts, and they are unwilling to let Chase suffer alone.

  • Kathrina

    I agree with the most of the things you have written there. I agree also that Chase was the only one of the teem who acted as if House was his own father, coming from a similar background, OK, Cameron kissed him when they all tough he had brain cancer, but she had a crush on him all the time, so it’s not quite the same.

    I disagree that it was a bad idea to get him ‘fired’ after the season 3: I started enjoying his character only after Season 3! He did well.

    Some things I’d like to clear: Houses father might have acted plebeian at best, but they must have been quite well off. John House was a marine pilot, for crying out loud. That in the time, when pilots in the whole world were extremely well paid. If he managed to stay marine pilot until he retired he must have been a gem of a pilot. So yes, I’m fairly sure they may be considerated wealthy people.

    As of Chase: He always deemed a very immature but quite the genius himself. Alone the idea how to save the kids eye… That alone was brilliant.

    It’s very possible for a kid to skip a couple of school classes, taking the High School exam at the age of 16, (even 12-14 is possible) and to finish med school at the age of 20 or so. We also know that he took care of his drunk mother at a very early age, meaning that he was capable of taking care of her that early. In the most countries you study medicine for 6 years and than you start doing your residencies. I’m not sure how they study Medicine in Australia, but I have already worked with a Greek doctor who finished med school with 24 and spoke at least two foreign languages fluently enough to work as a doctor in both of them. And she was not a genius herself. What we know is, that he already was an intensivist, so yes, he already had a specialty when he started working for House.

    I also have my bet that Chase will get to go the road down to heavy alcoholism and will need House to save him from himself

  • Shannon Howard

    You have an excellent point about Chase’s Australian training. I began to doubt myself when he mentioned that he did “a rotation in Melbourne” when he hypnotized House (the BEST scene in my opinion during “House’s Head”).

    And absolutely, I agree, there was a certain confidence Chase gained from being on his own after being fired, sort of “the boy becomes a man” as the producers said, as he stands in the gallery and reveals that he is working on the surgical staff.

  • Shannon Howard

    Also, to play devil’s advocate, Chase HAD been a fellow longer than any other team member, and most fellowships would logically never last longer than three years. I don’t think House fired him so much as said, “You need to move on. You’ve learned all you can.”

    Nevertheless, I think House let him go because he was so hurt by what Foreman did in resigning. He wasn’t willing to go through rejection again, so he did the rejecting first, even though it was actually a logical move.

  • Nikki

    It’s interesting that Chase stayed on fellowship for four years (as opposed to the usual three) in the first place. I believe that House keeps his fellows as long as he thinks they need to. Chase was more or less ready to do without House so I guess he was a logical choice to get fired (although I do believe House regretted it, as he indicated when Chase watched him up on the gallery).

    I really loved the article. I often felt that there is so much underneath the Chase/House dynamic and it needs to be explored so much more. Also, Jesse Spencer and Hugh Laurie play each other off pretty damn well, and it has been a pleasure to watch them in season 6.

    As for Chases future, I don’t think there will be hell ahead of him. Maybe just because I don’t want this, but also because it’s hard to imagine a tortured, guiltridden Chase throughout the season. I wasn’t happy with him taking the action regarding the dictator because it seemed a little OOC, but then again, there’s always something unpretictable in the show which is good. As long as he is on PPTH, he should be safe – at least as safe as it can get. And yay for House being his emotional guide! I do hope the authors won’t ruin a great opportunity.

  • Shannon Howard

    What’s interesting, although I know television cues us often to suspend our disbelief, is that Chase would actually take a pay cut. I’m assuming working full time in the surgical ward paid better than fellowship pay, and he’s always on the lookout for ways to make money.

    This alone is evidence that Chase needs House more than most other fellows have needed him in the past.

  • Sandra

    I agree with Silveryme, and sorry to say, I’d rather have them get rid of Chase than Cameron. Or even better: none of them. I’m not a Chameron fan, but I enjoy the old team more than anything. Well, too bad they’ve ruined that forever.

  • Shannon Howard

    Well, the team keeps growing in size. One wonders if Jennifer Morrison will eventually turn up.

    Her reason for leaving might be related to the breakup of her engagement to Jesse Spencer, which I would think would be really awkward in terms of working conditions.

  • Jaime

    Can’t House have an attending or two on his team? He did say that Foreman and Chase had seniority over the other two recently. I don’t think it’s written in stone that the doctors have to be fellows to work for House. If they want to have any kind of stability with the team, they’ll have to allow Chase and Foreman and eventually Taub and 13 to move on from fellowship positions.

    I agree with the point of the article though. It’s great to see Chase back and it’s great to see Jesse Spencer–who is by far the most intriguing actor of the supporting cast–being used again. I hope to see more blogs from you.

  • Alex

    Hey Shannon, please do your homework before saying anything.

    First, Jennifer Morrison didn’t have a reason for leaving, she was written out due to a creative decission.

    Second, everyone on set says that Jennifer and Jesse get along well despite their broken engagement, and that they work perfectly well together.

    And Third, Jennifer Morrison said that she was done with House, so she’s not coming back.

    I think it was a mistake to get rid of Jennifer Morrison because if Jesse Spencer was marginalised for two long years so was she.

  • Shannon Howard

    I merely stated that “it must have been uncomfortable,” NOT that it WAS uncomfortable. I, too, have heard the Entertainment Tonight news about them getting along and would not dare to argue with such a reputable source.

  • Alex

    You merely stated the possibility that her departure might have been related to her breakup with Jesse “Her reason for leaving might be related to the breakup of her engagement to Jesse Spencer”. If you heard the news about them getting alone, I don’t understand why you had to say that. You should understand that some people would like to believe that, so let’s not add fuel to the fire.

  • Shannon Howard

    I’m sure celebrities are accustomed to and mature enough to handle both fuel and fires, and I think that breakups are always difficult, regardless of statements made in private or public.

  • Elle

    One of the better articles I’ve read, all I have is a random note.

    One thing that hasn’t been brought up (unless I missed it, of course) regarding when Chase graduated medical school; I haven’t seen anyone take into account the year that he spent in seminary school.

  • Shannon Howard

    That’s an excellent point; I hadn’t even thought of that.

  • Nastia

    I like to think that Chase wanted to stay on the seminary but Daddy forced him to study medicine instead. There is/was a strong taste of animosity between him and his father and we never got an explanation as to why that is so. My guess is that Chase “didn’t fail the test”, as he explained to the nun, but he had to give it up in favor of medicine – and to please his father also, as House is guessing in the same ep. (Mind you, it would have been a shame to make a priest out of Chase!)
    I also think Chases Dad is still one of the big mysteries in House Universe, as we never got to know why Chase had been cut out of his will.

    Frankly, I don’t care so much for details such as timelines. Chase could have been a prodigy for all I know, he proves several times to be most creative in solving a problem. That’s what makes him so houselike – among all the other reasons that the article so thoughtfully points out. I really do think that this is one of the best writing I have ever read on Chase and House, and I will forward this link to my House friends. Thank you very much!

  • Shannon Howard

    Thanks so much for sharing the article!

    The writers make it sound like the father was absent during most of those years when Chase was choosing between seminary and/or medicine. But then it wouldn’t make sense that Chase’s dad called House to get him the job. Also, it doesn’t make sense that House would have hired someone just b/c their father called, and that really makes me confused.

  • Drew

    Re: Daddy Chase calling House.

    I really don’t think that House would of hired Chase because his father said go.

    House’s wording of “His father made a phone call” doesn’t necessary mean Daddy Chase asked House to hire is son.

    My interpretaion (fanwank) and others, is that Daddy Chase called House ‘not’ to hire his son. House would of hired Chase Jr because of that.