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.Powered by Sidelines