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Best of House, M.D. Part 2: Vote for the Best Episode Ever

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You’ve done a great job nominating the best of House, M.D. More than 500 voted in the five seasonal polls to determine the best House episodes in the series’ run thus far. (I did not include season six in the polling.) Is “Three Stories” really the best episode ever, as so many critics and fans have noted? Or is the double finale “House’s Head”/”Wilson’s Heart” even better? Should “Broken” even qualify, since it’s so far outside the framework of a House episode?

I have taken the top vote-getters from each season and have created a new poll to select what you think is the best House episode to date. I added “Broken” from season six to the mix, realizing my vote was the only one to count for this season. If you wish to write in a different season six episode, you may indeed do that in the comments section.

What makes these episodes “the best?” Each of these episodes leaves you breathless at the commercial breaks, frustrated at the delay in learning what happens next. Some of them also leave you drained at the end or waiting anxiously for the next episode. More importantly, they all add to the series fabric in unique ways, letting us into House’s heart and chipping away at our suppositions.

Some of them explore important ethical issues; ask interesting questions about the nature of love and sacrifice. It is hard to choose, much less narrow down to 10 offerings, among the episodes of a series with so many superior episodes. Hugh Laurie just recently reiterated his belief that House scripts are like “Faberge Eggs.” Interestingly the episodes you chose were mainly written by a small core of House writers: Doris Egan, Lawrence Kaplow, Russel Friend and Garrett Lerner, David Foster and David Shore, himself. And I agree with him. The best episodes are intricate, delicately woven tales with many colored threads that give series star Hugh Laurie meaty material with which to wow us. And maybe that’s what these 10 best represent.

“3 Stories” – Considered by many to be the best House episode in the series history, Shore’s award-winning brilliant script is framed around a lecture on diagnostics. But within the lecture, House weaves his own tale, and we, along those in the lecture hall learn the origin of House’s disability and gain some understanding of his attitude towards the medical establishment and some of his trust issues. We learn that House can (and has) love—and trust. It’s an incredible hour, and the first real exploration into House’s heart and soul.

“Autopsy” – A little girl with terminal cancer handles her illness with an almost inhuman grace and courage. To House, Andie’s bravery is a symptom that suggests a new illness: a tiny blockage in the brain. House designs an experimental diagnostic test that will, in essence, kill the little girl temporarily, allowing the doctors to see the location of the clot to remove it. At the most, the procedure might give Andie another year on earth, and it’s a dangerous procedure. House gives Andie the opportunity to say no and finally end her difficult life during a poignant heart-to-heart conversation. But House learns that Andie’s courage has more to do with love than physiology and, as Wilson points out, her spirit may cause her to outlive the self-destructive House. Kaplow’s beautifully written script captured a Writer’s Guild award.

“All In” – Foster’s brilliant episode is an exploration of House’s obsessiveness set against an incongruously glamorous formal hospital poker benefit. We learn a lot about House’s inability to let go of failure. A case from 12 years earlier still tortures him, and when a similar case presents itself, House becomes slowly unhinged as he fears he may lose this case — and a six-year-old patient as well. The episode possesses everything that makes this series great: an interesting medical case, humor, pathos, and the fabulous Hugh Laurie on piano. Fundamentally, it shows House’s value. When everyone else says “enough!” House keeps plowing ahead. Had he been “conventional,” the patient would be dead. Instead, House’s tenacity and obsessiveness saves another life.

“Son Of Coma Guy” – House believes that “all love is conditional,” even when we don’t always know the limits of that conditionality. But his belief is challenged by Gabe, a man in a vegetative state who has the chance to save the life of his son — by ending his own. This is at the heart of Egan’s gorgeous script, played to perfection by Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard as Wilson, and guest star John Larroquette. As with the best episodes, this one has much else going on, including House’s stirring explanation of why he became a doctor, and another exploration into end-of-life moral issues.

“Merry Little Christmas” – At the end of his emotional rope and in withdrawal after being abruptly taken off Vicodin, House treats a teenage girl with apparent dwarfism. Liz Friedman’s episode works beautifully as an exploration of how House views his “differentness.” Although he outwardly embraces it, especially for himself, we learn, perhaps for the first time, how he views being “outside the circle” when one has a choice. In a tour de force performance, Laurie draws us into House’s anguish as he feels his world closing in around him, especially as he spends Christmas Eve alone and overdoses on a potentially fatal combination of narcotics and alcohol.

“Half Wit” – Dave Matthews guest stars as Patrick, a brain damaged musical savant. The musician fascinates House, but ultimately when House sees a way to give back Patrick’s “normal” life, and although it will mean Patrick will lose his gift, House advocates that he take advantage of the opportunity for living a more ordinary life. Patrick’s story plays out against House’s attempt to wrangle his way into a clinical trial to treat depression in terminal cancer patients. House’s fellows believe he’s looking for a new “high.” Wilson knows better, understanding that House, battered after the events in the first half of season three, is depressed and withdrawn. House, too, Wilson realizes, is hoping for “normal.” Another great Kaplow script.

“House’s Head/Wilson’s Heart” – It’s impossible to separate these two episodes, which are really one two-hour story, like “Euphoria” in season two or “Broken” in season six. Lerner and Friend took Doris Egan’s story about House finding himself in a bar unable to remember how he got there and created this powerful finale to season four. The key to the mystery lies locked in House’s fractured memory of events leading to his being on a bus with Wilson’s girlfriend Amber as the bus is involved in a horrific crash. In “House’s Head,” House desperately works against time and his own serious injuries to recover the memory of something he believes he saw on the bus before it crashed. And in the second half, learning it was Amber he couldn’t remember, House further pushes his battered brain to save her life.

“Birthmarks” – This episode marked the return of Wilson after he walks out on his and House’s friendship in the aftermath of Amber’s death. Another Doris Egan road trip, “Birthmarks” takes us to the funeral of House’s father, where he has been commanded to deliver a eulogy. Played out against a patient case involving an adopted Chinese woman who yearns to find her birth parents still in China, the story explores nature vs. nurture as well as the special relationship between House and Wilson.

“Both Sides Now” – House’s spectacular crash after the losses he had suffered from the end of season four through much of season five: Amber’s death, then his father’s; Kutner’s suicide, which was the straw that broke House’s fragile psyche. Suffering hallucinations and unable to sleep since Kutner’s death, House finally breaks with reality completely as he believes he has both quit Vicodin and started a relationship with Cuddy. It all comes crashing down around him when he learns the truth. A tragic and compelling way to end season five with Doris Egan’s poignant script.

“Broken” – Picking up immediately from “Both Sides Now,” “Broken” is a very different type of House episode. Instead, we follow House through his months as a patient at Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital. For House it is a journey as he fights everyone trying to help him. A near-tragedy provides a wake up call, reminding House why he’s there and why he needs help. Wonderful casting of the great Andre Braugher as House’s psychiatrist, Lin Emanuel Miranda as House’s roommate, and German actress Franka Potente as Lydia add to this fantastic start to season six. Written by Lerner, Friend, Foster, and Shore, it’s a beautifully crafted movie, with Laurie upping the ante, appearing in every scene of the episode’s hour and a half run-time. But the episode is very different for the series, with no patient of the week, no fellows, no Cuddy, and only one brief (literally) phoned-in scene by Wilson.

So, which of the following is the best House episode ever? Vote in the poll and spread the word. Results will be posted January 10, the day before the next new episode!

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • Orange450

    A great list of episodes and it will certainly be interesting to see which one comes out on top. Of course, the collective winner is us – the lucky viewers – because we don’t have to choose. We can enjoy any or all whenever the fancy takes us! But that being said, I have to cast my vote for Three Stories.

    What can I say about that episode that hasn’t already been said? That so many innovative and compelling hours of House later, it still remains the most innovative and compelling hour of television I’ve ever seen? That its combination of script, acting, editing, and production values are sheerly breathtaking, simply put? That it defines the elusive quality ascribed by Shakespeare to Cleopatra: “she makes hungry where she most satisfies”? Yeah, I guess I can say that 🙂

  • tante vespa

    As much as I’ve enjoyed reading the selection, and indeed, these are the episodes I gravitate most to when watching episodes again, I find it absolutely impossible to choose ‘thé best’. They are like strands in a beautiful fabric…. impossible to discern which strand provides the luscious colour, the shine or the strenght.., but take a strand away and you are left with a tear…. But congrats in compiling ‘the list’!

  • These are all amazing episodes! I’m surprised ‘No Reason’ isn’t here, as I find that probably the most fascinating insight into the mind of House, and his self destructive nature. Because it isn’t, I’ll have to vote for ‘Autopsy,’ because of Hugh Laurie’s performance in that episode, which is one of my favourite by him in the series. I always love the episodes where Wilson and House collide in some way (which is why ‘The Social Contract’ is another favourite of mine.)

  • barbara barnett

    I know it’s so hard to choose. I tried to include those episodes that got the most votes (which I realize isn’t scientific and why I included a possibility in the comments to write in. No reason didn’t come close enough to the top of season two to be in the final list. My feeling is also, that that there are few bad choices in six seasons. I think there are only a handful of episodes in all six years that I would say I didn’t especially like.

  • Maineac

    My vote (Merry Little Christmas) should actually have been for 3 Stories. But since I knew that would win, I voted for my second-favorite episode.

  • marie

    Oh my God that was such a difficult choice to make , I loved em all and I still watch them all frequently, but in the end I went for ‘ All In ‘, this to me showed the full power of his thought process especially at the end when he asked them use the last chance they had on the exact test they had already done once and had a negative result from ,and his absolute relief when they gave him the result , ….it was sheer obsession…and from first hearing the doc describe Ians symptoms to Cuddy in the beginning, to him explaining himself to Wilson at the end ….Hugh Laurie was awesome ( and him wearing a crisp white shirt and Tux didnt do him any dis-favours either ) lol , great list, .. and I dont mind which episode wins , as ‘Orange 450’ so rightly says we the viewers are the winners , thanks again Barbara.

  • anne

    The mistake is one of the best House’s episode for me (it’s a shame it’s not on your list), Three Stories is close second.

  • Sandra

    Picking THE best episode is hard, really hard. From a shipper’s point of view (yes, my heart beats for House & Cameron, my one and only OTP) I’d say it’s Half Wit, but actually overall my most favorite episode ever is Three Stories. We’ve learned so much about House and the way of storytelling is very unique. And I think everyone in the cast and writing stuff answered “Three Stories” as I far as I remember, good taste 😀
    On a side note: I’m also surprised that “No Reason” is not on the list.
    And I have to add, I just stumbled across this by accident, maybe you should also advertise for it on more sites, like on Livejournal (and if you have, not just on the Huddy community). Anyway, definitely a good choice of episode, there are almost all of my favs included 🙂

  • barbara barnett

    Hi Sandra,

    I just put this up yesterday and I actually (besides twitter) haven’t advertised it anywhere. I know someone posted it on the Fox Official Forum. But please feel free to spread the word.

    I don’t think a poll like this (i.e. best episode vs. favorite) has a shipper component, which is why some obvious Huddy shipper and Hilson shipper episodes are not on here.

    Anyway, please feel free to post anywhere you want to 🙂 That would be most appreciated! No Reason just didn’t quite get enough votes. I loved that episode as well. I also loved House Divided and Under My Skin, and neither of those made it either!

  • Epiphany

    Wow – great choices indeed. If a friend of mine wanted to view exceptional House episodes – I’d recommend this list. But I’d substitute Birthmarks (not sure what for yet).

    Barbara, you’ve said: “I don’t think a poll like this (i.e. best episode vs. favorite) has a shipper component, which is why some obvious Huddy shipper and Hilson shipper episodes are not on here.”

    I’d humbly suggest that Birthmarks inclusion possibly proves otherwise. Although a very enjoyable episode, it doesn’t quite stand alongside most of the others on this list. Or even some that didn’t make the cut.

  • barbara barnett

    Epiphany–agree with you about Birthmarks. I’m not sure why it scored as high as it did. I’d substitute Under My Skin or more likely House Divided for it as a better example of an overall outstanding episode.

  • Barbara, you are an evil woman–so many great choices! As I might have written before, I voted for HH/WH because it was the first episode of “House” that I saw, back to back, and I was absolutely mesmerized. I knew of the show, maybe seen a little, but this two-parter got me hooked.

    However, almost every one on your list is a winner. You’re still an evil woman. 🙂

  • barbara barnett

    I admit it. I am evil (she says with a very evil grin). What better to pass these doldrums days without a new episode for two weeks–after a hiatus of a month?

    It’s easier to list the episodes that aren’t the best–also known as those I could live without. OK, let me count them (at least in my humble opinion). And of course your mileage may vary:

    Season one: Cursed, Mob Rules (although it was funn)
    Season two: spin, TB or not TB, safe, sleeping dogs
    Season three: Fools for Love, Que Sera, Wac a Mole, Needle in a Haystack, The Jerk
    Season four: Guardian Angels, Whatever it Takes, No More Mr. Nice Guy
    Season five:Adverse Events, Lucky 13, The Greater Good

  • barbara barnett

    oops. Forgot season six: Teamwork, possibly Ignorance is Bliss

  • sherlockjr

    I kind of wish you had done a ranking rather than just having us choose one episode. I’d be very interested to see how people ranked these episodes.

  • barbara barnett

    Sherlockjr–I wish I had a way to do that. If I can ever figure out how to make that work in the polling software, I will do that. I’m sketchy at best using all these polling things.

  • Donna

    Thanks for offering some fun House related activities while we wait for the new episode on Jan. 11th!

    Such a hard decision to make with all these great choices but I chose HH/WH. Like madfashionista, I was totally mesmerized by it and Hugh Laurie was magnificent.

    And I agree with you on episodes you can do without in S6. Imho, Teamwork and IIB really derailed a very strong and consistent string of episodes following Broken. I’m hoping that the wonderful Wilson episode has turned things around for the remainder of this season.

  • Tiffany

    I could hardly chose between all of these great episodes but in the end, I went for “All In” because it demonstrates House’s obsessive behavior and witty humor.

    My second would have been “Birthmarks” cause of the interactions between House and Wilson, especially at the end where House tells Wilson that his dad is dead.

    I am also really surprised that “No Reason” was not on the list. It was also one of my favorite episodes.

  • Elena

    I want to thank you. Here, in Ukraine, we’ll see season 6 next summer may be. So I just read the scripts on ‘clinic duty’ and these amazing deep reviews of yours. You do the great job, especially for people like me. Thanks a lot.

  • xinyuActor

    Merry Little Christmas keeps on spinning in my mind. Call me crazy but I love watching House in desperation and no one there for supporting… Always touch me the most. :_(

  • barbara barnett

    Elena-my pleasure. It’s always nice to know when my writing reaches so far and wide. Xinyu–I agree with you! I love watching House struggle against the odds. It’s something that HL does so exceptionally well to bring out.

  • Sue

    If one looks at the commonality of these episodes, one will find that they all give us a peek at “House Underneath.” He has let go of the snark, the ego,
    and the pride to give us a peek at his heart and soul. Each episode had a diagnostic and/or moral dilemma that integrated well with House’s moral or social circumstances. We saw a multi-dimensional character, where many aspects of his personality were evident.

    When they stick to the core character and revolve the story around him, we get unforgettable episodes. None of these are 13/14-centered.

    I voted for HH/WH, but I could just as easily have voted for Broken. Katie Jacobs directed Half Wit, Wilson’s Heart and Broken. She is a great director.

    Wilson’s Heart has one of the best death scenes I have ever seen. I could see life leave Amber’s body.

  • barbara barnett

    Sue–You’re right. Each of these episodes and most of the best the series has to offer revolves around House and explores him. He’s snarky and sarcastic, but not written over the top; these episodes give him a heart and soul and a reason to us to sympathise with him.
    Even when he’s a jerk in these episodes, he redeems himself. I also agree about KJ and her direction. She’s wonderful. It’s hard to believe that she’s relatively new at it.

  • Jen

    These rank right up there with my favs, I did vote, but it was hard!

  • Ooh Barbara – now you’re fanning a flame! Least favourite episode – well out of the 115 or so there are only a handful of duff ones.

    Your choices are interesting but I LOVE the biting writing of Sleeping Dogs Lie – if only for the most cutting delivery that House has made – after the POTW has taken a kidney from her lover, even though she was planning to leave her:
    POTW:I’ve got the plague?
    House: Don’t worry, it’s treatable. Being a bitch though, nothing we can do about that.

    Delivered unflinchingly beautifully. Bliss!

  • bluehue

    My all time fav was not in the mix. I loved 3-stories, but can
    take a break from the swollen tongue guy. I so loved “All In” because it showed in no uncertain terms what drives House and I can never get enough of that single moment when he realizes he has DONE IT – solved the mystery & lets out a near orgasmic gasp. Then it closes where it began – House/Wilson at the card table, joking & chomping on cigars….sheer haPPiness ! !
    I am sure – the BEST is yet to come.

  • barbara barnett

    Jo–that was the ONE scene in Sleeping Dogs I really, really liked. It was a wonderful insight into House’s own morality.

  • barbara barnett

    “All in is on the list.” One of my all time favorites.

  • bluehue

    I live by the edit button…which you don’t have, yikes !
    I meant to say…from this list I picked All In, though my all
    time fav is “Paternity,” I find tears rolling down my face EVERYtime House is standing out on the sports field during
    the last scene, the crowd disappears and he is ultimately all alone as the cameras pan around him – Rickie Lee Jones is singing On Saturday Afternoons in 1963.
    Double oops, because I think I also mixed up swollen tongue guy (not in 3-stories).

  • Alex

    “All in” because every character had a big part on it.

  • barbara barnett

    Bluehue–swollen tongue guy was No Reason. I loved that wonderful scene at the end of Paternity. Fabulous early insight into House and what he’s lost. Among my favorite scenes.

  • amy Blumhardt

    Boy, that was hard to choose. I finally went with Broken because House finally learned how to deal with his problems.

  • Chen

    First of all Merry late Xmas and Happy early New Years Barbara from New Zealand. Love your insights into one of the most brilliant shows on TV.

    Now to the main part – oh dear this is hard! I really cannot make a selection from my 4 shortlisted episodes of 3 Stories, Autopsy, House’s Head/Wilson’s Heart, and Broken on this list. The result of a random selection from my trusted calculator was the great season 4 finale and so my vote goes to that.

    On another note, I personally really enjoyed season 4’s Frozen, and believe that it is great as a stand alone episode by itself, but it kind of dulls when compared with the much much stronger finale there.

    Looking forward to the final poll results!

  • barbara barnett

    Thanks Chen–and to you as well. Frozen stands well as a good stand alone episode. You are correct. I loved it. Thanks to everyone for voting thus far 😉

  • ann uk

    I have only seen part of Broken so couldn’t include it, but , Oh the agony of picking one from a whole series of brilliant episodes most of which would be better than anything in any other TV dramas.
    I think Three Stories is a masterpiece of story telling – the writing, directing and ,of course , the acting are incomparable. In the end I chose House’s Head / Wilson’s Heart because it shows us so much of the real House, his vulnerability, his courage and his fundamental nobility and because of the subtle power of HL’s performance.

  • Epiphany

    Absolutely no hesitation in voting for Three Stories. It is far and away the best episode of House ever.

  • KHC22

    What a choice! Had to go for 3 stories, because it was the first one that I immediately watched again having finished it the first time. A very very close second was HH/WH, the writing and performanes were fantastic, and it was the episode I put on for my roommate to get her hooked!

    The one I’d add to the list is Locked In from season 5 – the first time we get a hint that all is not right with House, and a great (vocal) performance from Mos Def.

    Thanks for helping pass the time, Barbara!

  • Grace

    Wow! THAT was hard!! First let me say that my favorite episodes are those with Stacy in them. To see House show so much love was AMAZING!! But I had to pick one. House telling Cancer Girl that she didn’t have to live….wow! And how he wouldn’t hug her at the end….sad for him. Then the one where the boy gives House his game at the end and Wilson say, “That’s a ten”. Wow! There’s so many moments that I ADORE. In the end, and after much consideration, I went with THREE STORIES. No denying HH/WH was AMAZING as well. May I just pick them all??? 🙂

  • Lisa

    My favorite was Three Stories but knowing that would do well, I voted for my second favorite, Autopsy. I thought Three Stories was just exceptionally well-done, weaving in House’s personal history. Autopsy just tugged at my heartstrings from start-to-finish. There was so much exceptional acting in that episode (although you could say that about just about any one).

    Really also enjoyed Frozen (not on the list) and HH/WH as top episodes. And Broken too.

    One viewer (that I saw) mentioned The Mistake. I would have that episode on my Favorites list too. I thought it was a real Tour de Force for at least Chase and House and I liked the Stacy episodes too as a rule.

    Two episodes made your “worst” list but I really liked them (at least two that I really noticed). One was The Jerk…part of it is that I greatly appreciated that episode more after seeing the episode Commentary on the DVD. The other one that I tend to enjoy (perhaps as a precursor to The Mistake) is Cursed because it sets up The Mistake and gives further insight into Chase’s history.

    As a rule, I tend to like the episodes with kids (All-in and the really sad Forever come to mind here as well as the Season One episode with the alien abduction kid, forget the title) as the patients.

    But really as you pointed out, just a few episodes I don’t like to watch over-and-over, but many I do.

  • Emy

    I’m really suprised The Softer Side didn’t make the top. It’s one of the most emotional episodes on House ever IMHO. And Hugh does a great job in it, as always of course.
    Meh, whatever. Voted for house’s head/wilson’s heart because it has a lovely plot, because of great acting and because of information it offers :).

  • Daniel Astillero

    Season 2, All in.. the erdheim-chester case.. house was so desperate..

  • John Wilson

    In England Hugh Laurie was known as a comic actor. Usually with his pal Stephen Fry who also appears on some US dramas.

    They did a show called “A Bit Of Fry And Laurie” which sometimes pops up on US UHF stations.

    But the most fun is “Wooster and Jeeves” from the Wodehouse stories, which is excellent dry Brit humor. If you LIKE dry brit humor. It helps if you subscribe to Punch magazine for about 5-10 years.