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!