House star Hugh Laurie and creator David Shore have already let it slip: in the aftermath of Amber's death, House and Wilson eventually patch things up.
"I don't think it's a shock that the lovers are reunited," House writer Doris Egan said archly. Nearly as unsurprising might be that Egan helped orchestrate the reunion, since her previous episodes, including "Son of Coma Guy," "House vs. God," and "House Training," tend to delve into that relationship.
The writing staff's resident doctor, David Foster, came up with the original idea for the reconciliation script. Though Egan was initially skeptical, "he started telling me more about it and then I was, like, 'Man, Foster's got the best episode ever.' Finally he said, 'So, would you like to write it with me?' and I said, 'I suppose I might consider that.'"
Perhaps she'd managed to twist his arm, perhaps he'd been hinting all along, but in any case Egan relished the opportunity to help explore the concept in what she calls "the graphic novel episode" (adding the caveat: "That probably will make no sense to anyone else, and after they watch they'll say 'what the hell was she talking about?'")
"I feel like House and Wilson, they deserve mythology. They're larger-than-life characters. There was one moment when I was typing the script where Wilson does something and I wrote: 'This is an iconic moment.' I thought someone would make me take that out, but they didn't."
She feared the scene itself might be omitted since it was scheduled after the main shoot. "Hugh said, 'How could they do that? I believe you called it an iconic moment.'"
"Now I'm going to say that for everything," she joked.
Sticking To The Sonnet
Egan and I talked last week while production was on hiatus and the writers were planning the latter part of the season, but by now episode nine should be filming "if my math is correct."
Not averse to hearing spoilers herself, Egan is nonetheless cautious not to reveal them. She has decided against making public her episode's number so the duration of the estrangement remains a mystery – until the writing credits, at least. (Though I'll eat Michael Ausiello's hat if that information doesn't surface before then.)
She also won't talk about how the friendship is put back together except in the vaguest possible terms. "They have a journey. They have a 'metaphysical journey.'"
She instructed me to add those quotes of irony, though it seems clear that a conversation with Egan is full of irony and eloquence and trenchant metaphors and cogent arguments, even when handicapped by an interviewer who is full of the opposite.
Metaphysical journey or no, the chances of House substantially changing – even being nicer to Wilson – seem slim despite his season finale admission of misery and his role in Amber's death. "I think if he did, people would be a little disappointed," Egan said. I have to concur: what makes the dysfunctional doctor miserable makes him fascinating, so as a fan of the show I'm inclined toward my own happiness over his.
"In real life, I don't think people change a lot, personally. I think it's incredibly rare that people change in any major way. For the lead on a series, perhaps even less so," pointed out the woman who co-wrote (with Leonard Dick) "Don't Ever Change." "It's interesting to see how far you can take a character within the parameters you're given, but it's like writing within sonnet form. It's always going to be sonnet form. You're never going to be back to free verse."
The sonnet of House isn't ultimately destined to be a romantic one, in her view. "I would like to believe that when the day comes – a long time from now when the show is over and we reach the end – I would like to believe that House is as ornery and alone as he has ever been," she stated, while remaining cagey on what might develop in the interim and refusing to pick a side in the shipping wars.
Egan sees the heroism in House's life-saving actions and believes we all have a bit of House inside us, but she won't commit to lauding his point of view, either. "I mostly find his point of view easy to understand. Hmm, I'm not sure what that says about me," she laughed. "He's not gratuitously mean, but there's a certain childlike freedom he has that's enviable, though I don't think it would be good for the rest of the world to emulate. I do like that he looks at everything critically. That is certainly something we could use more of in the world. There are no sacred cows to him. Everything comes under the microscope."
Driving The Ferrari
The New Jersey native joined the series in the second season and has become known for putting the House and Wilson friendship under the microscope. She's drawn to dissect the pair for an almost poetic reason. "I like their rhythm. I like a relationship with rhythm. I like Tracy and Hepburn. I like some of the old TV shows of the golden age that had rhythm, like Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, I Spy, The Wild Wild West, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. You throw in a couple of people, give them some good dialogue, and it almost doesn't matter what they're doing."
The House and Wilson rhythm comes not just from the dialogue itself, but from the chemistry between Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard and from their respective talents. "I know at last one writer referred to it as, 'it's like driving a Ferrari,'" she recalled. "You just trust it's all going to work out. It almost doesn't matter how you screw it up, it will all work out in the end."
"We are so well aware on this show of how lucky we are," she emphasized about the actors. "The only reason we ever put anything even in a parenthetical or an explanatory paragraph is to make sure people understand where the story is going. I think to myself, gee, it will be interesting to see what they do with that. I'm not going to tell them; I'm happy to see what they come up with."
Season four's Survivor arc – where House systematically pared down a pool of candidates to replace Foreman, Chase, and Cameron – appealed to her for the opportunity to inject new voices into an established series. "I was partial to the old guy especially, who House called 'Scooter.' Those aren't the kind of characters you can usually get away with putting into medical shows. Generally television is a young place, but since they weren't all staying you could stretch the rules a lot."
But will the now-expanded ensemble tip the balance of the medical/character drama or – gasp – detract from the House and Wilson dynamic?
"It would be a sin and a shame if anything took away from House and Wilson," she intoned mock-solemnly. "I personally wouldn't mind seeing more personal interaction with the other characters just because I'm interested, but the show is called House and there is always a medical mystery that needs to be served, so it's always what we can do within the context of that. And that's going to vary. I also kind of like the occasional off-template episode where you may learn a lot about one character or another. But you can't do them every week or they won't be off-template anymore."
She's short on details, but hints at an expanded role for Chase and Cameron this season as well. "My suspicion is that we're going to see more of them as we start heading toward the middle of the season, for reasons I'm not going to say."
I didn't press because I fall slightly toward the spoilerphobe end of the spectrum. Plus, she wouldn't have told me anyway.
Last Season, On House
The stunning two-part season finale began with "House's Head." In it, House pieced together his missing hours following a bus crash in order to save an unknown patient, who turned out to be Wilson's girlfriend Amber – a shocking revelation unless you happened to come across the kind of spoilers that make even a spoilerphile like Egan cringe.
I was blissfully unaware at the time, but the DVD commentary mentions that pictures of Amber in a hospital bed were released on NBC Universal's website prior to the broadcast. "Mistakes happen and obviously it was done in error, but I was sad," she said.
"When I read the script for 'House's Head' I thought, 'oh, I hope this doesn't get out,' because to me this feels like a real spoiler that would indeed spoil. Every now and then I'd take a spin around the Internet to see if anyone was talking about it and be like, phew, not yet. And then toward the end I saw the link to these pictures and thought, damn, we were so close."
That episode was based on an idea of Egan's. She was working on "Don't Ever Change," however, so Peter Blake, David Foster, Garrett Lerner and Russel Friend collaborated on the script.
"There wasn't time, and the laws of physics prevented me from being in two places at once, so I had to say goodbye to it. I said goodbye to it sadly and I thought oh, who knows when we meet again if I shall even recognize you, little story. Then I heard what they were doing, and I read the script, and it just blew me away. I was just thrilled with what they did."
"You have those mixed feelings as a writer, which is 'wow, OK, if I had done this myself, could I have done it as well?' There were a few little places where I think I would have done it differently, but I can't say I would have done it better."
In the second hour of the finale, "Wilson's Heart," Egan found herself responding as a fan, one who can't agree with some fans' characterization of a crucial moment. "There were people who seemed shocked that Wilson would ask House to risk his life. It was almost like instead of hearing the word 'risk,' they heard 'give up.' Like, 'I want you to give up your life for Amber.' It hadn't struck me that way. I wasn't involved in writing that episode at all so I'm saying this as a member of the audience, but when I read that in dialogue, it didn't cross my mind that he meant it as a choice between House and Amber or their lives," she explained.
Referencing the James Clavell novel King Rat, where prisoners of war formed units in place of family in order to survive, Egan elaborated. "I think from Wilson's point of view, House was in his unit and Amber was in his unit and he had a no-man-left-behind philosophy when it came to the people he loved. I think if the situation had been reversed, he would have said exactly the same thing to Amber."
Egan World Meets Online World
Before I turned to the Internet to discuss House back when it was a low-rated underdog starring that guy from Blackadder, I also had been blissfully unaware of shipping and fan fiction and slash. But Egan – a blogger herself – is aware and accepting of online fandom's many guises, and has been embraced as "St. Doris" by those who want to see House and Wilson as more than co-dependent friends.
That's partly because of her House-and-Wilson-centric episodes, partly because Egan, whose writings include the Gate of Ivory trilogy of fantasy novels, has views on storytelling that come closer to the "choose-your-own-adventure" than "bow-before-the-canon" model.
"In the perfect Doris Egan world, I would make some major changes to television in general. One thing we're learning in the modern era – and it's coming out of things like fan fiction and whatnot – is that literature can be the way comic books are, in the sense that there can be many branches of a story. Just like there used to be many different versions of the King Arthur legend, there can be many different versions of a story."
"There would be on Egan Network One: House Classic. On Egan Network Two, we could have House/Wilson. And on Egan Network Three, hmm, I'll have to think about that one. But in the perfect Egan world, there would be no limits."
Fanfic, then, is one way for those alternate stories to live even if there's no Egan Network Two or Three, and she's far more appreciative of the activity than many TV writers. She won't read House fiction, but marvels at some of The X-Files fan creations she's read, for example.
"It was as if you were saying 'this is going to be my version of King Arthur and he's going to be in Roman Britain instead of coming out of French chivalry.' It's fascinating to me that so many different shadows can come off of one lamp and one picture."
Apart from fan fiction, she sees value in the feedback available on the web. "Statistically, posts on the Internet don't necessarily represent what the mass of the Nielsen audience might feel, but it's still data worth having, I think."
"In the perfect Doris Egan world, you would be able to write in such a way that you would be able to give those fans, as much as possible, what they want – and often that involves character-oriented and continuity-oriented stories – while at the same time pleasing a mass audience that tends not to watch every single episode," she offered. "Even though those are two different audiences, I think they can be simultaneously served in the perfect world."
She clarified that giving fans what they want means those type of stories generally, rather than acquiescing to specific storylines. "I don't think there's anyone on any show who's monitoring every post they can find on the Internet and immediately changing course, because they can't. So many people are saying so many different things."
Protecting The House Unit
Though she values those online interactions, her blog is not an open portal into the writers room of House or any of her previous series, which have included Dark Angel, Smallville, and Tru Calling.
"When you're with a whole bunch of people creating something, it forms a little family. Like any family there is stuff that is not yours to tell. It's a particularly vulnerable family, because when you're working together on a creative project you have to be really trustful of each other and self-revealing. For example, in the writers room people have to be willing to tell their ideas even if they suspect it's a bad idea, and to write free from mockery, because that's the job. It's not the sort of thing where you can then go out later on a blog and point and jump up and down and say 'ha, I knew that was terrible the minute they said it.'"
"One of the great things about working at House is that occasionally I might disagree about the small things, as you will anywhere, but you never feel like your trust is misplaced. You really have very little control over a great deal. It's like trying to control the ocean when you work in television. But there are just so many good people here that even if I trip and fall, somebody is going to grab the tray before everything spills."
Season five of House premieres Tuesday, September 16 at 8 pm on FOX and Global in Canada. Doris Egan's first episode of the season airs … wait, no, you're not going to get that out of me.Powered by Sidelines