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DVD Review: House, M.D. – Season 3

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The Season 3 DVD collection of House, M.D. has been out for nearly two months, and I’ve already watched it so many times that even my husband (who’s not really a fan) can quote chapter and verse and tell you, from one line of dialogue, which episode I’m watching (yet again!)  So it goes without saying that I highly recommend that you go out and purchase this set (in the lovely red box) to match the blue (Season 1) and orange (Season 2) collections, if you haven’t already.

My suggestion is to watch the seasons and the episodes in order.  Although House, M.D. is promoted as a procedural drama, the episodes also tell the fascinating story of Dr. Gregory House and the doctors who reside in his orbit.  The Season 3 DVD set contains a hilarious blooper reel (my only complaint about it is that it is too short); a director’s commentary on the mid-season episode “Half-Wit” (which guest starred Dave Matthews); and a behind-the-scenes look at “The Jerk” (a late season entry).  Other extras include a look at the props, a peek at the production office, and some alternate takes of several scenes. (None of these additional extras, in my opinion, is particularly special). 

My favorite extra on the DVD has less to do with the show than with its star.  It is a recorded recording session of Hugh Laurie’s band “Band From TV” recording Laurie’s arrangement of “Minnie the Moocher.”  It’s a rare look into the recording studio and into Hugh Laurie's other life (one of them, anyway) as a gifted musician.

The advantage to watching Season 3 on DVD, besides the glorious color and richness of the print, is that you can watch episodes one after the other with no breaks, no commercials, nothing to interrupt the flow of the narrative. Broken up as it is aired, it is easy to miss the cohesiveness and story arc of Season 3.   As I see it, the season unfolds in four separate acts (on five DVDs).  Act 1: Episodes 1-4 (concluding with “Lines in the Sand”), followed by the bridging episode “Fools for Love.”  Act 2 (also known as the “Tritter Arc” among fans was) was bridged into Act 3 with “One Day One Room,” which concluded with “Fetal Position.” “Airborne” led fans into the season’s final act.   The following “road map” is intended to guide you through some of the glorious subtext and motivations (as I saw them) that suffused the series's third season.  These are the things that can be easily missed in casual viewing, but that draw me back to this show week after week and viewing after viewing.

Act I—The Happiness Scale. The season started out hopefully for Dr. House, in the aftermath of his near-fatal shooting and subsequent treatment with the veterinary drug ketamine, a radical procedure that would, if it worked, end House’s pain to the point where he could exercise, do physical therapy, and regain the use of his leg. Side note:  This is why you should also watch Season 2 before Season 3. We first meet the new (and maybe improved) Season 3 House all sweaty and running!  Pain free and cane-free! However, House’s Season 2 finale hallucination had convinced him that “meaning” was lacking in his miserable, lonely existence.  And Season 3, as much as anything, is about House’s search for meaning and humanity – and for healing.  House’s Season 3 journey is also about change—change that is within his control, and change that is not. 

But from the start, House is at a loss as to how to insert meaning into his life.   So much of season 3 is about things that House cannot control, such as the terrible disappointment of the ketamine treatment’s failure.  There is a devastating scene in Episode 3 (“Cane and Able”) where House tries to push himself on a treadmill in the dead of night.  He’s in terrible pain, desperate, trying to deny the pain its final victory.  Then there is the tragedy of that episode’s final scene, made even more tragic by the musical backdrop of the song “Gravity,” as House seeks out the familiarity of his cane, his face awash with defeat.

Season 3, Act I concludes with “Lines in the Sand,” as House tries to understand how parents could devote themselves to an autistic child.  As he had wondered about the patient’s wife in the season premiere, so, too, he wonders how the boy’s parents can be fulfilled by the all-consuming task of raising their needy son.  What is the meaning they derive from it?  Are they happy?  House connects with the autistic boy, and for his efforts is rewarded with a gift that I think both stuns and moves him.  It is also in this episode that House engages in what appears to be a power struggle with the Dean of Medicine, Lisa Cuddy (who alternately tries to both control and protect Dr. House), over something seemingly trivial – the replacement of House’s bloodstained carpet – that actually gets to the heart of House's control issues.  That carpet was something he could control when everything else in his life was spiraling away from him.  It had become, in effect, his anchor.  He doesn't want it replaced.

Act II—Les Miserables. As Act II unfolds, things spiral completely out of House’s control.  He offends the wrong patient, a vindictive detective who sees House’s relationship with vicodin as a menace to society.  House has found his own personal Javert.  He sees Detective Michael Tritter (played by David Morse) simply as a bully.  If you ignore a bully, House postulates, he will go away to harass an easier score.  House’s refusal to deal with Tritter as a serious threat digs him into even deeper trouble, sweeping everyone around him into the maelstrom. But through this personal nightmare, House still endeavors to come to terms with the role of “meaning” in his life and in others’.

The episodes “Son of Coma Guy” and “Merry Little Christmas” are specific examples of House’s continued journey.  In “Son of Coma Guy,” House helps a man (played by John Laroquette) make sense of his own tragedy by enabling the man to make the ultimate sacrifice. It's a poignant moment, driven not by ego or the solving a diagnostic riddle, but by respect for one person’s desire to make his death meaningful.  House, who is often accused of not caring for anyone but himself and having no interest in a patient beyond solving a diagnostic puzzle, risks his career and his freedom by assisting the man’s suicide at a time when, had Detective Tritter found out, it would have ramped up House’s legal difficulties exponentially.

The second act of Season 3 also explores the value House places on being “normal,” picking up on a thread from “Lines in the Sand.” House decries being “inside the circle” and the “circle queens,” who endeavor to re-mold anyone “outside the circle” (as House sees himself) to fit inside it.  House appears to revel in his uniqueness, his outsider status a badge of honor.  In “Son of Coma Guy,” he romanticizes a Japanese Buraku (outcast) physician he knew as a kid living in Japan as his role model for becoming a doctor himself.

“Merry Little Christmas” is the first of several episodes where House helps give another outsider—another “freak” like him—the chance of a normal life.  And it becomes clearer and clearer that this is something House seeks for himself.  This theme echoes the Season 2 finale, “No Reason,” in which House ultimately decides to risk his genius for a “normal” life.   The encounter with Tritter (and the nearly tragic events of “Merry Little Christmas”) lead to House’s voluntary stay in a drug rehab program.  But we are led to assume, by House’s own words, that neither rehab nor his brush with the law have any effect on the good doctor.

The Tritter arc bridges to Act III with “One Day One Room,” which contradicts the assumption that House was left unchanged by his encounter with Detective Tritter.  I think rehab put House in a particularly vulnerable emotional place, despite his best efforts.  And it is at this vulnerable time that Eve, a young rape victim, enters into his sphere.  She simply “wants to talk”  to House – and only to House.  But he resists connecting with her, questioning why she would even want to connect with him, until he can no longer push back.  And when she wears down his resistance, getting deeply under his skin, House reveals to her that he had been physically (and probably emotionally) abused by his marine pilot father.

Although being an abuse survivor doesn’t come close to fully explaining House's motivations, personality, or behavior, it does begin to explain why he so very much needs to be in control of his out-of-control life. I believe that he had never told anyone about the abuse until that moment in a room with a stranger. That, of course, is part of House’s MO: revealing things about himself to perfect strangers (and to us, the viewers) rather than risk doing so to those who know him the best.

Act III—Baby Steps. After the heaviness of the first two acts, we get the humor of “Needle in a Haystack” before embarking once again on House’s journey to “normal.”  We get hints in “Insensitive” and “Half-Wit” that House is doing a lot of reading about experimental pain management – something to help himself. Wilson believes that House is depressed and needs to begin to reach out to people, rather than relying on drugs and the faint hope of healing himself through radical, experimental, and dangerous procedures.  “It will shorten your life,” Wilson tells House in “Insensitive,” regarding an experimental treatment for pain.  “Shorter but normal,” House retorts.

But in “Fetal Position,” we do witness House begin to reach out, take baby steps.   Back in “One Day One Room” House had revealed to Wilson (and to the rape victim) that he visits a jogging park (even though he can no longer run) to “watch and imagine.”  In “Fetal Position,” more of his torn inner life is revealed.  House makes plans for a vacation that someone in his physical condition cannot possibly take with ease:  The Galapagos Islands, Vancouver Island, the Andes.  He imagines, he desires.  But to actually do would require bigger steps towards change than he is emotionally able, or willing, to make.

Act IV—Resignation. Season 3’s final act is fueled by Foreman’s decision that he has no stomach for House’s game.  He sees himself in House (I don’t, but, hey, I’m only a fan) and doesn’t like what he sees: a cold, misanthropic, unemotional machine.  No heart; no soul.   Meanwhile, House continues his baby steps towards change. Whether they are fueled by the antidepressants Wilson was surreptitiously slipping him for at least one or two episodes, who knows? But House allows himself the pleasure of a young woman’s company and an ongoing flirtation with Cuddy, something he would have never done two years ago, or even one year ago.  Our change-averse, out of control doctor has edged closer and closer to becoming part of society.

Then, in the finale, House does something we’ve never seen him do: kick back and relax with a patient’s spouse.  The scene towards the end of the episode perfectly bookends the season premiere, in which House had nearly forced himself to spend time with his family, trying awkwardly to access his own humanity.  As he told Wilson, “I didn’t even know how I was supposed act.”  But in the finale, he has, in the end, resolved that issue, as he enjoys tequila and cigars with the patient’s husband, keeping watch on the man’s recovering wife.

This would not be a review of mine if I didn't make special note of the extraordinary Mr. Hugh Laurie, OBE.  His portrayal of one of the most prickly and difficult characters ever written for network television is breathtaking in every episode.  He is a joy to watch as he deftly tells House’s story.  He so completely embodies the character, and is so completely in the moment in every scene, that every episode is simply a master's master class. Three words to conclude: buy it. Today.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • Blech

    Love the show, the acting the DVDs and the CD, but what has happened to the usual blogcritic? This article is all over the place. I cannot figure what she is trying to say. Please go back to the old format.

  • marie

    I thought this review was terrific ,its exactly the way I saw it unfold as the season progressed , I picked up from the original veiwing …week to week … all of what you saw and more, I particularly agree with the last paragraph about Hughs acting ,…. the whole House personna is believable because of Hughs incredible portayal week after week ….great review , thankyou.

  • http://bofflebobbie_at_earthlink.net BoffleB.

    As ever, Barbara, I like your ideas and most thoroughly agree with your assessment of the extraordinary Mr. Laurie. It is a devastating, meticulous and moving portrayal every time and in every scene. Someone once said to me, how are we supposed to believe House can juggle, deliver medical jargon in a foreign accent, interact with the rest of the cast and convincingly diagnose a patient? Well, you just saw Hugh Laurie do all of that: guess both actor and character are geniuses at their craft!

    Just one thought, though: I do wonder if you should spoiler alert the beginning of your article for anyone who might not have seen some part of season three?

    Congrats on your new gig!

  • http://community.livejournal.com/house_reviews Barbara Barnett

    Hi Boffle,

    I’m glad you found me over here. And thanks for the suggestion about placing a spoiler warning.

  • hl_lover

    Sasmom,
    You have accurately captured in your review the meticulous planning that must go into each season of ‘House’ by its writers and executive producers.
    As most House fans know, David Shore, creator and executive producer, once compared the journey of understanding the complex psyche of Gregory House to the peeling of an onion, each layer slowly removed (and occasionally bringing one to tears in the process!) to reveal a bit more about this most fascinating of TV characters.
    Each mini-arc within each season gives us a bit more to ponder, another piece of the puzzle, and you have described these mini-arcs and puzzle pieces brilliantly!

  • Nancy

    Very good review.
    HATED the Tritter arc….HATED.
    LOVE Hugh Laurie.
    He is AMAZING!!
    Enjoying season 4 very much so far.
    I like the older guy who really isn’t a dr.
    I wish they would keep him.

  • NLP

    I’m surprised your somewhat-comprehensive review of House’s life & growth throughout the 3rd season mentions all his interactions with various women — except for Cameron. Her interactions with him have affected his life changes too. And leaving all else aside, that kiss said a lot.

  • http://community.livejournal.com/house_reviews Barbara Barnett

    There was so much going on in that episode (Half-Wit)that I thought it all pretty much eclipsed Cameron’s kiss (and House’s return of said kiss.) I took that kiss as Cameron trying to distract House in order to get the blood. House, wary at first of even returning the kiss, gave in (I think he would have done the same thing had it been Cuddy or any other female, for what it’s worth,) only to have his wariness proven correct. Cameron says to House “you kissed back.” But I don’t think that the kiss was any more than returning the kiss of an attractive female to whom he was physically attracted. But, as pretty much everything in House, it’s open to interpretation.

    Barbara

  • NLP

    I’m surprised your somewhat-comprehensive review of House’s life & growth throughout the 3rd season mentions all his interactions with various women — except for Cameron. Her interactions with him have affected his life changes too. And leaving all else aside, that kiss said a lot

  • denise

    sasmom, wonderful review as are all your comments.
    my Hugh love knows no bounds. this man is an outstanding talent!!!!!! and the joy of watching him work (or play musical instruments) is heaven for me!

  • http://community.livejournal.com/house_reviews Barbara Barnett

    Denise–Thanks. I am really looking forward to seeing where the season and the character are headed. I feel that we are in a bit of a transitional period right now for all of the characters. You will get no argument from me regarding the amazing Mr. Laurie!

    barbara

  • Mary

    Thanks for this insightful analysis of the various arcs of the third season. As somebody else’s comment noted, the writers on “House M.D.” must put an incredible amount of thought into planning the way in which we are learning, episode by episode, about the layers of this unforgettable and oddly admirable character.

    But what we learn of him is not just in the renowned witty dialogue, but in silent moments when we can observe House reacting with his eyes and body language to what he has just experienced. For example, after That Kiss in “Half-Wit,” there’s a shot of him in his office where he touches his lips with his fingers, as if he were trying to analyze what he had just experienced there. In “Fetal Position,” after the fetal hand-to-House’s-finger contact, when he goes home on “vacation,” we see him once again brushing his fingertips together in a contemplative way.

    I don’t know if these silent meaningful moments came from the script, the direction provided, or just come from Mr. Laurie’s actor’s instincts, but they are part of what makes “House M.D.” a must-watch program for me. By must-watch I mean I actually watch every single moment of it, looking for those silent clues to House’s character. Having Season Three on DVD means that I get to enjoy them over again.

  • nickel

    I just re-watched Family and realized that Foreman is EXACTLY what he thinks that House is. (Thinks is the important term here). However Foreman’s narrow-minded judgment makes him a miserable person. Foreman refuses to learn anything from his mistakes, doesn’t gather information for later use, doesn’t put his patient above himself or allow the possibility that anyone else could be right. Foreman wants so much to be a “World Famous Diagnostician”, but unfortunately he is either too stupid or too cowardly to recognized his own reality. He wants House’s fame, but doesn’t have the medical chops to pull it off. He would probably be a good Neurologist, but he will NEVER be even a mediocre Diagnostician. This episode also makes me realize that Wilson is a terrible patient advocate, as he also puts his own feelings ahead of the patient’s. If I needed to make a life or death decision I would certainly hope that my Doctor has the BALLS to tell me which decision I should make, since he/she went to medical school and all…….

  • nickel

    I also have one more question…since when did revealing someone else’s medical information (Half-Wit) or dosing someone with anti-depressants (without their knowledge) become ethical behavior?

  • http://barbarabarnett.com Barbara Barnett

    I agree, Nickel, that Wilson has not always been House’s best ally, but House clearly loves him (platonically, IMHO) and seems always to forgive him. I think some of that has to do with H’s self-esteem, but part of is that in some ways, Wilson does understand and accept him–although not in all ways.