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.