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House, M.D.: Did Season Five Deliver?

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I was cleaning out my computer files the other day and came across my season five wish list, published in this space last August. As season five was three weeks away, I made public my hopes for the season to come. Those of you who read this column regularly know that I felt season five was one of the series’ strongest overall.

With the Emmy nominations just a few weeks away, I’m hoping the series—and its star Hugh Laurie—will be honored not only with more nominations, but with a few statues during the September ceremony. But more about that next week. For now, I want to revisit that wish list, for it explains in large degree why I really loved season five as so many of my hopes for the season were fulfilled (to greater or lesser degrees). The show went way beyond my expectations, especially with the season's final arc leading to House's breakdown. So, here's what I asked for last August:

More introspective and thoughtful House.  I had been disappocourtesy FOXFlashinted with the degree to which those introspective moments had been lost during the overcrowded (and shortened) fourth season. At the end of season four, when I interviewed executive producer/writers Garrett Lerner and Russel Friend, they assured me we’d see a more introspective House at least for the first ten or so episodes already planned out by last May. They weren’t kidding. It is in those moments we witness House’s humanity (even when no one in his own universe gets the privilege). In season five, we got lots of reflective moments, moments of great emotion.

More clinic moments.  I love the clinic “beats." They lighten up even the darkest and most serious episodes as well as House's own moodiness. I felt that season four also sacrificed these important moments, needed to balance the inherent comedy and tragedy of the series. Something else Lerner and Friend had told me was that we would get more of these in season five, as the writers also missed those "clinic beats."

Unfortunately, we got very few clinic patients in season five; on the other hand, they were excellent, even classic. Of course, there was the unforgettable DeeDee, the "actress" who outed Kutner's Internet scheme to profit from House's name and reputation. Although she wasn't technically a clinic patient, she did end up there. Her rendition of Harry Nilsson's "Coconut" song was a highlight of the season (if not the entire series). The two patients House saw in "Softer Side" were also pretty memorable, especially the guy who "hurt everywhere," and Cuddy planted just to see if he would exercise House's sarcasm muscle. And the woman who had a unique method for administering her inhaler ranked right up there from "Jelly Girl" back in season two ("Deception"). And, of course, who can forget Carl Reiner's hysterical squawking man, whose story makes a 180-degree switchback to an incredibly poignant moment with House.  

An exploration of House and Wilson’s complex relationship.  I'm just going to quote what I said last August: "Way back in season one, Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) said that his friendship with House is an 'ethical responsibility.' Why?" 

Season five gave us some big clues about what he meant. As we learned about Wilson's schizophrenic brother Danny in "Social Contract" (who vanished after Wilson hung up the phone on him years earlier), it is easy to understand why courtesy FOXFlashWilson feels he has a responsibility towards the troubled House. Wilson must have a very deep fear that if he abandons House, he will simply disappear, if not physically, at least emotionally—or socially. Become the recluse we first met when the series began.  Also, as we learned in "Birthmarks," House bailed him out of jail when he was but a young doc. Perhaps he feels he "owes" House. Forever.

 "Where did Wilson and House meet; how did they become friends?"  I wondered how such different people could maintain such a close friendship. Is it only that Wilson "feeds on neediness," and that House is so needy? Well we certainly got the answer to both questions in season five. Of course, we discovered the House/Wilson "origin story" in "Birthmarks." And what an unexpected tale. Who would have thought that it was House who bailed the young and newly divorced Wilson out of jail after he instigated a fight in a bar?! And we, along with Wilson learned that it's not only House's neediness that feeds the friendship. Although Wilson took a hike after Amber's death (and in a rather cruel fashion), he finally realized in "Birthmarks" that House's energy, curiosity and general tendency towards entropy exhilarates Wilson, making his otherwise ordinary world come alive with all sorts of unanticipated delights.

An exploration of House and Cuddy’s layered and uniquely intimate relationship.  Noting that season four had ended with Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) sitting vigil at House's bedside in "Wilson's Heart," I wanted to see where the House/Cuddy relationship would travel in season five. This wish was also granted as much of the season focused on their dysfunctional relationship. House and Cuddy acourtesy FOXFlashre both wary, socially awkward individuals. They each made tentative steps towards each other, but were quick to scuttle them, deny them…or simply play them out only in their heads, being too apprehensive to actually do something about their feelings for each other. Cuddy finally got her baby, and House eventually resigned himself to it, despite feeling threatened by this monumental change in Cuddy's life. And they came this close to finally getting together. But I'm satisfied and look forward to a time when House, recovered from this year's ordeal might feel safe to place another hesitant foot in the relationship waters.

A real place for Chase and Cameron.  I think they're getting there (finally). I really enjoyed the Cameron/Chase story arc: Cameron's (Jennifer Morrison) cold feet and Chase's (Jesse Spencer) almost-sappy romanticism. Starting back in season three with Chase's every-Tuesday "I like you" to Cameron (how very Lord Peter Wimsey!), we witnessed a classic courtship.

How far Chase hascourtesy FOXFlash come from the spoiled, insolent brat he was in the first season! And Cameron, an naïf with a crush in season one, has matured into an independent, and strong minded woman. Yes, she has issues (who doesn't on this show?); but I thought Cameron's reasons for wanting to hold onto her dead husband's sperm was bizarre, but made a sort of sense for the character. Did we get enough Chase and Cameron in season five? No. I think the many pages of scripts dedicated to 13 and Foreman made created a lopsided, elevating them to near co-star status for several episodes late last fall. I would have liked to see more from Chase and Cameron earlier on in the season, and much less of "Fore-teen." I did, however, adore the joy of their wedding poignantly intercut with the tragedy of House's journey to Mayfield.  

Something for Foreman to do other than sneer at House. Yes. Foreman (Omar Epps) had way too much screen time. But it was almost worth it to see him get his comeuppance. House did a nice thing for Foreman, pushing him out of the nest. (And it extracted that great comment from Wilson about House's seldom-acknowledged nobility streak!) But Foreman's arrogance did him in—and almost caused him to lose his medical license—with the Huntington's Disease clinical trial.

Continue the building of the new characters.  I ventured a hope that we'd learn more about them, and the writers and "powers that be" would give them a chance to grow—and grow on us. We learned more about 13's (Olivia Wilde) family history with Huntington's and her self-destructive streak. And we saw her become involved with Foreman, and have her career saved by House. (Yes, I know. The show devoted waaaay too much time to her story line.) We also learned more about Taub (Peter Jacobson), who remains enigmatic and conflicted about being stuck in House's mad scientist's world, while being ever-more drawn in by the sort of work (and the immense good) they do. Kutner's (Kal Penn)shocking suicide elicited such a reaction from the show's fans, it's clear that he'd become much beloved.  His tragic end drove the final story arc of the season, driving House off the deep end.

And a bit of (non-spoilery) news for next season: it has been reported by Entertainment Weekly's Michael Ausiello that the first episode will run two hours (first time for this show) and will be directed by Katie Jacobs, who directed the fabulous "Half-Wit," "Wilson's Heart," "Last Resort").

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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.
  • nno13

    Yes, I think season 5 delivered in every way. Would I change a few things? Perhaps. Perhaps less 13 (she never grabbed my attention). But as far as House as a character goes, hugh gave the performances of a lifetime, especially in the last few episodes. They have set the bar up even higher and will hopefully deliver next season. They are at a turning point in the sense that they have brought House along so far that they cannot ditch the momentum and go back to the calculated cases. I would not want to be in their seats….the pressure! My hope for season 6: more House, Cuddy, Wilson scenes. Those are my favorite. Till September!!!

  • nno13

    by they way, first to comment? Never happened before….haha Love you barbara!!!

  • Sera G

    Hi, Barabara!
    I didn’t comment on your last column. Other posters were far more articulate than I could have been, or stated my feelings. No need for redundency.
    I enjoyed this opportunity to look back. I agree with all that you said. This was an amazingly cohesive, intense and pivotal season. Much character growth with emerge from it. I hope.
    It has been a joy watching Cameron/Chase grow and mature. Perhaps, as I have said before, they hold a special place in my heart because I grew to know and care about them when House did. I am so pleased that DS allowed their relationship to mature and not stay stuck in the Tuesday ‘date’ or break them up over and over or even worse, have Cameron “work her way through all of them eventually.” Foreman is ok. Never my favorite, but too much time devoted to his relationship with 13. That feels like such a contrived storyline. I would rather the time be devoted to Chase/Cameron’s developing love. I adored Kutner. He soon grew on me. His childlike view of the world and out of the box thinking were delightful. He will be missed. Taub is on his way to being a more fully realized character. I am more content with the fellows at this stage of the show than I was mid-season 4.
    What can I say about House/Cuddy. I love their every interaction; fighting, flirting, comforting, almost coming together as a couple. They can do it all! Fox/DS have an amazing team with those two. Here’s hoping more (positive) progress is ahead in season 6.
    House and Wilson…I can’t say it any more completely, than you did.

    Thank you, again, for this wonderful space.
    Have a great summer, looking forward to what you have planned.
    Hope all events in the real world are happy, too.

    I am thoroughly enjoying “Cabbages and Kings.” Can’t you write any faster?
    This must be how the Victorians felt waiting for Dickens’ next installment!

  • Pedantic

    Thanks for the review, Barbara. It was nice to see that many of your wishes for Season 5 were realized.

    It will be interesting to see how each of the ducklings is used Season 6. Will we actually see more of Chase and Cameron? Will we see as much of Foreman and Thirteen? What about Taub? How will the differentials pan out in the first few episodes? Who will be participating in them? Who will be running them?

    Then there’s Wilson and Cuddy. Season 5 was bookended with statements which challenged the very core of House’s relationships with the two most important people in his life. In the first episode, Wilson said, “We’re not friends anymore, House. I’m not sure we ever were.” Much of the early part of the season was spent exploring the nature of House and Wilson’s relationship and the mending of the rift between them. In the last episode, Cuddy said, “reaching the final straw has been a good thing, because it made me realize we not only don’t have a personal relationship — we never could.” It is my hope that some time in Season 6 will be spent getting beneath the surface of the awkward attempts by both House and Cuddy to reach out to the other, in order to take their relationship to the next level.

    And finally, there’s House. I’ll admit that I am anticipating seeing what the writers will do with House’s mental and physical health issues at the beginning of next season more than I’ve anticipated the opening of any other season. And it’s because it will be an exploration of what makes House tick. Any you have to admit that this would be the most interesting to House himself if he were watching the program. How meta!

    It’s not even July yet and I’m already salivating over the prospect of a two hour season premier. It makes sense, though, if you imagine that there will be a story arc to start at Mayfield and one to start at PPTH.

    Thanks again, Barbara, for this and all of your thoughtful insights into this fascinating television program.

  • http://twitter.com/enbeecee nc

    Barbara, I couldn’t agree with you more. Season 5 has been a high point in my all-time TV viewing. It’s a privilege to be part of the audience for work of this high quality.

    I hope TPTB at House continue to let their title character and his inner circle grow, both as individuals and together. IMHO, this series is making TV history, thanks its incredible actors as well as the high quality of its other formative aspects.

    Can’t wait to see what happens next. And if Emmy’s don’t abound, that will be a cruel slight to brilliant work.

    Oh, and happy birthday, Hugh Laurie!

  • Quin

    It’s always good to get your take on the show, Barbara.

    Season five was the season the show started to grow up. Some people have said the show needs to get back to the “classic” shows from seasons one – three, but if they had, the show would be very boring by now. The dynamics of naive Cameron, spoiled and self-centered Chase, and Foreman would have put us all to sleep if they had remained as they were in the beginning.

    In previous seasons the show had outside villains come into the hospital to plague House but season five has given House a villain more frightening than anything the world could throw at him, and that is a villain from within his own head with which he must do battle. I think the writers have set the show up for an amazing season six and I can’t wait to see it.

    As for Hugh Laurie as an actor, let me say this. Whether he is playing Bertie Wooster (my personal favorite), or the silly Prince of Wales, or Stuart Little’s sweet but nerdy dad, or an exasperated, acidic plane passenger or any of his other, wonderful characters, he always completely inhabits his characters. I think season six will stretch his acting abilities even more, and that we will be witness to world-class performances. I hope the rest of them can keep up.

  • Veresna

    Thank you again, Barbara. I hope you realize how wonderful it is to be able to fill the long hiatus months with your well-written and thoughtful essays.
    You know, on one of the House websites I often visit, the question of which episode or season is the best (or your favorite, which is not necessarily the same thing) comes up quite frequently. I always answer that if there were to be only one episode of House to be preserved for all time, it would have to be “Three Stories.” Allow two, and my second choice would be the Pilot. When people suggest other titles, I always admit to their greatness. But I respectively argue that we, as long-time viewers, are able to appreciate nuances and subtle character shadings in the newer episodes that would be completely lost on the casual or one-time viewer. The other side of the coin is that I do believe Season 5 was the most cohesive season yet, and that because of my existing mental and emotional investment in the series, the poignant punch of its episodes was multiplied immeasurably for me. After the disappointment of Season 4 (I confess that I still cannot sit and watch most of those episodes, House’s Head/Wilson’s Heart being the exceptional exception), I was especially thrilled how spectacular Season 5 was.
    Part of me still wonders, in retrospect, how much of Season 4’s mediocrity and Season 5’s brilliance was due to sheer serendipity. When I ponder the previous seasons’ arcs, I generally felt that they were good ideas that were not executed to their full potential. Vogler and Tritter? Both seemed attempts to give House a real nemesis to battle, and both arcs seemed to me both unnecessarily drawn-out and yet too abruptly concluded. (His real nemesis it seems? That little orange pill bottle that he thought was his friend) Stacy? For what we learned of House’s vast and but usually well-hidden romanticism, those episodes were invaluable, but watching it (as I did) on DVD, the pacing seems off, especially since for a great stretch of it there was a Stacy episode/non-Stacy episode dynamic. (All right, I must also confess that my Huddy side just did not see real sparks between House and Stacy, but I admit I am prejudiced.) And, again, the ending was sudden, unresolved and unsatisfactory to me (though I suppose it could be argued that it was meant to be, as it had the same effect on House, so perhaps it was strangely appropriate). The Season 4 Survivor arc? Well, I will charitably allow that the writer’s strike was a great detriment to the season, though I have to insist that it was drawn-out way too long and in the end not having a ‘master plan’ for who they were going to hire may have made it more interesting to the writers (and nail-biting for the actors) but it was way too meandering for the viewers. As much as I miss Kutner, I do think that Kal Penn’s departure was the lynchpin for this season, and that without it I don’t know how they could have built up to the emotional and evocative episodes that filled the final third of this season. So, an unexpected resignation and the uninterrupted filming from the end of Season 4 to the beginning of Season 5 (to try and minimize the effects of the possible actors’ strike) in the end helped to make this a great season.

    My hopes for Season 6? Well, I want Chase and Cameron to continue to be better integrated into the show, and can see several ways that could happen with House being at Mayfield for the beginning of the season. I also think they better figure out now if they are going to stick with the “fellowships last 3 years”, meaning will it be time for Taub and 13 to end their fellowships by the end of the year. And, if so, what in the heck are they going to do then? I’ll agree that Taub has become marginally more interesting, and that “Foreteen” ended up better than I expected. But the show is overcrowded now, so someone’s going to have to go before they bring three more new characters in, and I would have no problem saying goodbye to either of them.
    Let’s see, I also want House and Cuddy to get together in some shape or form, even if it is for one blissful night to be followed by recrimination, insubordination, and retaliation. In fact, I have to admit that with those two, watching the fall-out would be almost as great as watching the hook-up. Okay, and I hate myself for saying this: I want one of Rachel’s grandparents to decide they want to raise her, and prevent Cuddy from finalizing the adoption. Or, at the Season 6 finale we can have Cuddy going to Mayfield since she’s finally realized she’s actually been carrying around a doll that only marginally resembles a real baby. Sorry, as much as I was rooting for Cuddy to become a mom, and was devastated by “Joy”, the Rachel storyline has left me cold.
    Wilson? I want him to meet and marry Amber’s long-lost twin sister. Just kidding. But, with his romantic history, it seems like it’s more than time for him to be in a relationship again.
    Foreman? He can stay on as the “Foreman” for a new team, if they bring one in. Or move on with Taub and 13. I like Omar Epps and the character of Foreman more than some, it seems. But with Chase and Cameron relegated to only occasionally appearing in a handful of scenes, I think it’s unfair that he’s been allowed major storyline time that’s been denied to others.
    Music. I want more Hugh Laurie playing any instrument he wants and singing any song he desires. I would even vote-for the final season of House, which hopefully is many years away yet-for a fantasy, musical episode so that we could see the musical talents of some of the other cast members.
    Four is greater than six. Please, please, please let the stupid executives who decided they needed to insert more commercial breaks be persuaded that this show can go back to the four-act format. I know it was not the decision of anyone connected with the show, and the writers have gotten better at accommodating the demands of the six-act format, but it really is annoying!
    In the end? There’s lots of things that I could wish for. But as long as Hugh Laurie is on the screen, I will probably be mesmerized, no matter whether it’s comedy, drama, or House’s unique fusion of both.

  • Tourmaline

    Excellent article Barbara. I agree with you absolutely regarding Cameron and Chase growing as characters, it will be interesting to see how their relationship will be portrayed in Season 6. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing House’s reaction to their marriage – will they visit him at Mayfield I wonder?

    My other Season 6 wish will not come as a surprise, because it’s been discussed around the fandom considerably – but I would like to see Stephen Fry appear, possibly as his Bones character acting as Hugh’s psychiatrist. As a long-time Fry and Laurie fan I’d love to see them work together again, and to see them in ‘heavy’ drama – as opposed to the comedy-drama of Fortysomething or the light drama of Jeeves and Wooster. They’re both such wonderfully talented dramatic actors, this would be an excellent opportunity to pair them together in a high-drama setting.

  • pawpaw

    Ditto, Tormaline! I, too, would love Fry & Laurie work together on House. It would be awesome!

    As always Barbara, thanks for great review :)

  • Celaeno

    House is the first TV show I’ve ever loyally followed, and the depth of these characters continues to astound me. Sometimes I wonder if it’s even possible for Season 6 to measure up to Season 5 – but I have faith in the writers. IMHO, the show has gotten better and better with every year.

    Also, TWOHOURPREMIEREOMGOMGOMG!!