House, M.D. Executive Producer/Writer Peter Blake has been with the series since the first season, and has written some of the series most acclaimed (and beloved) episodes. Most recently, Peter wrote the season premiere “Twenty Vicodin.” He kindly took the time to discuss the episode and season eight with me via email.
We find House (Hugh Laurie) several months in to his prison sentence at the beginning of “Twenty Vicodin.” With his usual attitude, how has he managed to survive so long there?
I figured there were two ways to look at this: mentally and physically. Mentally, he would have to occupy his mind or he’d go nuts. Hence the physics equations he’s scrawled on his cell wall (real physics equations, by the way, thanks to Risa Wechsler of Stanford University). Physically, he’d need some protection, or his big mouth would doom him. So we have House basically becoming the In-House (pun!) doctor for the “New Confederates,” a Neo-Nazi prison gang.
What brought him back to the U.S. from Fiji (or wherever he was)?
We don’t say in the premiere, although we get into this a little more (at least implicitly) in episode two.
Why no lawyer? Does that speak to House’s feelings regarding the events of “Moving On?” Does he feel he deserves to be in prison? Despite his sarcasm to the parole board, does he feel remorse for what he did?
I don’t like to talk about the characters’ motivations, but when [Jessica] Adams [played by Odette Annable] finds out that House represented himself in court (and presumably took the first deal they offered), her theory is that it was because he felt so guilty for driving into Cuddy’s home. For more insight into what House’s state of mind, I’d also note the speech he gives about people who are in prison versus those on the outside.
Speaking of the Season seven finale, I know you guys were a bit taken aback by the negative reaction from some of the fan community. Is that something that factored into the premiere’s opening scene? Were you speaking to the fans through House?
In our mind’s eye, the finale showed House acting out and doing something destructive, but it was mainly self-destructive. Or at least, inanimate-object-destructive. We thought it was clear that he wasn’t aiming at any human being, but instead at an empty room. Greg Yaitanes shot what was on the page and we think he did a great job with it. And that was the reception the script—and the different cuts of the finished product—got from everyone at the show, the studio, the network. Lots of people read and saw it, no one had any problem with it, and no one thought House’s actions were beyond the pale.
That said, when some in the audience started asking whether House had lost his mind or gone homicidal, we rewatched the cut and were like: yeah, that’s not an unreasonable assumption. And we could understand why some fans’ feelings were hurt.
On top of that, it was very unfortunate that the finale was followed by Lisa Edelstein’s departure from the show. When we wrote the finale, we assumed she was coming back; we were stunned when she didn’t. And I think her leaving negatively and regretfully colored some fans’ reactions to the finale. So in retrospect, I wish we’d written or edited it to make it clearer that House wasn’t trying to injure anyone.
And yes, we did pay attention to what our viewers were saying on blogs and on Twitter. And we did in fact try to address some specific questions that fans asked when we wrote House’s speech to the parole board.
All that said, whether you think House’s parole board speech is right or wrong, or honest or dishonest, is a different matter. It should be up to the viewer to decide.
I believe I read somewhere that you’re a lawyer like David Shore (and that you attended Harvard Law School–impressive). Was your knowledge of the criminal justice system useful for this episode? Did you pull anything from your legal background while constructing the script?
I wish; if I had, it would have been easier to write. (I did graduate from law school but never practiced.)
Some fans have suggested that Adams’ notion about House not really deserving to be in prison is untrue, and that it’s likely that House wouldn’t even still have his medical license. Can you explain Adams’ statement? In real life would they have locked House up and thrown away the key?
Not according to the research we did. House had no priors, and he aimed his car at a room that everyone had just left. No one inside the house was injured. It certainly was reckless behavior, but it would be very hard to prove he was intentionally trying to hurt anyone. In fact, one lawyer we spoke to thought House wouldn’t do any time at all. So we embraced that and made it a plot point about his lawyer or lack thereof. Hence Adams’ theory about why House ended up serving time.
The dynamics between House and the prisoners in “Twenty Vicodin” is completely different than anything else we’ve seen in the first seven years of the series. In “Broken,” for example, although House is “locked up” in a way, he’s still the charismatic leader of the gang. That’s not the case in this episode. Was that a goal of this episode–to explore the character in a relatively hostile environment?
Well, the main reason we set it in prison is because he had driven his car into Cuddy’s house. We always knew he would have to pay some price for what he did, though the specific form of his punishment was up in the air when we started writing season eight.
Also, I hadn’t thought of House as a charismatic leader in “Broken.” I’d guess he felt like he was in a very hostile environment at Mayfield (although I’d also guess most of the hostility came from House himself.)
But yeah, we did want to put him in a new environment, and a scarier one. It was just interesting for us to wonder what he would be like in a place where he has almost no power and where his lack of respect for authority could cause him real problems. It’s always fun to throw House into new situations and see if he survives, flourishes or fails miserably.
I find it interesting that House still has his Vicodin. Obviously his pain needs to be treated, and, to me, a rationed supply of Vicodin makes sense. Why no detox and no forced psychiatric treatment as part of his sentence?
The research we did said that House would continue on with pain meds, even in prison. But more generally, we thought that we’d already dealt with House’s addiction and psychiatric issues enough for now. It’s important to us to deal with his addiction honestly, but that doesn’t mean we have to do it constantly.
Any other “out of the box” episodes planned yet for this season, where the series steps out of its usual structure?
We have a couple of interestingly structured eps planned for midseason. I shouldn’t say more because they’re at the very early stages and if we don’t end up doing them, it’ll disappoint the fans.
I know there is a lot of speculation about whether this will be the last season. Whose hands is it in at this point? When do you think you will know? I would imagine that in order to plan the second half of season eight, you’d need to know fairly soon?
David Shore will meet with the network and with Hugh sometime after we start airing to start deciding this. Cross your fingers.
Most long-time fans miss those great clinic beats. Will we see more of those this season?
Absolutely! We want to do more of them ourselves.
The original name for the episode, you said on Twitter was “Dark Matter.” Why the change? And what, other than the obvious, does the title signify for the episode or House?
I wanted this episode to feel different from other episodes (especially “Broken,” since they both deal with confinement.) More like a thriller. And “Dark Matter” felt like a thriller-y title. And the episode certainly dealt with dark matters. But I just ended up liking “Twenty Vicodin” more: it’s more evocative, given House’s history. And I also felt “Twenty Vicodin” better reflected the quest-like nature of the storyline. (I actually asked people on twitter to guess what it meant and had fun retweeting the results. One person in France basically got it right.)
Can we expect to see major storylines for some of the other characters? Taub and his quartet of two ladies and two new babies? Chase? Foreman?
Yes, yes, yes and yes.
Last question: Can you divulge the titles and writers of the next several episodes?
I can divulge the writers:
Episode two: Liz Friedman and David Foster
Episode three: Sara Hess
Episode four: Seth Hoffman
Episode five: John Kelley
Episode six: Eli Attie
Episode seven: David Hoselton
Episode eight: Tommy Moran
A new episode of House (“Transplant”) airs Monday, October 10 at 9:00 p.m. ET on FOX.