Kath Lingenfelter has been writing for House, M.D. since last season. She wrote “You Must Remember This,” and then with long-time House scribe Peter Blake wrote the controversial season seven finale. Active on Twitter, she is known to be accessible to fans. I interviewed her twice last season, and earlier this week, we chatted by phone the other day in advance of her next episode, the mid-season premiere “Better Half,” which premieres Monday night at 8:00 p.m. ET on FOX.
We discussed everything from goings on in the writers’ room on House to what to expect for each of the characters over the next few months—as well as the long hiatus and the fate of the series. She also revealed (in what I believe is a Blogcritics scoop) that an upcoming episode will be directed by actor/director Peter Weller (yes, he of Robocop fame). All of these topics are on for Monday night’s post-episode LiveChat Event, which follows the East Coast airing of House, M.D.
Spoilerphobes beware. There are some mild spoilers ahead for “Better Half” and other upcoming episodes, so consider yourselves warned!
“Better Half” tackles the subject of early onset Alzheimer’s and its effect on a marriage. Lingenfelter explained that she “had had an idea,” for another episode on memory. You might recall that her first House episode “You Must Remember This” also explored the nature of memory, and centered around a woman who remembered everything. Lingenfelter explained that she’s always had a “deep fascination with the human brain,” so it made some sense to go back to that subject, this time dealing with memory loss—Alzheimer’s disease.
To prepare for the episode, Lingenfelter researched what “it’s like for the family when a loved one has Alzheimer’s—specifically, early onset Alzheimer’s.” Noting that the youngest reported case of early onset Alzheimer’s was a 17-year-old patient, she explained that while the disease mainly affects people in their 50s and 60s, it can happen much younger, even those in their 30s.
Although “Better Half’s” patient of the week is a man with early onset Alzheimer’s, “the story more or less is about his wife and what it’s like for her. Is it fair for her to give up her dreams of having a family, of having children? You know,” she added, the wife is “still very young. So, does she deserve to have a ‘normal’ life?” Should she put her husband in a facility and move on?
Lingenfelter noted that, “the wife is the husband’s caregiver, and it made me want to examine partnerships, relationships, and kind of their yin yang. A lot of times, we look at two people who are together and think, ‘that is the most dysfunctional, terrible situation.’” On the other hand, when you take a closer look, she believes, you realize that they actually balance each other. “There’s a force greater than them that keeps them together and it actually works and it’s beautiful.”
For Lingenfelter, that notion immediately brings to mind the relationship between House (Hugh Laurie) and best friend Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard). On the face of it, she suggested, they “don’t seem healthy for each other, but I tried to come up with a B story that suggests that, no, actually, they’re perfect for each other.”
So, “Better Half” explores the House-Wilson dynamic, but, as Lingenfelter noted, “not in any kind of agonizing, gut wrenching, super emotional way.” Although, she teased, “those episodes might be coming. I think House/Wilson shippers will enjoy the episode.”
Lingenfelter mentioned that while writing the script, a bit of real life intersected with the story when someone called into televangelist Pat Robertson’s television show, asking these same questions. Robertson’s response got him into some hot water with the press by suggesting that Alzheimer’s is like a kind of death, and that it would be okay to divorce a loved one under those circumstances. “The press ran away with it,” said Lingenfelter.