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Interview with House, M.D. Writer/Producer Kath Lingenfelter

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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.

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.
  • maria-eleni

    • 99 – Oversimplified

    “As a general response to a few of your comments I appreciate what you said about House connecting with the hookers he sees in a sense they won’t judge him….”

    I am honestly so disappointed!
    How can you appreciate any of my comments? I definitely did not mean that H. connects with hookers because they won’t judge him. After all he couldn’t care less about anybody’s judgment with very few exceptions; it is one of his major character traits.
    What I have said is:
    72-maria-eleni :“As for hookers, they are persons not objects to him with whom he has professional transactions, like say with a florist. He also becomes friendly with some of them. Clearly he shares a bond with them as he perceives himself to be a social pariah as they are.”
    80-maria-eleni :“He is also socialising with them outside their professional transactions which illustrates that they are not objects but people for him. And he definitely prefers them to his socially equals, he likes low-life characters, (and I repeat myself here) that is how he sees himself: socially inept and unacceptable. The patients with whom he had the best rapport were mostly social outcasts. For me, the most lovable quality of H.”

    For all that my favorite seasons are the first three, quite frankly I find your statement: “In the past couple of years they’ve reduced the whole hooker strand of the show to a straight-forward means of objectifying whatever pretty young actresses they’ve cast for the role.” dangerously close to prejudice.
    In the past few years I mainly saw hookers in “Out of the Chute”. Of course they had to be pretty and there was no reason to flesh them out. The hooker who brought the middle aged woman patient to the hospital had to be developed as she was a major part of the story and a parallel to H.; someone who tries to keep his distance but who eventually cares.
    As for the hooker playing Virgin Mary, how was she fleshed out? Mostly because of the actress’s mischievous smile and the response/chemistry with GH/HL.
    Domenika has not the physical traits that attract me but I could not dislike her, even though I have several friends whose marriages broke up (not mine) because of eastern European women seeking “white” (and not so white) marriages since my country became an EU member. In my experience the naïve ones to be pitied are mostly the men but at the same time a lot of these women are very much like Domenika: Pretty, likable, serious in their profession and not hookers.
    No way do I see how you can classify her as “a pretty, naïve, vulnerable tool”. She knows quite well what she is doing and at the end she is the one who makes a pass to H. who rejects her!
    She also tries to insinuate herself in his circle: pedicures, including Taub in the marriage ceremony… Does she know about Cuddy? Could be: H. does not exactly hide that he was “dumped” and he is not above playing the “I am to be pitied” card. And she very much enjoys his pranks! As for vulnerability/naivety, wwwwell, she went off to her “honeymoon” with her boyfriend, something that did not bother H. at all.
    All in all she is quite a character though a cliché, but a realistic one. She is using H. as much as he uses her.
    Finally (am I not argumentative!), where is it said that he obliged Cuddy to go to the wedding? I rather think she did it to show strength and disengagement in the same way more or less that she had an affair with Lucas. As for the chapel ceremony, Cuddy initially gave her permission to atone for her guilt; Wilson had to come out and bring her to her senses.
    Wilson was also rather impressed by H.’s “financial calculations” in connection to the marriage, he totally bought it: H. found a way to both to wound Cuddy and make a profit out of it!

  • maria-eleni

    @91 – BrokenLeg

    I do not know if this will get posted on time. Internet has broken down because of electricity failure. Since summer when we had the great tragedy that destroyed the main electricity plant in Cyprus (in addition to the loss of lives) we suffer these failures regularly.

    So nice to finally agree! This dialectike is great.

    Unfortunately, there is a point where I need to give my antithesis to your thesis. It can be applied to the GH/LC relationship. Doubly in fact. Both being “screwed up” or “hurt”, how could they manage to succeed?
    Possibly only by tolerance, but I am not going to go on and on about who mainly lacked tolerance.

    It is evident that I am one of those who did not dislike the way TPTB portrayed this pairing probably because I am as cynical as they are.
    Toothbrushes and toilet seats were symbolic of how GH resisted domesticity but finally tried to give in, whereas Cuddy is seen through his eyes to be the one laying down the laws as would a mother figure.
    Unfortunately I found them charming as long as they were not a couple. As a couple naturally they were angst-ridden: they know they shall fail. But I admire them for having the courage to try. At the end of it I cannot blame either of them for failing as the seeds of failure were in the nature of their attraction. Sexual chemistry is one thing, great for a light affair but these two are too intense for it. Cuddy was for H. a mother figure who supported and nourished him in a kind of rebirth after his misfortune generating mixed feelings of gratitude and resentment for his dependency on her. He does not seem to blame her for the operation, he reserves that for Stacy. For Cuddy, guilt is mixed with suppressed motherhood, admiration for his capabilities, and distaste for his addictive personality and social ineptness.
    None of these are addressed between them to help put their relation in a sane mould. You blame TPTB for this. I find it realistic: H. and Cuddy were never the kind who would sit down to mull over their psychological failings. We are the ones who love doing this! Furthermore the show has very few scenes where such discussions take place. They depend on inference after what is unfolding and on HL’s expressions!

    I can bend my knee up to 115 º!!!

  • BrokenLeg

    95@Christopher Rose
    Thanks for your answer. It assures me I’m not a completely fool!!

    96@maria eleni &97@spitza
    Thank you both! I’ve believed it was some puzzle to be solved!

    99@Oversimplified
    Thanks for your kind words. I’m proud to “share” my brain with you (even if it sounds a little “Dr. Frankenstein’s words”…) I like and use to share things with dear people ( ep!,not my motorcycle), so, why not my brain?:))
    Seriously, I’m sure we share opinions in many, many things, as I have found in almost all your posts in this blog. Agreed, and also tired, about DS “the mantra” : it’s simply untrue. Not only it’s an odd assertion to an atheist like GH, it’s against all the rules of the nature. All living beings change: they evolve, adapt themselves to environment, mutate if necessary. Evolution patterns let failures, let be able to fall and get up, do one step backwards to be able to do two ones forward. And also do human beings. Let everyone of us exam our own life: being essentially the same, we all have changed a lot.
    And I did not know that “they got slapped wrists from the drug company over the summer (hence the fewer mentions of the drug this season)” as you said. It must be a consequence of the last episodes of the seven season, with the hookers and Vicodin festival, that ended parking inconveniently one’s car in other’s dinning room ( and without appearing as an undesired secondary effect….)

    101@maria eleni
    As always we friendly disagree. BTW, how are your knee doing?

  • BrokenLeg

    102@maria eleni
    Almost always disagreeing ( although I agree with you about HL’s great acting and expressions..) to me TPTB and writers lost an opportunity to explore two rich, but screwed up characters in an adult relationship, really trying to improve it. And lost an opportunity to “mull them over their psychological failings”, making both of them grow as human beings.
    Do you use the Kinetic knee machine? Enjoy the torture!!!

  • isabelle Hevras

    Hello everyone,

    There was a holy trinity in House, House Wilson and Cuddy although the main character was House of course.
    WIth the departure of Cuddy, balance has been lost.
    I read somewhere that House and Cuddy could be compared to Heathcliff and Cathy in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. It made me feel funny because I had thought about that comparison myself, some days before.
    . Some moments between Edelstein and Laurie were of a rare intensity and their performance was of the finest kind.They were moments that had a life of their own and revealed something of the character’s soul, some moments of vision ( epiphanies)
    I’m still amazed by what the actors did of those moments.
    The loss of Cuddy doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t mean they have to be lovers again, it means she has to be here somehow.
    In Wuthering Heights, Cathy’s disappearance was the end of Heathcliff.
    That might indeed be the same for House.
    She’s not just one love among others for
    I know not everyone shares my point of view but I felt like expressing it.
    Best regards
    Isabelle

  • Paul

    I know that I am late with this comment. I think that House just used Domenica just to hurt Cuddy not as a slave. I think she did all of the other things (rubbing feet, fixing the tv, playing ping pong) to thank House for helping her stay in the country. I think the fact that we havent seen her since that episode proves that.

  • Maria-Eleni

    @ 105 – isabelle Hevras

    In a trinity the three members are equals. So from the moment you accept there is a main character there is no trinity.
    The creators always stressed that the inspiration for [H] was Sherlock Holmes. And he had one friend Watson =Wilson. So by their own definition there is no Trinity, holy (I can imagine H. cracking a joke here) or otherwise. In a show like [H] where the protagonist is there for 30 solid minutes and Wilson and Cuddy for about five and sometimes even less or not at all, it boggles the mind to envisage it as a “trinity”. Even the “cottages” often have more screen time than those two.
    Undeniably RSL and LE have their own very considerable share in the success of [H], but so do JM, JS, etc. Note that in an interview RSL stated that the Watson to H.’s Holmes was actually his fellows not Wilson.

    [H] is either a pyramid, or, even better, a solar system. H. is the sun and everybody else is orbiting around him. (I made myself laugh here.)
    Wilson is definitely the larger planet with a stable magnetic field that compliments the sun/H.’s. Planet/Cuddy has a fluctuating importance and her magnetic field interferes with that of the sun/H.’s creating disturbances. Well, planet/Cuddy has disintegrated and there are severe repercussions to the solar system/[H] but it is still in existence and it seems that the other planets continue to orbit around the sun/H.!!! But every sun has a lifespan and when it disappears, hopefully with a “bang”, it will pull in its vortex the whole system. But the imprint of a vanished sun can still be seen and influence its surroundings. (I am still laughing.)

    It is your loss if your revelation for H.’s soul depends on the moments between H. and Cuddy which admittedly were excellently performed. H. emotional depths are mostly revealed through interactions with those of his patients that he connects with. And although Huddy has clouded many minds, it was actually the Stacy arc that defined these hidden depths and thus contributed to the shows immense success. Unfortunately the Huddy arc is linked to the show’s diminishing popularity.

    No way is [H] comparable to Wuthering Heights. That is a morbid tale of revenge and consuming obsession interpreted as “love”. [H] although a product of popular culture is a lot more diverse and layered, mainly because of the complexity of H. who is nothing like Heathcliff.
    Heathcliff is defined by a single goal for revenge and his love for Catherine might have been a redeeming quality if it did not lead him to more hate and revenge even against Catherine’s innocent daughter.
    H. is also obsessive, but his obsessions (search for truth and being right) have a certain purity and at the end of the day are beneficial to others. For all his “assness” and misery he is nowhere as dark as Heathcliff; his character is lightened by his humor and childishness. He is also capable of deeply loving more than one person (as friends or lovers) which contrary to simplistic love stories, is the sigh of a person with richer emotions and a big heart.

    Catherine’s death (in the first part of the book) was not the end of Heathcliff; he went on to reek vengeance on all Catherine’s family most of whom had never directly or indirectly hurt him.
    Fortunately for the “loyal” [H] fans Cuddy’s loss is not the end of H. As he was never defined by the love for “the one woman”, however happy or miserable that might make him, he is still able to go on fighting for his goals, saving patients, being right, solving puzzles, pranking and meddling.

    Finally Cuddy’s loss does make sense.
    No way could they go back to the pre-huddy status. Even if the car crash had not happened Cuddy’s role would have been considerably diminished. Her value was in the playfulness of their attraction/antagonism. That had disappeared and how could it be regenerated? There was too much emotion, guilt and despair as evidenced by H.’s violent outburst. H. needed to get away from Cuddy to rebuilt some normality. As the setting of [H] is PPTH and it would be financially unfeasible to change that for the last Season(s) of the show to follow H. elsewhere, Cuddy was the one who sooner or later would have to leave. It was sooner.

  • K

    “No way could they go back to the pre-huddy status. Even if the car crash had not happened Cuddy’s role would have been considerably diminished. Her value was in the playfulness of their attraction/antagonism. That had disappeared and how could it be regenerated?”

    I’m a former Huddy and I agree with this. Their relationship was ultimately a mess and I could barely watch the post break up eps. It just made me sad to think of what they used to have versus what they had suddenly become. Cuddy’s guilt after the break up was also pretty infuriating. Why should she feel guilty? Her reasons to end the relationship (however dumb and hasty I believed them to be) where, in her view, valid. By giving into his demands initially it undermined their whole relationship as some kind of one sided pity party with no real feelings which I never believed it would become. Their employer/employee relationship with all its playfulness and varying degrees of tension was so much more intriguing. My boyfriend commented that the series should have ended at the end of sesaon 6 when they got together- House had come to the end of his tether but with Cuddy arriving in the nick of time there was hope for him and for them as a couple, particularly after his speech about change. I initially didn’t agree because I wanted to see my ship finally together after all this time but in the end I came round to his way of thinking. I couldn’t have watched any more of the post break up stuff and unfortunatley I had already started enjoying the eps with their limited interaction. For me the way she ultimately got written out of the show wasn’t the car crashing through her house, it was the annoying, nagging way they had started depicting her particularly through the last episode. There was nowhere else for her to go as a character.

  • http://herbiemichael.com/ Herb

    I am a big fan of House M.D. Thank you for posting this great Interview.

  • http://barbarabarnett.com Barbara Barnett

    Welcome, Herb. And thanks everyone for the great comments!