Not to spoil next week’s House, M.D. episode “5 to 9” too much, it might be more appropriately titled “Lisa Cuddy’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” after a children’s classic book about a boy named Alexander. (But if you want to be spoiled, be sure to watch the three and a half minute teaser segment from this Monday’s episode I’ve posted at the end of this article.)
The episode “5 to 9” opens at the beginning of a normal workday for the dean of medicine. It’s 5 a.m. and she up, doing yoga, and trying to get ready for a “typical” day managing her hospital and its biggest asset, Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie). But when her baby Rachel wakes up inconsolably screaming, Cuddy has her first inkling of the day to come.
Lisa Edelstein, who plays the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital dean of medicine Lisa Cuddy, met with TV reporters earlier this week to talk about the Cuddy-fest to be aired Monday at 8 p.m. on FOX. Unlike the more “controlled, serious wonder woman” she plays on House, Edelstein is playful and exuberant when speaking about her role and her co-stars.
Edelstein says she is more of free spirit than her alter ego. “I don’t think she has time to be the free spirit that she might be. I think her days are completely filled,” she remarked, explaining the differences between Cuddy and herself. Running a hospital “fills up every inch of your world.”
Just as last fall’s “Wilson” removed us from House’s point of view, “5 to 9” also allows us to observe the “House-verse” through a different prism—this time, Cuddy’s. Since she’s the dean and the hospital’s chief administrator, we get a “real glimpse into what it means to run a hospital,” Edelstein explained. She noted that “sometimes you see complaints [among the fans] that people don’t think that Cuddy’s very good at her job. I don’t really think they know what her job is. Now you get a really clearer view of that.”
Edelstein once joked that all of her scenes happen off-screen, where she is always very busy. This episode lets us see what she’s up to. “She’s trying to do everything. I’m just glad there is an episode that shows how much it is she actually has to do, how much is on her plate.”
She found the experience “really exciting. It was exciting because I’ve been working with these people for a very long time and to be given that kind of opportunity was really special.” Getting the script weeks earlier, Edelstein was able to "make suggestions," and have “a lot more power in terms of interacting with the writer and director.” Of course the downside of such a front and center role is the number of hours on set. But she “really loved it” despite the 16 hour a day schedule (she’s in virtually every scene). “It’s really fun to set the pace and the tone of the stage, to be given that opportunity, especially with people that I’ve known for quite some time,” she noted. Edelstein was delighted to have had some input into the tone of script, particularly some of the “relationship stuff on both sides” concerning both Lucas—and House.
Commenting on Cuddy’s current relationship with private investigator Lucas Douglas (Michael Weston), Edelstein remarked that she likes “the difference between her relationship with Lucas and her relationship with House.” Cuddy’s relationship with Lucas is much less complicated—with far less history. According to Edelstein, Cuddy sees Lucas as “this kind of uncomplicated ease with this guy who’s just showing up.” Lucas helps her with her life. “He’s uncomplicated, very loyal, and has sex with her. The question remains, ‘Is that enough?’”
On the other hand, House is “the guy that she had this long, deep, fascinating, back-and-forth with that she can’t seem to steer clear of.” Cuddy’s trying to reconcile what that means to her. “I think there’s a lot of levels to it,” she said.
Right now, explained Edelstein, sometimes “you just want to be in the relationship that looks good on paper and that is the relationship you think you’re supposed to be in. But, I’m not sure that that really works.” And if it doesn’t work out, Edelstein would think Cuddy would want to “give it a shot with the thing that excites [her] most.” She wanted to assure viewers that she wasn’t giving anything away, because she actually hasn’t the “faintest idea what’s happening” in the future to either her relationship with House—or Lucas.
For right now, Cuddy needs to at least give the relationship with Lucas a chance “because she’s been alone for a while, a long time and kind of chasing after a House that was completely unavailable.” But as season six began, House is finally ready for something with the object of his affection. “Suddenly he turns around and announces he’s available, but it’s years that this has been going on. It’s not so easy,” said Edelstein.
Echoing Hugh Laurie’s oft-stated theory of television characters, Edelstein believes her character hasn’t changed over six seasons so much as become more revealed. But, she elaborated, “as the years go by and the writers get to write more deeply about each individual, they just expose themselves little by little.” Although she didn’t mean physically—as in “nude,” Edelstein laughed “that’s pretty much what happened with my character. Every season, I become more and more disrobed.”
One thing that has changed Cuddy is motherhood. Edelstein is delighted to be playing a mother simply coping the best she can. Playing “single working moms and what they do is always nice because they’re unsung heroines,” she said. Edelstein believes that motherhood has factored directly into her view of relationships. In fact, she attributes Cuddy’s relationship with Lucas to motherhood. “I think him being in her life is really directly related to that. She really needs somebody she can rely on.”
The Cuddy-centric episode does seem to soften her chilly relationship with House, and there are a couple of lovely scenes between them. She confides in House, and he helps her with the difficult situation that drives the episode’s plot. “I did really like that and I liked the way it looked next to her relationship with Lucas.” Edelstein noted that there is something very special between House and Cuddy that also is historical and deeply complicated, "but has a nice weight to it." But now in the middle of an easier relationship, Cuddy finds it “a very confusing thing to have in [her] life when [she’s] trying to do what [she] think[s] is the right thing on paper.” But, no matter what has passed between them between the end of season five and this point in season six, they can’t seem to help falling back into that very intimate trust existing between them. And it is lovely to see it back in “5 to 9.”
Be sure to vote in my poll on Lucas and his nasty behavior in “Moving the Chains.” And enjoy the “5 to 9” teaser. I’ve seen the episode and found it an enjoyable—and quite different—House experience.