I want to preface this commentary by stating that I am a huge fan of House, and of Hugh Laurie in particular. The writing in this show has often astounded me in the past. From a feminist perspective, there are a few episodes in seasons one through five (“Skin Deep,” I’m looking at you) that I have had problems with; but on a whole I think that the characters—especially Dr. Gregory House and Dr. Lisa Cuddy—are complex and believable.
Be that as it may, there are aspects to the current season that I find troubling.
The first instance I felt swindled by the writers this season was with Dr. Allison Cameron’s departure. This turned out to be quite a point of contention within the fandom, between those who wanted House and Cameron to hook up, and those who wanted House with Cuddy. I don’t necessarily root for any one relationship on the show. I merely saw her departure as a blow because I had come to care about the character, and I thought that she provided a nice balance for House and the other characters.
Much was made of the House/Cuddy relationship last season, and yet this season we see very little of Lisa Edelstein, besides her “superwoman” episode (don’t get me started on that not-so-empowering trope). Mostly, when she is onscreen she can be found passively listening to House’s diatribe, or his, now obligatory, sexual innuendos.* In fact, Stepford Cuddy has lately been shown for only a few minutes in each hour-long episode.
While the female cast members of House have been given substantially less screen time, many of the episodes this season do focus on women. Indeed, the writers seem to focus heavily on women being punished in every medical and psychological form possible—punished for partying too hard (the young girl in “Known Unknowns”), for having hobbies (“Private Lives”) and finally, for having sex (“Black Hole,” “Open and Shut.”)
The presence of Dr. Remy Hadley, also known as Thirteen, has done little to alleviate the gender inequality of the show’s current season. Although she is portrayed as bisexual, we rarely get a glimpse of her alternate sexual identity, other than blatant titillation. What happened to her Huntington’s disease? How is she coping with her breakup from Foreman? We know is that she likes to hang out in lesbian bars, but she is never actually shown having a meaningful relationship with a woman. Rather, it seems that they are grooming her for an interlude with Chase.
As a fan of this show, I have hope that the writers will see the plot clichés that they are falling prey to so far this season, and that as it progresses, they will bring the female characters of Princeton Plainsboro out to play more often.
*Note that when I talk about sexism in House, I am not referring to the character. House himself often makes off-the-cuff comments. It's a part of his character. What I have a problem with are the cliche' representations of women (and indeed, lack of representation altogether) that have been a part of this season.