It is wonderful to have House, M.D. back after a long winter hiatus. Monday night, “Larger than Life,” the ninth episode of season seven, marks the return of new episodes, and don’t forget to tune into the Golden Globe Awards Sunday evening on NBC. Hugh Laurie is nominated for Best Actor in a Television Drama series. (Once again he is the only star of a network show to grab a nomination.)
Caveat emptor to my favorite spoiler-phobes: if you want to
remain completely spoiler-free for “Larger than Life,” do not read further.
On to Monday night’s episode!
“Larger than Life” airs Monday night: the first new episode in many weeks. It’s a great episode: funny (there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments), but also digging deeper to explore some of the show’s pivotal relationships. The episode begins with a seemingly heroic act: a decidedly not-too-noble rock band bass player (Matthew Lillard) throws himself onto the subway tracks, saving the life of an epileptic woman. He’s a hero. Or is he?
He performs this heroic task almost instinctively, but in front of his horrified young daughter. And why, with a platform full of other potenial heroes, does this guy put his life in danger? Maintaining his fall back position, House (Laurie) assumes that the patient’s heroism is (of course) a symptom, setting out to identify a likely brain issue.
The episode is a lot about self-perception: how we see ourselves and how others see us within our most important relationships. A billboard hospital ad campaign featuring a “larger than life” Chris Taub (Peter Jacobson) as the symbol caring medicine is an apt metaphor for the entire episode—and the opportunity for Taub to examine his relationship with wife Rachel (Jennifer Crystal Foley).
The patient’s relationship with his wife also share the spotlight with the series’ regular relationships: House and Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein); House and Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard). The episode also deftly (and amusingly) delves into the conflict within House himself: who he is and who he needs—and wants—to be.
At the heart of the episode is Candice Bergan’s guest appearance as Cuddy’s mom Arlene. Visiting Princeton to celebrate her daughter’s birthday, needless to say she and House clash. Arlene’s visit helps illuminate House and Cuddy’s relationship at this point in the season, and sets up an interesting dynamic between House and the tough, overbearing and (somewhat) larger-than-life Arlene.
My only quibble with the episode is that Arlene is just a bit too much the stereotypical overbearing Jewish mother—but perhaps that’s the point. Candice Bergen described her character in an interview with TV Guide, Arlene Cuddy is a “gentile who would prefer to be a Jew.” So maybe her “larger-than-life” presence is over-compensating (she converted to Judaism, explains Cuddy, when her parents married). And maybe it’s for effect: to intimidate—or annoy—her daughter’s new boyfriend.
“Larger than Life” is a great step back into House’s universe. It airs Monday night at 8:00 p.m. on FOX. And I’ll have much more to say about the episode after it airs.
Note: If you happen to be in the Chicago area, please join me for a bit of House talk at Barbara’s Bookstore January 20, 6-8 p.m.