Fair warning: here be (mild) spoilers.
When House, M.D. returns tomorrow night with “Office Politics,” House (Hugh Laurie) hires (and fires and hires again—and fires again) a new team member–one who prove his biggest challenge yet. He also seriously overplays his hand with Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) on a medical decision, jeopardizing their still-newrelationship. The sixth episode in House, M.D.’s seventh season seems to fit thematically with the hostile political environment of the last couple months.
Never mind that the episode airs a week after the election, but
“Office Politics” opens with a candidate and a Carl Rove-ish media director arguing about airing a brutally negative ad. But media man falls ill with an angry-looking rash on his arm. And that’s only the start of his problems.
And House has problems of his own! Ordered weeks earlier to hire a new female fellow to replace the disappeared “13” (Olivia Wilde), House has refused to take Cuddy’s demand seriously. So, Cuddy finally addresses the issue personally, hand picking a brilliant third-year medical student to join House’s staff, over House’s objections.
And who is this young upstart? (She’s not even a fellow, much to the disdain of at least part of House’s existing, testosterone-laden, team!) She is Martha Masters, played by Amber Tamblyn (The Unusuals, 127 Hours).
During a conference call introducing her character to entertainment writers, Tamblyn noted that showrunners David Shore and Katie Jacobs approached her for the part. “The character is based on my real life best friend who is a med student. Her real name is Martha Meredith Masters,” noted Tamblyn. The show’s producers even asked the real life Masters to sign a release that she “wouldn’t sue Fox.” Tamblyn describes her friend (and the character based on her) as “incredibly brilliant, but sometimes very socially awkward.”
In many ways Martha Masters obliquely reflects her new boss, Dr. Gregory House. And that may provide a large part of her appeal. Graduating high school at 15, House’s newest staff member acquired PhDs in applied math and art history before attending medical school; something House quips is more suited to diagnosing Escher Drawings than sick people.
No slouch himself when it comes to things that make Renaissance people tick, House quizzes her, testing her brilliance by asking her the capital of Azerbaijan, the year Beethoven died and the sixth decimal of Euler’s number (which I had to look up before realizing it’s also called Napier’s Constant or simply “e”—the base of natural logarithms. And, yes, I’m that big a geek.)
On the other hand, Masters immediately gets on House’s bad side (is there any other?) when she is so intimidated by him that she fails to weigh in on the first differential session at the white board.
Neither Taub (Peter Jacobson) nor Foreman (Omar Epps) are too impressed by her either, even less so when she refuses to participate in a break in of the patient’s home. But Taub is especially pissy about her. Chase (Jesse Spencer) is simply amused, comparing her to a rabbit running into a buzz saw blade (repeatedly).
Bunny rabbit or not, Masters insists on standing her moral ground; she is naïve and earnest, and even the patient wonders what the big deal is breaking into his home. “Medicine is like politics,” he argues. Nothing counts but the results.
Obviously a conflict has been set up between House, who always believes lying is a part of finding the (important) truths and Masters who argues that she would not lie to a patient even to save his life. (Which House, by the way, thinks is a lie in itself.) And that compromising ethical standards is unnecessary.
So goes the episode, and I won’t disclose much more about the Ping-Pong between House and his new protégé other than to say how much I enjoyed it. He wants to lose her, but admits even to Cuddy that he has no real cause to fire this evil offspring of “Einstein and Mary Poppins.” House seems intrigued (and I don’t think it’s only amusement) not only by her smarts, but her iron clad idealism. But when their differing points of view on ethics affect the patient’s treatment options, House grows a bit weary of their game. But he keeps playing (and at more than one game).
I really like this new addition to the team. Like Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), she has a strict moral compass, but it’s different somehow. She’s less dewy eyed and kind, preferring to be straightforward and blunt. I love that there is now someone on the team, innocent and devoid of any apparent cynicism, House’s potential intellectual equal—and unafraid to directly an unequivocally confront him on ethics. She believes she can get to the diagnosis without violating her personal ethics, and although no one seriously believes she can, she seems not to care—even if it means losing her job.
Tamblyn views her character as someone “who had been so much in the world of academia and knowledge that she never progressed or matured in a social sense. So, you’re going to see someone that has a hard time communicating on some of the most basic levels, which I think is very common for people who are highly, highly, intelligent functioning people.” So she barrels on, oblivious to the potential personal costs of her actions. Sound like someone we know and love?
In some ways, Masters absolutely reminds me of House—and (in my opinion) may be a fairly accurate portrait of the doctor as a young man. Scratch a cynic, and you often find buried underneath a disillusioned idealist. Maybe House was, at one time, almost as idealistic as Masters—and part of House’s interest may be in watching her disillusionment.
It’s “like she’s a young version of him, only she believes so strongly in the ethics of truth telling to the point of a fault. Just in the same way that he believes so much in that lying can help you find the truth to a fault. So, the two of them have distinctive ideas about how to get to the same thing,” noted Tamblyn.
More on “Office Politics” after the episode airs with a new House-Cuddy poll on the future of their relationship. House airs Monday night at 8:00 p.m. ET on FOX.