Home / TV Review: House – “97 Seconds”

TV Review: House – “97 Seconds”

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House has had two near-death experiences at the time of this episode. The first (that we know of) was when he had a heart attack during his treatment for the infarction ("Three Stories"). During the time he was hovering between life and death, he seemed to have an out of body experience, or so he told his class, dropping in on the futures of three patients, whom he may or may not have ever treated. These patients all had leg issues and their treatments had differing outcomes than his (both for the better).

When asked about these experiences – these visions – House says that the “white light” that some people seem to see when having a near-death experience (and the visits to the afterlife) are merely the chemical effects of the brain shutting down. It’s what, he says, he chooses to believe. He explains that his choice to believe this makes him more comfortable. His disbelief in the afterlife makes him hopeful that life (as brutal as it’s been at times, we now know) is not simply “a test” for some other life to come.

House’s second near-death experience came when he was shot by an assailant who has not, to this day, been caught. The loss of blood and shock had him hovering between life and death as he hallucinated entire conversations with his shooter. During his hallucination, House assessed his own life and self-worth in conversations with the shooter (who, because it was a hallucination, was really his own subconscious). Ultimately confronted with the easy exit of death (symbolized by the scene where he shared the suicide attempt of the shooter’s wife), House chose life and fought his way out of unconsciousness, however briefly, to tell Cameron he wanted to try a radical pain-management treatment. If he was going to live, he was going to try to better his conditions.

Arguably, House has had (at least) one attempted suicide — arguably, because there is some debate as to whether taking a bottle-full of oxycodone and forcing himself to drink a large tumbler full of whiskey is attempted suicide. And arguably because we don’t know if he’s been in a state where, perhaps just after the infarction or when Stacy left him, he was suicidal. Wilson says that House fell apart, so it’s possible.

So, what do we make of what happened in “97 Seconds?” We haven’t seen House in physical pain much this season; he seems, physically anyway, to be coping fairly well. We’ve seen him take Vicodin, but not hiding his pain; not wincing, not hurting, which have been past signals that House is not doing well physically. The only noteworthy occasion in "97 Seconds" when we see him in physical distress is after he distributes the patient charts to his candidates, coming down the lecture hall stairs without his cane. As he hobbles to the desk and perches on it, he is in quite a bit of pain. But I don’t think it’s significant to the story.

What we do see, however, is House at his most frustrated point of the season thus far. I think he has tired of the game; tired of the competition; tired of the candidates. He is annoyed when he tells them to take off the numbers, and has little patience for the candidates right from the start. The teams are divided (more or less by gender) and the game is afoot. Meanwhile, House retreats to the clinic to do his hours.

The clinic patient draws a knife, taking House by surprise, but not by more surprise than he is taken a moment later, as the patient, who is quite banged up, proceeds to the nearest outlet and jams the knife into it. House is momentarily stunned witnessing this bizarre act. Probably in the moment before, he was wondering if once again he was going to be attacked by a patient. House calls for a crash cart and revives the electrocution victim, but, as is clear from the subsequent scenes with both Cuddy (who he visits first) and Wilson, he is very preoccupied with the actions of the clinic patient. He remains preoccupied with them throughout the remainder of the episode until, he, himself, replicates the act.

Until he speaks with the now-conscious clinic patient, he wonders — puzzles — as to why anyone would stick a metal object in a live outlet. Is it attempted suicide? Or a suicidal gesture — an attempt to get attention for his problems? Suicide would be easier with a gun. Electrocution is not an easy way out. It is clear that House cannot quite fathom why anyone would do this irrational thing.

Upon speaking to the patient, House learns that the guy is not trying to kill himself, but trying to duplicate the sensations he experienced when, a week earlier, he was badly injured in a car crash. “The paramedics told me I was technically dead for 97 seconds. They were the best 97 seconds of my life,” he tells House. He describes, though not in detail, that there is “something” out there. Something beyond living. On the “other side.” House is completely drawn in, listening, caught up in the guy’s words. Coming back to himself, however, House retorts that (as he described in "Three Stories") that all the guy experienced was the release of serotonin and endorphins — chemical reactions as the brain begins to shut down.

One has to believe that House has spent a great deal of time over the past 10 years (maybe more of that time early in this 10-year period) researching and thinking about his own experiences. How can he explain his experiences described in "Three Stories"? His “hallucinations” in "No Reason"? We can be certain that House, the inveterate researcher of all things, has considered every angle before placing them all within his own worldview.

House is a self-described atheist. He says he does not believe in God. He sees faith and religion as the opposite of science, which, to him, can explain everything ultimately. Even the things we don’t know the answers to, we only do not YET know. They are not unknowable. It’s only that we do not yet know. Not “inexplicable,” but simply “unexplicted,” as House has said.

But I believe that there is another side to House, one that can be awed by nature and its vastness; one that can be moved or touched or awed by the touch of a fetus’ tiny barely-developed fingers. I find it ironic that House, for his vacation in "Fetal Position" sought out places of Awe (with a capital “A”). I think that these two sides of House fight occasionally for position, and the House who cannot see the possibility of a God in “crack babies” and (in his own experience) abusive parents; and who in his professional life (especially as an infectious disease specialist) has seen the horrors of epidemics and terrible, devastating disease, often wins out against the other side of him.

Hugh Laurie has recently said that he believes that House is “an old soul” — and someone who has seen a great deal of human suffering in his life. House’s world view is colored by those experiences.

When House goes to visit this week's patient, Stark, and Stark tells him to not do the surgery because it is time to shed his sick body and move on, House wonders angrily. “Go to where?” For the second time in a short period, patients, in House’s mind, are making life and death decisions based on something that cannot be proved and that likely does not even exist. “Leave him with his fairy tales,” Wilson admonishes House. But House cannot do that. I think that if House had not already been thinking about this, with the issue preoccupying his thoughts, he might not have done the outlet thing. But as it was, House sits in his office, considers whether the risk is worth knowing. We then see another two battling forces in House fight each other for control. House is drawn to disprove the clinic patient’s assertion that there is an afterlife.

House is drawn to the outlet like a moth to a candle flame. We’ve seen him in this sort of internal battle before. In the episode "Skin Deep", after Cuddy has told him that she had dosed him with a placebo, House begins to doubt himself and the “reality” of his pain. The closing scene of the episode has House, filled with self-doubt at the piano, playing Bach, trying to stay distracted enough to not take a Vicodin. The pill bottle sits atop the piano, daring him. But House continues to play until the pain is enough to make him hit a duff note. He stops playing and reluctantly spills out the pills on the piano. You can still see him trying to battle the urge and even when he ultimately takes the pill, it appears to be almost against his will. This was the battle I saw raging across House’s face as he sat in his office. In this case, it wasn’t something to stop his pain (I do not think he was trying to either commit suicide or express a suicidal gesture in order to get attention, to use House’s own speculation about the clinic patient). As impulsive as the move was, he planned it so that he would be found almost immediately.

When he awakes, Wilson is at his bedside. “You’re an idiot,” he says almost before House opens his eyes. I rarely agree with Wilson and think he is often manipulative and dismissive of House’s real anguish. But, in this case, I do have to agree with him. It was a stupid move and a terrible risk, unless, as Wilson says, House, while not actively suicidal, doesn’t really care whether he lives or dies at this point in his life. House immediately wants to talk to the clinic patient. Not to Stark. House will leave Stark alone, knowing that he is dying, letting him live out the remaining days of his life with his image of an afterlife intact. But House wants to talk to outlet-guy. “What have you seen?” Wilson asks of House. House averts his eyes, only insisting that he needs to talk to the patient.

Has House seen something? “Nothing,” he responds to Wilson through a great deal of anguish (I wonder if the anguish we see so brilliantly conveyed on Hugh Laurie’s face is pain or disappointment that House has seen nothing – as we will learn – or a combination). Or is the averting of his eyes, the anguish we are privy to, an indication that House has indeed “seen” something; something he does not want to talk about, especially to amateur shrink James Wilson. “You need to talk about this,” insists Wilson, believing that House really does not care if he lives or dies. This new fact (or maybe it’s an old fact that Wilson had thought was faded from House’s psyche) greatly disturbs Wilson. But House covers by telling Wilson that he insisted that House find out for himself.

I think that House wanted to see the clinic patient (who was dead) to warn him against trying it again. That now that House had been there voluntarily, and saw no evidence of any sort of afterlife (that he’s admitting to, anyway) he wanted to make sure that his patient didn’t try to find Nirvana in that way again. At least that’s what I think. Otherwise, why not want to talk to Stark immediately?

Like Wilson, I worry that House (yeah, I know he’s fictional) will do himself harm at some point. He’s not at a point (I don’t think) where he was last year anywhere along the first half of season three, where I thought that at some point he might want to end it (and nearly did in "Merry Little Christmas"). House expressed to Stark that given a choice between a miserable life and nothing, he should chose misery over nothing. If there was something on the other side — a “better” life, would House be more inclined to end his own life? House has always had doubts, despite being a self-proclaimed atheist. In any event, it was a poor test and fairly shoddy, impulsive research. But, for the time being, has erased House’s doubts.

Gosh. I’ve spent nearly 2,000 words talking about House and his motivations. I’ve barely spoken about the patient, the fellow-wannabes, CCF, or any of the regular crew.

As far as the patient goes, I do believe that he simply, in the chaos of the moment, forgot to take the pills. 13 left the pills on the bed-table and went to get water. The male team went in and started talking about a conflict of meds, which the patient dismissed. He had been informed of what House was doing. 13 put the water on the table next to the pills, but didn’t stick around as the male team began their work. Her lack of assertiveness contributed to the patient’s death, although she came up with the right diagnosis. As House says at the end, her mistake cost the patient his life, because everything that they did from that point on was based on the assumption that the medication didn’t work and that, therefore, he did not have thread worms.

In the end, House keeps her on, despite the mistake. Why? Maybe like the astronaut who will now be the safest flyer in the sky, 13 will be the meticulous doctor on House’s staff. She has now killed a patient. If she doesn’t get the “yips” she will be a better doctor for it. She assumes House, the cold bastard, will fire her for it. But as he said earlier, to CTB, should he fire himself as well? He feels his own responsibility in the death of the patient, although he won’t admit it to Cuddy, you can see it in his eyes and body language.

I haven’t much to say about Foreman. I don’t like him. I really don’t think he’s like House in too many ways, and I wonder why he doesn’t go back to Dr. Marty entirely. Chase and Cameron, I liked in this episode.

So where does this lead? Do we know, really, what motivated House to stick a knife in an outlet? If he really believed that there is no afterlife, why experiment? So he certainly has doubts. Is he borderline suicidal? We know that House keeps his emotions very, very much under wraps. Especially now with all of those new doctors around him, he needs to conceal his vulnerability pretty heavily. Can’t let his guard down at all. Has the loss of Cameron, Chase and Foreman, his hallucination of Foreman and C and C’s return, going on with their lives and seemingly happier to be out from under his influence affected him more than he’s willing to admit? Are Wilson’s fears founded? I guess we’ll know more about this as the arc progresses. Stay tuned.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her debut novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse comes out October 11 from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • Ann

    Thanks, Barbara. I loved your review and look forward to what you’ll have to say about future episodes of House. What are your thoughts about the first two episodes?

  • My first comment! Thanks Ann. Glad you liked my review. My earlier reviews are housed (as it were) at my LJ. I’ve posted reviews for the first two seasons there as well as reviews for the entire third season and some of the first season and second seasons as well.

  • HouseFan

    Nice commentary, makes me look forward to reading your thoughts on more episodes.

    As the seasons have progressed and we’ve learned more about this guy House, and perhaps because of the episode involving the autistic boy, it seems to me that House is living with Aspergers as many adults now do without having a pinpoint explaination of why they are how they are.

    It’s just my opinion, and hopefully this show will last a few more seasons and we’ll learn more about House’s past. Remember, it’s been said that he was the way he is before his leg problem.

  • Thanks, House Fan. The question of House and Aspergers comes up all the time in the various fan forums. Does he have it? The show played with notion in the Season 3 episode “Lines in the Sand,” in which the patient was an autistic child. House was seemingly fixated on his office carpeting in the aftermath of his near-fatal shooting at the end of Season 2. Wilson went to Cuddy with the idea that maybe House had Aspergers syndrome. Cuddy disagreed. I’m not sure one way or the other (I don’t even play a psychologist on TV :)). The main character in the BBC show Wire in the Blood (who is a psychologist, actually) was diagnosed with Aspergers and it is part of the show’s canon. Tony (the main character) has a lot in common with House, so… I do think it’s going to be something that will be debated by fans until the series is over the issue is addressed head-on. But it’s an interesting idea.

  • Terri

    I loved your in depth review and agree wholeheartedly with it. When I consider what the afterlife would be for House if you don’t mind indulging me, I would like to quote a few lines from my own fanfic that deals with just that. AFter House dies mysteriously he has a conversation with ‘God’, or whatever supreme being you wish to consider….

    “He felt remarkably well. So well in fact that he began to feel a touch of anger at not having felt this way in life.

    “So a person has to die to feel alive?” he muttered to himself shaking his head in the process. “Where am I anyway?” the thought was immediately met with a response.

    “You are were you always expected to be. This is your idea of the afterlife Greg. It is what you always expected to find.”

    “But there is nothing here!” he yelled out to his invisible companions.


    The realization hit him hard. He understood what they meant. He didn’t believe in an afterlife so consequently there was no pearly gates, no tunnel of light, no ‘anything.’ Essentially he got exactly what he wanted.

    “So this is hell then?” he asked out loud to his invisible and growingly annoying companion. Almost before the question left his lips an answer shot back.

    “No, for you this is heaven.”

    House pondered that for a moment, trying to grasp its meaning.

    “All your life you’ve believed that there is nothing after you die. And all your life you have pushed people away in an effort to be alone. Hell for you would have been pearly gates, overwhelming joy and long lost friends here to greet you. If that is what you had found it would have meant that you were wrong and you couldn’t bear that, could you? That would have been hell.

    Gregory, this is all you have ever dreamed of and the best you could hope for. Aren’t you taking pleasure in your faultless reasoning?”

    I don’t think House would be happy if there was an afterlife simply because he would be proven wrong.


  • sdemar

    I have had the pleasure of reading your commentaries over the past few years, and have always felt that you truly understand the nature of this very complex man called House. I look forward to visiting here and commenting on your reviews.

  • Thanks Terri and Sdemar for your lovely and welcoming comments. Terri, I’m not sure what House may or may not have seen this time, or after his infarction as described in Three Stories. He said he chooses to see his experience as the brain shutting down, so as not to believe that life (his life–as harsh as it’s been, and with his disability–and maybe even his addiction issues) is not simply “a test.” I liked the clip from your story. Thanks for sharing it.


  • HouseFan


    I wasn’t aware of debates about whether House is living with Asperger’s, that’s just what seems to explain the character more than anything else if you look at the progression of the character over the 3 seasons and even the few episodes into this 4th one. I’m not a psychologist or anything of the sort, nor do I watch Wire in the Blood (reminds me of all the CSI and Law & Order shows, which are all the same to me). I like Waking the Dead and Cracker more, better characters and stories.

    The thing is that even though Cuddy disagreed with Wilson at that time regarding House’s fixation on the carpet, it’s not just about the carpet, it’s much more than that. It’s House’s relationships with people in general, not just women problems. It’s that Cuddy puts up with him because he’s brilliant at the diagnostics. It’s that Wilson is his friend because Wilson tolerates him. In the one with Larroquete (apologies for the wrong spelling there) House talked about why he wanted to be a doctor, and if he was telling the truth that’s another clue among many. The drug use itself, if he was an addict before his leg problem, could be connected since the first resort most doctors take is to suggest drugging up anyone who seems “different” socially. For example, if someone doesn’t enjoy large crowds of people, a doctor tells them that they need antidepressants or something similar to make them “feel good.” Not liking large crowds of people cannot be carelessly equated to being depressed. It’s complicated, as is the House character.

    As I stated, it’s just my opinion at this point in the run of the show. It could make for interesting storylines if the writers/producers went more into House’s past. Just hopefully in a more Three Stories way than a cheesy TV drama way.

  • HouseFan,

    I agree a storyline that delved into the idea of Aspergers would be very interesting. I don’t know enough about autism or the Aspergers variety of autism to say for certain. I do know that House has many of the traits of people with this type of autism. But some things do not seem to fit. Several people I’ve talked with who have AS see themselves in the character of House; but some have said that he doesn’t fit enough of the criteria.

    A webpage that has several sets of diagnostic criteria for Aspergers syndrome can be found here.

  • HouseFan


    Thanks for the website link, and for your comments. Sorry mine were so long, but it is an interesting area to debate for the House character. I think it would make for a great storyline. Possibly a role for Stephen Fry as Autism/Aspergers expert from England who just happens to be doing work at Princeton Plainsboro?

  • I always enjoy your thoughtful reviews and this one is no exception! I’m delighted to see that they will now be posted here at blogcritics! 🙂

  • Hi Sassydew,

    So glad that you found me over here 😉 I’m looking forward posting regular reviews and commentary on the show. Enjoy.


  • hl_lover

    Congrats on an excellent review of an excellent episode of “House”.

    I would lean in the same direction as yourself concerning House and Asperger’s. His antisocial behavior seems too intentional and can be turned off at will. But I can see how the idea could be entertained that he carries this diagnosis.
    Anyone who cultivates the aura of being a jerk and prides himself on it (outwardly) would not be in this subclass of autism.

  • Nancy

    I’m so glad you admitted outloud that you don’t like Foreman. I don’t like him either. I wish he would leave the show. This is not a personal attack against the actor, just the character.