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TV Review: House, M.D. – “A Simple Explanation”

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At the end of last night’s House, M.D. episode “A Simple Explanation” (I mean the very end), the producers inserted a public service announcement for the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) about suicide. It’s not the first time in its nearly five-year history that House has dealt with this and other serious mental health issues. The central character Dr. Gregory House (played with a nuanced and exquisite fragility by star Hugh Laurie) is a poster child for emotional problems. Elementally unhappy, a child abuse survivor, and in constant chronic pain, House is addicted to Vicodin (whether or not you believe he's an “addict”), using the narcotic painkiller not only for his physical pain, but also to numb himself again a relentless misery.

In season three, House nearly took his own life (“Merry Little Christmas”) and in other episodes, it is clear that House has little regard for his own life, taking risks that suggest that he doesn’t really care whether he lives or dies (“97 Seconds,” “You Don’t Want to Know,” even “Wilson’s Heart”). This season, House has been bombarded with personal losses and other events that have rocked his emotional underpinnings even more. Amber’s death (and his indirect responsibility for it), the loss of Wilson’s friendship (which although recovered is much changed), the death of his father (and the confirmation that he wasn’t House’s biological father), Cuddy’s drive to motherhood (which has rocked him in ways good and bad) — all have taken their toll.

Much as he has from time to time during the series’ five-year run, House is standing on a precipice, teeter-tottering (without a cane). In “The Softer Side,” we observe that House is trying to find a Vicodin alternative; in “Locked In” last week, we learn that House is seeing a psychiatrist. He’s trying, but the guarded and very private House stands at the brink of emotional collapse. Especially now that he seems to want to “do” something about his situation, he seems at a loss.

“Simple Explanation” is about suicide, but not House’s (of course until the end of the series run, that could never happen — there would no longer be a show). Without a note, without any apparent cause, the outgoing, creative, and almost zen-like Lawrence Kutner has killed himself with a gunshot wound to the head. The episode asks the question “why?” Why would an apparently content, almost zen-like character, outgoing and friendly, fun and with an almost childlike enthusiasm for medicine (especially as practiced by House), suddenly, and with no note, commit suicide? The answer is: there is no answer. There is no explanation. And, as 13 points out in the episode, 25 percent of suicides occur with no apparent reason, with no explanation, simple or otherwise.

Kutner’s death happens not as a cliffhanger to the season (as Amber’s did last season); not even at the end of an episode in which we (the audience) get the clues that Kuntner’s colleagues cannot. It happens abruptly, without warning; out of nowhere. And that’s the point. It is the trigger pulled literally and metaphorically to explore not Kutner, but his survivors.

Many of us have had friends or colleagues who have ended their own lives, leaving us wondering what we might have done differently. What did we miss? Were there warning signs? Could I have helped? The senselessness of the act leaves the surviving circle of associates with nothing but questions, guilt, and anger. But no amount of soul-searching, wondering, or rationalizing can illuminate a reason. Can diagnose a cause. And for the lovable Kutner (he is really my favorite of the all the fellows, old and new) to have committed suicide, no warning, not a note, is a shock, not only to the people at Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, but to the series’ millions of fans. The evidence of that has poured out all over the Internet in chat rooms, in discussion forums, on blogs, and on Twitter. Fans are shocked, angry, upset. Even FOX has put up a memorial site for fans to place their thoughts (personally, I think that’s a bit too cloying for my taste).

Each of Kutner’s colleagues searches for answers, though none are forthcoming. Taub, arguably the one closest to Kutner, is angry. In “Painless” it is suggested that Taub may have once attempted suicide earlier in his life. Having survived it, he believes that suicide is a coward’s way out, and he has no sympathy for anyone who tries it. He is angry with Kutner, maybe angry with himself for not seeing the signs. Showing no affect at all during the episode, distancing himself from Foreman’s and 13’s obvious grief, Taub shuts down emotionally. He throws himself into the case, unable to bring himself to even attend the funeral. But even he finally breaks down, in the corridor outside House’s office, allowing his grief to surface in the episode’s final moments.

Foreman needs to grieve alone, neither able to share his sorrow (or his support) with 13, who is herself grieving over Kutner. “I’ve dealt with a lot of bad stuff; and I’ve always handled it alone,” he explains coldly to 13, asking her to allow him space, refusing to understand that 13 also needs to “deal” with her own grief.

The team wants to take a break from the current case and deal with the loss. House, who grieves by refusing to deal at all with grief, wonders “What about the next case? And the case after that? How many cases will be enough to make it alright that Kutner is dead?” House has never known how to grieve and he wears a lifetime of sorrow on his shoulders and in his eyes, while refusing to admit he’s grieving at all. His eyes, moist and filled with anguish throughout the episode, expose his torment and the guilt he feels. House is the man who misses nothing. How could he, of all people, not have seen this coming?

For House, the case seems to be his lifeline, something to hold onto, but his grip is tenuous, distracted, and falling apart. The case turns out badly; without House’s laser-like focus, they are too late to save the patient, Charlotte, who dies in the end.

But more telling than that is House’s apathy about Charlotte’s husband Eddie, who, although not their patient, presents his own medical mystery. Eddie, in a sensitive portrayal by guest star Meat Loaf (who played Eddie in The Rocky Horror Picture Show back in the day) is a terminal cancer patient. After convincing Eddie to donate his liver to his wife by allowing himself to die on the operating table, Cameron notices that Eddie may not be terminal after all. It’s a medical mystery that would be irresistible to House on any other day, and even more, it’s an opportunity for House to prove Eddie’s doctors to be idiots. But House barely notices. The only thing that seems to matter to House is to explain Kutner’s seemingly inexplicable suicide.

To House, there is no such thing as “no explanation.” There is always an explanation, even when it's not within our ability to know it — “yet.” Why did Kutner commit suicide? Was it buried pain from the brutal deaths of his parents, murdered before his eyes when he was six years old? Was it some other hidden symptom? “No explanation” is no explanation for House.

Accompanying Foreman and 13 to see Kutner’s adoptive parents, House continues to seek answers. Ruminating (almost to himself) in front of the Kutners, House seems to blame them for trying to fit Kutner into their world when he was a kid. All they created was an isolated, out-of-place boy who could do nothing else but bury himself under an acceptable persona. As House speaks to the parents, as the words come out almost involuntarily, almost trance-like, he could have as easily been speaking to his own parents, of his own experience as a sensitive, intellectually gifted, curious and creative, yet socially isolated boy. “It’s hard to be Lawrence Choudhury when everybody sees you as Lawrence Kutner,” he tells them honestly. No matter their efforts to help him fit in, nothing can make you fit when you don’t, and by doing that they may have planted the seeds for Kutner’s suicide. It’s a deflection to blame them, because if it’s their fault, it can’t be his. And I think House keenly feels the blame for Kutner’s death — simply by not being able to see it coming.

House’s search for an explanation, growing more and more desperate and exhausted, is heartbreaking to watch. He is a phantom throughout the episode, chasing Kutner’s ghost. Cuddy is worried about him, knowing him well enough to understand that House is falling apart beneath the surface, blaming himself for not seeing it coming, picking up on the signs. She also seems to understand that House sees himself in Kutner — intellectual and even emotional connections that he shares with no one else in his orbit. “Kutner thought like you; pushed the boundaries, like you,” Cuddy reflects to House, understanding that Kutner’s suicide has hit a little too close to home. “If he thought like me,” argues House in return, “he’d have known that living in misery sucks marginally less than dying in it.” Although House is denying the connection between them, it must be tormenting him.

Uncharacteristically, Wilson doesn’t go to House to find out how he’s holding up. Probably still dealing with Amber’s death and the residual blame he places on House, it must be hard for him to “be his friend”  — something that Cuddy insists he be. “I can’t deal with this and with House.”

But Wilson, who has always viewed his friendship with House as an “ethical responsibility,” catches up with him while he rummages through Kutner's apartment looking aimlessly for answers. At first House doesn’t even see Wilson standing there, he so absorbed in his own thoughts. “Good to see you,” House says flatly, finally acknowledging and appreciating Wilson’s presence.

When Wilson suggests they get hammered at a local bar, something to which House would normally not be opposed, House ignores the suggestion, continuing to wander through the apartment, looking — for something. “What are we missing?” House wonders almost to himself. Noticing a sci-fi movie collectible proudly hanging on the wall, House insists that Kutner’s suicide makes no sense. “He was hiding. Why?” asks House. “What are we missing?”

It dawns on Wilson that House doesn’t really care about Kutner, but only about the mystery his death provides. But Wilson is wrong; House is carrying megadoses of guilt and House is desperate to absolve himself by finding answers, to makes sense of something that makes no sense.

“But what if I’m not missing something?” he asks. “What if I’m not missing something because there’s nothing to miss? What if Kutner was murdered?” Murder would mean that House, who misses nothing, would have had nothing to miss. It would mean he could stop blaming himself for not seeing Kutner’s death coming. The insane leap stuns Wilson — and clues him in to House’s real emotional state.

Now obsessed with solving Kutner’s “murder,” House argues with 13 and Taub, who have accepted Kutner’s death and want to move past it and focus on the case. House tries to enlist them in the mystery, only to be rebuffed. “You’re not curious?” asks House. “Only about why a man who embraces the rational is suddenly pursuing the irrational,” responds Taub to House’s bizarre behavior, pushing him briefly back into the case. It’s a valid question.

Worried that House is obsessing over his very irrational murder theory, Cuddy tries to console House, tell him that it’s understandable that he’s upset. But it is clear that House has completely rationalized this theory in his mind, making it plausible (if only to him). House knows that Cuddy is concerned about him, and he seems not to push back too hard against it. “You’re worried that this case is the only thing holding me together,” he tells her, understanding her concern.

“Cure your patient,” she says, “and I will find you another patient.” She knows how badly House handles grief and loss; she wants desperately to help him through this by keeping him distracted by the case, and other cases to come until he’s able to handle it. But at this point, he is barely holding it together, his torment over Kutner barely concealed.

However, House refuses to be distracted. Wilson finally postulates that it’s not the mystery that’s intrigued House, that obsesses him about Kutner’s suicide — it’s the fact that he missed it. And what that says about House. For House, the man who misses nothing, it must be a devastating blow to his sense of self. If he can miss clues right under his nose for two years, maybe House is beginning to lose his gift.

“This has never been about what you missed,” argues Wilson finally, “but about why you missed it. You’re terrified of losing your gift, about losing yourself. And I’m terrified about what you’d do then,” he confesses. Is House worried that by opening himself up to life (and to the possibility of happiness with Cuddy) he risks losing himself entirely? Is this what it’s all about? Wilson thinks so, but I think he’s rationalizing, afraid that in the face of Kutner’s senseless suicide, House is losing his grip.

I think Taub nailed it when he told House, referring to Charlotte and Eddie, that it’s impossible to have so much guilt without love. But it is equally clear he’s telling House that he can’t feel that much guilt without caring deeply. And the final scene of House sitting in Kutner’s empty apartment looking through his photos for any sort of clue is as sad as any I’ve seen on House over the years.

Perhaps House is right (but is out of place telling Kutner’s parents) to suggest that Kutner’s early life — being abruptly transplanted from the familiar to the unfamiliar after his parents were brutally murdered in front of him — created a loner. Grateful to the Kutners who adopted him, he buries his pain deeply; so deeply he may not have even been aware of it most of the time. He became a man who hides from everyone, and so good at hiding that no one had a clue about the pain he was in for so many years.

It’s not the Kutners' fault; it’s no one’s fault. Each person in Kutner’s circle — from his closest friend Taub to House himself — wonders if there was something they missed; something they might have done. Each one has a way of dealing with the loss, anger, and frustration of losing someone so senselessly.

I have said too many times to count in this column that Hugh Laurie is a great actor. And as the acerbic, misanthropic ass that House can often be, Laurie gets to exercise his sarcasm muscles, his humor muscles, and his dramatic muscles, sometimes all in the same scene. But he is at his absolute best when he is given the heavy emotional stuff. His ability to underplay, hiding House’s emotional core beneath an icy, rational surface is a real gift, and in episodes like “Simple Explanation,” he lets us see deeply into House’s devastated eyes, letting us see the anguish in his soul, lets House’s torment seep from beneath his rusty armor.

Television series usually leave major events like character deaths for the season finale (as House did last year when Amber Volakis died). It was a gutsy move on the part of the show’s producers to kill off Kutner five episodes before the end of the fifth season. I’d heard that it was a creative decision (yes, Kal Penn, who has been so delightful an addition to the House cast, I must say is just fine), so I wonder where this is all headed. Certainly “Simple Explanation” sets the stage for some very major upheaval in the show, and in its central character. Not an end to a story arc, but its beginning. I can’t wait to find out what David Shore and company have in mind as the season draws to its close.

In less than two years, Kal Penn created a beautifully rendered character in Lawrence Kutner. Both will be missed by colleagues on the set, and most keenly by the millions of viewers who came to know (at least the unhidden part of) him and came to love him. I will miss him. Much luck to Kal as he goes to work in the Obama administration.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • simplethings

    As much as I enjoy the show, with each episode getting darker and darker, I wonder how the writers will ease up a bit. For people like us that are so very invested in these characters, I feel like I can only watch with my eyes half covered, cringing, bracing myself for something even worse to happen.

    I think it was a brave move by the writers, and it makes sense to test House’s character like this so that we can become privy to his eventual opening up to someone, whether it be Cuddy/Wilson or even Chase.

    However, I really don’t know how much more despair I can handle. I’m starting to feel as low as House!

    Even the lighting in the whole episode was dark. I’ll have to watch the last scene again after some distance from the episode. The mirroring of House and Kutner was frightening, as was the one picture of Kutner looking not like Kutner.

    I just rewatched “Locked In” and it was so clear that Kutner loved what he did. The scene where Thirteen and Foreman found him was terrifying and I didn’t expect it so soon.

    This will no doubt completely torture House. It does give me a sense of relief knowing that it was Kal Penn’s decision to leave the show, but he was most definitely s fan favorite and I’m really sad to see his character leave.

  • Quin

    What happened to Kutner’s dog? Did the dog die, and that’s why Kutner killed himself? Could the loss of a pet precipitate a suicide? See, I’m searching for answers to the puzzle too, like House. Foreman said Kutner’s dog was sick, and he’d be in by noon. That means he must have talked to Kutner on the phone that morning. What did Foreman miss? Or was that line about the dog just a throwaway line? The dog isn’t mentioned again, and it’s driving me bonkers.

  • barbara barnett

    simplethings. I do take some heart in the fact that decision was Kal’s not the powers that be. The show goes in cycles. Dark to light. I tend to like the dark angsty stuff because it reveals House more.
    Quinn–I think it was a throwaway line to give an excuse for Kutner’s lateness..nothing else.

  • http://blogcritics.org/mt/comments41.php j.i.m.

    Barbara, beautifully written. I love your compassionate perspective on House. A psychiatrist could have possibly saved Kutner. I hope House will be able to consider this fact and take advantage of the hospital’s grief counselor. That would be going out on an edge for House.

  • nicole.o

    I felt at odds with this episode for reasons I am unsure of. But it is growing on me as I think more about the way it was portrayed. I really like that it was not a traditional reaction to a death where everyone cries and sobs and embraces each other. Everyone dealt with it in their own way. It was very under the surface in many ways with slight things like eye movements and looks telling the grief in a less obvious although powerful way. I also think Cuddy’s attempts to take care of House and check in on him often were very intimate and telling of her true feelings for House. Their relationship has it’s delicate moments which really adds to the complexity. It’s not always teasing and reading through snarky remarks but their’s is a friendship that runs deep. I also didn’t expect Wilson to act the way he did being so stand offish at first. But then again you never know how people will react to tragedy. Well done by all cast members. And interesting to see Cameron a lot in the next episode. Are they trying to bring her back into romance with house?
    On another topic, did anyone else find the memorial for Kutner on the house website a little creepy?
    Also, is he really going to work for the Obama administration? Craziness. I was wondering why they would write him off the show.

    Looking forward to next week….

    Nicole

  • barbara barnett

    Nicole–Yes. Penn is going to work in the Obama administration. Good for him! I agree that the memorial is a bit creepy. He is a fictional character, after all, right?

    I agree that their handling of the topic was done beautifully, sensitively and just right. No hollwoodizing. Just disbelief and sadness.

  • Orange450

    Beautiful, beautiful review and analysis! Thank you so much. I appreciate your tremendous talent for incredibly quick assimilation and presentation of every important aspect of these complex, nuanced, highly detailed episodes. I depend on you to help me see them in their proper perspectives!

    I also immediately had the sense that House was talking about himself when he spoke to Mr. and Mrs. Kutner. Especially poignant given that House’s father was not his biological father either, and as we learned in Birthmarks, House seemed to have sensed that since he was quite young. So he might also have felt that his own identity was being hidden.

    I thought that one of the (several) reasons that House reacted so intensely to Kutner’s suicide is that he’s probably fought his own suicidal demons over and over again. We know his position is that it’s marginally better to live in misery than die in it, but I think that position is hard-won for him. Someone who has tried on and dismissed the idea for himself is going to have a much stronger reaction than someone who’s never thought about it. When I mentioned this thought on the Fox forum last night, another member responded that that could be specifically why Taub reacted the way he did, as well. I thought that was a good point.

    Back to the flourless chocolate cake. Thanks for the break!!

  • barbara barnett

    Orange, sounds yummy. I wrote half the night to get it done so i could prepare both the synagogue and my home for Passover. Tonight the soup and the fish and the vegetarian pate while watching this incredible hour one more time.

    Flourless chocolate cake, eh? I’m coming over for Seder!

  • Clare

    Thanks, Barbara, for your thoughtful article. I enjoyed reading it. Like others, I am saddened by the loss of Kutner. I’m sorry they took him away – fresh, bright, and funny. It will be interesting to see the domino effect of this event…

    As another comment here mentioned, the lighting of this episode was noticibly dark. I felt like I needed to turn on some lights inside the hospital. The moment when 13 and Foreman discovered Kutner in his appartment was terrifying and horrifying. And of course, House’s face at the end – forlorn, lost… pondering, searching, sad.
    Overall, this episode was not one to make me cry, but more make me have an internal feeling of deep sadness. But it’s reality – a sad tragedy that many people experience and are touched by. This episode definitely sent out an important message.

  • barbara barnett

    That final scene, with House simply sitting on Kutner’s bed, alone, his photographs around him was one of the most desolate portraits I have ever seen. Everyone will be able to move past this, except House. It will eat away at him, adding to his already formidable demons.

  • GMF

    Great and thoughtful review. I was one of the many last night was shocked and then angry at the way Kutner died. It was just so unexpected, but then again suicide is, I know because somebody I worked with just up and killed himself about 10yrs ago. It leaves you with many questions as to why, and did we miss something!
    Having now reflected on the episode more, I feel now that this may be one of the best ever of House episodes. They did what they set out to do, give the viewer the feeling and emotion of unexpected loss! The writing and the acting where excellent, from everybody. Of couse my highest praise goes to Hugh Laurie, who once again blows everybody away with his performance, the pain he showed in his eyes was heartbreaking. I am very VERY worried about House now, at some point he has to break and give in to the fact that not everything is a puzzle to be solved. Will Kutner now become another obsession like the patient Esther was in the episode “All In”? I hope not. I feel we are in for one very emotional ride for the rest of this season,
    I will miss Kutner, I loved the lightness he brought to the team, he will be missed. I too wish Kal Penn the best of luck in his new White House position. You have to really admire somebody who gives up a high paying job to follow his heart.

  • Orange450

    Barbara, we would be thrilled to have you and your family! Just say the word :-) (It *is* a very good cake.) Soup was done last night (simmering away while we watched). Salmon is poaching, and a sweet potato puree is cooling. Amaretti drying in the oven. Getting there slowly but surely. I was wondering if you lead a communal Seder at your synagogue?

  • http://www.myspace.com/illusionalgenius iryka

    i have to say i was so exicted to see you post an article so soon after and episode. but considering the circumstances, i would say that’s perfectly understandable.

    this episode made me guitly in being a spoiler hound. i saw a few weeks ago a rumor of a character death and researched it like crazy, then coming to the conclusion that it would have to be kutner. only a matter of when. what makes me so sad is that i didn’t have the chance to be full-fledged shocked, devasted over the loss. i admit i did feel disbelief when he was seen dead in the first 5 minutes, right after a comical seen of house saying he probably was at “wonderwoman’s lair”. the quick transistion to a blood-covered thrirteen had me on the edge of my seat, mouth haning wide open in shock. and this is coming from someone who knew it coming!

    i am curious as well though to what is going to happen now. its odd kutner died with at least a month more of eps to go, so i only wonder what is being planned for house. i hear he might suffer a mental break-down, and with how he is now, i wouldn’t be suprised.

    what kind of upset me though was the promo for next week’s ep, which seemed almost light-hearted and funny again. it just seems like a “normal” house ep. perhaps this is to give us one last dose of “easy-ep” house, before we’re bomboared with the big stuff?

    last night’s ep has only made me more eager for the finale however. i have to add that after watching this episode, i can now associate the song “lose you” to kutner as i do “passing afternoon” to amber. and i also know whenever i want to start crying all i’ll have to see is the scene when taub is crying in the hallway or house looking at all of kutner’s pictures, to settle at the last, very haunting picture of him, away from the camera, full of sorrow. these scenes were BEAUTIFULLY written and acted by peterson & laurie.

    it always is the ones you least expect, but i side with house. there has to be a reason. whether it’s a “simple explanation” or not is yet to be seen…

  • Orange450

    “That final scene, with House simply sitting on Kutner’s bed, alone, his photographs around him was one of the most desolate portraits I have ever seen.”

    That scene reminded me of the last scene in “Love Hurts” so strongly that I didn’t think we would be shown who was in the photo. I was actually surprised when we got the view of Kutner in an unguarded pensive moment.

  • Star

    Barbara what did you think about Kit O’Toole post “Has house jumped the shark”

  • wackjob

    Last night’s episode really, really got to me, even though I pretty much knew it was going to be Kutner who died (thanks, spoiler Internet). There is suicide in my family, and I myself have entertained suicidal thoughts to the point of being hospitalized. It is devastating to all involved. I rewatched parts of it today (I had a terrible time taping it due to a screw-up with the VCR) and was amazed at the ensemble acting, especially Cuddy. And House at the end…he seemed semi-deranged throughout, and did you notice they made no effort to do the “sexy House” thing in any of the scenes, i.e. focus on how blue his eyes are and have him wear a blue shirt, etc.? Instead his hair was really uncombed, he often had on a rumpled white shirt, etc.

    Also, it’s EXTREMELY unusual for House to say something like “good to see you” to Wilson under any circumstances. Maybe he said it flatly, but he said it. A straightforward declaration like that is the opposite of who House really is, and it’s an excellent gauge of his pain.

  • Eve K

    Thank you again Barbara for a really good review. This episode was beautiful and sad and real.

    I can say what I feel about the other article “Has House jumped the shark” and that is “no”. (Even if the question is a “thread-takeover”)

    I can agree that the writing is sometimes incoherent and there has been a lot of plots that has stopped mid-project, never to be seen again, but I think that makes the show real.

    The point is to make you think, you have to work a little to get something out of it. (I do agree that we – the readers of Barbaras blog takes a short cut, because she does a lot of the work for us!)

    I do agree that the little beauty queen girl was more than a little beside the story in this dark episode. But even that can happen in real life. When you are at the hospital because someone in your family is very sick, you can have a moment of fun. Life is full of contradictions.
    So no – House is better and more lifelike than ever.

    But – I also think it is to close to life to put a memorial page on facebook. There is a line here somewhere not to cross.

  • wackjob

    The little beauty queen was there at the very beginning, before they found Kutner. A light moment before all of the heaviness.

  • Eve K

    TPTB might see the facebook-page as some sort of art-project though.

  • byzantine

    Dear Barbara,

    Your gift for detail and deep understanding helped me to focus my otherwise scattered thoughts to put them in writing here.

    I was struck by the scene with Foreman and Thirteen finding Kutner’s body. They tried to furiously resuscitate him outside our field of vision and suddenly Thirteen emerged with her mouth covered in blood to lean on the edge of Kutner’s bed. I found the image disturbing and brutal, and it strangely reminded me of those “Animal Planet” documentaries that show lions (or other large cats) at their meal. I am not certain what to make of it, but I guess the image was supposed to set up the mood and to perhaps even imply the messiness of the picture that Foreman and Thirteen initially witnessed.

    I wondered why the creators of the show chose suicide—they could have had Kal Penn by finding him a new job or something along those lines and made his exit more elegant and not so heart wrenching. Perhaps they chose it exactly because there is no explanation, and House would not be able to handle it being the person that he is. As much as I love him, I get frustrated with House some time, and last night was one of those times. This season has been emphasizing the whole House v/s God (not only God of religion, but also of higher impossible to understand realities) thing and I thought that there were elements of it in the “Simple Explanation.” House believes that he can see everything, notice every subtlety; however, when he was in Kutner’s apartment he came to the conclusion that it was a murder not by deducing on the basis of actual evidence as his literary prototype Sherlock Holmes would have done, but because he has not noticed it coming. Wow! His gift for observation makes him in a sense god-like and he loves it and thrives on it, and yet he’s been given clues over and over again that some time things happen outside of his control and that coincidences are often part of his otherwise brilliant diagnoses. I suspect that by inserting Kutner’s inexplicable death the writers are trying to teach House some humility, and as much as I love the bad boy in him, I am all for it.

  • XJK

    I am so glad that I am resolutely spoiler free after this episode; the writers and actors in ‘A simple explanation’ have taken the viewers on the journey with them, as I felt I was part of the action more than ever before on a tv show. By setting up so many different situations; the continued unhappiness of Taub, 13’s downward spiral with Huntingtons, and, what I now realise was a masterstroke of misdirection, House’s ‘locked in’ vision they had me completely fooled! The words ‘Eric, he’s cold’ and seeing the realisation on 13’s face was horrible to watch, for the sheer emotional impact. I watched the remainder of the episode with my hand over my mouth!

    Hugh Laurie – its been said many times, but can never be said enough – is amazing. He became the person who is lost, the rug’s gone from under his feet and suddenly someone who always seemed so contented (I wouldn’t go so far as ‘happy’ – the image of him at home alone eating cereal for dinner keeps coming back to me) is revealed to be more miserable than him. The image of him desolate on the bed, alone again while everyone else (barr Taub) come together in grief, was haunting, his admission that it was ‘good to see’ wilson, and most revealing, ignoring a medical puzzle of the type he usually loves – they got the darkness of the character just right, and hat’s off to those who made it happen.

    The other thing I wanted to comment on is Wilson; firstly, nice to see that House (the show) doesn’t forget the character’s pasts, of course Wilson wouldn’t cope with the death of another young doctor, and of course he wouldn’t want to be the grown up. I liked how he tried to not deal with the problem with the suggestion of going to get drunk, but then he yet again judges House in the harshest possible light. He’s been known to get House’s motives wrong in the past – but this one had me shouting at him. Does he really believe House so selfish, so unfeeling, as to be interested in the mystery alone? Or to be concerned about his own powers of spotting the unspottable? I think it was genuine grief, House-style; guilt, denial, anger… will there come acceptance??

    Sorry for the ineloquent expression here – about to rewatch the episode and hopefully come up with a better comment :) Thanks Barbara for such a thorough review produced in such a short time; you must have realised that this was an episode that NEEDS discussion!!

  • Michelle

    Very nicely written, Barbara. I have to agree that Kal Penn did an excellent job with his character, and I was so upset to see him leave so suddenly (the preview after “Locked In” tricked me, so I thought he’d be in this episode-alive.)But I had to keep thinking to not cry because he’s gone, but smile because he was there. (:
    I must say, though, I wasn’t satisfyed with the episode until I saw Taub break down at the very end. Being as close as he was to Kutner, I’m glad he finally let his feelings through.
    Wonderful perspective for House, and I probably would have never guessed what was really going through that complicated mind of his. I kept asking, “Why doesn’t he show any sympathy or hurt in this?” and shortly afterwards I realized that he’s House, and he never shows his emotions the same ways we would.

    As for next week, my guess is that tensions will soon rise again between Cameron and House. Definately looking forward to it.

    Enjoyed the article, and hope to read more in the future.(:

  • Wnkybx

    Thank you, Barbara, for a very beautifully written article. You articulated the major points in the episode and each character’s reaction to the tragedy so well.

    I must confess that my original reaction to the episode was one of anger, shock, and sadness. I felt like I had been punched in the guts. I had read that the producers made this death a “creative decision” and that the “actor did not want to go,” so I had immediately jumped to the conclusion that this suicide was just another risky (and unwise) ploy for ratings. After reading that Kal Penn actually wanted to leave to pursue other things (heck, I’d leave my job to go work for Obama too!), I took a step back and admired this move on the producers’ and writers’ part: Kutner’s suicide really will force House to go to places emotionally he would otherwise never go, as long as nothing changed.

    I appreciated how lighting and music were used in this episode, and I think everyone remained in character regarding Kutner’s death. Your analysis of House is spot-on, and I have nothing to add in terms of what would have been running through his head. My main issue with the episode was the fact that Meat Loaf’s storyline was very distracting; I, like House, could not focus on anything about him and his wife because I was too emotionally distraught. Usually with each episode I can analyze whether the characters are actually offering medically valid ideas in the DDx sessions, but last night I didn’t hear a single medical term.

    Barbara, thank you for drawing our attention to how House lost focus on Eddie and Charlotte. Come to think of it, Cameron had an epiphany that she learned from House in “Que Sera Sera.” In that episode, House noticed the patient had clubbing of his fingers, a physical exam finding Cameron missed despite all the time she spent at the bedside, and diagnosed him with lung cancer. In this episode, Cameron noticed nodules on Eddie’s fingers and provided the clue to his true illness. Either she’s giving House a run for his money, or House is, as you say, completely falling apart.

    My final thought is about the title of the episode. House seemed to be looking for a “simple explanation” for Kutner’s death: murder, clinical depression, something plausible to make it all make sense. I’m wondering what you all think … is the irony that there isn’t a simple explanation? Or is that last photo of Kutner, looking deeply sad, the simple explanation?

    I will miss Kutner very much. He was my favorite duckling.

  • cj_housegirl

    A deeply thought out column Barbara. Thanks for writing it so quickly. This episode was deeply sad and real to me although I recognize that there is a lot of anger and bitterness on several forums and fandom communities. I wasn’t angry last night just confused and distraught. I liked Kutner.

    With the exception of a couple of reviewers, most of the mainstream media seem to view this episode as a great one. EW, which almost always takes time out to criticize House, actually called the show courageous. Time magazine also wrote a small article on it as did a number of newspapers.

    Being Canadian, I am also a huge hockey fan and all of those communities are male-dominated (American & Canadian) as opposed to the female-dominated fandoms. Sports boards also have entertainment threads and House is a popular show. The male viewpoint on these boards are almost directly opposite of that expressed on most female dominated boards. They liked the show, were shocked by it (many seemed to be unspoiled), were saddened, and wondered what happens next.

    I say this to you because of your comments about fandom and the boards. Plus, the second article asking whether House has jumped the shark (absolutely not). There are a lot a diverse discussion places out there. Not all House fans, especially the male ones, bother with the fandom boards/forums. In fact, I have read far more positive comments about The Simple Explanation than negative ones.

    Sometimes if you look to just one segment of the Internet (fandom) you get a very narrow opinion of how a show is viewed within a wider circle.

    I haven’t watched the show a second time, but I plan to. It left me really emotional last night so I need some time to let things settle before a second viewing.

    As always, thank-you for your continued analysis of House.

  • Wnkybx

    Another question for you all (who looked on the memorial site): did you read the official obituary and see that Kutner had a girlfriend? I thought that was interesting given the “loner” vibe I had been getting from him since he started working at PPTH. I also loved reading Cuddy’s note to him, thanking him for babysitting Rachel, and Wilson’s note about his short stories, indicating they were friends. The “badge” Fox is offering for people to embed on their facebook pages is a bit much though.

  • Suzanne

    Barbara – Excellent review and analysis, as always, and thrilled you got it up so quick!

    This episode through me for a loop so fast – I hadn’t read spoilers, I didn’t know about the death and just tend to kind of let the episodes happen as they happen – that it was hard for me to keep up. So, I watched it again.

    Even now, I can’t get out of my head that scene at the end with House, stooped over the pile of photos and so near to Kutner’s blood stain (ew, by the way), it was almost pathetic. Knowing that he won’t find anything and knowing that he won’t stop. It actually was painful to watch. Similarly difficult was Wilson’s reaction to House. I found it odd that he wouldn’t immediately go to House. Of course, Amber’s death clearly changed their relationship, but wow, to the point that he wouldn’t be the friend his ethical responsibility and social contract require…? It seemed unnatural, and I suspect (or hope) we haven’t seen the last of that.

    Cuddy’s response was predictable, so was Taub, Foreman and 13’s, but in my opinion, neither Wilson nor House’s was at all. I would have guessed, had someone told me a suicide was pending, that House would cast it aside as an idiotic action, from an idiot. But the guilt he felt, as if he weren’t using his powers for good, was amazing. And yes, you could see it in House’s eyes. Simply amazing…

    Somewhere up above, Eve K noted that this episode seemed ‘real’ and I can’t possibly agree more. We know these characters well, really well, and not to not know why this happened or whether it could have been stopped (with your standard TV-drama cliches) made me angry and feel hurt.

    As for reality, I am absolutely thrilled for Kal Penn. Seriously, that was a classy, conscious, and remarkable decision. Good for him…

    So, great review and from everyone, great comments!

    PS – No, House hasn’t jumped.

  • Eve K

    byzantine – I agree with you about House being full of himself. But I think that is a part of this seasons project. To tear down Houses wall.

    I must say that all the episode through I hoped that House never found out why Kutner killed himself, and I was really impressed that TPTB left it hanging there. If he had found some reason, THEN they would have jumped the shark.

  • ns

    House will assume the most responsibility for Kutner because House is the one who always knows what’s going on with everyone around him, knows what’s in their heads, etc., and likes to mess with them by using that skill and intuition that he has. It is the biggest blow for House that this would happen and go totally unnoticed by him. He starts to become angry with the rest of the team for not having noticed anything wrong, he even tries to blame it on the parents, but he is really most angry with himself because he knows he, of all people, should have seen some sign of this coming, and while his colleagues can be excused for letting something slip, he will never be excused in his own mind.
    So, House is the one who is going to be hit the hardest by this.
    As for seeing a psychiatrist….I liked it best what House said in the last episode after seeing a psychiatrist…”it doesn’t work.”
    Hopefully, House will come to terms with this in his own way and not through the “pop an anti-depressant and forget your troubles” method.

  • barbara barnett

    Trying to comment between appointments here. I’ve been following the discussion and appreciate everyone’s comments. No, I do not think House has jumped the shark. I respectfully agree to disagree with my BC colleague Kit. I think SEason five is one of the strongest in the series.

    This season has gone by so fast, I can hardly believe we’re down to the last four episodes. The image of the last scene is completely indelible. I can’t get it out of my mind. That and the look on House’s face as he tears his eyes from the computer, rubbing them, the second time Cuddy comes to see him. I think both cuddy and wilson are horrified that House has turned the simple explanation of Kutner’s suicide (he killed himself) into a mystery because he can’t accept that Kutner has done it and that he could do nothing to prevent it. It’s an insane leap, but one that protects House from himself, but I don’t think he even believes it after awhile–hence the final scene. Wow. That is all.

  • Orange450

    Wnkybx, I’m sorry that I didn’t respond to your post on the Fox forum last night, but the craziness there got to me, and I logged off the site.

    “My final thought is about the title of the episode. House seemed to be looking for a “simple explanation” for Kutner’s death: murder, clinical depression, something plausible to make it all make sense. I’m wondering what you all think … is the irony that there isn’t a simple explanation? Or is that last photo of Kutner, looking deeply sad, the simple explanation?”

    Good question. I think there’s no such thing as a “simple explanation” in a case like this. There may be an explanation, ultimately, but it won’t be simple. That’s the irony. The photo of Kutner provides some insight but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

  • Eve K

    From the aritcle in Time magazine :-)

    “Earlier this season, the writers seemed to acknowledge that the (episode-starting)formula was wearing thin. They wrote a (starting)scene in Episode 518 in which House is goofing off with matchbox cars in his office—one of which he literally causes to jump over a toy shark.”

    I didnt notice that, TPTB have self-irony.

  • shortonthecobb

    I’ve come across this blog a few times before, but this episode has moved me to make my first comment.Barbara, your insight into the show is simply detailed, compassionate, and simply awesome; I’ve bookmarked this page for sure!

    It’s great to read others’ thoughts about House, and this episode especially moved me. Like others, I noticed that the lighting was essentially extinguished in the scenes after news of Kutner’s death reaches the office, and I think that this mirrors the relative lightness that Kutner brought to the diagnostic room. Without his lighthearted approach, I think maybe the mood surrounding the next few diagnoses will be a tad bit more heavy handed than they would have been with him there – a testament to Kal Penn’s impact on the show.

    Like XJW, I spent most of the episode very worried about House’s mental state, and wishing he had someone to pull him out of the emotional quicksand surrounding Kutner’s death. Wilson should be that someone, but I agree that his constant view of House in the worst possible light can be very damaging here. If his best friend doesn’t believe that he is in mourning and feeling partially guilty, than who will? He’ll just end up returning to Kutner’s bed to sit there, alone.

    Again, great column and I can’t wait to see what the next weeks will bring.

  • JL

    As I haven’t seen the episode, I can’t comment very much. Thankyou, Barbara, for being aware that people needed to talk and for accordingly posting so quickly.

    I’ve noted several comments on here that people were glad they had not been spoiled. I’d like to disagree on that one – I’m rather glad to have several weeks’ speculation and one week’s notice before having to deal with the episode itself. I’m diligently trying not to spoil those around me who won’t see it for another week; yet, thinking of how I would have reacted were I unspoiled, allowing them to experience that shock feels somewhat cruel.

    I think that’s a big risk Fox have taken. In real life, the shock of sudden death, and especially suicide, can cause trauma for those affected by it. In this instance, spoilers have actually emotionally protected the fans somewhat. Those fans who haven’t been spoiled are potentially traumatised.

    One could suggest that Fox owe a duty of care to their fans, and that, having taken the decision to expose them to shock, posting the memorial site was very important in allowing them an outlet of grief (I’m probably being much too forgiving – that site is just… eurgh).

    I’d like to bring up the 5 stages of grief, which have been mentioned previously on ‘House’. They are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, finally, acceptance.

    I’m interested to see how these might correspond to people’s reactions to Kutner’s suicide – both the characters of ‘House’ and also the fans.

    I think the strength of one’s reactions would correspond both to one’s emotional maturity and to the amount of emotional investment involved. It’s not surprising that many fans are expressing great anger at Fox. It’s exactly what one would expect.

    Barbara, I disagree that House was refusing to deal with his grief. Grappling with the issue and trying to find an explanation is his way of grappling with life’s issues (cf. the ‘hope it will go away’ response to Tritter, for example). He moves through things painfully slowly, though, as we’ve seen in his struggle to come to terms with his own situation.

    Anyway, I’ll continue reading about others’ thoughts on this with great interest.

  • XJK

    Eve K- I totally agree with you that I didn’t want them to find out why he killed himself. It wouldn’t have been such a strong episode had they revealed it.

    A quick comment on Taub – he didn’t show anything to Kutner’s death until he let himself at the end of the episode, someone already commented that its partly his previous suicide attempt, but how much do you think is guilt? Could they have found him in time had he not been such a ‘friend’ and covered for him in the morning?

    I also (on rewatching) realised why the potw was so discordant… its because it actually was. Usually there is a certain degree of mirroring of what is happening in the lives of the lead characters (for example, the episode name escapes me, but with the agoraphobic patient going out while House tries to tell Cuddy how he feels). But here, on an ordinary day, fter an ordinary clinic session, with an ordinary (for House) case, the unthinkable happens. Those who have lost someone know that life does the remarkable thing of carrying on, no matter how much you want the earth to stop turning. That is why (I’m sorry, I can’t find the comment I’m referring to above) someone commented that the potw was distracting… Imo, it was supposed to be.

  • shortiee

    i loved this ep for its darkness. i think it was appropriate for the story line and played well with the emotions felt both by the characters and im sure the wider audience.

    im one for the music, and i looked up the lyrics for the song that was played in the closing sequence, and i read one perosn’s interpretation on what the song means:
    “I think this is about Pete (the song writer) ending a budding relationship before it gets serious enough to hurt him. He knows that eventually he and this girl will have to seperate, possibly so that he can work on one of those problems that he has to work out on his own. He knows if they get closer, she’ll end up falling into whatever that problem is and so he wants to end it before that happens to her and before he gets attached. he’s apparently done this before and even though this girl could mean a lot to him she becomes just “another thign” Does this sound like anyone we know? (i know it doesnt have much to do with the charaters this ep, unless u can stretch it to incluse how kutner was feeling and how this impacted everyone, but i thought id just point it out)

    Hugh did a simply amazing job. i know from reading the other posts that im not the first to realise this, but im sure i wont be the last =)

    thanks babara for another amazing piece and for helping me put my thoughts in order.

    laters

  • Wnkybx

    Hello, Orange! Good to read your thoughts … I agree, it got way too insane on the forum last night.

    JL, it’s great you remind us of the stages of grief. Which episode was that from? Those stages are also well known in psychiatry, but in real life those stages would take place over months. Last night I only went through 3: anger, depression, and acceptance. Not enough time for bargaining, and whichever spoiler I read before kept me from being in denial. ;p

  • JL

    Hi, Wnkybx (I always think that’s such a cool username!) – House tells Cameron the stages of grief in the first episode of Season 2, “Acceptance”, when she’s refusing to tell a patient that she has terminal lung cancer.

  • Ak

    aye fellas chek it i found a mistake in the epi/website lolz, wen foreman calls the ambulance (ryt afta him + 13 find k’s ded body) he tells em that k is 28yo bt in the official house websyt, in k’s obituary, it sez hez 33yo! w00t

  • Lisa Solod Warren

    Oddly enough I felt much better as soon as I found out earlier this morning that the actor Kal Penn was going to work for Obama. I don’t know why but I did.

    Great article, though, Barbara. Just great.

  • Chrisden

    Barbara of all your reviews on House episodes this one is definately one of, if not your best. You absolutely nailed everything there was to explain about “A simple explanation”

    I thought the writers/producers/actors did an excellent job of portraying how differently people deal with grief.

    With personal experience of a sudden death (not suicide) of a very close family member this episode especially rang true to me how differently people DO deal or try to deal with grief. I can say even the supposedly strongest of people (who think they are dealing with it) will and do break down at some point.

    I think the writers have got to be heading down this path with House.
    As it has been said, House has had to deal with a lot of emotional issues this series and this final blow amounts to, -well actually- goes beyond what he’s already had to deal with because he couldn’t figure out “why”. He’s got to break at some point.

    I also think the patients death will have an impact on his emotional state because he/they didn’t diagnose sooner resulting in her death.
    Even though all the others will accept she died as they didn’t diagnose sooner because they were distracted with trying to deal with the shock of Kutner’s suicide i don’t think House will. Cuddy gave him the chance to handover the case to another Doctor so he/they could deal with their grief but he wouldn’t and she let him keep it to try and support him but now the patient has died. A patient dying when he could have saved her would/will never settle lightly within House’s complex diagnostic mind. As somebody stated above “Esther, All In”.

    I also think Cameron has added to his eventual/inevitable mental breakdown (not intentionally) by crushing his belief that Kutner was murdered so he wouldn’t have to deal with the fact that he could have done something if it was suicide.

    I also think the same of Wilson’s comments.

    I thought Barbara did an excellent job of explaining the way Cuddy tried to support House.

    On a lighter note AGAIN – I’m giving up on my House wearing spectacles/glasses theory of being of any significance because he was wearing them again and Cuddy saw him this time and didn’t bat an eyelid. Spectacles/glasses wearing theory finished :).

    On a lighter note AGAIN AGAIN – Good luck to Kal Penn on working for Obama, i don’t read spoilers so have only just found this out.

  • Amie

    A very moving episode, even if I regret having being spoiled… (I won’t read spoilers anymore I won’t read spoilers anymore I won’t read spoilers anymore…) I remember haven’t being spoiled for the end of season 4 and was sitting at the edge of my seat “no, they’re not going to kill her!?” and wondering till the end. Unfortunately, I knew Kutner was doomed, but was surprised it happened so soon in the epi.

    I loved how everyone was in character : Cuddy being all professionnal and taking care of everyone as “mother” of the hospital, Wilson reminded of a recent death being too upset to deal with House (thank you for a little continuity!), Taub working hard on the case not to think about it, House not working on the case to find answers.
    I even liked the 14 storyline!

    I loved how the simple explanation is that there is no explanation.

    I loved how they showed that Cuddy understands House and try to find ways that work for him (“I’ll find you another patient”) (which I think she does since season 1).

    I didn’t like how once again the solution was an everybody-lies-I-cheated-on-my-spouse issue

    I love that the TPTB are messing with House.

    I loved that they realized they were dealing with something sensitive that isn’t to be taken lightly (this is entertainement after all) and showed that NAMI announcement at the end.

    and as always, I love your review, Barbara, and everyone’s comments. Thanks for putting it up so soon.

    I may be a minority here but for once, I wasn’t moved by House but rather by Taub. When he eventually gave in at the end, it really got to me. Kudos to PJ. I liked how he seemed really affected by that “good thing you got some (help)” House said, reminded that he attempted suicide once.

    I think the parallel between the PoTWs and Kutner’s death is “wanting to die” and “guilt”. Eddy wants to die to give his liver to his wife (out of guilt for not being there for her); Charlotte wants to die to give her heart to her husband (guilt for cheating on him in Rio).
    Kutner wanted to die.
    And Taub feels guilty. For not seeing it coming? for not being so nice to Kutner lately? But his line “you can’t feel that much guilt without love” seems to show how much Kutner meant to him.
    And as Charlotte’s death has no meaning (Cuddy :”it will give her death some meaning”. Taub:”no. it won’t” ), Kutner’s death has no meaning, no explanation…
    And it’s killing everyone…

  • Jair

    Barbara, wonderful review. I felt punched in the guts with this one, but it was so well done. I would never have chosen to trim the cast with Kal Penn, but given that he wanted to leave, for understandable reasons, the writers did a fantastic job making that exit really affect the story.

  • Debbie

    I never hated an episode of House until last night. This came out of nowhere. But I guess that was the point they were trying to make (sometimes you just don’t know when someone is depressed/suicidal).

    I was hoping this was all a dream/hallucination and we would found that out in the end, but they’ve already done that in No Reason and they wouldn’t have given a suicide PSA at the end.

    And I agree, Barbara; I think the producers’ idea of putting an obit for Lawrence Kutner on the website was tacky. Making an obit for a fictional character takes away the importance and significance of obits for real people, imo.

    I think House will still be obsessed next week (as he should be) but will realize that it was just what it seemed, suicide and not homicide.

    I couldn’t possibly have cared less about the POTW and her husband. (Or the POTW and his wife. I didn’t really know which was which, and, as I said, don’t care.) And I can’t believe this is the episode the writers chose to have Meat Loaf as the guest star. The front story totally put the patient(s) on the back burner and it didn’t really matter who played the husband.

    And as much as I love clinic patients, it had absolutely no tie into the main story (as most of them do) and it looks as though they could have filmed it months ago and just threw it in there, for God knows what reason.

    Having said all that, that it angered me means that Katie and David did their job and they did it well. It (Kutner’s suicide) came out of nowhere but like I said, that was the whole point, to throw us for huge loop.

    This is what I love about this show. If it had been Taub that committed suicide, it wouldn’t have shocked us as he has been in dire straits both personally and professionally recently. Would we have been angered and saddened? Probably. But not shocked.

    And I agree again, Barbara; Hugh Laurie continues to slay me week after week. What he can convey in one heartbreaking facial expression is worth a thousand words.

    On an entirely different note, I think the promos for next week purposely provoked suspicisions about Cameron still holding a torch. I think it is a catalyst for things to come between House & Cuddy.

  • Debbie

    P.S. Having read the reason for writing Kutner out of the show, I commend Kal Penn for following his heart and his passion. And I comment Katie & David for taking advantage of it and giving us a powerful episode.

    I know in my post above I contradicted myself by saying how much I hated it/loved it. That just goes to show how awesome K&D are in provoking so many diverse emotions with their creativity.

  • barbara barnett

    “I’ve come across this blog a few times before, but this episode has moved me to make my first comment.Barbara, your insight into the show is simply detailed, compassionate, and simply awesome; I’ve bookmarked this page for sure!”
    Welcome and thank you for your kind words, come back often! I think a lot of us were worried about House’s mental state after Kutner’s suicide.

    JL–I got an inkling of the need to talk on my personal blog. I usually get 100 hits a day or so. Within two hours of House last night, I’d had more than 200 in 2 hours and I hadn’t even posted anything new to it. The traffic to my BC articles also spiked and I really wanted to crank something out quickly, but I wanted it just right. We all need to discuss this. It’s a major turning point for the show and the fallout will be incredible.

    JL-I don’t think he’s “refusing” per se. He’s just unable to cope with it. It’s how he deals with his problems.

    Chrisden–thanks so much (and to everyone’s kind words). LOL about the glasses. I just think he’s beginning to need them. Like me 😉

    Jair–I also felt sucker punched after this episode. And I feel it’s the first of several to come.

    Debbie–we were supposed to “hate” what happened, and we were supposed to be stunned just like Kunter’s colleagues. As they reacted differently, do we. Hugh Laurie is, indeed, an acting genius.

    Answer to Orange’s off-topic question. No, I don’t run a synagogue seder. It’s enough work to do my own! Gefilte fish is made and in the fridge. Yummy.Just like my grandmother used to make it. Next up is the vegetarian chopped liver (mushroom/walnut/onion pate)

  • Jaim

    One thing that stood out to me about Kutner these last few episodes is how happy he was and how well he was doing in his job. I remember reading once that many times when people decide to kill themselves they enter an emotional state of almost euphoria where they have accepted that they will take their own life, thus fully enjoying their last few weeks before that. I mean in “Locked In” he made all the right suggestions for the patient, and House knew this. In “Here Kitty” he and House played pranks on one another and in the end he bested House. The last few episodes I feel like he was enjoying his last few weeks with his colleagues and even trying to have a good effect on them. He made sure to help Taub out and to always encourage Thirteen and Foreman’s relationship by saying “You have to grab whatever happiness you can,” in “Unfaithful”. He protected House from falling into a coma state in “The Softer Side”. I think he was making sure that once he did finally take his own life that he left a positive mark on the lives around him.
    My opinion is that since the episode “Birthmarks” and every episode from then on, he has been privately thinking of suicide. “Birthmarks” brought up all his own feelings about being adopted and losing his biological parents. He loved his foster parents, but I think he felt like he was living an inauthentic life. I definitely felt that in “Joy to the World” when he apologized to his past classmate for bullying him, he was starting the path to tying up his lose ends. I don’t think he wanted to die with huge regrets weighing him down. He wanted to start making amends for past hurts.
    I think that Taub is going to feel like he really screwed up as a friend to Kutner especially because in “Here Kitty” he basically told him they weren’t really friends.
    House will feel like crap mostly because I think Kutner was everything he wished he, himself, could be. Kutner always was seemingly happy and hopeful even though he didn’t have much to feel happy about. House probably envied his ability to move past his pain. Now that House knows what was really going on under the surface I think he will once again think that being openly miserable and angry is better than tempering himself as he tried in “The Softer Side.” But what I hope he gains is that his misanthropic and nihilistic ideas are just as much of a mask as Kutner’s eternal optimism was.
    Wilson getting mad at Cuddy struck me. When he said, “You couldn’t give a crap about me. You just want me to take care of him,” was really harsh. I started to wonder if he resents Cuddy’s unyielding loyalty to House. She cares deeply about them both but maybe not in the same way. Wilson has said something similar to this in “Dying Changes Everything,” during the ‘couple’s counseling session’ when he said “She has to say this to me so that she looks like she’s on my side,” in reference to her reprimand of House’s emotional blackmail of him to stay at the hospital.
    My feeling is that Kutner did show very subtle signs that he was in agony but each of his colleagues were too immersed in their own problems to notice. House was focused on his pain,Cuddy, and all his own emotional baggage. Thirteen and Foreman are focused on each other most of the time now. Taub was drowing in his own shame and guilt. I think that they were all in their own tunnel vision making it hard for them to notice a subtle sigh, a sad faraway glance, or a suddenly quiet mood from Kutner.

  • Michael

    I was cruising the ‘net looking for info. on this episode and happened upon this site.

    Firstly, kudos to the author for a well written piece. Sadly, we don’t find much of that these days on the ‘net.

    I am not a huge “House” fan, but try to watch it when I can as I find the writing and acting to be very good.

    I saw in this episode the suicide and how different people react to it. There is rarely any “sense” to it, even if there is a note and signs.

    There was also a connection to the Meatloaf character and his willingness to die (commit suicide) for his wife, but I won’t examine that arc at this time. Let me just say it seemed to me to be much more in the style of the stereotypic Hollywood formula for “sacrifice.”

    So often Hollywood loudly bellows that they are imitating life to justify too many stupid things, but in this case I thought this was an excellent “imitation of life.”

    Suicide is a reality. It is rarely, if ever, understood. The living are left to deal with the aftermath.

    Yeas ago, when I was still a teenager, a cousin of mine committed suicide. There were explanations and theories. There was remembrance and tears, but in the end, he was dead and nothing we could do or say could change that. Sort of like the weather. It just “is” or in this case; “was.”

    Taub’s reaction near the end was very well done. Sobbing, but we didn’t hear the sounds. An effect used very well in Godfather III with Pacino’s initial reaction to his daughter’s death. Also a similar effect during the funeral scene – no dialogue.

    Less is more. Silence truly is deafening.

    It wasn’t lost on me that a non Judeo-Christian death and funeral was handled with great respect on a U.S. television network, especially FOX, without even a hint of a reference to terrorism. Perhaps we truly are in a new era of understanding.

    To me, this episode felt the most “real” of any tv drama I have seen in a very long time.

  • barbara barnett

    Hi Michael. Glad you happened upon this site and my article. I can’t say enough how well the producers and writers at House handled the difficult issues. It would have been so easy to give the episode a pat ending; so simple to kill off Taub in this way. It was very realistic for the portrayal of friends/family reaction to suicide. There were moment I almost felt like a voyeur. What a fabulous hour of TV.

  • Meena

    Wow, this was an incredibly moving episode – so wonderfully written, acted, and executed.

    I admire that we never saw Kutner’s face, that the PsOTW were a blur, and that each person who knew Kutner not only had a distinct, personal reaction to his suicide but also reacted to each other’s reactions. I feel so strange saying this, but the suicide scene itself was the most moving I’ve seen on television, so beautifully rendered with respect, shock, awe, disbelief, and unbelievable sadness. And so very real.

    I also admire the writers for not pandering to over-the-top drama, or what Kutner must have been feeling (deep down and behind closed doors) but focusing, quite realistically, on how the people remaining are taking it. Watching House, almost dutifully, try on different ‘diagnoses’ of why Kutner killed himself was so sad to watch, and yet so in character. At the end, when it seems he’s realized he’s just chasing his tail, that he’ll probably never know, broke my heart. The overshadowed sets and darkened atmosphere on any other show would have come across as contrived, but in this episode the direction fit so perfectly.

    I thought it interesting that the PsOTW were also both ‘suicidal’, in a more logical way. Each POTW wants to take his/her life in order to produce (or at least help to produce) a certain, noble outcome: saving the life of their partner at the expense/sacrifice of their own (I think there is an element of atonement in this as well). The wife actually tries to kill herself on her own, overdosing on some meds, thinking her death and her husband’s life to be mutually exclusive. But when her husband’s diagnosis changes and he isn’t going to die of cancer, the act goes retroactively from being noble to being foolish. In the end, the wife, stuck with the consequences of her drastic actions, ends up dying a senseless death, just like Kutner.

    It seems that actions are simple and direct, but explanations can never be.

    I have to say I was touched by the little details throughout the episode, but none moreso than the dried bloodstain on Kutner’s floor, just like the stain House has on his office carpet from when he was shot in season 2. The way that House looked at it – as if it were familiar, but then also as if it were something otherworldly – took my breath away.

    Finally, the Ordinary People poster in Wilson’s office makes so much more sense now – I think it’s been there since Painless…

    There is so much more to say…I am amazed at how, with one episode, the writers managed to not only change the direction of the remaining episodes of season five, but to also cast a new light on the preceding ones as well. I really didn’t like Here, Kitty, but now feel compelled to rewatch the episode.

  • Sheila

    Although I do admire DS’s attempts to be innovative with his wildly successful House format and appreciate his creative fire……I think I admire his guts more than his achievement in this last episode.
    The whole Kafkaesque thing got to be very self referential , very quickly. The suicide of Kutner was a brilliant idea and could have stood on it’s own as a script without the added traffic jam of the dual POTW. Some judicious editing would have helped the episode. The POTW were distracting and their case too complicated for an already uber heavy plot line.
    Hugh Laurie proved yet again how he rises above the noise of any script and makes every scene he is in, just sing.
    If you ever get to interview him Barb, please ask him if he fills himself with the emotions and let the viewer see them or if he portrays the emotions and reflects that image back to the camera. I’ve always wanted to know. The former would seem more costly to the actor.
    I am sorry Kal Penn has left the show, but for what an opportunity ! Good for him and best wishes.

  • Sera G

    Hello, Barbara,
    Wonderful, heartfelt comments from all. I don’t have much new to add to all that has been said, but I wanted to comment on a few things:

    I was drawn into the spolers (again!) and knew that a death was coming. While it didn’t surprise me, it was startling that it happened within the first few minutes. For some reason I thought it would end the episode after some ‘event’ or harshness from House. This way was much more emotional, powerful and inexplicable.
    The darkness, as a matter of fact the whole ‘feel’of the scenes/lighting made me think of how I felt when my father died unexpectedly. I felt as if I was moving through a cloud, almost dreamlike. That was the same quality I got from the episode.
    A friend’s fiance commited suicide. For years she clung to the belief that it was murder. (Even after a police investigation, etc.) A person looks for signs, wants there to have been something they could have seen or done. Tragically, there often is nothing.
    That was a wonderful observation made by Jaim that perhaps Kutner was tying up loose ends, saying goodbye and making things right, even if only he knew that was what he was doing.
    I felt Wilson was protecting himself and not acting selfishly; this must have brought back too much of what he endured with Amber’s death, barely a year ago.
    I loved Cuddy. She understands, worries about and will always protect House. Those scenes show so much about her deep, protective and loving feelings for him.
    I know it was a bit over the top to have a ‘memorial’ for Kutner, but as we know, spending hours analysing a TV show, these characters become very real for us and there needs to be a way to say goodbye. For younger viewers, that might be a way to channel anger and grief.
    “Simple Explanation” has stayed with me all day. Powerful writing and amazing acting. TPTB did not take the easy way out. They promised pain and they delivered.

  • Meena

    As an aside, as someone with a South Asian/Hindu background, Kutner’s funeral was not a traditional Hindu ceremony, though there was a Brahmin priest/ swami (can tell by the markings on his head) and an implied cremation at the end. (BTW I am assuming Kutner is Hindu because Muslims, as a rule, do not cremate their dead.)

    However, the building it took place in looked much more like a mosque, complete with a Perisan dome, rather than a Hindu temple. Also, in a typical Hindu funeral, there would not have been formal pallbearers per se at the end, but rather family members would carry the body in the beginning to the funeral pyre. And, during the cremation, the priest, family and co. would have been standing closer to the funeral pyre to perform the rites, and usually all this occurs outside and/or near a body of water.

    I wasn’t sure if they were just taking dramatic license, being purposefully vague / overlapping religions, or just uninformed. Part of me would have wanted them to show a traditional Hindu funeral ceremony because most people in this country have never seen one before (you’d be surprised how many people don’t even know what Hinduism is). Especially for a show this smart about so many different religions – this is my only slight gripe about this episode. But yes, I guess I should rejoice that the swami wasn’t strapped with C4 or carrying a gun:)

  • JL

    Meena – Do you think that having a somewhat-mixed-up Hindu funeral (apparently mixed-up – I’m going by your description above) could be a reflection of Kutner’s mixed-up upbringing, as noted by House? His adoptive parents weren’t Hindu (I believe) and might want Kutner’s funeral to reflect aspects of their own culture (eg. having pallbearers).

  • mandy

    Thank for such a thoughtful review, Barbara.

    One of the things about House MD is that is always makes me think, and last night was no exception. I was really touched by Wilson’s statement that, “it’s okay not to be okay”, that people don’t always have to put on a brave face after something horrible has happened.

    I thought they also were respectful with regards to the suicide issue. To me, a person who has been impacted by such events, it seemed realistic. Sometimes, you just can’t know why–and it’s a hard thing to accept.

    The episode also did a good job of conveying grief. Often, when someone dies, especially in a tragic way, we are left with regret and a lot of “what ifs”. The cast conveyed that sense of regret, in that they wish they had known him better, etc. Taub especially felt guilty, as he only recently told Kutner that they weren’t friends.

    I won’t repeat much else, other than kudos to HL and PJ for their outstanding performances, respectively. Both of them conveyed so many emotions with either their faces or their inflections.

    PS: Anyone else notice that the Vicodin is back?
    House took some before they went to talk to Kutner’s parents.

  • http://blogcritics.org/mt/comments41.php j.i.m.

    On a seconding viewing of this episode, I loved the artistry of the first shot of House after he was aware of Kutner’s suicide. His face in profile was a perfect match for the photo of Kutner that House was holding at the end of the episode and which he found so disturbing. Both House and Kutner were pictured with heads bent down and shadowed eyes that were impenetrable and lifeless.

    It is clear now that not only House was saddled with unbearable pain. But in contrast to Kutner, House is a bull in a china shop, spreading collateral damage freely. Kutner sought to bring peace and comfort to those around him eventhough he suffered. As House misses nothing, he couldn’t fail to draw the parallel/contrast between himself and Kutner and find his own behavior wanting. The only thing House can be proud of is enduring his pain longer than Kutner while Kutner’s weakness was not seeking help to try and relieve his emotional pain. Will House learn from this and seek help beyond his vicodin? Perhaps he will decide to make a second appointment with the psychiatrist.

  • Meena

    JL – I should start by saying that in my post I was just explaining the way I know Hindu funerals to be…I am sure there are many Hindus from different parts of the world that perform them differently.

    I do agree with you, I think that it was probably a reflection of Kutner’s upbringing being mixed-up, overlapping parts of his heritage/ religions/ traditions on purpose that would best explain his funeral (I didn’t articulate that too clearly in the post above:)). I also like the idea of the writers being intentionally vague, so as not to distill any more information/speculation of who Kutner was.

    Continuing your thought, it could also be that since it seemed no one had an inkling as to why he killed himself, maybe they couldn’t know which type of funeral / good-bye he would prefer, or which he may have felt was more ‘Kutner’ (and maybe he didn’t know the answer to that himself). Maybe the funeral was set up by his parents/loved ones to cover all the bases, so there wouldn’t be a wrong choice. Who knows, sadly.

  • mandy

    j.i.m.–He took some Vicodin before he met with Kutner’s parents.

  • sdemar

    Thanks for your wonderful review, Barbara. More than 24 hours later, I am still thinking about this episode. That’s how I know it did what it was supposed to have done. Make me think.

    Powerful episode and wonderful acting by all. I can’t wait to see where Greg House is heading. I don’t have a good feeling. But one thing I know. He has an incredible resolve to live. Time and time again, he has shown us he has a desire to live, which apparently Kutner did not.

  • Jaim

    Another thought came to me, this death probably affects House so much because once again someone so similar to himself was abruptly taken. Amber shared House’s anything goes, vindictive, take charge philosophy of life and then ultimately she perished. Kutner, as Cuddy pointed out, shared House’s enthusiasm for pushing boundaries and thrill seeking and he also perished. Thirteen is similar to House in that she has an incurable physical problem and she will ultimately die as well. Thirteen already nearly died during the hostage situation and from the affects of her clinical trial. A big difference here is that House was responsible for saving her life the second time.
    Foreman is similar to House in that he can become very emotionally detached when dealing with patients and he always stays focused on the case instead of retreating into the personal. Foreman nearly died in season two but was saved in time.
    It must really mess with House’s mind to see so many versions of himself die or nearly die. I also think that this painful loss will only make him feel like he really has no real control over the events around him. He usually knows how to manipulate situations or people and expect a certain result, but Amber’s death and Kutner’s suicide have both blinsided him. I can see him gradually falling into a post traumatic nervous breakdown and ironically becoming as metally lost as Wilson’s brother. It would be interesting to see Wilson handle House’s eventual break considering his heaviest guilt comes from not being there for his own emotionally disturbed brother.

  • GForce

    Thanks Barbara for another wonderful review. I always read your thoughts after House and I always love your insight, but have to say you really nailed this one. I admire that you can write such coherent thoughts so soon after an episode such as this, I am still a mess. You wrote so much of what I have been trying to say to others – thank you.

  • Reba

    Dear Barbara.
    Thanks again for a well-written review. I also think that the writers/producers have foreseen that this episode will somehow split the fans. I do think it was made because Kal Penn decided to go off to the Obama administration – and good for him! Brave move. But also I feel that it really reflects what is a reality, a lot of suicides seem to just happen – to people around them. I think Kutner’s was planned (the message about the dog and so on). Two strong hints for me was the scene after Amber’s death where everyone is struck by it, except Kutner who seems completely unfazed in front of the television. And the fact that he always seemed to share small facts (like the subscription on National Geographic) and maybe not the big facts. However, I will miss him. Kal Penn did a great job as Kutner. I really liked that character.
    Reba.

  • http://www.myspace.com/illusionalgenius iryka

    say. i just rewatched “here kitty”, the ep im sure kutner had the biggest and most intrguing role in, and i discovered something.

    at the time it seemed humorous becasue of kutner’s apparent phobia of cats, but what if it was more than that? perhaps kutner hated to be around it since he feared it would predict his death and alert everyone to his suicide in but two episodes?

    and does anyone remember how the cat zoned in on him numerous times throughout the ep, to a point where it was the cat and kutner staring straight at each other? how he just decided to leave the back way, which seemed humrous due to the music, but was it foreshadowing of the future?

    and when house was messing with kutner at aiming the laser pointer at kutner’s legs, so the cat would follow suit.

    remember wat house said?

    “oh no! the death cat is attacking your legs!
    you’re going to DIE”

    that gave me straightout goosebumps when i watched it again.

  • http://dracutweblog.blogspot.com Mary K. Williams

    Barbara — nice, nice job. And kudos to the staff at House, writing, directing – and of course, acting.

    We were interested in seeing the ep because my son is a big Meatloaf fan. And of course, they had hinted that it was going to be ‘one of those episodes’.

    What a shock.

  • Wnkybx

    I’m loving everyone’s comments. They’re so insightful.

    I think Irkya’s observation about “Here Kitty” is spot-on. That episode aired around the same time the spoiler leaked, and I figured the animal’s intuition about and interaction with Kutner were foreshadowing his death.

    I am glad that Jaim brought up the happiness seen in some people who make a plan to end their lives. I was rotating through a psych hospital, working with a physician in training who took her life. In the week prior to her death, she suddenly seemed happier, more at peace. No one, not even the psychiatry attendings, picked up the signs that she was depressed; no one batted an eye when her mood seemed different. Day in, and day out the psych attendings treat patients who have suicidal ideations, and they were flabbergasted by the news. Like House, they were tormented by the fact that they didn’t pick up the signs. In Kutner’s case (after having been spoiled), I was really struck by how happy-go-lucky he seemed at the end of “Locked In,” when he allowed Taub to take credit for his ideas in the competitive and malignant work environment House created. It was as if he had nothing to lose. This is very much in contrast to how he used to compete with Thirteen in DDx sessions. Thinking back, I was also intrigued by why the POTW in “The Social Contract” kept calling Kutner’s smiling creepy. It’s as if the patient picked up on the fact his smiles were not sincere because he had to force them to appear pleasant. Appearing happy to mask his internal turmoil was Kutner’s end of the social contract.

    All these subtleties that are open to interpretation are another reason why I love this show so much.

  • Suzanne

    Wow, everyone’s comments are really great – and to echo someone further up, it’s nice to have this kind of outlet for the show. It’s thoughtful, considerate and generally intriguing, plus the conversation that stems below is always great.

    Anyway, good catch on the cat and House’s reaction to him from ‘Hello Kitty’ – I mean, you want to talk guilt, yikes! But I’m not so sure it was a sign, at least not to Kutner. I get the sense, based on the very limited information given to us, that perhaps this wasn’t exactly planned. But aside from the question of why, I want to know where did the gun come from? why today (or April 2nd, as indicated)? what happened on April 1st that sent him to do this? I know these questions aren’t supposed to be answered, and I truly hope they never are, but it will definitely keep nagging at me.

    Above (again, sorry, I can’t keep all the comments straight but they are all really wonderful) someone mentioned Wilson’s comment to Cuddy, the one about taking care of House, and I must agree. So harsh! What on earth set that reaction off? It was just…mean! Cuddy’s reaction to House was as it would have ever been – protecting her asset/loyalty/whatever you want to call it. I did not found that out of character for her at all. But Wilson, wow.

    Sidebar: It was almost unfortunate to have Meatloaf as a guest on this episode. It was completely backburnered. Though, comical that the underlying theme of his plotline was that he would do ‘anything for love’….even that (sorry – I had to go there).

    Thanks again to all for the great conversation. I love it!

  • Donna

    Barbara- While I feel less stung today than after first watching “SE” Monday it still has staying power w/me this morning. Still absorbing the content. Suicide and it’s after effect on family, friends, coworkers. IMHO, very well done and realistic by the House staff. I’m curious how an even more unstable House will come out of this relatively (for House) healthy? Can he?

    iryka- It’s odd that you should mention you rewatched “Here Kitty” and here’s something else to ponder from that ep. My niece was watching missed House eps while visiting last night
    (beginning w/”HK” and ending w/”SE). I was more preoccupied w/completing my income taxes but listening to the dialogue in the background. I froze and looked at my television just after House bitingly commented to Kutner, “I thought your superstitions had to do with your folks being killed. But your stupid works just as well”.

    Might it be a comment House will regret saying (among other comments/actions)?

  • nc

    In a strange way, House almost strikes me as co-dependent. He needs to save everyone, needs to know everything, needs to figure everything out. Of course, it’s his job as the court of last resort for seemingly hopeless cases, and it taps straight into his complex personality with its rigid refusal to need anyone. He just feels responsible for the world.

    He’s had to say “I don’t know” too many times this season for someone with his persona and history: most significantly for me, to Cuddy on a personal level, and now about Kutner on a professional/personal level.

    He looks haunted. Essentially, he is, since he never gives up on a mystery, medical or otherwise, and he never lets others too close, so he can’t let his burdens be shared.

    I get the feeling this is driving him toward Cuddy and away from Wilson, but that if he and Cuddy become intimate because he has sought her out in pain instead of in love, it could explode on both of them in ways that would redefine the classic season-ending episode.

  • http://dracutweblog.blogspot.com Mary K. Williams

    Though, comical that the underlying theme of his plotline was that he would do ‘anything for love’….even that (sorry – I had to go there).

    I know! I picked up on that too.

  • Eve K

    Meena – interesting that you noticed an “Ordinary people”-poster in Wilson’s office. It was there from the Painless episode? That movie is about a boy and his family struggling with the aftermath of a suicide attempt.

    I remember so well his friend from the institution who seemed happy and well adjusted. And it was she who killed herself in the end, not him.

  • Michael
  • Sheila

    To Suzanne post #65: Wilson’s reaction :

    I think part of the Wilson/House dynamic shift is simply having different writers on each script who see the characters through their own creative prism.

    I think Wilson was being truthful to Cuddy when he said about the situation ” I can’t deal with this and House too”. I think Wilson was experiencing some post traumatic stress linking the death of Amber and Kutner. Both bright, young doctors working within House’s orbit. Wilson has not entirely made his peace with House’s role in Amber’s death. RSL said recently of Wilson ” every time he thinks of Amber , he thinks of House and every time he sees House , he thinks of Amber”; much as House himself feared in Emancipation as modeled by the young girl who feared her parents censor after accidentally caused her brother’s death.

    I noticed that House had rationalized a kinder reason for Wilson’s absence. House felt Wilson didn’t want to hover about him & wanted to let him work things out for himself. House simply can’t risk acknowledging any further rejection from Wilson, it’s too threatening to him. There was a note of relief in his voice when he took the unusual step of acknowledging Wilson’s presence when he finally turned up at Kutner’s apt. ” It’s good to see you.”

    House was correct when he said that Wilson is scared of loosing him (Birthmarks) and Wilson tacitly acknowledged as much when he said he ” was terrified ” as to what House might do if he lost his intellectual gift/his very self. Wilson loves his friend deeply as his troubled brother (IMO) but he is afraid of getting hurt by watching House sprial to his death ……Wilson was slow to respond in order to protect himself and out of residual anger , but in the end you can rest assured Wilson will be there for House.

  • Emayla

    First of all, beautifully written. I’ve been reading your columns about House for a while now and every column is really well written.

    When I heard the rumors on the internet that there will be a suicide on House, I immediately thought of episode Painless, where Taub expressed how repulsive the thought of suicide seemed to him. And after watching this week’s episode, I have remembered Kutner’s words: “So if you were being burned to the stake and someone handed you a gun…” “I’d shot the guy with the torches,” responded Taub. But it made me wonder. Did Kutner felt like he was being burned to the stake (not literally of course)? How important actually is the episode Painless? Since I have already known that Simple Explanation is going to be very important I spent some time on the internet (before the episode aired)trying to find the person who’s going to die and it all pointed to Kutner (especially those promo pictures for next week’s episode, Saviors), but that where it all ended. I posted my conclusions on a House forum and no one really listened. Cause no one really expected Kutner, the guy who brought humor into the series, to kill himself. And that brings us to the question House has been dealing with this whole episode: Why? What happened?

    He couldn’t have lost somebody: his parents were already dead, and as far as we know he has no siblings.

    I thought that over and over and I’m coming up blank. But after I read interview with Kal Penn, Katie Jacobs and David Shore, I’m thinking: what if not even the writers don’t know why it happened (not that they don’t know why THEY did it but that they don’t know why the character did it)? It’s a long shot, but if I’m not mistaken, they just needed someone to do a suicide, so Kal Penn’s wish of leaving the series came in just the right time. So that means it doesn’t matter who dies, as long as someone does. And it doesn’t matter why he dies, as long as it affects the rest of the episodes.

    Well that’s just my humble opinion. I’m probably mistaken about the writers not knowing why he did it so you all might as well ignore that if you please.

  • carolyn

    I feel this season’s theme has been the question, “Does everything happen for a reason?” House’s answer has always been yes, and his gift is finding a reason or cause that no one else can see. But with the situations presented in episodes like “Unfaithful”, “Here Kitty” and “Locked In”, and now “Simple Explanation”, House has been unable to find a number of reasons. Is he loosing his gift? Or do somethings just really have no explanation? If that’s the case, House is questioning the core of his philosophy. How he handles this, how he develops as a character could be the turning point of the show.

    How could they ever say it’s jumped the shark! Granted, I wish they’d pick up some of the story lines – the desk for one, then the baby naming ceremony, and even House meeting Wilson’s brother . . . I’m really sorry if I’ve repeated what’s already been said, or didn’t really say anything that important at all, and not to sound like a broken record, but the thoughtful comments and review really help so much. Episodes always make much more sense after reading them!! : )

  • Debbie

    I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of anything that may have given us a clue to Kutner’s state of mind. A lot of dialogue from Here Kitty comes to mind. And, like a lot of commenters here, I thought for sure there were some. But I just read the following in an article on http://www.houseisright.com. The article title is Kal Penn: Front House” to the White House, dated April 7th:

    “By the way, David Shore was very clear that there was no foreshadowing on the show. There were no hidden clues and anyone who tries to read them into the previous episodes will only be doing what House has done, try to get answers that aren’t there.”

    It’s clear they definitely wanted this to feel like it came out of nowhere and allowed the audience to reel, just like House.

  • Suzanne

    Sheila – Thank you. Your thoughts definitely prompted another look at their interactions and another time around. Now, by about the umpteenth viewing I think I had desensitized just enough for it to make a decent amount of sense. It’s definitely true that Wilson isn’t over Amber, and I fully believe that he just is not able to deal with House’s mania and the tragedy, but still…I can’t help to think Wilson’s comment to Cuddy was just mean. Hmmm, very curious as to how this unfolds with the last couple of episodes.

    Something else I noticed on this recent re-watching…when House goes to talk to Cameron about (presumably) the patient, he says to her that he “needs an incurable romantic to talk to an incurable romantic…” Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but Cameron jumps in to talk about Kutner and changing House’s mind regarding the murder. To her, House is the incurable romantic? I mean, in my purview, TOTALLY, but to her? I wonder if he means to be self-referential here, knowingly or otherwise. (By the way, this also prompted a great response, which I hope to incorporate into my vernacular: “did you deduce that by removing your sunglasses to the strains of a Who song?” And, CSI: Miami, really David Caruso?)

    Now, by this 7 millionth viewing (insomniacs have to do something with their time), I had to look up the song at the end. The way the lyrics hit each scene was amazingly perfect (tthough, yes, clearly well-planned). Before I get into that, here are the lyrics from Pete Yorn’s ‘Lose You,’ which played the last few minutes:

    “I’m, Taking a ride, Off to one side, It is a personal thing, Where, When I can’t stand, Up in this cage I’m not regretting.

    I don’t need a better thing, I’d settle for less, It’s another thing for me, I just have to wander through this world, Alone.

    Stop, before you fall, Into the hole that I have dug here, Rest, Even as you, Are starting to feel the way I used to.

    I don’t need a better thing, Just to sound confused, Don’t talk about everyone, I am not amused by you.

    ‘Cause I’m gonna lose you, Yes, I’m gonna lose you, If I’m gonna lose you…

    ‘Cause I’m gonna lose you, Yes, I’m gonna lose you, If I’m gonna lose you, I’ll lose you now for good.”

    To the production team at House – great choice! So remarkably fitting. Here’s why (disclaimer, I read way way WAY too much into this): the first line above cuts to each of them, at the funeral – as it relates to Kutner, they’re all on their own; next line, cut to Eddie/POTW – talk about settling for less, and then to House at Kutner’s apartment – he’s (as always) alone; the next line feels like a warning – again, cut to each of them, including House and save for Taub; next line, cut to Taub with the 2xPOTW; and for the last two lines, crescendo into everyone losing everyone else – POTW, Kutner, House’s sanity/gift/un-obsession, Taub’s control, an explanation on Kutner. Powerful stuff.

    Ok, I’m going to quit while I’m too far behind. Curious if anyone else saw any of this.

    PS – Debbie: totally agree. Success at complete shock with this episode.

  • Roo

    I am still reeling. First off, thank you Barbara for such a wonderful and prompt review for such a heavy episode. I always love reading your take.
    This was an amazing and shocking episode (even though I was spoiled, I was still in denial) and I’m glad for a place where I can read other’s thoughts and come to terms with the death of one of my favorite fellows.

  • Neicee

    Hi. I’ve been a huge fan of House since it began–it’s the ONLY reason why I can bring myself to watch the FOX Channel. And I can’t believe that I’m just now stumbling across this site. Hullo, where have y’all been all my life? :-) I’ve never taken any interest in posting my opinions on the Internet (being a firm believer in the old adage of how opinions are like that certain part located in the nether region of one’s body :-)) until now.

    In the past 10 years, I have had two cousins and most recently in January, long time married friends apparently despondent over their financial devastation from our spiraling economy, commit suicide. All with handguns. When the shot changed to showing Kutner lying next to the handgun in a pool of a blood, my heart just dropped. I spent the remainder of the show breathless with awe and in tears, it was so spot on. The actors, the writers, they got it—it was real. The shock, the chaos, the lack of focus, the darkness, the fear, the numbness, the disbelief, the denial, the loss; they got it all. I saw the parallels from the “Acceptance” episode as each of the characters in this episode, including House, depicted the various stages of grief. It was really incredible to watch.

    Monday’s episode was brilliant, painful and cathartic for me all at the same time. So I was somewhat baffled by some of the comments that with this episode the show has now “jumped the shark”. I recall seeing or reading an interview with David Shore and/or Katie Jacobs, where they stated something to the effect that with the major characters like House, they are slowly peeling away the layers of the characters. Some of the shark jumping critics claim that the show isn’t about the House character anymore. I would respectfully disagree. With each season, there’s been more peeling away of the layers that make up the House character. This season in particular, there’s been quite a bit of peeling of the layers, the very core of House’s character is being tested. It’s going to be very interesting to see the fallout. So shark jumping? With this episode? Please. I don’t believe the shark is even in the water yet.

    I do agree though that the Kutner memorial website is bit over the top. He was a fictional character, beloved, clearly, but fictional nonetheless. An unfortunate misstep on the part of the powers that be, as it somewhat marginalized a powerful episode; both in its handling of the subject matter and deftly setting up the impending self-implosion of one of the best characters on TV these days. Nothwithstanding the nuttiness of the faux memorial site, it did prompt me to make a donation at NAMI.org in memory of the loved ones my family has lost to suicide. (Hmm, maybe that’s what the powers that be had in mind all along).

    In the end, it is somewhat encouraging to see all the dialogue that the episode has sparked around suicide and mental illness. Cherish your loved ones for the time that they are with you; as you often have no control over when and how they leave you. And thanks Barbara for your insightful and always thoughtful commentary about this wonderful show. I’m glad I tripped up on this site and look forward to reading your analyses on the remaining episodes.

  • tigerfeet

    Thanks Barbara for the beautifully written analysis of this dark and shocking episode.

    It’s also been very interesting to read all the great comments. I am very pleased that almost everyone refrains from spilling the beans on future episodes, so that all of us spoiler-free folks can enjoy (and sometimes participate) in the discussion following each episode. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Kudos to you Barbara for creating such a fantastic “forum” with your articles.

    Even if I fear for House’s emotions and actions in the reminder of the season, I take heart in his comment regarding Kutner, that “he’d have known that living in misery sucks marginally less than dying in it.” To me this means that House does not want to die in misery. So IMO he will continue to try to improve his quality of life, and dealing with Kutner’s suicide might even help him in this prosess.

    Thanks again, everyone!

  • Flo

    Very good review Barbara. Your analysis was completely pertinent and well thought (as usual). This episode was wow. Just WOW!!

    I was totally surprised by Kutner’s suicide and by the way the writers handled it. It was like “in your face”. It was a shocking scene and it was terrible to see Thirteen, covered in blood saying “he is cold”.

    The episode was poignant. It was great to see how everybody reacted to the tragedy. Why? I think it is a legitimate question that everyone (characters and fans) wondered. It was painful to watch House “chasing ghosts”.
    Also, poor Taub, I really felt for him because Kutner was his friend no matter what he said about just being co-workers.

    I liked how the people who knew Kutner less reacted too. It was interesting to hear Chase talk to Taub: “go home and cry”. Chase also sees a lot of things and I think it was something that an ‘unaffected’ House could have said to someone who have just lost a friend.

    I liked the interactions between House and Wilson and between House and Cuddy.
    For the first, it was nice to see Wilson trying to be the friend and confident he used to be before Amber and nice also to see him admit to House, at the end, that he was wrong about him and he is worried.
    For the latter, Cuddy was herself and I like the fact that it is her who confronted House about Kutner’s similarities to him.
    I found their conversations really personal and quiet. Even in tragedies they are completely at ease with each other.
    Someone commented about “Locked In” that maybe House and Cuddy already started seing each other but we didn’t get to see it yet. I don’t know if it is true but after that episode I must say that it is a possibility. I found their conversations to be true, and very intimate. They spoke quietly almost murmurred to each other. The way House thanks her after she said she was sorry and the way Cuddy touched House’s arm later on, I think it was really couple-like.
    It may just be me but I found that there was a new intimacy here. If something didn’t already happened between them they’re definitly going there.

    The PotW was interesting but I was like House: too distraught to really pay attention.

    Okay now, the cinema student and short films director in me can’t end this comment without saying a word about the image. The directing was good. The characters’ expressions was really well captured especially the looks.
    The image was really beautiful with white colors, kind of blue, almost like it was filmed in black and white. Kudos to the Director of Photography. It is rare to see an episode of “House” look like this. It emphasized the darkness of the subject of the episode very well while being subtletly aesthetic.

  • Mary Marguerite

    Hi Barbara:

    Thank you once again for your thoughtful analysis of this thought-provoking program, and particular thanks for posting your article as quickly as you did. You are right; this episode was going to elicit a strong response from viewers, and from those who like to discuss “House M.D.” online, so having this forum available is a blessing for those who are still in shock over what happened in the episode.

    I have not yet seen the episode, but have seen spoilers about it online. I will see it eventually, but for once I am pleased to have missed an episode because on Monday I learned of the suicide of an acquaintance who was a friend of one of my oldest friends. And I can remember the shock and sadness around the suicide of a work colleague several years ago. With her, as with Kutner, nobody saw it coming, although we did find out eventually that she had left a note, and emailed a friend about her plans, which he was not able to stop.

    “Simple Explanation”? With suicide, there can be none, because the only person who can honestly explain why can no longer tell us.

    I look forward to seeing this episode, and, for once, am glad that I know what I’ll be dealing with.

  • blacktop

    Stunning episode which has elicited marvelously insightful comments from so many sensitive viewers here. You are to be commended, Barbara, for providing a place for such cogent and thoughtful mini-essays.

    And the simple answer is no, this show has certainly not jumped the shark. This episode was one of the most powerful ever shown on broadcast television. David Shore was incredibly courageous to deliver a dark, shocking, and unrelenting portrait of the effect of an unexplainable suicide. He refused to pull punches for the sake of network or viewer sensibilities. He made us suffer the cruel blow just at Kutner’s survivors did.

    Hugh Laurie’s devastated eyes in the scene following the discovery of Kutner were just heart-rending in their glassy, hollowed-out look. He portrayed House’s gathering wildness and frantic searching with a masterful touch. Olivia Wilde was superb also in presenting the silent terror of Thirteen who had to deal first with discovering the body and then with the fear that Foreman’s initial retreat into isolation was a preview of how he would behave toward her in her final decline. I was so relieved that he came back to support her in the end in a moment of reconciliation made more powerful because it was completely silent.

    Wilson’s inability to get outside of his own overwhelming grief was completely in character. Particularly affecting was the soft comfort and firm almost harsh frankness (finger to the temple, wow!) with which Cuddy handled House’s deteriorating mental condition. This bespoke a deep intimacy between House and Cuddy and demonstrated how well she knows him and how much he relies on her support as he struggles for his mental and emotional equilibrium.

    A friend suggested that the gaudy beauty pagent girl was inserted into the story to remind us that external perfection is a facade, just as Kutner’s seemingly cheerful and buoyant surface persona masked his tortured interior life.

    Altogether an astounding episode in a superbly crafted season.

  • barbara barnett

    Hey, everyone. I appreciate all the wonderful comments. Have been absent to celebrate Passover this last day or so, but I’ve had a chance to catch up. I agree that House has far from jumped the shark. I’ve just been rewatching the second half of the season (from Joy on). What fabulous television. Great writing, great acting.

    Like Blacktop I agree that season five has been the most cohesive of the entire series. No real misses this season; I’ve loved the seriousness of its tone; I’ve only missed MORE clinic.

    So much of this season has been living life in misery vs. checking out of life in misery. Can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store.

  • Mel

    This episode was brutal. The impact of it didn’t hit me right away. It took a couple of hours for it to sink in. And that was the brilliance of it, I think.

    I love the way they showcased the very different reactions of each character, and the efforts of the characters – often futile – to connect to one another in their pain. Cuddy’s attempt to reach out to House (which I loved – she understands him so well) and to be the force holding everyone together, Thirteen’s attempts to reach out to Foreman, Taub’s inability to face his guilt and refusal to go to the funeral. When you lose someone, some people try to be caretakers for everyone else in their pain (a la Cuddy), some retreat completely (like Foreman), some lash out in anger or completely refuse to face it (like House, until the last scene)…I love that this episode refused to provide any easy answers or “simple explanation”. What angered a lot of people – the fact that the suicide came out of nowhere, and that no reason or explanation was provided – was what made the episode authentic to me.

    Admittedly, I was one of the ones who was spoiled. So I did have forewarning. But watching, I still felt like I had been punched in the gut…For me, the part that REALLY got me was the final scene, where House is in Kutner’s apartment looking through his photos. Searching for clues, searching for a reason…And trying to piece together a life. Because isn’t that what we do, after we lose someone so close to us? We take the physical objects, possessions that our loved ones left behind, we go through them, we take stock of them, we look at photos, to try to make some sense of it all. I have lost many people who are very close to me (thought not to suicide), and I cannot tell you how many times I sat with the photo albums looking at pictures of my family, trying to evoke memories, trying to see something in the faces, looking for some answer or explanation as to why these people were ripped away.

    The song at the end KILLED me. Pete Yorn is amazing and the lyrics were perfect. Whoever picks the music for this show does a phenomenal job. The lyrics applied to everyone. “I’m taking a ride off to one side. It is a personal thing. Where? When I can’t stand up in this cage I’m not regretting.” This is Kutner – ride off to one side is suicide, he thinks no one can understand, it’s his personal pain, he doesn’t know where to go, or feels he has nowhere to go. It’s House, obviously – he withdraws, deals with pain in his own way, caged in his physical and emotional pain. It’s Foreman, who retreats from 13 to deal with Kutner’s death in his own way…It’s Wilson, not being able to be there for House because he’s still dealing with Amber. Just the most perfect song for this episode.

    So yeah, I’m sort of still recovering from this episode…I hope next week’s isn’t quite is painful.

  • Camila

    Where is Cameron in all this nonsense.?
    She almost solve the case, and she is worried about House to.

  • http://blogcritics.org/mt/comments41.php j.i.m.

    I suppose Kutner, from the age of six, didn’t feel he could trust anyone enough to burden them with his more disturbing and unpleasant problems. And in addition, perhaps he came from a family with a strict social contract. By contrast, House largely ignores the social contract and emanates his discomfort freely with self-indulgence. The parallels and contrasts between Kutner and House remind me of Jane Austen’s Eleanor and Mariannne. Both lost a beloved father and a lover but their outward behavior toward the rest of their family, friends, employees, and acquaintances diverged greatly, one providing comfort, the other blind to everything but her own feelings. The obvious (and boring) appropriate response would have been a middle path – moderation in everything. But that doesn’t make for good drama. However, I can’t help but respect Eleanor and Kutner and find Marianne and House childish.(except for Kutner’s final irretrievable act)

  • Kim

    Too late to post?

    Well done Barbara. Love reading your take about the episode.

    I’m sad because Kal Penn is living the show, but I know is for good.
    Cannot wait to see how the things develop in the next episodes.

  • sally

    “Where is Cameron in all this nonsense.?
    She almost solve the case, and she is worried about House to.”
    I’m with you, Camilla, but I guess everyone here is too focused on Huddy to realize that. In fact, Cameron once again was the one person who House seems to really trust. He neither goes to Wilson nor Cuddy but asks Cameron for help. And I hope for TPTB that they won’t misuse Cameron to push Huddy. Speaking of that, I really dislike this whole Huddy developement. Not only they don’t match, but also Cuddy wants to change him to much (something people always blame Cameron for, but in fact it’s not her it’s Cuddy trying to change him), and most of all what this whole thing does to Cuddy’s character… Seriously – Cuddy caring for everyone in this episode? Where?! Did we watch different episodes?! She was only concerend what Kutner’s death might do to her potential relationship with House, nothing else. Wilson was right, she doesn’t care. And it’s a shame she doesn’t even care for him after all he went through and after him supporting her so wonderful with her baby. I used to like Cuddy, she used to be a good role model for young girls, now she behaves like a teenage fangirl herself – it’s annoying, pathetic and embarrasing! It’s like season 1 Cameron and season 5 Cuddy have switched places…

  • Kevin

    I’m going to agree with some reviews on this episode. In a way, it was a cheap shot and scripted on short notice considering Kal Penn’s sudden departure from the show. And just when it seemed the show was starting to go back to being all about the medicine.

    I’m only going to forgive it because, looking back, it did feel like they were setting up for a kind of “Kutner is actually empty and depressed and more in danger of becoming House than Foreman ever was”: his lack of any deep relationships with anybody in the show. He has a friendship with Taub now, but Taub didn’t seem to think so when he dismissed his gesture of friendship (comparing it to an internet friendship), or Cole’s (“Black Mormon”) betrayal prior to his elimination from the applicant pool. Or his defensive position on a patient’s rationale for suicide. Or his non-reaction to Amber’s death when it showed a montage of everybody handling it in their own way.

    Speaking of Amber, especially with her recent quasi-reappearance, I can’t help but compare the two’s take on death. Amber, the cold hearted, ruthless one, died telling Wilson that she did not want to die angry. And if you want to entertain the supernatural (as House MD sometimes does with its exploration of belief in religion), she really spoke to House on that bus, and did not resent him despite his indirect relationship to her death. Compare that to Kutner’s death, who at least seemed enthusiastic and upbeat, shot himself in the head. Despite the fact he is actually right often, the other team members, and especially House in the cat episode continually undermine him (Foreman calling him out on not being as brilliant as House, Thirteen comparing him to a manboy, Taub mentioned earlier, House all over the cat episode).

  • Jane

    In one interviews with Robert Sean Leonard, he said that he thinks Wilson is the saddest person in the whole show. I don’t think Wilson is as screwed up as House but it’s true that Wilson is an unsung hero and a hurting soul without his own ‘Wilson’.

    As shocking as it was for Wilson to lash out at Cuddy about neglecting him, it was shocking only because it was uncharacteristic for Wilson to have such a selfish outburst. Someone here mentioned that it was shocking that Wilson didn’t confide in House after Kutner’s death. But that would be impossible. Wilson always saw himself as House’s protector and Wilson knew that House was incapable of sugarcoating reality to make it less painful (recall Social Contract). Wilson hid from House when his wife was having an affair and when he found his brother in a mental asylum. House was also falling apart after Kutner’s death. Wilson would have felt obliged to support House (even if he said he can’t deal with House) and not expect to find any support from House at that moment.

  • bakerstreet blues

    So Wilson analyzed House 2 separate times in this episode and I cannot believe that he was WRONG both times. Even I could see the emotion behind House’s eyes ….GRIEF and SADNESS. House has always been concerned with the well-being of someone else over himself, how could Wilson think that House is concerned about “HIS GIFT”?. Even Cuddy saw the connection between Kutner and House…why wouldn’t they be concerned House could go the exact same path. I saw immediately, that House was really falling apart, yet no one else saw it? Is he really so guarded that no one can talk to him? Wilson knows that House was seeing a therapist, seems to me that I would think that some of what House is feeling, he has been feeling for some time. And also House is consumed with Guilt. (Possibly from Here Kitty and Death Cat). The truly shocking thing is that Wilson watched House vocalize honestly about how badly he felt about Amber’s death and how he felt responsible, how could Wilson not think that House would feel exactly the same about Kutner?

  • bakerstreet blues

    Sally 87…right with ya sister. Cuddy couldn’t give a crap about anyone except herself. I have always contended that Cuddy’s complete self definition is all about the fact that SHE ALONE can control House. She reminds me of the lion tamer who thinks she is stronger than the lion….she never stops to realize that the lion allows her the control in order minimize the damage the lion can inflict (in House’s case: patients). Cuddy has always thrown her power around like “she the man” and that characteristic has always been off putting to me. Not to mention she has always blamed House for everything….what a skank.