“You can’t keep going like this. Something has to change.”
This last exchange in “After Hours” between House (Hugh Laurie in a brilliant performance) and Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), for all it’s familiarity, is noteworthy for House’s lack of push-back against Wilson’s nagging. House knows it’s true, perhaps truer than at any other time since we met him.
“After Hours,” is the penultimate episode of House’s seventh season, and after all of this season’s pyrotechnics, production numbers and high-wire acts, it really comes down to this simple exchange. “Something has to change.”
Garrett Lerner and Russel Friend’s straightforward, yet heart-stopping script ties together three separate stories, which never intersect, themselves, but which elaborate on a familiar House theme. The simplicity of the story lines belies the complexity of emotion in this study of cause and effect. Oh how I have missed Friend and Lerner’s wonderful scripts this season. (This is their first since last season’s finale.) From “House’s Head” and “Wilson’s Heart,” to “Broken” and, of course “Help Me” (often in collaboration with Peter Blake, and sometimes David Foster), this writing team is great at mining the series core themes and getting to the real emotion of House’s story.
I’ve liked much of Season 7, but I’d yet to watch an episode this season that’s left me breathless at the commercial breaks (although fortunately I didn’t have to watch the episode with commercials—Phew!). Until now, that is.
To House, everything goes back to The Leg. From Season 1, he insists that all of his pain, torment and sadness originates in Stacy’s single decision, made without his consent. All control over his own future was ripped away when she made the decision to have Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) do the debridement on his leg. And everything from that moment on was dictated by The Leg. His undiagnosed illness led him to diagnostics; the chronic pain led him to dependence on narcotics. Chronic pain changes you, I’m told. Everything becomes about that one thing that now rules your physical and emotional life. And the decisions made in direct contradiction to his wishes destroyed whatever trust he may have had in medicine and in people.
Of course, we know that House’s trust issues go much deeper than that—to his relationship with his parents certainly and whatever he suffered under John House’s roof. And another person might have reacted differently to the realities presented to House post surgery. But House’s damaged leg is the albatross around his neck; it affects everything else; every consideration.
He self-medicates; he researches crazy theories that may alleviate his pain. It is the White Whale to his Ahab. Wilson and to Cuddy usually are able to keep close enough to him to protect him from his own recklessness and the worst of his self-destructive behavior. But over the last several weeks, in the aftermath of his breakup with Cuddy, House has put up more walls between himself and those closest to him.
Barely speaking to him, Cuddy is still trying to convince herself that she doesn’t love or care for House. She keeps herself distant enough that she would have no idea what House’s state of mind may be. Wilson is still trying to pick up the pieces and lead his friend back to some state of normalcy, inventing games and diversions to keep House from falling into despair.
Wilson can usually read House (at least as far as knowing that something is not right with him), but he’s been so focused on diverting House from his pain, that he’d missed just how deeply wounded House had become—so desperate that he experiments on himself. So far gone, that he’d rather risk mutilating his leg further, or worse, than trusting a surgeon to operate on his leg.
So much of Wilson and Cuddy’s lives are dictated by caring about their very troubled friend, they have little energy left for anything else. As much as each might want to move past him, neither Cuddy (as she admits at the end of “Help Me”) nor Wilson (“Birthmarks”) has been capable of leaving House.
But neither of them has been watching very carefully as House has been on self-destruct since the end of “Bombshells.” And as much as House wants to be left alone, he also craves the filters that Wilson and Cuddy provide to protect him from his most self-destructive inclinations.