Home / TV Review: House, M.D. – “Changes”

TV Review: House, M.D. – “Changes”

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Candice Bergen returned in tonight’s House, M.D. episode “Changes.” I can’t help but get the feeling that we are in some sort of holding pattern, with House (Hugh Laurie) a ticking time bomb waiting to fracture him into a million pieces. I think the finality of the breakup, which I sense that House had believed redeemable until the final scenes of “Changes,” is a fuse finally lit.Hugh Laurie in "Changes" on House, M.D. courtesy FOX

On its surface, “Changes” revisits familiar House themes: life sucks, and hopeful romantics are fools. Better to be cynical, not care (or try not to care) and muddle along, unhappy but with fewer hurts.

This week’s patient Cyrus (Donal Logue) is a repair guy who strikes it rich in the lottery. He falls ill, seemingly supported only by his close and caring friend, constantly at bedside. A vision from his past enters after years, Jennifer (Megan Fellows) to be with Cyrus in his time of need. It is something for which he’s longed and about which he’s fantasized. A lost love found. Is this seeming fairy tale for real? Or is she just a gold digger after Cyrus’ fortune? In the end it turns out that she’s a fraud and in collusion with the best friend to tap into Cyrus’ lottery winnings. The dying man has, despite his new riches, loses everything—even the hope that remained when Jennifer’s return was just a glimmer of a dream.

It’s been a few weeks now since House and Cuddy’s (Lisa Edelstein) breakup, and tonight’s episode is the first time they’ve really had to deal with each other since since. Enter Cuddy’s mother Arlene to concoct a very lame plot to get them back together.

Arlene is an inveterate meddler, but also very smart. (At least she thinks she is.) Cuddy asks the still-recovering Arlene to move in, immediately signaling to her that as along as she’s moved in, House and Cuddy stand no chance of coming together. So she decides to sue the hospital (and House and Cuddy). It puts both their jobs in jeopardy—if she actually goes through with the threat.

But as House realizes, that’s not Arlene’s intention. She wants House and Cuddy on the same page: talking, arguing, screaming and yelling—and getting the issues out in the open. She wants them back together. She’s actually pulling a page out of House’s book. (No wonder she likes him.) And by the way, I would not doubt that Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) is in on her plot.

Arlene’s attempt to make herself their common enemy is actually something House does in Season 6 (“Moving the Chains”). Then, it worked, bringing together Foreman and his brother Marcus, unified against House. Arlene is not so lucky.

This episode is really about protecting yourself against unrealistic expectations, no matter how realistic they seem—fatalism as a coping mechanism. “You lost your mother, euthanized your brother, your life expectancy is that of a pretty good sitcom. If you can convince yourself that you’d be miserable even with out all that, then maybe you don’t have to hate the universe,” House says to 13 for dealing you a very bad hand. It is the way she survives, House observes. “Vanquish all hope ye who enter,” and life is livable. She tries to live a life as a fatalist, but fundamentally she’s not no matter how much she tries.

Thirteen notes House’s track record with love, with drugs and with pain, wondering about his story. He tries to play the fatalist’s game—be a true cynic, but in the end he can’t succeed because his fundamental humanity won’t allow him to completely give up on hope.

In a lottery you risk money over and over, expecting you won’t win, but hoping you will. Lottery winnings don’t come with coping mechanisms to deal with the unexpected (or expected) disappointments that come along with newfound riches. In a lottery, you only risk your money, a dollar or two at a time. As 13 points out, Cyrus’ lottery experience is a metaphor for living a hopeful life. “Lotteries suck,” she says. You keep risking; you keep hoping, knowing there’s very little chance to win. And when it’s not a dollar, but your heart, it’s just not worth it to play the game.

The end of the episode destroys House’s slim hopes for reconciliation with Cuddy. (I do think that when he realizes Arlene’s ploy, House momentarily hopes she’s right and succeeds.) But Arlene’s little plan does nothing to convince Cuddy that she was wrong to break off the relationship. With House standing there, she explains bluntly to her mother that they will not be reconciling. By the time she turns to House, he is gone. Whatever balm she might have applied, and whatever opportunity to get closure (at least at that moment) vanishes when House does.

Would House likely have been better off in the long run had Cuddy just left him alone and not gotten involved with him—not gotten his hopes soaring and tasting a moment (or a few months) of happiness? Oddly (or perhaps not so oddly), this reminds me of Season 6’s premiere “Broken.” It’s an oblique connection, but it just occurred to me writing this commentary, so indulge me a moment.

In “Broken,” one of House’s fellow psych patients Steve suffers delusions as a result of post traumatic stress (he lost his wife on 9/11). Steve believes himself a superhero, someone who can leap tall buildings and rescue people. After a disastrous confrontation with one of the psychiatrists, Steve withdraws into himself; he’s nearly catatonic.

House misguidedly, but with good intention (mostly), wants to help him, taking Steve to a local carnival where House indulges Steve’s fantasy, taking him on a ride that lets them fly high above the fair grounds. It gives Steve a moment of sheer delight—perhaps the first one in many years. He really can fly! But it goes wrong. Elated, and thinking he really can fly, the delusional Steve takes a leap off a parking garage, seriously injuring himself. House thought he was making a connection, making this kid’s life better, but he wasn’t equipped for the situation and a life was nearly lost, leaving House and Steve both shattered by the experience. The false hope given to Steve nearly destroys him, and not just mentally.

The parallel to House and Cuddy goes back to the final scene of “Help Me.” After years, she realizes that she loves House and would be making a mistake to marry Lucas. The trigger is watching House lose all his guardedness in front of a patient—seeing him (perhaps for the first time in a long time) as he really is underneath all his crap. But she leaps into the relationship without considering the damage it can do in the end, both to their relationship and to House. But why would she? Why would she even consider that House isn’t equipped to handle things if it all goes wrong? Yes, after his brief affair with Lydia in “Broken,” House is able to recover from the breakup. “She’s gone and I’m lost,” he confesses to his psychiatrist Dr. Nolan (Andre Braugher). But House is in treatment, and on antidepressants, and he can cope.

By the end of Season 6, House had come a long way from “Love Hurts” (Season 1) where Wilson warns Cameron that she’d better be sure that she wants to be involved with House—before she does—because it will destroy him to have his heart broken (again). It’s the same admonishment he gives Stacy, telling her not to toy with House’s heart.

Because he keeps himself so guarded, pushing his hookers in everyone’s face (and I do not for a moment believe that House is anywhere as promiscuous as he promotes, which Stacy argues in their first scene together in “Three Stories”), no woman—not Cameron, not Stacy, not Cuddy can really know how seriously House takes being in love. House is an “all in” sort of guy. He’s the same way with relationships; to him, nothing is casual. Especially not with Cuddy.

For House, Cuddy is a fantasy—a dream come true. The lottery won. He’s wanted this relationship with her since college. So it’s a far different scenario.

She goes into the relationship ambivalent, and as much as she tries to tell herself that she doesn’t want House “to change,” and that it doesn’t matter that House is a narcissist and a jerk, at least on the surface, it really does matter.

Cuddy never intends to hurt House; she wants this to work, and she undoubtedly loves him. But eventually she loses patience with him, until it all falls apart. It’s not really her fault, except in becoming involved in the first place. Would it have been better for House in the long run for her to simply marry Lucas?

“Changes” leaves House in a place we’ve never really seen him: without hope. He was close mid season three, facing drug fraud charges and possible prison. But this hopelessness seems different—centered not on his professional life or his disability, or even his drug use. At this point in the story, House is for the first time hopeless. Is House in Dante’s final circle of hell? Without hope or chance of reprieve?

For all his protestations that “normal is overrated,” House craves a sense of normality that has thus far eluded him, perhaps his entire life. House’s hopes for any sense of a “normal” life are seemingly gone, and where that will lead, is anyone’s guess. (Although the promo for next week’s episode seems rather dire for him.) Paging Dr. Darryl Nolan!

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About Barbara Barnett

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

    The conversation between House and Thirteen at the end of the episode, made me think back to their end scene in “You don’t want to know” in season 4………there was talk of hope AND the lottery in that scene too. The big difference being, in the season 4 scene, both characters still had hope, and in “Changes”, they didn’t…at least not for themselves. What’s interesting, is that between those two scenes, it is very clear that neither of them has ‘changed’…they still have the same way of seeing the world–for example, 13 still believes that hope allows you to be happy, and that it shouldn’t be taken away from you (hence her helping Cyrus find his love)…the difference is, she is no longer that hopeful person. For her, it would be too painful to be that person. I love the dynamic between these two (although I always feel that I should qualify that by saying that I do not see them ever being romantically connected). Despite the fact that they almost seem to be in part, enabling each other’s hopelessness, I think they genuinely like each other, and on occasion, contribute to each other’s fleeting happiness.

  • Julia

    ““Changes” leaves House in a place we’ve never really seen him: without hope. He was close mid season three, facing drug fraud charges and possible prison. But this hopelessness seems different—centered not on his professional life or his disability, or even his drug use. At this point in the story, House is for the first time hopeless. ”
    This, exactly. I liked this episode, but it was really depressing. I wonder what will happen next.

  • I did not realize that there was already a new review! Barbara, thank you very much. Moving here the comment I just made ??in the previous post:

    Well … last night was the first assault! My impression? Good and bad. BITTERSWEET.

    Our thoughts were true. Arlene wanted to reconcile House and Cuddy. It did not work. I don´t understand the attitude of Cuddy and her irrevocable decision to never back with House. On the other hand, yesterday I had moments when I hated profoundly House.

    Brief analysis:

    – As much as we like the chemistry between House and Cuddy will not return. I did not like at all, to see the “game” between them: I forgive you hours of clinic, I ask your underwear … It’s not funny. It is no longer fun. Does not work anymore. Sad.
    – First I hated House, and I loved Cuddy. Then I loved House, and I hated Cuddy. At the end I came to hate (without malice) DS by these feelings.
    – Wilson was good. My first impression was that he was fantastic. I loved Wilson for a moment.
    – Arlene, as always, fantastic.
    – Cuddy … what happens with Cuddy? “I had every right to break up with you. ” Not a bit of regret. I still think that his reasons are not valid (my opinion).
    – House was a jerk at first. An asshole lover. Once again proved to be the smartest in the class.
    – The Vicodin … The Vicodin? Seriously? Wilson agrees with Vicodin? Cuddy agrees with the Vicodin? The last time the House was on Vicodin, he lost his medical license. On Now what? Wilson analyzed his pupils and entered through a window to verify that he was not on the vicodin! I do not believe it, sorry. By the way, those boxes of Vicodin, are not like before! (am I right?)
    – 13 is a bad influence on House (my opinion). She’s not a double … is worst.
    – The patient. I could clearly see House in the place of Cyrus.

    @Barbara. Actually, there is no hope for House after this episode? As much as I’m negative, I always hoped a step back in the absurd decision to Cuddy….

  • Suzy

    Never commented before but have been reading your articles now for a couple of weeks/months. Sadly that spoils me since I’m only on season 6 (From Sweden) But I love your thoughts and how you get into these characters.

    To me your thoughts ring true and is basically how I feel about House. Love House as a character and no matter what a jerk he can be I feel for him. That has never changed for me despite the the sometimes uneven road the show has taken. Still love it and hoping desperately for a season 8.

  • Eloise

    LOved this episode but something felt lost to me could not think what but now I think i understand in that House I think really is lost and that’s the overall feeling from him.Thanks for your insight on this cause I think thats what made me realise this I do not share those who ready to cut and run. I am still excited for the last few episodes but will have a large box of tissues available.

  • smk46

    your analysis read better than the episode played. the show’s writing leaves too many blanks that, despite the fine acting, feel like gaping holes. mostly, it’s the lack of real conversation between cuddy and house about their breakup. this is just unbelievable given the emotional weight that situation carries. i think that you have done an excellent job interpreting the theme the writers wanted the story to carry, but didn’t manage to infuse into the dialogue and action. and the patient of the week was not interesting as a medical case. he seemed to be there to shadow the plot line of house with thirteen providing commentary. someone on another page said : acting, good; writing, poor. i have to agree. your writing, however, barbara, is just fine.

  • “For House, Cuddy is a fantasy—a dream come true. The lottery won. He’s wanted this relationship with her since college. So it’s a far different scenario.”

    But Barbara, and she? and Cuddy? I really think that in an unnatural way the writers have searched to ruin this relationship. And of course, this road of no hope for House. But I think that this destruction is completely artificial. The relationship has been building for years not as a fantasy but as a reality. And not just by House, but also by Cuddy.
    Even if I see a clear parallel between House and Cyrus, the stories are different (to our eyes). The House and Cuddy relationship is not like buying a lottery ticket.

  • RedTulip_Ana:

    I actually was thinking about Cuddy, and the same applies to her in a way. She, like House is a victim of excessive expectations. She wants House; she loves House–still. But she also thought when they got together that what she dislikes about him wouldn’t matter-or that she could ignore it – or that House would somehow change like The Beast, the Toad and other such fairy tale characters.

    So it’s just as sad for her, but her coping mechanisms are different. She’s not self-destructive in a physical way and she can better handle it. She doesn’t need to be a fatalist, which is why she can still be idealistic, something House thinks he can’t afford.

  • ruthinor

    I don’t know why, but I found this episode totally lacking in spark. The theme seemed to be “we are who we are”. In the end, Foreman is stressed, Chase is sleeping with someone, but not really happy about it. Wilson is House’s helpmate and whipping boy…but to me, Wilson just seemed unengaged throughout (RSL thinking of Broadway?) and actually boring. He’s letting House take vicodin in his name and is not even upset about it? And worst of all, Cuddy. I don’t know what they did to her character, but she’s become like a walking zombie. She needs anti-depressants more than House does. I never bought the whole break-up scenario. Cuddy is not someone who just gives up w/o a fight when there is so much at stake. At least that’s not the Cuddy we saw throughout the series, until this year. This year Cuddy suddenly shies away from confronting both her mother and House. You don’t get to be a woman in power w/o balls. They’ve castrated her!

    13 has a right to be hopeless. She really has had a crappy life and her future looks even worse. Compared to her, House just looks like a whiner. When he says “there are two of me”, it makes me cringe. I want to shake him and tell him to quit being such a jerk.

  • 2 lightworker

    Barbara, thank you for your careful and thoughtful review, and for your disciplined work to post so soon. I agree with the view of #7 RedTulip_Ana, that there is something artificial about the way the whole relationship has played out. Remembering the poignant moments of House with Stacy, Cameron, Kate, and Lydia (sorry if I’m missing anyone) in various degrees of closeness, after “Unwritten,” the House and Cuddy relationship has felt to me like a SNL parody.

    Even with that perception, I enjoyed subsequent episodes until “Bombshells,” which left me in shock even though Cuddy’s responses had become wooden, and I am aware that there were viewers who were relieved by the termination of the coupling.

    From my viewer’s chair, the gradual distancing of Cuddy after she had initiated the relationship, particularly given House and Cuddy’s long history , seems like a plot device, with little of the raw emotional exchanges I saw in the Stacy arc, except for House’s heartrending reaction to Cuddy’s rejection at the end of “Bombshells.” Even that seemed to be dependent on the acting chops of HL and LE rather than coherent character development.

    Ever since my initial viewing of the series, when I was drawn to the iconoclastic scripts and characterization of House, I was fascinated by the lack of sentimentality intersecting the presence of deep feeling at House’s center. But now, all that seems like a dream, and although I will stay the course to the end of the season, I cannot totally shake my shock at the way this was handled.

    Hugh Laurie is right, it is not the story itself, and other choices for a serious relationship have been favored by viewers. But HOW it is handled affects an invested viewer, and I am sorry to say that the interviews by the creator, writers, and directors that have elements of mockery to fan reactions, do not enhance my confidence in their good will for those of us who support the show and provide a fan base for their success. A different tone, with a mix of critical thinking and modesty, would lead me to have some trust in their judgement.

    Thank you, Barbara, for providing a means for fans to respond in our many different ways of “seeing.” Given the nuances of House’s past relationships, this feels to me like a descent into the valley of death.
    But even if “hope is for sissies,” I am an unrepentent hopeful viewer that there may be a resolution that offers more humanity, redemption, and possibilities for House’s future journey until the series’conclusion.

  • Tea

    Though I enjoyed parts of it, I did find it a somewhat lacklustre episode. Or perhaps it’s just the overflowing amount of hopelessness permeating from the various characters? And what was with the repeated “It’s like there’s two of me” line? Though I haven’t really considered it might be true, it gives some slight credence to the coma/hallucination/can’t-remember-the-specifics-bah theory floating around?

    I really enjoy your insight on the episodes, as well as the opinions offered by the readers. I truly appreciate the effort you put into these reviews, thank you. :]

  • 2lightworker–

    I have an old friend from the X-Files fandom (a fanfic writer) who would, like Joan in Romancing the Stone call herself a “hopeful” romantic. She’d sign every email with it, and footnote every story and post likewise 🙂

  • Heather