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TV Review: House, MD – “Guardian Angels”

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This is third review/commentary in my “Welcome to the End of the Thought Process” series, the third of what I hope will be a long, long series. I want to take a moment to give you a bit of insight into my perspective on the show.

I grew up on TV. By the age of nine, I was hooked on The Man From U.N.C.L.E; by 11 I was addicted to Trek Classic. Ah, to have grown up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But now (and I’m roughly House’s age) I have little time for series television and only casually watch most TV (except for Keith Olberman’s newscast, The Daily Show, Colbert and House, MD). But when I get hooked on a television show, I really get hooked, and so it was with House, MD. So, the question I ask myself is, “Why?” The answer is the character of House himself and the brilliant performance week after week by Hugh Laurie. People say that women like a “bad boy.” I do not like them. I like my heroes, well… heroic. Heroic, but tragic: equal parts Edward Rochester and Mr. Knightly. Byronic, with a smattering of unique nobility is just about my ideal fictional hero.

House has a "public persona.” He's a brilliant diagnostician, intuitive, deductive, eerily smart. That's the reputation and it seems to ring true. He's also a risk taker and more than a bit reckless. But I find the person inside the persona to be far more interesting. House has a terrible bedside manner – but he can have the most heartbreakingly truthful discussions with his patients. House cares only about the puzzle, we’re told.

But how does that reconcile with the times we’ve seen him gazing yearningly into patient rooms from behind the glass as they visit with family members — or when he’s risked his career to save a life? How is it that the arrogant and egotistical Gregory House can be seen late at night, alone in his office or flat desperately searching for answers inside himself, fighting an internal battle that we, as viewers, are privy to through Hugh Laurie’s sad and expressive eyes. We gain so much insight into House and who he is and why he's caught our attention by the way Laurie portrays him. Just a look, a glance, his eyes and body language tell the story that his exterior manner can't. This is what makes House likeable, despite his flaws, and why he has become such a worthy anti-hero. This is why I watch House; why I write House, why I adore House. With that out of the way, onto epsiode 4×04, “Guardian Angels.”

This week’s episode was probably written with Halloween in mind. We have a patient who sees (and speaks with) dead people; an exhumation in a dark cemetery on a stormy night (complete with lightning and thunder); a suggestion that one of the new doctors believes the patient might be possessed (in a very brief moment) and finally, the collar of a dead dog (killed last episode) turning up in an exam room. It was a fun episode, but missing some of the elements that, to me, are essential to a great hour of House, MD: glimpses of Dr. House’s humanity; a bit of searching into his soul through Hugh Laurie’s expressive eyes; moments of truth-telling in House’s conversations with his patients or colleagues.

“Good morning, angels.” House, ever the pop culture geek, greets his fellow-wannabes over a speaker phone a la Charlie’s Angels, the vintage TV show and subsequent film. This week’s case has House’s new staff beginning to work more as a team — together, rather than at cross purposes. (Perhaps House learned a lesson himself from last week’s patient death. On the other hand, naaah.)

Personally, I am beginning to tire of the extended competition. In my opinion, it takes too much time away from Dr. House and the exploration of his character. This is especially true as the old fellows (particularly Foreman), Cuddy and Wilson also have their scenes. But I did find myself engaged in team dynamics this week, and interested in what each of the candidates added to the diagnosis. House was right when he told Cuddy that there was not a “bad choice in the bunch.” As House assesses the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, I think he has already begun to appreciate each of them for what they’ve brought to the table (or to the “white board”).

House’s choice to fire the “old fraud” Henry is interesting and provides us, the viewers, with insight into what House is seeking in a diagnostic team. He’s not looking for people who think like him, which is what one might assume about someone with as big an ego as House is presumed to have. House wants and needs a staff that offers up ideas and theories, bouncing them off each other and him. House then measures those ideas against his own encyclopedic knowledge, separating the wheat from the chaff, and ultimately synthesizes them into the correct diagnosis. House doesn’t want or need “yes-men,” and isn’t bothered by the fact that a subordinate (Cole) slugged him. House needs staff who will accept that this is how House works — and more importantly — needs to work. For all his reputation as a jerk, House has been shown time and again to respect people who think independently, who disagree with him, and is (in his own way) very tolerant and non-judgmental (except when he is trying to deliberately push someone’s buttons).

I was sad to see “old fraud” Henry get the axe. I think House was, too. But as Henry said, House doesn’t need someone who thinks like him. I also found it a nice bit of character reveal (of House) when he let Cole go home (without much of a snarky retort) when he learned it was to take care of his kid.

So what of the remaining candidates? First, there are the two women: Amber and 13. Amber is almost too manipulative (or too obviously manipulative). She has no subtlety. She came up with the right diagnosis this week, but her syrupy, disingenuous sweetness, I think, is something that House has picked up on and dislikes. “Too much,” he tells her in their final scene. Cuddy, too, already has her number. And gives her good advice: do what House asks her to do, whatever it is, or she will not make the final cut. 13 is still an enigma. She’s still spooked by last week’s patient death, and manipulated by Amber. Why is she so closely guarded? Does she think it will intrigue House? Or is there some other reason? I like her. There’s a bit of a tragic air about her that has gotten me to wonder about her story.

Then there are the guys: Brennan (who is a Doctors Without Borders doc) does nothing for me. I think it’s like House guessed from the start. He wants the job for the ZIP code; to him, it’s simply a job. So why is he still around? Whereas Henry, who was fired, thinks too much like House, Brennan, with a likely background in fighting all number of weird diseases, might have skills and insights useful to discovering the zebras among the horses in House’s medical practice. Cole, the Mormon single dad, slugged his boss, and yet has been kept around. House has been testing Cole’s beliefs all along, goading him, pushing and prodding. Finally, provoked by House’s accusation that Mormon founder Joseph Smith simply a “horny hypocrite,” Cole punches House, sending the stunned doc careening into his bookcase. And, perhaps because of that, House has decided to keep Cole on the team (for now). But, medically, Cole hasn’t offered much that I recall, so maybe his days are numbered. Kutner (Kal Penn’s character) is argumentative and bright. He’s an independent and creative thinker, if a little over-zealous. And finally, we have Taub (Peter Jacobsen), the plastic surgeon. Doctors who, like House, changed medical directions mid-career. House was a nephrologist and an infectious disease specialist before the infarction, probably with a lucrative practice. It must intrigue House as to why a plastic surgeon switches careers, starting over.

And what of the old fellows? Cameron seems to be trying to insinuate herself back into House’s sphere as House’s friend and confidant. She’ll fail (I hope). She is, as House said, trying to control him, and probably does miss the challenging Dr. Gregory House, his quick wit, rapid fire brain, and sky blue eyes. She has moved on, but not quite. On the other hand, House did seem to enjoy their wager and paid up graciously. Chase has settled into the surgery department, where I think he’ll be able to assist House’s department, while maintaining his independence.

Chase has come a long way since the first season. I really disliked him in season one; by the end of season three, he was my favorite fellow because he, unlike Foreman, had shown himself to be an independent and creative diagnostician and thinker.

Foreman is scuffling a bit. Turning down Cuddy’s offer of a raise if he returns to Princeton Plainsboro Teaching hospital, Foreman embarks on a series (well, two) of interviews. Having been fired after three weeks from his new job, he’s finding it difficult to outrun his reputation. I very much liked the fact that the second interviewer called House “one of the great medical minds of our generation.” It’s always interesting to see what people outside the House-universe think of him. We know he’s famous and well-respected, but it’s fun when we actually see evidence of that reputation.

I especially loved that Foreman’s arrogance and ego came back to bite him. He believes that he is not only better than House, but also nicer, with a better bedside manner. When he finally goes back to Cuddy to accept her offer, he goes too far. He demands his own office, a personal assistant and a bigger salary. Cuddy essentially laughs at him and offers him his original salary (not even the raise). She considers him to be House-lite. So, why does she want him at all? Chase is the better diagnostician; Cameron is more open-minded. I think Cuddy sees that Foreman, who pushes back against House for no other reason than to push back, will keep House more in line. He’ll go to Cuddy when he thinks House is doing something crazy – simply for his own ambition – and just because he hates House. How will House take that? Not well, I’m sure. I am looking forward to a real power struggle between House and Cuddy. The sparks will fly!

The patient this week not only sees, but talks to, dead people. And she has seizures and a failing liver. After House’s little foray into the afterlife (or not), I wondered if that theme might be touched upon this week, and, aside from a very short reference to it by Wilson, it was not. In the patient’s case, she actually not only spoke to dead people, but her hallucination was coupled with the delusion that her mother (who was by her side the entire episode offering warm milk) was still alive. The patient knew that no one on House’s team believed her, and it was a stroke of genius that House gained her trust by buying into her hallucination, as he feigned believing that she saw his “grandfather” Walter. House was able to talk to her, learn some things about her mother’s death, and although he was wrong in the diagnosis at that stage, found a plausible explanation for her symptoms.

While, “cutthroat bitch” Amber came up with the correct diagnosis of ergot poisoning, it was “hopeless old fraud” Henry who acted as House’s surrogate throughout the episode, taking a leadership role during the diagnosis and even writing on the House’s beloved white board.

I wasn’t able to figure out the hidden and multiple meanings of last episode’s title “97 Seconds.” This week was easier with “Guardian Angels.” Who are the “angels” in this episode? The patient’s mother, hovering, ever at her daughter’s side, encouraging her to drink “warm milk” is the obvious angel. Milk mitigates the effects of the ergot poisoning. And dead mom continually encouraging it, was protecting her daughter — even subconsciously. In a sense, Cameron is the guardian angel of Cole, whom she goads into slugging House, thereby earning his respect. Cuddy, too, is a guardian angel, rescuing Foreman (while putting him in his place), but also as House’s ever-present protector.

And what of House? Is he anyone’s guardian angel in this episode? He has, in so many episodes, been the guardian angel of so many, otherwise dead, patients: helping them when no one else can (or will). Well, I guess he was “Charlie” to Henry’s “Bosley” (to carry through with the Charlie's Angels reference) with the fate of “House’s Angels” completely in his control. Right now, I think House needs an angel of his own. And it ain’t Foreman (or Cameron).

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out 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)."
  • sdemar

    Nicely done, Barbara. I have nothing to add to your exceptional review. Keep up the good work.

  • Ann

    Barbara, I love your review. I agree with everything you’ve said. House, the show, is always billed as a medical mystery. I’ve always thought that it’s a show about a fascinating character and the medicine is just a side show. So, I guess that’s why I’m a little frustrated with this season. It’s missing what’s always made it special for me. Not enough of thoughtful House, although there have been some great House/Wilson moments. No piano, no vicodin,no motorcycle, no tricks with any of his various toys-ball, juggling, mortar and pestal, etc. I don’t find myself interested in any of the new characters, or wondering about their backgrounds and what makes them tick. I think there are still too many unanswered questions about the original 6; Wilson’s homeless brother and why he’s living in a hotel, why Cameron is “damaged”, why Chase left the seminary, is Cuddy still trying to have a child, and of course everything about House. With all of the new characters I fear the questions about the original ducklings will never get answered. Hopefully, for me, when the Survivor arc is over they’ll return to the original formula. I’ll be back every week to hear what you have to say. Thanks!!

  • Thanks Ann and Sdemar for you kind comments. I loved the pacing of “Guardian Angels,” and I like the newbies. But I’d like this to be resolved sooner rather than later. I long for a moment of House at his piano, or reflecting on…anything.


  • hl_lover

    I too think you’ve done a great job with summarizing this episode. As you stated, the lack of depth in this ep put it in the ‘good but not great House ep’ category, and the lingering Survivor game has finally started to wear a bit thin. I also feel the the writers are struggling a bit with how to fit the Cameron and Chase characters into this new House universe. Right now, I’d say it’s not succeeding: Chase seems oddly placed, not being a surgeon by training (!), and Cameron annoyed me terribly.
    I think you hit most of the meanings of “Guardian Angels” on the head. Watching the struggle between House and his new ‘guardian angel’ forced upon him by Cuddy next week should be priceless!

  • hl_lover

    I too think you’ve done a great job with summarizing this episode. As you stated, the lack of depth in this ep put it in the ‘good but not great House ep’ category, and the lingering Survivor game has finally started to wear a bit thin. I also feel the the writers are struggling a bit with how to fit the Cameron and Chase characters into this new House universe. Right now, I’d say it’s not succeeding: Chase seems oddly placed, not being a surgeon by training (!), and Cameron annoyed me terribly.
    I think you hit most of the meanings of “Guardian Angels” on the head. Watching the struggle between House and his new ‘guardian angel’ forced upon him by Cuddy next week should be priceless!

  • Watching the struggle between House and his new ‘guardian angel’ forced upon him by Cuddy next week should be priceless!

    I am actually pretty pumped about this. I can’t wait to see House really come up against Foreman. Will it be Foreman’s ultimate lesson in humility? And the sparks between Cuddy and House could potentially ignite the entire hospital.

    But I will really be interested to see how House reacts to feeling (as I’m sure he will) boxed into a corner.


  • Naika

    Wanted to shout out for Rochester and Knightly, absolutely adore them and I absolutely agree HL’s acting adds another dimension to House, a dimension he can’t express out loud.

    You are Huddy shipper though, aren’t you?

    “Cameron was trying to control House”

    Disagree, she was trying to protect Cole, so that House has a morally aware person on the team. The only person who refused to dig a grave, the only person who would stand up for their beliefs. I don’t think House otherwise would find him pretty enough to keep him around.

    “Right now, I think House needs an angel of his own. And it ain’t Foreman (or Cameron).”

    Is it Cuddy or 13 then?

    I think House has a Guardian Angel and it’s Wilson!!!

  • You are Huddy shipper though, aren’t you?

    Well…I do admit that I perceive a fondness and attraction between them. So…

    “Cameron was trying to control House”

    Those were House’s words to Cameron. I’m not sure she’s trying to control House either. She is trying to manipulate the situation (but that’s not surprising for Cameron). I think she’s having fun; trying to insinuate herself into House’s life in some way. Control the situation while staying detached I would think is more accurate.

    Disagree, she was trying to protect Cole, so that House has a morally aware person on the team.

    I’m not sure that that was the reason for protecting Cole. How would she know that much about him unless she was snooping around the team. I think she still believes House to be a basically moral person, with a very strong ethical code. It’s just not a conventional code. I think that’s why she is so attracted to him (or was).

    Is it Cuddy or 13 then?

    I think House has a Guardian Angel and it’s Wilson!!!?

    I would absolutely agree with you.

    Thanks for dropping by.


  • Debbie

    Definitely loved the one and only House/Wilson scene but truly not enough for me. I think Cameron was using Cole, probably the most gullible on the team to insinuate herself into House’s sphere. And YES!!!! Absolutely!!! Wilson IS and always will be House’s Guardian Angel.

  • Debbie–On the other hand the Season premiere was filled with Wilson/House moments.


  • Houseguest

    Great review, Barbara. Like other (lesser) shows this season (“Grey’s Anatomy” and “Heroes” come to mind), “House” is shuffling the deck and dealing out some new cards. Not all hands are going to be great, but the dealers (David Shore and Katie Jacobs) are the same, and the actor holding the royal flush is Hugh Laurie. I’ll be glad when the “Survivor” scenario has played out as well, but right now I’m enjoying the variety the “new cards” are bringing to the game. (Although, like you, I too miss ‘House at his piano, or reflecting…on anything’).

  • Thanks Houseguest,

    I like your metaphor to a poker game (so Houselike). I actually think the writing for the fellowship candidates has been excellent. Each has a distinct personality, immediately apparent. And with enlarging the cast, even for a short time, could have been disastrous. But in David Shore’s own confident and self-critical hands (I think he has a very sensitive “stupid” radar) as well as Hugh Laurie’s wonderful handle on House’s persona, I think the show will be even better. I look forward to Tuesday’s episode and into the sweeps!


  • Mea Culpa to all (and especially to Keith Olbermann) for my misspelling of Mr. Olbermann’s name in the review. My error was pointed out by a dear friend and a fellow Olbermann fan. My favorite Tuesday evening kickback: Olbermann’s Countdown on MSNBC at 7:00; House on FOX at 8:00; family time at 9:00 and the dashing dual half-hours of The Daily Show/Colbert Report at 10:00 on Comedy Central! Apologies for the typo, Keith.


  • Jonathan

    Because of the writer’s strike, there aren’t many new episodes of HOUSE left before they run out. I was wondering if anybody knew how many more episodes were left before that happens.

  • Jonathan–

    I believe that there are 4 episodes that have yet to run, including tomorrow night’s “Games.”