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TV Review: House, M.D. – “Hunting”

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(Warning: spoilers for the episode that aired Nov. 22)

Instead of the usual pre-credits focus on getting to know the patient of the week – or the fake-out non-patient of the week – “Hunting” jumps right in with a shot of House (Hugh Laurie) and Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) discussing the question that really needed asking last week. To wildly paraphrase Wilson: what the hell did House think he was accomplishing by stealing Stacy’s therapy notes and attempting to manipulate her into acknowledging that she’d rather be with House than her husband?

Because House is House, his answer is more of a non-answer. Because House is House, we also meet the patient of the week pre-credits – an HIV+ man, Kalvin, who is stalking House to try to persuade him to take the case. Hmm, doing something creepy and illegal in order to get someone to look favourably on you? Can’t imagine why Kalvin thinks House would understand that method.

When House’s not-quite-a-hit sends Kalvin backwards into Wilson’s car, causing him to collapse, House finally has a reason to be interested in the case. Not only does the anaphylactic shock introduce a symptom he can’t easily explain away, House is reminded that treating the patient might stave off the lawsuit.

That reminder comes from ex-love Stacy (Sela Ward), during a cozy domestic scene courtesy the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital of Inappropriateness, where lawyers take meetings in their kitchens while waiting for the exterminator. Of course the scene is a wonderful excuse to introduce us to the House and Stacy of infarctions past, interacting with a casual, familiar humour and warmth. It’s one of many pseudo domestic moments in the episode as House finds excuses to return to her home and Stacy finds excuses to let him. In absurdly comic and sweetly affecting scenes, House traps the rat in her attic, then becomes obsessed with the sickly creature as a patient instead of a pest, returning to treat it, trap it, and continue with his devious plan to force Stacy’s hand.

When House and Stacy go on a stakeout for the rat, which he’s oddly and adorably named Steve McQueen, they have a conversation with a couple of layers and more than a little romantic tension. “Admit it. You like him,” House cajoles, lying shoulder to shoulder with the woman he obviously loves. “He’s alright,” she responds coyly. “For a rat.”

Call me easy, but after an episode that tested my faith last week, all I needed to be back on House’s side was the obvious disconnect between his admitted motivations and his actual motivations, which were full of nuances of pain and the desire to inflict pain, conveyed beautifully by Hugh Laurie’s expressive face. (Well, I needed that and the impish humour that brought the funny back to the bastardly.)

House tells Wilson he doesn’t want Stacy back, he just wants her to admit her feelings for him so he can tell Cuddy and have her fired or reassigned. Problem is, we’ve already seen her admit feelings for him. Twice. Try again, House. A horrified, but also apparently fascinated, Wilson tries in vain to get House to be ashamed of his methods and drop the game of cat and mouse: “If you want her back, either tell her, or better yet, shut up and cry yourself to sleep like everybody else.”

House’s game nearly works, except that Stacy isn’t the only one whose emotions are being manipulated. Never very self-aware, or at least never very willing to acknowledge his awareness, House finds his plan backfiring when his file-stealing and manipulation are revealed and repel Stacy, just when his own feelings were rising to the surface.

Speaking of the time immediately after the surgery she authorized that crippled him, their lines are simpler and more straightforward than any of their previous interactions, and the emotion behind them belies his stated intention to simply manipulate her.

Stacy: “You could have asked me how I was.”
House: “I already knew. I’m sorry you were miserable.”

Stacy: “I’m sorry I caused you so much pain.”

It’s a huge breakthrough for him, except it’s not, really, because even though I believe he means it on one level, he’s also acting out his plan on another. House fittingly, sadly, ends up home alone, with a drink … and the rat.

Overlooking the fact that House seems to have moved again, the episode is full of lovely continuity nods to past details and character revelations. Wilson’s marital troubles don’t get a lot of play in “Hunting,” but his “cry yourself to sleep” line is one of a couple that’s shaded with his own woes. Chase’s father issues get a minor airing – but when is dad going to die, already? (I mean, not that I want him to die. Not exactly.)

And occasional references to Chase’s attraction to Cameron get a major workout here. The medical storyline has Cameron exposed to HIV+ blood and taking lessons from Kalvin in seizing the day and eliminating regrets. Cameron’s gravity and distraction when faced with the regime of medication and HIV tests, and the abandon and regret of her meltdown, which has her taking drugs and seducing an all-too-willing Chase (Jesse Spencer), are handled well by Jennifer Morrison, who sheds the beatific demeanour that sometimes plagues the character.

One of the funniest lines in the episode had to be purposely self-referential. House explains to Wilson that he can’t hit another patient to create an excuse to see Stacy again, saying: “I hate to repeat myself. People will say I’m formulaic” – mocking an often repeated criticism of this show that broke free of its original formula long ago.

In another bit of repetition, House gets punched by Kalvin’s father. While my first thought was: again? (He was also punched in last season’s “Detox”), my second thought was: it really should happen every episode. The man does ask for it. And this time, he was literally asking for it so he could retaliate. It was pure House: punch as diagnostic tool, to confirm the final diagnosis – father and son hunting trips led to a shared parasite.

The patient story suffers a bit from the show’s insistence on tossing out the obligatory ethical discussion that doesn’t really discuss or provide any ethical meat. In a very short scene, a throwaway line by Foreman blames Kalvin for not using condoms, while Cameron defends him as getting caught doing something others do all the time with no consequences.

The medical mystery this week was buried under the far more interesting focus on character, and Kalvin either seemed irrelevant or was channeling House. For example, the patient gives Cameron, who stoically refuses to blame him for coughing blood on her and stoically takes House’s little cruelties about her distress, this Housism: “Stop being nice. It’s useless. And worse, it’s boring.”

Kalvin also espouses the big lesson that’s turned on its ear. He advocates living life without regret, while we are treated to House and Stacy’s relationship being all about their past regrets, and Cameron’s misguided attempts to plan regretless fun backfiring almost as surely as House’s misguided plan to pursue Stacy.

I love these writers for having the courage to make their main character unlikable. They’re not just flirting with unlikeability, they’re making passionate love to unlikeability. House is not bitter with a heart of gold. He’s bitter with a heart of nastiness – and, yes, some gold mixed up in there, just enough that, even when I’m horrified at his methods to manipulate Stacy, I sympathize with his turmoil of emotions. And even when I’m appalled at his callousness to Cameron, I almost admire him for not bothering with niceties that don’t change anything substantive and that might make him the focus of her carpe diem-ing.

House isn’t nice, but he definitely is interesting.


ed: JH

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About Diane Kristine Wild

  • moob

    I love House. I always wonder whether he is going to encounter a mysterious disease to baffle his diagnostic powers.

  • nanfont

    Excellent review, Deekay. I love your thoughtfulness, thoroughness, and stlye.

    I was surprised to see you limited the Cameron/Chase affair to one paragraph more than half-way through, though. The episode also made little of it. Am I the only one who thinks this should have been a bigger deal? There’s fertile ground here for the writers to work in the future, and I sure hope they do.

    I’ve been having a hard time getting my head around the plotline of House and Stacy; it feels forced to me. He was not happy to find her back in his life at the end of last season and resisted helping her. Now he’s actively pursuing her and manipulating her. When else do we see House acting in this manner? When he thinks he’s right about a diagnosis, and others are standing in his way to saving patient’s life. With Stacy, does he believe she came to him for help because she stills loves him, and he’s trying to prove he’s right? Perhaps he’s so motivated because he’s projected his desire on to her, but it still seems too blatent and cliched.

    I don’t have an answer. I just feel like it’s out of character for him to pursue someone, especially someone who he has so much baggage with.

  • Brent McKee

    Interesting touch – the number on the building House and Wilson were coming out of (house’s home I’m assuming – I missed the first 30 seconds of the episode) was 221B. That number on Baker Street was the residence of Sherlock Holmes who was based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s medical school instructor Dr. Joseph Bell. I long ago caught on about House being Holmes, but I admit Wilson as Watson is a new idea for me. Does this make Cuddy Mrs. Hudson?

  • Mark Saleski

    good review. i really like this show. any character with a Sota turntable in his office (though i prefer VPI) is alright with me.

  • Bonnie

    I also noticed the address and it made me smile. (It also made me wish I knew more about Holmes, so I could draw the parallels.) I thought the Cameron/Chase storyline didn’t quite work, because I didn’t feel like we really saw her get there. I understood it, but I would have liked to have seen it.

    As for House and Stacy, it’s heartbreaking to watch someone get what they deserve.

  • Bliffle

    I caught the Holmes reference: the Baker Street reference made me laugh involuntarily.

    The Chase/Cameron alliance, I thought, was a setup for the condom scene. As well as, perhaps, a precursor for future complications, but also a chance for Cameron to show a hidden seductive side, even in the elevator, which was attracting where I had never found her attracting before.

    Naming the rat “Steve McQueen” emphasized the appearance similarity of McQueen and House, an older, sharper and more interesting McQueen, retaining the sharp edge.

    Wilson seems to be taking Cuddys place as an intellectual foil for House, and even the sexual subsitution is hinted by Kalvin.

    Sex sex sex. Reminds me of every experience I’ve ever had with doctors, nurses and anyone else connected with a hospital.

    I like House: it has subtlety and wit and avoids corn. If only they’d leave out the spurious references to Big Trucks and motorcycles and Corvettes and etc.

  • Brent McKee

    I’ve rethought my original post and realised that Cuddy isn’t Mrs. Hudson, she’s Inspector Lestrade and all those other cops Holmes used to befuddle. To continue the references, Vogler was Moriarty (the Napoleon of Crime who supposedly killed Holmes but not permanently) and Stacy is Irene Adler.

  • deekay

    Good catch on the address Brent! I never would have noticed that. I’m not enough of a Holmes fan to get all the connections, anyway, unless they’re really obvious, but I love hearing about them.

    Nanfont, I don’t think he ever really acknowledged he was trying to pursue Stacy, probably not even to himself. So I thought it was in character that he was trying to manipulate her into an admission, which he does to many other people, but then he got blindsided when he realized too late that he did want her back, and that his manipulation ensured that she wouldn’t want him back.

    Bonnie might have been sarcastic – I’m not sure – but I think it’s brilliant that they did make me feel sorry for him for getting what he deserves. Poor messed up House.

    The Cameron/Chase thing was an interesting plot point but I didn’t think it deserved making my longwindedness in this review even longer. Maybe they’ll do more with it in the future, though.

  • Bliffle

    I’m not convinced that House really wants Stacey back! I think he’s solving another puzzle in his manipulations and intrusions. House is the only one with a rudder. The others let their emotions and prejudices (about rats, for instance) whip them back and forth, and it inhibits their ability to follow a true course and do their jobs right. They make spurious moral decisions about, e.g., whether it’s right to save a convict on death row. House is the Cosmo Kramer of the hospital: while others are spinning around uselessly examining their own egos and aspirations, House, like Kramer, actually makes things happen. It reflects on our own failings and vanities that we find House, like Kramer, an object of our scorn. We think we’re superior because we don’t make so many errors and we don’t fall on our butts.

  • deekay

    Scorn? I’ve got no scorn. I adore him, even though he’s a psychologist’s nightmare (or dream, if they really like a challenge). I also think he’s got a fairly extensive collection of prejudices and emotions that get in the way of diagnoses sometimes, and his own happiness always. If he were perfectly well-adjusted and uncontradictory, he’d be a much less compelling character.

    With Stacy, he said last season that he can’t tell if he wants her back or if he wants to punish her. Either way, that’s emotion driving him, not logic. If he wanted to punish her, his methods here might have worked. If he wanted to win her back, not so much.

    He’s known since the end of last season that she thinks of him as “the one,” since the episode before this one that she loves him, so finding out how she feels is a red herring. What is the puzzle, then?

    Did he win at the end of this episode? He got her to admit she had wanted to be with him, he made her husband suspicious and annoyed, and he hurt her deeply by betraying her – there’s her punishment, if that’s what he wanted. But he didn’t look very satisfied to me, sitting there at the end with his drink and Steve McQueen.

    I think the puzzle has always been his feelings, not hers. Now he’s solved it … Wilson was right, he wants to be with her, and can’t be, and it’s messed him up badly.

  • Kitty

    I really got hooked on this show when it first debuted. But, when it took its hiatus, I never got back into the swing of watching it (with so many other shows that I DVR and watch). I really should add it back to my DVR schedule because I really am quite amused by Hugh Laurie’s Sahara-dry wit and totally oblivious sense of sincerity and compassion.

    Very astute observations in your review.

  • maria

    i live in aus and we only had the season 1 final a week ago! i h8 bein so behind. I 2 though have noticed the holmes references and now that i no about the # on the house i will pay evn more attention. Im so addicted to this show, but when i tried to download season two i couldnt find it any where so if you have it and want to put it on limewire i would be very happy.

  • Nanfont

    I think my problem with the Stacy plot line is that it is nasty, and I don’t want to see that in House! (Because I adore him too.) Other misanthropic stuff he does is funny or in the service of the truth, but he’s just punishing Stacy, and it’s ugly. It is a triumph of the show that we can still feel for him.

  • mhmt

    I think there’s a puzzle to be solved. Because in the beginning of S2 Stacy is not in view unless there’s a legal issue.
    But starting with Spin, she barged into House’s office just for renewing license and what not. And even though she did have reason to scold at House, did it in the clinical hour in front of a patient is just out of control. I think that’s what changed House’s tactics and dig deeper. It’s no longer “you’re the one but I can’t be with you”, but a somewhat mixed signal, he knew there’s something different in Mark & Stacy’s relationship, but doesn’t know what.

    And once he starts, of course he couldn’t stop. In the course of manipulation he found the relaxed air and understanding in their previous relationship, and gradually got pulled in again with renewed feelings surfaced to the top. Even though he did deserve it, it’s heartbreaking to watch him suffer. Gotta love Hugh’s angst when got caught in the manip.

  • Donna

    I think the whole Stacy (not a good name for that character) House thing is awful and takes away form the really interesting and unique reasons I love House. The whole chasing thing is a contradiction to his personality and character. Not to mention I just don’t LIKE Stacy nor do I like the actress (whose name I can’t remember right now) they cast in the role for THIS role. She doesn’t look the part of House’s old flame. Please get rid of her. I can’t stand that every med show having the love interests being or becoming employed at the same hospital ala Grey’s Anatomy. Ehy can’t these shows stick to what made them great in the first place? Why does they always need relationship stress? It is sooo old already. I can’t believe fans needed this Stacy-new husband-House thing to keep the show going? I think that if crap this keeps up (even stacy’s little mouse) then that shark will start circling.