A jealous king, a brave knight-wannabe (with a couple of secrets that could get him burned at the stake), and a soon-to-be wedded queen: there’s intrigue at Court. Is this the latest installment of The Tudors? No, my liege, it’s “House goes to the Renaissance Faire.”
I admit to being a Ren Faire aficionado, and to see my favorite television show craft an episode around one—and seeing House (Hugh Laurie) garbed for the period to boot—made me fair swoon. But there was much more to this episode than sword and sorcery, hemlock and witches brew.
Young knight William (Noah Segan) feels himself unworthy for the Ren Faire queen, who is about to marry the king. But it’s clear from the teaser that the queen has feelings for the young man, whom she chooses as her champion in a swordfight. The much smaller (and geekier looking) William prevails against the king’s hulking captain of the guard (who reminded me a bit of Darth Vader, somehow), stunning the King, the queen—and the captain of the guard. But William falls, his eyes demon red.
House and the team are perplexed and without a diagnosis even after investigating the young man’s home (where they find he’s into witchcraft and potions) and the Renaissance Faire campgrounds at which he spends most of his time. There’s plenty of evidence and sources for environmental and organism-borne illness in both places as the team considers everything from the sanitary conditions and crowding of the faire grounds to the possibility of his being intentionally poisoned by the troupe’s king with hemlock. But alas, the answer to the mystery is of more modern witchcraft. The young knight beefed up his jousting muscles by taking steroids. Combined with a little bit of hemlock and it’s “double, double, toil and (big) trouble” time for our young knight (with apologies to Shakespeare).
And speaking of trouble, it also seems to threatening House and Wilson’s (Robert Sean Leonard) domestic bliss as Wilson reconnects with his first wife Samantha (Cynthia Watros). We all know how House is going to feel about that. And predictably, House begins to do his best to nip this relationship in the bud. Wilson perceptively realizes that whatever House is up to, it’s ultimately his way of being a protective friend. But he asks his best friend to please give it a chance. Interestingly, Cuddy sees House’s interference as less House’s protectiveness (although she sees that as well) than House’s fear, advising him not to push it, because if he forces Wilson to make a choice, he may end up losing.
The final scene of the episode provides a good starting point to talk about House, Wilson, and Cuddy in the context of “Knight Fall.” At his desk, obviously in more pain than we’ve seen him all season, he seems resigned, defeated, and depressed.
All episode, he’d been popping ibuprofen tablets as it was clear he was sitting more, rubbing his leg; even his team noticed. House rarely raises his voice, but he was screaming at them, aggravated with the fellows—and in obvious distress. But in the final scene, after a meeting that clearly got him thinking (about the patient—and his relationship with Wilson), he takes a fistful of the tablets. They may help the pain in his leg, but House’s distress is double-edged.
After weeks of having made peace with Cuddy and dealing with his pain (at least enough to make it tolerable), his anxiety over Wilson and his new squeeze may be exacerbating things. This is not a good sign for House.
At this point in the series, Wilson is House’s anchor. As House confesses in “Wilson,” if Wilson is gone, he’ll be alone. It terrifies him, undoubtedly. But now there’s a new threat: Samantha. House sees the threat in terms of what it might do to Wilson, but as with Amber, House is also afraid of what it will do to his only real close human relationship. Will Wilson, like Cuddy move on—and away—from him?
After House has tried for two years to begin making human connection, is the rug about to be pulled out from under him with Wilson too? We know it won’t, even if Wilson becomes deeply involved with Samantha, but House doesn’t know that, and his default position is always to push—and push hard. So, for whichever motivation fits, House acts on instinct and rather than flee, he fights.
But as Cuddy counsels, sabotaging Wilson’s relationship will only backfire. You know what happens when you try to interfere in others’ relationships, she warns. And House slowly acknowledges that she may be right. “If you make him choose, you may not like the answer.”
So House is stuck. He has to trust that should Samantha and Wilson get serious enough to marry (for example) that Wilson cares enough about him to not leave him isolated and abandoned. (Of course House can’t articulate this, because he can’t acknowledge that this is what it’s really about.) House is also concerned about Wilson’s well being, and he doesn’t want to see Wilson getting involved again with the “harpy” that destroyed him many years earlier. (Yes, I know. The timeline is wiggy; I’ll get to that in a moment.)
But House can’t help himself; he tries (without telegraphing it to Wilson) to make clear to Sam his position on the entire thing. He will not allow Wilson to go through Hell as he did the first time ‘round. I loved House’s scenes with Sam. We don’t often see House as a genuinely menacing figure. His menace is usually mitigated by how obviously he does it. But there’s serious menace in House’s tone of voice, telling Samantha that he’s not going to let this relationship really, really happen.
But in the end, House allows love to prevail, along with Wilson’s new hope for happiness; he does what he did with Cuddy and Lucas. Samantha appeals to House’s better angels and asks him to give this relationship a chance. She doesn’t threaten; she doesn’t yell. She appeals to something she may not have known existed in the apparent misanthrope: his romantic nature. And in the end, with potential evidence (procured at some cost through Lucas) in his hands to destroy (or at least interfere with) Wilson’s nascent relationship, House chooses to discard the confidential information and let nature take its course.
Whether House backs off because he’s afraid that he’ll drive Wilson away or that he honestly has come to believe Wilson deserves this chance at happiness re-found is completely ambiguous. Either interpretation works.
I’m also reminded here of the first episode or two after House finds out that Wilson is involved with Amber Volakis in season four. House’s interference eventually leads to Amber’s tragic end (and nearly his own). And you have to wonder if any of that is playing in House’s head.
Our fallen knight William describes what being a knight is all about: loyalty, courage, and living by a set of ideals. He gives up a chance to be with his lady love to adhere to his notion of knightly noble behavior.
House isn’t quite so noble when it comes to relationships, but once proven to him that they deserve a chance he does resign his position (Amber, Lucas, and even Mark Warner with Stacy). House is loyal, that’s a certainty. He is willing to look (and act) foolish to protect someone he feels needs his protection (sometimes misguidedly). As for courage, House has that in abundance. Living with chronic pain alone takes much more courage than House’s friends and associates can imagine. Like Knight William couldn’t allow the queen to really know the level of pain he was experiencing mid-episode, House tries to conceal it as well. But House exhibits another sort of courage in “Knight Fall.” He is now willing to risk losing Wilson to Samantha—something that must be terrifying to House (and certainly affects his pain level).
Like William too, House may feel himself unworthy. William feels unworthy to woo the queen, with whom he is secretly in love; House has never felt worthy of Cuddy—for all his leering at her breasts. And all the more so as he sees Cuddy happy and involved for months now with Lucas. With four more episodes to go, there are many open questions: Wilson and Sam; Cuddy and Lucas—and most importantly, House’s relationships with Wilson and Cuddy.
There were many things to love about this episode outside the main and subplots: the Ren Faire settings; the music; House wielding a sword; House in full period costume. The episode was written by a new House writer John C. Kelly (NCIS). He did an excellent job of capturing the character nuances of the main cast and brought into the episode an intriguing medical mystery. I loved the lengthy teaser, and Oscar-winning film director Juan J. Campanella’s (Best Foreign Film, 2009) artful direction. I loved the little references to Medieval-ish pop culture: Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings. A really fine episode.
Okay. So, one quibble—and it’s a big one. It’s been often stated by the show’s producers that House, M.D. operates without a series bible. That’s mitigated by the longevity of the writing staff and collaborative nature of writing House episodes. But the writers (and David Shore, whose stamp is on every episode) occasionally goof — sometimes with minor timeline impossibility; sometimes with something completely irreconcilable with what we know of the series. It’s always dangerous ground for the writers to implant a time stamp on something that occurred in the lives of the characters from before we met them.
For example, in season one ("Histories"), we learned that House had never met Wilson’s brother, who had gone missing more than nine years earlier (but whom we learn has been missing a lot longer than that). In season five, we learn that Danny went missing while Wilson was in medical school and that it’s (now) been 13 years since Wilson last spotted brother Danny on a Princeton street. That time frame jibes with what we know. By season five, Wilson has been out of med school longer than 13 years. By this season it’s been 14 years.
We know from “Birthmarks” in season five that Wilson and House met just after Wilson graduated medical school and was newly divorced from wife #1: Samantha. But we learned last week that Sam and Wilson were married from 1990 to 1991 (getting divorced 19 years ago). And that House and Wilson have known each other nearly 20 years. That all makes sense. But now we’re to believe that Samantha and Wilson were married only 12 years ago after “Knight Fall?”
Oops. Is there an official errata page for House scripts? Oh well. I’m chalking it up to bad math. (And to be honest, it's confusing to reconcile the idea that 1990 was 20 years ago!) But matters are made worse when House and Cuddy reminisced about how bad off Wilson was after the breakup of his marriage. But it’s impossible for Cuddy to have shared that time with House and Wilson. Didn’t House bring Wilson to Princeton-Plainsboro after he notice that Wilson had been spending a lot of time scoping out Princeton (looking for his brother) as was noted in “Social Contract” (season five)?
The narrative chronology of the show has long been debated by fans, and usually it’s possible to “fanwank” new bits of series “fact” into the timeline and have it make some sense. But I’m lost here. On the other hand, I’ve never been very good at math. It’s a minor quibble, annoying to die-hard House fans, but it doesn’t diminish Kelly’s nice debut writing gig on the show.
Speaking of writers, I’ll be chatting with House scribe/producer Doris Egan after episode 21 (which she wrote). She’s always got interesting things to say about the series. So stay tuned.