Home / TV Review: House, MD – “Living the Dream”

TV Review: House, MD – “Living the Dream”

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“Okay, so here’s what you do — wait three minutes and then call security. By the time they get here, and lock me up, I’ll be done. He gets to live; your ass gets to be covered.”

House Classic. In a nutshell, this is why we (or at least I) love House — the show and the character. This is my buy into the series; not the snark, not the over-the-top behavior; not the snotty, spoiled brat man-child. Not the bad boy. This is House (really) at his most heroic. Save everyone but himself. Played to perfection with the just the right amount of pathos injected into Hugh Laurie's flawless performance.

Cuddy: You’re not going to cut your own throat.

House: Yeah that sounds like me.


With no inclination for self-preservation, and nothing but an ethical streak that screams at him to do the “right” thing and not the “correct” or “good” thing, House has no intrinsic choice in the matter. House is a healer; he cannot help himself. It’s a familiar pattern for House, beginning all the way back in season one as he, over and over again, risked his career for the sake of doing what is “right.” What is best for a patient, protocol be damned. It’s only his own throat he’s willing to risk, however, never really wanting to threaten anyone else’s throat. It was subtler this time, more than in season one's "Control," or "Role Model," or season three's "Son of Coma Guy," but it said more for it. At least to me.

“Living the Dream” was a terrific episode. It had its humor, but it also had its moments of introspection. House was being House, sure. But House was also being the House that I love, and that I fell in love with.

The episode played with this season’s exploration of change and fear of it, as well as the season’s other major theme of illusion vs. reality; reflections and mirror images. “Living the Dream” refers (among other things) to taking hope beyond fantasy and taking that leap out of House’s metaphorical airplane. Hope is useless, according to House. It’s the here and now that matters; if you don’t like your situation, change it or stop moaning about it.

For the patient, the star of House’s favorite soap opera, it means changing his own situation, despite the fact that it’s “complicated.” House contends that “wanting” to change leaves hope that change can be had; as long as you don’t try, you have hope and you can continue to imagine life on the metaphorical “other side.” He’s not saying, however, that anyone can change. Change of circumstance does not equal change of one’s fundamental stripes. You are who you are. Throughout the episode, there are references to situational misery versus elemental misery.

The patient wants “meaning” in his life; wants to do something “meaningful,” now that he’s got a second chance at life. House has been there, done that. He knows from his experience that meaning is fleeting. In season two, he told Foreman that “everything changes for about two months,” before you revert to type.

“Nothing matters,” House tells the patient. Nothing has lasting meaning. “We’re all on airplanes.” Life is dangerous and complicated and it’s a long way down if you decide to jump — to stop hoping and start doing. It's easier to “give up a chance at doing something real to hang onto hope.“ House sought meaning, and in the end all he found was disappointment. He sought change and all it brought was the realization that change (i.e. healing) is beyond his grasp. House’s bleak view is paralleled by the patient, who, in turn plays a television character with whom House connects — an idealized mirror image of himself in many ways. “Living the Dream,” indeed.

I loved the way the story drew parallels between Wilson’s relationships with both House and Amber. This is the first episode in which I saw Amber and House cast in the same light, despite the fact the series has been trying to explain it to me all season. Shopping for a new bed, Amber is disappointed after Wilson chooses a bed to please her rather than please himself. She is upset and angry at his attitude, explaining that this is why his marriages have failed: he does what pleases his partners until he resents, and then rejects, them. He asks what’s wrong with wanting to take care of her. She reminds him that she can very well take care of herself. She needs him to take care of his own needs. “You can take care of me. You need you to take care of you,” she rightly admonishes. It could as well be House saying Amber’s words both to Wilson and to his team. He needs to be surrounded by people who stand up to him — who don’t “care about him.” Don’t want to “fix” or “change” him. Who look out for themselves, who value their own medical opinions and are willing to stand up for them.

Amber wants to be challenged; to not get her own way, just because she’s more aggressive about it. As does Amber, House practically begs to be challenged throughout the episode, even so far as blaming Cuddy for failing to stop him from performing a dangerous procedure. “You should have stopped me,” he criticizes her.

House grows frustrated and angry with Foreman when he manipulates an end run around House’s decision rather than confronting him with it. “If I’m wrong, tell me I’m wrong.” House sees Foreman’s actions as not only a wimping out, but a betrayal. He doesn’t want threats; they don’t help him — he wants debate; needs it for process.

House tries to barter playing nicely in front of the company (a hospital accreditation inspector) for a new television for his office. But even when he pushes Cuddy to let him have the television, I think House secretly hopes that Cuddy won’t give in to him; that she will say no. I do not think that in the morgue, confronted with the inspector, he would ultimately compromise Cuddy or hurt her professionally. If she had pushed him, she would have won (I think) — just like Amber won her battle over Wilson in the end.

I loved the idea of their “safe” word, by the way (suggestive as it is of rough, but loving sexual play). This game that Cuddy and House play is practically some sort of dominant/submissive seduction. Ah, but who is the dominant? Who is submissive? “Sweet Sauce?” Irony, indeed! In House’s dreams! “Living the Dream?” Maybe their sensual power play-laced dance is a vicarious way of making their own desires real. It would, after all, be quite a long leap off the metaphorical airplane for either other them to take a chance on upping their game to something more real. So they dance. And spar. And flirt. Sweet (sauce).

So, in the end there are House and Cuddy for the second episode in a row. I so loved the idea that it ultimately came down, not to protocol, not to looking good in front of the inspector, but to trust between them: why she hired him and why she protects him.

“Your job is on the line; my job is on the line,” she pleads with him, asking for him to proceed cautiously, if only while the inspector is there. But it’s the wrong argument. “If you think I’m wrong tell me I’m wrong, don’t tell me about protocol.” But it is House’s total commitment to the patient and his diagnosis, risking only himself in the process (and the patient, for whom he thinks it’s a calculated and necessary risk), that convinces her.
But , alas, House appears initially to have gotten the diagnosis wrong. “You should have stopped me,” he tells Cuddy, realizing that his impulsiveness may have killed the patient. In House's mind, that's her job. He doesn’t want sycophants or manipulative, passive aggressive antagonists. He needs someone to stand up to his genius when it leads him astray. Even as they protect him from bureaucrats.

When ultimately the patient is cured with House’s diagnosis (which he still believes is wrong at that point), House can’t stop processing the “why.” He needs to know, as he always does, why, even though the patient should by all rights be dead, his treatment worked. Curiosity, as Foreman might accuse? Or that he needs to understand so that it won't happen again? No loose ends means fewer mistakes in the long run.

In the end, House is proven right: a severe allergic reaction, which (reasonably) responded well to his treatment plan. Ultimately vindicated, he phones Cuddy in the middle of the night — to share, to admonish, to flirt — and most importantly to connect. It’s a great way to end a terrific episode. “Good night, House.” A wan, resigned, but affectionate good-bye. “Good night, Cuddy,” as he knows all is well between them.

Two-part finale coming up! Part one airs Monday, May 12; the season finale airs May 19. Next week, be sure to watch for my interview with finale writers/executive producers Garrett Lerner and Russel Friend!

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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)."
  • Samantha

    No mention in this recap of House offering — twice — to fire Thirteen if Cameron wanted to come back? That was huge!

  • Barbara Barnett

    Consider it mentioned. I really liked that scene. I think it hurt House a lot that she was unwilling to come back because of him. I think House was really grasping for people to stand up to him (like Amber was grasping for Wilson to stand up to her in parallel)– the newbies don’t (not really); and when Foreman went around him instead of confronting him, I think that was even a bigger hurt. He wants to be confronted not dismissed. In any event. I liked that C stood up to him 😉

  • I used to love this show, but I’m still waiting for that episode this season that will blow me away. This one had some good moments, but it still seemed off. I’m just not sure the writers have found their footing yet on what to do with the extended cast and it ruins the pacing. Instead of hanging on every detail and watching live like I used to, I’m watching on the TiVo whenever I feel like it while surfing the web.

    However, I absolutely loved the Wilson/Amber story line in this one. I’m thrilled to see this side of Wilson, involved with someone like Amber, who can finally call him out on his past behavior with his ex-wives yet still love him in the process. I actually freaked out when he said he was happy. That’s a first. That scene with them together on the living room floor after Wilson finds he can’t sleep on the waterbed was in my mind the best of the season.

    They made a huge mistake with Foreman this season. He should be in another department, running his own show, just like Cameron and Chase. He’s wasted on this team. Another waste, Taub and Thirteen. Kutner however, I like. They’re doing very well with his character. As for House, Hugh Laurie is great and continues to deliver, but they’ve really been cartoonish with his character this year. Like the entire season, he seems off.

  • Tigerfeet

    Thanks for an excellent review, as always! This was a great episode, loved it!

    I wonder if Cuddy asking Cameron (and in vain Chase) to help keep House under surveillance, is a first sign that they are on their way back into the team, at least closer than they are today. Even if Cuddy thought Kutner & Co. was too busy with the pasient, she obviously trusts the old team more than the new when it comes to serious ‘House-matters’. (Hence Foreman’s role.) And Cameron said she missed the job, if not House. In my opinion she lied about the last.

    Another little thing – I loved the fact that House had read the hospital guidelines, even if his reference to them was to make a point of how silly he thoght they were. But he had read them! This is one of many, many instances in the series that shows how serious and focused he really is despite all his playfulness and rule breaking.

    House also seemed happier than usual. Anything to do with Cuddy?!? I wholeheartedly agree with your eloquent description of their relationship. And he definately seems more relaxed with the Wilson/Amber affair. Wilson, by the way, was hilarious when he confessed he wanted a waterbed!

    Good luck with the interview, Barbara! Can’t wait to read.

  • Veresna Ussep

    I’m probably being too hopeful, but I thought that Cameron’s absolute engagement in the differential process truly signaled either that she will return to the team, OR the way that they will write her (and possibly Chase) out is that she will leave to head her own team elsewhere (I’d definitely prefer the former choice). I’m also probably wrong in hoping that Taub’s and 13’s expression of disatisfaction with their jobs means they could be on the way out. I think I could be happy with a team that consists of Cameron, Kutner and Foreman with Chase being brought in from time to time as needed.

  • Ann

    Love the review. Indeed, this is House the way I like to see him. The do what is right House. There were some moments that made me laugh right out loud. My favorite was House play acting a “thank you” in the mirror while holding the POTW’s Emmy. I hope to see Hugh Laurie do that for real some day. I’m bored with Foreman, loved Cameron in this episode, and was cheering for Chase when he walked out of Cuddy’s office after asking if he would be fired if he didn’t do “House Watch”. I love the relationship between Cuddy and House, which was played out beautifully here, almost as much as the House/Wilson relationship.

  • Robin

    I thought this episode was “WOW.” There is so much that could be talked about. House’s observation skills were in high gear; noticed a very slight pause in speech and the bubbles in the glass. I thought Cameron was pushy in the diagnostics, but it was in character for her when she is around House. I was surprised with the Wilson/Amber story. I thought this would be the show where they split. I was glad to see her call Wilson on his doormat behavior he had with his wives. She just might be what he needs. But generaly they don’t have good chemistry as a passionate couple. Whey they give goodbye or greeting kisses it seems like the affection between brother and sister. Wilson looked clumsy in the makeout scene. But they looked good laying on the floor together in contentment. The theme running thru it seemed to be the value in following protocol to prevent disasters. How can any doctor know if his patient is in the 5% where protocol won’t fix it. It highlights House’s exceptional skill but I think it made him really aware of the fine line he walks daily between success and complete failure, and Cuddy’s unfailing support. And I think he knows he needs some controls at least enough to think about what he is doing. His lack of instinct for self preservation is what made him such a easy target for Tritter. Loved the interplay between him and Cuddy. Forman did disappointed him by going around him and I think he was hurt by Cameron. There seems to be a foreshadow of plans for Chase. House made me laugh twice, with the emmy in the dressing room and telling Cuddy no “takies backies” of the TV. Who else but HL could say such a words without looking completely silly. I loved the show and the end scene with Cuddy hit the right ending note.

  • Tammy

    Loved the episode because Cameron actually had a purpose in it! Absolutely enjoyed every scene that she was in! She was witty, funny and yet still showed a caring side. I really wish House did fire 13 and bring Cameron back. It would mean that we would see more of her. I agree with what other people said, House looked crest-fallen when Cameron said she didn’t miss him. You can tell that she does, but I guess if she admitted it, it would take away from her character growth. I hope this means that we will definitely see more of Cameron (and Chase) in the future. With Cameron giving her ideas in the DDx, it made me really miss her even more. House was still impressed by her skills in diagnostics, it’s such a waste that she’s in the ER.

    I still don’t really care about the new team, though I only like Kutner. The other two can leave and I wouldn’t mind that one bit. I mean they keep reinforcing that Taub and 13 aren’t happy, then let them leave! Bring back Cameron and Chase!!

    I seriously don’t know what’s happening to Cuddy nowadays. After watching this episode, and the many others before it, it’s quite clear that she can’t handle running a hospital without having to resort to babysitting House or making a deal where she always loses with him. What type of administrator is she? And the fact that they are going to pursue Huddy makes it worse, she has no backbone now, so can you imagine how much worse it would be? I’m definitely not looking forward to Huddy.

  • Mary

    I was much happier about this episode than I was about “NMMNG.” I think partly it was because the POTW was more interesting than a patient who never pushed back on any interactions until the end. The unhappy TV soap star was more interesting for me from the beginning.

    I loved all the meta-moments: the TV surgeon who couldn’t do surgery unless he was drunk being watched by a physician addicted to painkillers; House holding the Emmy and taking a pretend bow during his visit to the show set. From his facial reactions while we watched House watching “Prescription: Passion,” it seems that the program fills an emotional need for him.

    And in meta beyond meta, I was intrigued by the theme of the meaningfulness of storytelling itself. The soap actor questioned the meaning of the work that he was doing, the telling of stories. But stories are how we make sense of our lives. No human culture can exist without stories, because stories are how culture is passed along. And we are all here discussing this program because these stories of this physician and his colleagues have become important for us as well.

    I was happy to see a passionate Wilson, and to see him and Amber together and working out their issues as a couple. I still saw the scheming CTB I don’t like in her deceitful story-spinning to get a better price on the mattress, but also a better side when she challenges Wilson to break his dysfunctional relationship pattern.

    The ending phone call reminded me of the scene in (I think) “Meaning,” where House went to Cuddy’s house to discuss a diagnosis. He climbed a tree outside her window to discuss it with a barely clad Cuddy, but not one leering comment. At least this time, he was interested in what she was wearing.

    I can hardly wait for the next two episodes, though I am not looking forward to the drought of summer, when we all have to go through “House M.D.” withdrawal.

  • sue

    Barbara, this was your best review so far.

    I liked that House told Wilson to “live the dream.” Was he referring to the bed or his relationship with Amber?

    This episode also mirrored House fans. I recite a few lines with the characters when I watch. I would kidnap Hugh Laurie if I could.

    The sparring between Cuddy and House is romance for them. He baits Cuddy, because her engagement in the conversation is like showing love to him. If she refused to do it, he would be hurt emotionally. His sexual harassment comments are his way of showing affection, and Cuddy takes it because she needs it as much as House does. House laid it out in his “review” of Cuddy in the last episode. If Cuddy was seriously involved with someone, the sexual banter wouldn’t work. Also, House respects Cuddy’s pursuit of what is right. He just makes her take some twists and turns until she gets there.

    I liked Cameron in this episode. She wasn’t one-dimensional as she has been in prior episodes. Having Cameron there while they were doing the DDx showed the contrast between this season and prior seasons. There was chemistry and action-reaction between House and Cameron. I don’t see this with any of the new team members. They can’t hold their own with House. In Ugly, Cameron told the video crew that she loved House and working with him; she lied to him when she said she didn’t miss him.

    Amber showed that she is a CTB when it comes to work, but not in her personal life. If she is a mirror of House (you’re sleeping with me), does House have a soft side when it comes to love? Do the games stop when he leaves the hospital when he is in love?

  • Barbara Barnett

    Sorry I’ve been so absent these last few days from responding to all of your kind and insightful comments about the last episode (and my review). Ah, when real life intervenes!

    As for House, Hugh Laurie is great and continues to deliver, but they’ve really been cartoonish with his character this year. Like the entire season, he seems off.
    I wonder if House is reacting and has been all season to this different situation. Part of his behavior may have been intentionally off-putting and intended to push buttons; deal with his issues regarding change; but I do think that the series has done a good job with the theme they’ve explored of image/illusion/self-perception and of course “change.” Has there been as much “angst” this season? Never enough for me. Have I missed the introspective moments? Absolutely, and I think the series has suffered for the loss of those quieter “House by himself” moments, and the House with the patient moments. But I think the finale will deliver big time on those things. And give us a lot to talk about over the summer.

    This is one of many, many instances in the series that shows how serious and focused he really is despite all his playfulness and rule breaking. Exactly. As much as House can be overtly crazy sometimes (and he has been more this season), he is serious, and the show seldom loses sight of that. It always has to come back to House being actually the most serious character on the show.

    Tammy, I think it goes back to why Cuddy hired House and why she protects him (and lets him get away with stuff). He’s her “ace in the hole.” she knows that he will go around her and frustrate her, but will save lives that no one else can (or wants to — because of medical malpractice). House simply doesn’t care about being sued or hurt. He’s all for saving the patient. I think, however that House called her on not pushing back when she should have. He was disturbed when he thought that he was wrong and might have harmed the patient. He needs that push back and feedback. And craves it.

    Like some of you, I’m hopeful for the Cuddy/House thing. I’ll be speaking to Lisa Edelstein later (in a confernce call) and (along with everyone else, I’m sure) bring up their “relationship” if I have a chance to ask a question.

  • cuddy

    Hi Barbara,
    just want to have an opportuity to ask if you could deliver a remark to those writers you will be talking to:
    in the episode of “Meaning”, House is suddenly able to walk with no impairmentand even run.
    As I understand, the basic injury was a clotted aneurysm in the thigh. now this has to be an aneurysm of the deep femoral artery, which supplies the quadriceps muscle of the thigh.
    It could not involve the Superficial femoral artery or the Popliteal artery, because those would lead to muscle necrosis in the calf not the thigh, and would almost certainly require a below-knee amputation.
    so when he had surgery to remove that muscle the quadriceps was resected, that means one can walk with a brace or eventually with a strong limp, but those muscles don’t grow back. so there is no way one can walk without at least some impairment, no running or anything, without some support. it would be good to stick to some realistic points, I am only pointing this out, because it is the inital plot.
    I guess the point was to show house healthy, which was well taken, but from the physicalities this should not have been possible.
    The drama story did fit nicely though.
    I am a vascular surgeon, and like seeing the show, so forgive me for my remarks.
    Thanks for your reviews.

  • Barbara Barnett

    Thanks for your comments Cuddy. I will be sure to bring that up. It’s something I’ve always been curious about.