There is a scene at the beginning of the season three House premiere, “Meaning,” that reveals a healed Gregory House (the brilliant Hugh Laurie). Graceful and quick, he runs through a park, free of pain and the shackles of disability. It is but a brief glimpse, and by the end of the episode, we know that for House, it will be (as Wilson will say by episode two) only a taste of what is not meant to be. And by midway through the season, House will have crashed and burned, reaching the depths of despair.
Throughout “Meaning,” House struggles with himself and his colleagues to find his sense of self in his new reality, having gone through dual life-changing events: being near fatally shot and attempting a radical therapy to rid himself of pain (and get himself off of pain killers). Convinced after his fevered hallucination in the season two finale “No Reason” that he lacks humanity, House accepts a brain-damaged quadriplegic cancer patient for the sole purpose of helping him with pain, almost daring himself that he can find “meaning” in normal “doctor stuff.” But he can’t quite figure out how to react when the patient’s family thanks him. In House’s mind, he’s done nothing; he hasn’t cured the patient or done anything significant. Confused, House believes he should “feel” something, and he doesn’t. He confesses to Wilson: “I wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to feel."
Wilson tells him, rightly, that House doesn't have to do or feel anything different, but should appreciate it for what it is. He need not change anything. It's a matter of perspective, he suggests by his words. He believes that House is trying to force himself to be something that he is not, and that it's not necessary. Wilson tells House that he simply has to learn to appreciate what he already does for people. I like this Wilson, who was on the right track for that brief moment, before he went on to tell House to work his “caring” muscles; “the feeling will come.”
House seeks answers about “caring” from the patient’s wife, asking her why she doesn’t put him in a nursing home. What does she get out of her self-sacrifice? It's as if House is trying to understand this level of devotion and compassion for its own sake. She's "sacrificing (herself) and gets nothing in return…" Why would she do that? Does it make her happy? Fulfilled? No, she explains. But not doing it would leave her even emptier. In House's “No Reason” hallucination, Moriarty tells him that he sacrifices himself for “no reason.” House wonders how the wife can derive something from what he sees as a miserable life. Can he apply this to his own life? Does House need to do what he does best to keep himself from being even more miserable?
While House wends his way through this uncharted territory emotional territory, everyone suspects that he has an agenda; that he’s playing with the patient for his amusement, creating a puzzle for himself where there is none.
Not satisfied with leaving the patient and his family with the status quo, House considers the possibility that the patient’s paralysis might be something curable after hearing the patient grunt (which House translates as speech). But everyone attacks House’s motives. Cameron mocks him; Cuddy accuses; Wilson lectures and scolds. Meeting House at the park, Wilson accuses him of fabricating a mystery for his amusement.
"You didn't tell the wife it was just a grunt?"
"No, of course not."
House retorts that he's built them up with too much false hope and can't let them down, playing up his image as a jerk. It’s a safe fall-back position for him. But in his encounters with the wife and the patient, there is nothing in House’s demeanor, body language or remarks that suggest anything other than sincere belief that the paralyzed, wheelchair-bound patient has something curable. And that there's a chance that his quality of life for both patient and family will be improved. There is an idealism in House's approach to medicine that comes out in moments like this.