As I watched “Moving the Chains,” this week’s House, M.D. episode, I was reminded of a conversation I had with the episode’s writers, Russel Friend and Garret Lerner. We had been discussing another of their episodes, the season six premiere “Broken.” I asked them whether they (as series writers and executive producers) believed that House (Hugh Laurie) had a compassionate streak. Of course he can be jerk, but is there a core of decency hidden beneath the snark and game-playing. David Shore’s oft-stated official line is, of course, that House isn’t a good guy. He isn’t a nice person. Yet in “Broken,” Lydia sees in House a great capacity for kindness beneath the misanthropic crust.
“The tricky thing about the character is that we have this sort of misanthropic, drug addicted guy,” they explained in September. “We want to preserve his edginess. Not betray that. But we always want to see that humanity.”
At the time they told me they need “to give House some plausible deniability.”
Even if House is being nice, he has to have the cover of an alternative explanation, where it’s safer footing for him. And that safer footing seemed firmly in place during this week’s “Moving the Chains,” as House, the master manipulator was hard at work making Foreman’s life miserable—while (maybe) doing something profoundly important for him.
“Moving the chains” is a football term. Every time a team gets a first down, they “move the chains” down the field to the starting point for the next series of downs. Ten yards at a time, the ball is moved down the field, subject to blocks, fumbles, interceptions sacks behind the line of scrimmage. It’s also urban slang signifying small but meaningful steps down a relationship’s path towards a “score.”
Each of the plots and subplots marked forward motion towards another start and suggested the pain and sacrifice involved in sometimes moving even a little bit towards a more significant goal. There is, of course, the main plot: a young man felled during a football game—the most direct connection to the episode’s football metaphor. He has a chance to make the pros, being recruited from college by scouts and general managers. He sees opportunity ahead of him—and the opportunity to take care of his mother by becoming a success at something he does exceptionally well. But the best part of the medical story was having House back, fully engaged in the case—smartest guy in the room. It’s been awhile since (in my humble opinion) we’ve seen him quite so involved in the differentials.
Jerk’s jerk Lucas Douglas, takes on House in an unnecessarily cruel and dangerous revenge play to both humiliate him and mark his territory with Cuddy. The “pranks” are intended to place a big “Keep Away” sign from Lucas’ new family: Cuddy and Rachel. But I suspect something a little more sinister than trying to protect Cuddy from House.
I do not like him (I don’t think we’re supposed to) and look forward to the day he leaves. Although he provides a more real threat to House than Vogler and Tritter combined, he creeps me out. I do have to say the plotline provided some fun. I loved House and Wilson lying in wait for the (then unknown) prankster in the middle of the night. Was that a cricket bat that House was holding as a weapon? Cute inside joke if it was (with the English Mr. Laurie a cricketer and fan of the game).
The meat of the episode is really found in the its main character plot. Foreman’s long imprisoned brother Marcus out on parole—and House plays the grand manipulator (or as House-whisperer Wilson puts it, puppetmaster). Foreman wants nothing to do with Marcus; he’s given him one too many chances and Foreman’s had enough. He won’t even go to the prison and pick him up now that he’s out. The chronically curious House senses an opportunity to play: screw with Foreman and perhaps find out more of what lies beneath the opacity of his stony, humorless surface. So, how better to accomplish this than to hire the new parolee as an assistant.
Or does House have a different agenda to serve—something infinitely more benevolent. Wilson believes there’s something else at play: House doing something nice for Foreman—and his family— beneath the veil of plausible deniability. Wilson believes House’s actions connect to his own tortured relationship with his family, and doesn’t want Foreman to trod the same path. (By the way, I so much like Wilson in this role as friend and verbal sparring mate than as self-righteous lecturer.)
Or, perhaps there is yet another possibility. Is Marcus an avatar for House? After so many chances, is his brother willing to give him another shot when push comes to shove? After so many chances is there any possibility that Cuddy will allow them to begin to repair their own relationship left in tatters at the season’s start? Is redemption even possible when you’ve gone to the well so many times?
I loved Orlando Jones’ wonderfully sympathetic portrayal of Marcus Foreman. He is a man ready to be redeemed after many years in prison; and I can see why he and House connect at this particular moment, when House too is weary of running from himself and ready to try something else.
Foreman took viewers along on his own journey, allowing his defenses down and ultimately give himself permission to connect with Marcus. (albeit at first united against a common enemy in House.) We learn more about what makes Foreman tick in “Moving the Chains” than we have in years. His most significant moment—a turning point that earned his mother’s greatest displeasure: stealing a car something that helps us understand him better. It’s a piece of the Foreman puzzle that helps explain hy he’s so serious; why he always seems to be looking over his own shoulder—and even his attitude to his reckless boss.
And of course there is the stunning revelation that his mother died three months earlier—and he told no one: apparently not even 13. It’s something that the hyper-vigilant House completely missed. Like House, Foreman distanced himself from his mother for years (remember “Euphoria” in season two and “House Training” in season three?). Also like House, Foreman has tried to bottle up that loss behind a wall of silence. For House it became toxic and another contributing factor to his breakdown. I wonder how much that is on House’s mind during the final acts of “Moving the Chains.”
And then there is the final subplot: an interesting clinic patient, who isn’t just comic relief, but serves to elaborate on the episode’s theme of sacrifice and family; and on moving forward to another phase of living. It also serves to illuminate House as a closet “force for good” in the universe. Yes, there would have been more straightforward and illegal ways for House to have helped the young vet, but I like the idea that House gave the patient information to use as he felt needed. It was quite—Houseian.
I had a nice chat via conference call with Lisa Edelstein this afternoon, and I do hope to have my interview with her up this evening or tomorrow morning. Next week’s episode “5 to 9” is a day through Cuddy’s point of view. I’ve seen it—and I like it quite a lot.
In the meantime, what do you think of Lucas’ pranks in “Moving the Chains.” Weigh in below, spread the word about this poll, and feel free to elaborate below in the comments.