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TV Review: House, M.D. – “Private Lives”

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It’s often easier to tell difficult truths and deepest fears to complete strangers: people we can’t see face to face. They are an audience who cannot see into our eyes, nor we into theirs to note disappointment or rejection staring back at us.

The hero of our story, Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), knows this well. He will reveal himself to strangers: a patient, perhaps even a hooker, rather than risk himself to his friends or anyone one else who really matters to him.

This week’s patient, a blogger, finds that telling her troubles (and joys) to the world brings her close to those who understand her, her state of mind and way of thinking–perhaps better than her husband. That’s the great beauty of the Internet. It’s a private/public space where you keep your anonymity while revealing parts of yourself you’d never reveal to even you closest friends and family.The lure of the Internet is seductive as a forum to reveal one’s most intimate secrets, vet one’s most personal decisions. As revealing and public as it is, there is an anonymity to this sort of virtual life, and therefore less risk.

I remember first getting hooked on House back in 2004. I couldn’t tell my husband and risk his certain teasing and (good natured) ridicule for becoming addicted to a television show (again). But I went on the Internet to see if anyone else felt as I did; saw in the show the things I saw; perceived House as I perceived him. And of course I did. I could barely admit my addiction to friends (and when I did it was with an embarrassed giggle). But to my community on the Internet, who of course “understood” me in a way impossible to explain to anyone else, I could bare all without fear of ridicule.

“Private Lives” nicely explores the nature of perception and privacy in our lives. Written by Doris Egan, the episode brings restores some of what I had felt had gone missing this season—most importantly the more introspective and serious side of House. Yes, prankster House was quite in evidence, but he considered the case and the patient seriously and thoughtfully. It was wonderful to observe House deep in thought over the patient, wracking his brain and getting one of his patented epiphanies from something completely remote from the week’s case.

This week’s patient seems to live her entire life through her blog. Nothing in her life (not even her marriage) is off limits, much to the annoyance of her husband. She blogs everything, and even as she has to make a significant choice in treatment, she turns to her readers for advice, despite her husband’s pleas that she not make this decision into an Internet poll. Her real and virtual lives have converged in a way that risks her real relationship.

Like our blogger (and dare I say like most of us), House also lives two lives. Outwardly his life is an open book: he’s an unabashed jerk who (as Chase points out) brings hookers to the hospital and openly gambles with bookies. He leers and is generally a boorish lout. But House has another side, one that he keeps essentially private (even from Wilson and Cuddy). In “Broken,” House’s therapist perceptively asks him why he shrinks from letting people know the “real” him. It's a question that gets to House's deep-rooted intimacy and trust issues.

House’s real idea of a relaxing evening is rather solitary and sad: sitting on the sofa, eating cornflakes and watching porn. No intimacy necessary; no one to judge, reject or gawk at the “freak” he sees when he looks in the mirror. By contrast, Wilson is moving on with his life, hoping to score at a speed dating extravaganza. And he’s convinced House to come along, promising an equal if not better outcome to the evening he’s planned for himself. House sees the speed dating scene as a “meat market” rather than a "meet" market, and looks remarkably uncomfortable. Even when he happens upon a woman who seems a reflection of himself, he realizes that’s just not possible and pushes her away with blazing speed and precision.

About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • http://barbarabarnett.com barbara barmett

    kate–you have it!

  • Ted

    I see! Thanks, Kate, for pointing out that coversation between House and Wilson. Interesting continuation.

  • CW

    Surly byzantine a more likely explanation for use of henry james was that james own father was a minister who wrote books of sermons and then the golden bowl does not exactly embrace the morals of his father

  • bakerstreet blues

    I loved this episode….all of it. This has one of my all time favorite scenes in it. House concentrating on the patient, playing with his cane, meandering around his office and finally reading the blog. The music was perfection. The fact that House FINALLY outed Wilson was great. I have often noted that Wilson outs House for EVERYTHING and House keeps Wilson’s indiscretions secret. Tells me a lot about who is really the better friend. At the end of “Dying changes everything” when Wilson told House that all he can feel is misery and therefore spreads it, all he does is manipulate people because he cannot have any real relationships, and that Wilson thinks that they were never really friends to begin with screamed PROJECTION at me. Wilson was basically describing himself as far as I saw. I have always thought that House was the better friend…non-judgmental of Wilson, kept his secrets, trusted Wilson with not only his heart but his confidence (which in my opinion was always a mistake) and never assumed the worst in him. Not to mention the biggest betrayal of all…the huge lie in Meaning that almost cost House all of his self-confidence. Why would any friend want the look on House’s face at the end of Meaning to be on your best friend’s face???? Wilson always jumps to the worst assumption possible (I always think of his remark in Honeymoon about how House is going to save Stacy’s husband just so he can win her back…and then the real blow “I just love that level of narcissism that you have”. Wilson has manipulated the hell out of House, never keeps any secrets of House’s, and psycho-analyzes him to death (almost always wrongly) not only to House himself, but has no problem wrongly analyzing him to anyone else as well. The whole “Never judge a book by its cover” was definitely a theme that no one in House’s orbit even remotely gets except House himself. I can only think of 2 patients that House placed a judgment on, both after he cured them and both were being untruthful to their partners. (Sleeping dogs lie, Open and Shut), shows where House places loyalty in a relationship…right at the top. I was also glad to see House actually involved with the case. I like the fact that he is on anti-depressants, but I definitely think his skills are less razor-sharp. He definitely loses more patients on “Happy Pills”.