“Almost dying changes everything–for about two months.” House believes that a near death experience has but a fleeting affect, if any. First said to Foreman following his brush with death in “Euphoria” and oft repeated, it has become a truism from a man who has had several close encounters with death. But in "Dying Changes Everything", the season five House, MD premiere, House learns a tragic corollary: “dying changes everything” in the aftermath of Amber’s tragic demise. And, indeed, everything may well have changed for House and for Wilson.
Last season’s finale episode “Wilson’s Heart” left House recovering from head injuries sustained in a terrible and fatal bus crash (and from the deep brain stimulation procedure done at Wilson’s request) that killed “cut-throat bitch” Amber Volakis.
The single most important scene in “Wilson’s Heart” finds a comatose and hallucinating House sitting in an otherworldly bus with the dead Amber. He debates with her (really wrestling with his own subconscious) about whether he wants to, or even should, return to the land of the living. House argues that he should stay on the bus with Amber (who is, one might suspect, going on to that “better place”); a place with no pain (for House the ultimate escape), where he isn’t miserable and where Wilson doesn’t hate him. “I don’t want to be in pain; I don’t want to be miserable; I don’t want him to hate me” is House’s heartfelt confession.
The season premiere picks up two months later. House and Wilson haven’t spoken since Amber’s death; Wilson has been on bereavement leave. Cuddy is astonished that they haven’t yet spoken, which House brushes off as “he wanted some time alone” (Since when has that ever stopped House?).
“I’m leaving,” Wilson tells him placidly when House finally works up the nerve to visit him. House begins to push back, but doesn’t really want to. He stops himself, telling Wilson he should take more time if he needs it. “Good for you,” he says, albeit slightly insincerely.
But House has misunderstood Wilson's intentions. Wilson doesn’t intend to extend his leave; he is leaving Princeton Plainsboro for good.
For his part, House is trying to be helpful, sympathetic, rationally trying to prevent Wilson from making the mistake of leaving a good job (and him) while in mourning. "It’s textbook” House tells him. “Bereavement 101”. In House’s mind this is familiar territory. All House needs to do is to change Wilson’s mind; badger him about it, remind him that he’s not thinking rationally. Which goes over like a lead balloon.
I love House's "tells" (thank you Hugh Laurie for their subtle brilliance). House’s tells remind us that despite the fact that (or maybe because of the fact) he’s acting like even more of an ass to everyone, it’s because he’s dying inside.
All you need to do is read House’s body language and (even more importantly) his expression. Laurie’s line readings and the physicality of the performance tell us both his level of physical pain and the extent of his emotional suffering (and I’m going to take this opportunity to state that there is no justice if Laurie does not win the Emmy this year for his tour de force performance in last season’s “House’s Head.” There. I’ve said it).
House’s demeanor is even more brusque than usual, outing 13’s Huntington’s Chorea during a differential diagnosis session–a deflection away from his own problems. He paces nervously; he opens and closes his fist. The anxiety is practically pouring off of him, glancing surreptitiously towards Wilson’s balcony. House is worried that Wilson really, truly might leave. And it scares the Hell out of him!
Eventually, House pushes back against him, angrily telling Wilson that he’s self-destructing out of grief. “You’re being an idiot.” But Wilson won’t engage him; won’t yell back. The beauty of Robert Sean Leonard’s performance in these scenes is that, knowing the episode’s final reveal, you can see it coming. He’s not angry; he doesn’t engage House at all. There’s a resignation; a finality and resolve to Wilson’s demeanor and tone of voice. A decision’s been made. Wilson has already moved on. Or thinks he has. House reads it as grief on steroids, but it’s not.