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TV Review: House, M.D. Season Premiere – “Broken”

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There are many ways of being “broken”: a broken mind, a broken body, a broken spirit. Dr. Gregory House’s body has been broken for years. Never healed, his leg a constant and ever-painful reminder of what he was and can never again be, he has never learned to move on from that defining moment.

Over the course of last season, House's fragile psyche was bombarded with loss upon loss, that wound deepened, bringing along with it first his mind and finally his spirit. And it is only from that point, that House, in a brilliantly nuanced and dynamic performance by Hugh Laurie, can House even begin to heal. Like a misshapen bone that needs breaking before it can be set, is it sometimes necessary to reach a point of such brokenness that you can begin to heal?

“Broken,” the feature-length season six premiere of the hit television series House, M.D. is arguably the best episode (technically, two) to come out of five-plus seasons of the series. And that’s saying a lot. It's a major departure for the series, even more (much more) than the first season's "Three Stories."

In a lot of ways, “Broken” resets the series, lyrically and seamlessly. You can enjoy it whether you’ve been watching since day one or have never seen the series before. If you are new to the show, it will set you off trying to find the DVDs from the first five seasons. (Make sure you watch from the beginning.)

When House comes to Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital at the close of season five, he is having delusions (including a sexual encounter with Cuddy), which he believes are the result of long-term Vicodin abuse. Admitting himself to the hospital in the final scene of last season, "Broken" opens with House going through narcotics withdrawal.

Within the first five seconds, you are aware this is not a typical episode of House. Gone is the teaser. Gone is the familiar “Teardrop” opening theme. The anatomical drawings. The boat on the river. The credits roll over the opening sequence: House alone in a small cell, in agony—deep in the throes of narcotic withdrawal. Neither as pretty or as fast as his imagined detox in “Under My Skin,” the penultimate episode of season five, it is almost painful to watch the agony through which House must go to have his body finally clear of opioids. 

With the meds cleared out of his system over a period of several days, the hallucinations are gone. And House is ready to fly the coop. He wants his walking papers, but is shocked to learn it’s not all that easy, even though his commitment is voluntary.

And that’s where it begins. How to get out, House-style? Make everyone else so miserable that the powers that be, most importantly the director, Dr. Nolan (in a great performance by Andre Braugher), say enough and let you out the door. But Nolan is as stubborn as his patient, and is unwilling to discharge House, at least not with his medical license recommended for reinstatement.

If you’ve been watching the promos on FOX, you may be expecting the premiere to be a sort of “Housian” One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest complete with Nurse Ratchet and House in the Jack Nicholson role. Never trust the promo guys.

All the promo antics, hijinks and mischief as they play out in the episode make sense in context. This is not “House Goes to the Loony Bin.” The writers and producers have taken their subject very seriously, particularly with the show’s partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

In an interview covering the premiere and the new season, executive producer-writers Russel Friend and Garret Lerner explained to me that director Katie Jacobs and the writers did pretty extensive research on psychiatric facilities and programs. In addition, they have brought in a psychiatrist to consult on this story line. (By the way, much more of my interview with Lerner and Friend next week).

More feature film than a television episode, “Broken” is a journey towards redemption: the first step in a very long and non-linear path. One I’m not sure House will likely stay on, but one upon which he seems genuinely interested in embarking. Eventually. Set entirely in Mayfield, the episode follows House as he begins this arduous path. A brief appearance (by phone) of House’s best friend Wilson is the only other familiar face in the entire two hours.

It is not until a terrible tragedy, that House begins to understand how much deeper his emotional problems lie than simply with Vicodin. But one thing this episode does not let you forget is that despite House’s screwed-up life and his dysfunctional, sometimes reckless and misguided way of living, he is fundamentally a healer. It is his blessing and his curse, but it is simply who he is. It is what really defines him: more than the leg; more than the drugs.

“Broken” has some genuinely moving moments (bring tissues) and some flat-out funny scenes. Sometimes it’s slightly goofy, and maybe just slightly hokey. But the episode should not be missed. The performances are uniformly excellent from star/executive producer Laurie himself to Braugher (for whom the role was written) to Franka Potente as Lydia and the energetically charismatic performance by Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alvie, House’s roommate. Katie Jacobs' direction always seems to bring out the emotional beats to perfection, and the writing team of Lerner and Friend, along with House creator David Shore and Dr. David Foster, have come up with a deep and intricate script. Kudos to them all.

Speaking of which, much luck to Hugh Laurie and the entire House team Sunday at the Emmys. Much more on the premiere and the Emmy Awards early next week, including my interview with premiere writers Lerner and Friend.

"Broken" airs Monday night in a two-hour special presentation at 8:00 p.m. ET. Please note: the episode runs over by one minute, concluding at 10:01 p.m. Set your recorders accordingly.

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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.
  • garima

    am so excited!!!

  • Epiphany

    Thank you for this wonderful preview. Fingers crossed for Hugh on Sunday!

  • Sandra

    I’m so excited, can’t wait to see the premiere! And especially to see Franka Potente (I’m German too :-)) in such an awesome role!!!
    Thanks for the interesting review!

  • rbrown205

    Thanks a million for not providing any more spoilers than the promos provide. I am still looking to be surprised and profoundly impressed, despite the unprecedented media blitz for House and this unique episode.

    I am not a spoiler-phobe, though spoilers (as you implied) are not always accurate, but it would be a little unfair if the entire episode is played out or revealed ahead of time in clips and articles.

    Hugh Laurie is amazing!! It seems interesting that the only other episode that Broken can be compared to is Three Stories, in which most of the time was also spent with the camera on House, interacting with non-regular characters.

    Don’t want to lose the regulars, though – no, no, no – but just saying, Hugh Laurie is AMAZING!

  • Donna

    Barbara-

    Your review of Monday’s House premier compliments one-word descriptions of this episode (“awesome”, “amazing”, and the like) I have reading by tv critics on the net during the past 2 or so weeks. Reading yours this morning just adds to the excitement that we viewers will be treated to great story writing and dramatic performances by all involved in this House episode, particularly Laurie and Braugher (who was great in the series, “Homicide – Life On the Street”).

    I’m with RBrown205 and many others that agree Hugh Laurie is amazing.

    So Emmy academy, isn’t it about time you recognize this gifted acting treasure and award him the statue? Just do it!

  • http://waftingcurtains.wordpress.com Chelsea Doyle

    Thank you so much for giving us this early (and spoiler free) look at the episode. I’m delighted to see it now; I’ll admit I was a LITTLE worried when I heard reports about it. Now I feel much more confident.

  • http://notesfromnancy.blogspot.com NancyGail

    Agh. Castle is the same night. That one minute over is tricky.

  • magz

    You are so lucky to have seen it already, Barbara! I can’t wait till Monday. Thanks for not spoiling things.

  • Scott Butki

    Great review/preview, Barbara. I seeded this at newsvine and facebook. How’d you get so lucky as to get a sneak preview?

  • barbara barnett

    Thanks Scott,

    I got a screener as a member of the press and to prepare for doing the interview with Garrett Lerner and Russel Friend, which I did Friday.

    I’ll be posting the interview by Tuesday or Wednesday

  • Celia

    I really don’t know where else to put this, but warning, it’s off topic.But it is about HL’s talent.

    They are soon to film the terrific novel ‘Mister Pip’. A novel of such beauty and intelligence. I know from a press comment that HL has read it and been deeply moved by it.

    The male lead is a mature British Subject, the only white man left on an Island in the midst of a civil war. He is tall, softly spoken, blazingly intelligent, moral, brave, eccentric and a mystery. He places himself in harms way to save the people who have not always been kind to him…but it’s mainly a novel about the power of imagine and the ability of literature to change the world. It’s one of those films that would win at Sun Dance and the Toronto Film Festival and give HL the cinematic status he deserves.

    The role actually cries out for his casting. With his face & eyes he can nail the character’s inner life.

    I am so tired of seeing Hugh Cast in B Level movies and hidden in voice overs ( yes, I know he likes doing them). I just feel that unlike in House where he gets to shine, he’s had unfortunate casting in most of his movies of late. Always second banana, which he may prefer but it’s hiding and no using his gift.

    So how do you find and reach the Robin Scholes PDQ the NZ Producer to push for that casting choice. Not that I have any power here, but I just want his name brought up. I hope his film agent has already so, whoever he/she might be….but from the movies of late….ugh. I hate to see HL talent wasted.

    So how do I find a Producer in NZ to whisper my heart’s desire?

  • xinyuActor

    hi dear barbara. sorry about my off-topic comment but i really dont know where i could post these words. it’s tooo awful that HL lose the EMMY, well, again. i dont know what i can say right now it’s too sad, my nose’s getting sore. i think we just wanna know what’s in your mind about this issue. thanks so much.

    hello from china

  • XJK

    xinyuActor – I’m so glad someone else decided to come here to say it.

    How could Hugh Laurie be overlooked again??

  • Orange450

    As always, thank you! My appetite has been duly whetted, and I can’t wait for 8 PM ET.

    I like the point you make about this premiere acting as a season “reset”. Viewers often do come to a TV show relatively late in its life (I’ve often been one such viewer), and it can be difficult to get a bearing. I’m glad that new House fans will find this episode accessible.

    I’m glad to hear what you say about the promo scenes – while I figured that most were taken out of context, it’s good to have that confirmed!

  • barbara barnett

    My pleasure! I will post a more detailed commentary, including the thoughts of episode scribes Garrett Lerner and Russel Friend late this evening (after the show airs on the west coast) or tomorrrow morning.

  • Celaeno

    Thank you for this insightful preview, Barbara! I am now even more excited than I was five minutes ago, and frankly I don’t even know how that’s possible.

    One hour and thirty-seven minutes to go!! =)

  • wackjob

    Wow, that was a pretty amazing episode. HL ran the gamut, and the rest of the cast was amazing. The first half hour or so they got the hospital so right it was unnerving. (You all know that I have extensive experience with mental hospitals.) I almost turned it off–that IS what the isolation rooms look like, and that is what restraints look like, and that is what most of the groups look like. (And the patients…one ward I spent some time on had a “manic Hispanic”. )

    The relationship with Lydia was fantastic, and that sex scene had my jaw on the floor. It was so real and passionate, and went much further than I expected. I was glad that the affair wasn’t with a doctor as I had thought. It made much more sense the way things unfolded. Lydia’s attitude toward the whole thing was far more casual than House’s from the start; she knew it would go nowhere. That was why she was willing to leave without saying goodbye.

    Here’s where I’m going to be a bit of a buzzkill. The last 45 minutes were so divorced from reality that again, my jaw hit the floor, but not in a good way.

    1) The psychiatrist lets House see him watch his father die?? Do you have any idea how many boundaries that crosses and much something like that would **** up a doctor/patient relationship? Yeah, it made for a touching scene, but please. I saw a therapist for more than three years, and the entire time her husband was dying from throat cancer, and I had no idea. It was while my father was dying an agonizing death, also from cancer, and she never let on. The only reason I found out was that a year later she had to leave the practice to put her husband in hospice.

    2) House never actually discusses his father’s death, Kutner’s suicide, etc. The real drama in mental illness is not in changing your attitude, it’s bringing up and dealing with the hideous pain in your soul, and believe me, that hurts. I was waiting for scenes about the traumas that happened to House last season, but I guess they all happened offscreen. House gets laid and suddenly he’s okay. And the psychiatrist doesn’t bring up that both of their fathers have died, which would be only natural under the circumstances–if the circumstances hadn’t been completely artificial. When my father died and I flipped out, my psychiatrist talked to me from the perspective of being a father, and how he would never want his children to suffer the way I was suffering.

    3) House going AWOL from the hospital and injuring another patient that badly would have had him in the isolation room for a long, long time and heavily drugged on Haldol.

    4) In the hospital an orderly or nurse literally checks where you are every ten minutes or so, and notes it on a chart. So how on earth could House have shown up in an empty hospital waiting room like that with no staff around, and then he and Lydia go have hot sex in an office? There is staff on the floor 24/7. Especially by the entrance.

    5) A female doctor would have never danced with the girl in the glasses in such a suggestive way, lest all of the male patients freak out. Most female doctors put a great big barrier between themselves and the patients and go out of their way to play down their sexuality, even if they are beautiful.

    6) Dumb small details: a cello would never have been allowed. I know, because my mother came once with her cello, and they made her leave it by the entrance door. At that particular hospital you had to wait twenty feet behind a painted line when family and friends came in. (Although usually they can just come right in.) A patient is never given a day pass or an overnight pass unless they are accompanied by a family member.

    7) The “miracle cure” of the music box on both the catatonic woman AND the catatonic guy in the wheelchair? Give me a break!

    And the last scene of House on the bus with the happy face shirt…the less said the better. I did love the cake scene, however.

    I give this episode a B-. Sometimes it’s not good to know too much about this stuff.

  • Kay

    I am an avid House fan but I have to say I was totally disappointed in this show. I found it a little bit syrupy sweet for my tastes and quite honestly a bit riduculous. If this is the direction House is going in you can count me out. It’s been going down hill the past 2 seasons, now it just jumped the shark. What the hell are they thinking? Rapping??? The happy face tshirt? A chick having an affair with a mental patient then taking off without a word? C’mon now lets get real.
    I loved Hugh Laurie as the Prince Regent on Blackadder but I don’t want House turning into that!

  • Jim

    Wow, what a horrible episode. Fortunately, the preview for the rest of the season that aired after the episode makes it look like this disaster was a one-time thing and that future episodes won’t be following this model.

  • Raffa

    I agree with wackjob. I know something about therapists and mental institutions too and there were too many things which didn’t match. And this is saying something, considering House is one of the best medical dramas on TV (the best, maybe?).
    House wandering around when and where he wants isn’t just believable, and I was also surprised that he and his therapists were able to talk about nothing for more than an hour. Real therapy is NOT like that, believe me. I don’t know, maybe I was expecting too many meaningful and unforgettable lines, but that’s what House got us used to :-) In fact, the only scenes I will probably remember in a while will be two of the ones with Alvie (the last one when he asks for his meds, I must admit, was pretty touching: “I want my meds. I wanna get better”, and the actor’s performance here is great). Then, ok, there’s the cake scene XD Plus, the ending with the smile on the shirt was nice, and they did a fairly good job in giving the typical claustrophobic mood of psychiatric wards. Hugh Laurie is good but we already knew that, and the first minutes of the episode, with Radiohead’s “No Surprises”, are effective and really painful to watch.
    The musicbox thing could have been really touching, but since we’re in Season 6, I thought it was a little too much of a cliché, we know House is able of greater “medical miracles” than this ;-) All those being familiar with mental issues WISH they could heal or make someone heal just playing a musicbox. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, and the weird thing is House taught us that too in the past 5 years.
    Then, House’s little fling with the redhaired woman. Bof. He’s been having trust/interpersonal issues for years (how can you blame him :-), he had come to turning point with Cuddy after so many troubles, and then he just falls madly in love with the first one who comes his way? Come on, isn’t that “out of character” too? We know even too well House just isn’t the “go and trust people” type, he was weak and fragile, but this is really pushing the boundaries of credibility.

    Don’t get me wrong, it was a good episode, but IMHO, not nearly as good as other terrific House episodes. In fact I found there were boring moments and negligible bits, which may be normal for such a long episode after all.

  • Raffa

    One more “negligible” thing :-)… House NOT missing Vicodin and drugs AT ALL after the opening credits? Maybe there was a time leap I didn’t get, or I just had the wrong impression, but if detoxicate was so easy, House wouldn’t have gone through all these troubles since Season 1.

    Then, putting the little “NO SURVEILLANCE ANYWHERE” thing aside, I think doctors or nurses are even too familiar with patients not taking meds or just pretending swallowing them, I thought it was weird they didn’t check or SEE when House was widely opening his mouth and showing Alvie the pills on his tongue XD

  • wackjob

    One more little pissy comment that just occured to me…hospitals have 12-step groups in-house (pardon the pun) for addicts, which they are mandated to attend. Then upon your release, you are mandated to keep attending them, especially if your job depends on it. Usually the workplace or whatever will sign on for that.

    I am no fan of 12-step programs myself, but that’s a bit of factual information that was ignored (it was a lot of fun watching House kvetch about it during the Tritter arc). The great thing about House is its reality; even when it’s unreal, it’s fundamentally real and that’s why many viewers like myself love it. I think “Broken” turned into “Patch Addams.”

    Also, can I find that insurance company that will pay to keep me in a hospital for ten years???

  • magz

    I also agree with Wackjob – it was a good episode, but left me wanting in many ways. Sure, I enjoy watching Hugh Laurie (and enjoy seeing him get romantic onscreen with just about any woman!) so the episode was enjoyable in that respect. However, I did not feel that the hospital scenes were at all realistic, and the music-box thing was both hokey and over-the-top. I was particularly disappointed that nothing more was revealed about House – they said nearly nothing about how the losses of the past year affected him, about how his trust issues stemmed from his abusive father and Stacy’s decision to go against his medical wishes, about why he repeatedly chooses to be miserable or about why he is nearly-abusive to the people who care about him. Surely being in therapy in a psychiatric hospital was a great opportunity to reveal a little bit more about what makes House tick, and I wish the writers had dared to do so. Ah well. I am still looking forward to the new season, and hope that the writers will continue to dare to take risks and stray from the formula a little bit more often.

  • marie

    Sorry this is so late Barbara, hope you get it ….excellent review as always , thank you so much, I read your reviews and always seem to say ” oh yeah ” to something that passed me ..but never you ..lol
    Marie ,s

    This episode was ………NOTHING SHORT AWESOME ……. I loved it ,I loved the way that all the doctors including Dr Nolan respected House right from the beginning , I was worried that they would treat him as a jerk but they didnt , I loved the way he tried to ruffle them and the …brilliant brilliant …. realisation by House that he was not the Alpha Male in that establishment , incredible facial expression from Hugh as usual , I have said it before and I will continue to say it ………….Hugh Laurie can say more with his eyes and facial expressions than most actors can with a two page script ………he is just amazing ….

    The way they portrayed all the patients and doctors with the complex and diverse problems it was a credit to them all and a pleasure to watch , some terrific acting from so many of them ( especially Dr Nolan and Alvie )..but as for …Hugh Laurie …. its official, he is the best actor on tv or film at the moment BY FAR …so many emotions can grip you whilst you are watching him , within minutes , you want to…. smack him and shake him ,.. then kiss him and hold him ,(and more ).. cry , ..laugh ,.. cringe , ..aplogise for him ,.. swell with pride for him .. , he is just WONDERFUL ,…and the love scenes …OMG…. HE IS SOOOOO SEXY ,when he started to dance (so unexpected )I had a lump in my throat *GULP* I would give all I own to charity for him to dance with me and look at me the way he looked at Lydia ..phew .. LOL …. and the tears from House just blew me away , another moment when one wanted to just hug him.

    No hallucinations or dreams , just very clever casting and exceptional writing to bring so much out of House and to let the audience learn so much about him , I have watched it 10 times already ….. and find something new each time I watch it ….last year everyone was complaining about other characters lives being highlighted on House ,and yet we knew so little about him , this was a way of showing us many aspects of House’s mind all in two joint episodes..Masterful ..

    Well done Hugh ,

    …….you dont need an Emmy You have a much greater gift !!!!!!!!!!

  • http://pwinn.tumblr.com/ Phillip Winn

    It never works to examine anything with too much inside knowledge. While most of us, as medical laypeople, appreciate the “realness” of the medical bits of the show, many medical doctors chuckle at the shortcuts and oversimplifications on the show.

    Similarly, those with extended knowledge of psych wards will find many faults in the details. I found it odd that Lydia was able to sit in the big room alone outside of visiting hours, but it’s a television show, after all, and they apparently didn’t want to spend the entire season in the hospital, even though I think that would have been interesting.

    So imagine, if it helps, that House only showed Alvie the pills after they were safely in their room. Imagine that House is a well-known and highly-respected doctor who checked in voluntarily, and that Braugher actually did reach out in a time of need for advice. Imagine that the whole process took months and months.

    I was blown away by this episode, and didn’t want it to end. If familiarity breeds contempt, be glad that the rest of the season resumes at the hospital!

  • barbara barnett

    I coulds not agree more Phillip. Did you just see it?

  • bakerstreet blues

    This episode was incredibly hard to watch. Let’s forget the fact that Vicodin had nothing to do with House’s emotional breakdown: can anybody spell GRIEF? I completely saw this coming months and months ago. I knew that House was not dealing well with all the emotional traumas from season 5, you could tell by the redness of his eyes from as early on as Not Cancer, that he was not sleeping, didn’t eat a single reuben sandwich all season which makes me think he was not eating much, and he was completely distracted all season (as if his subconscious was constantly speaking to him like No Reason). I also noted that in the episode Painless he had a book on his nightstand by David Balducci entitled SPLIT SECOND which is about the consequences of being distracted. (gotta love the House prop guys, they are GREAT) Another thing that I noticed was the fact that we saw House completely honest with Chase in the room twice. (Painless, and The Social Contract) House was telegraphing that he was in trouble from the get go and no one could see the signals. The fact that Wilson and Cuddy both could not see them really makes me wonder how dense these two really are. Seemed pretty obvious to me. Do I think House needs therapy-YES (outpatient), do I think anti-depressants are the answer-NO. What he really needs is a good pain specialist to assist him with his pain issues. House, as we already know, used to be a more social creature until the Stacy/Cuddy fiasco which left him with the lifetime of pain and drug addiction, and a stronger sense of trust issues. I have to say that if I was less obsessed with House (the character) I would have really enjoyed season 5—it was incredibly dramatic…however I hated watching someone that evokes so much compassion from me, slowly breakdown and collapse. I felt like I was watching a slow motion train wreck the entire season 5. I personally don’t think that any person (Foreman maybe, since I really don’t think he gives a crap about anyone except himself), could have gone through the losses that House suffered this past season without a complete emotional breakdown. Lets re-cap the losses in 1 year:AMBER, WILSON, FATHER, CUDDY, 13 (almost twice), and then Kutner. That doesn’t even count the ups and downs. Lose Wilson, lose father, get Wilson back, lose Cuddy, get cuddy back, lose her again….ouch. House really was broken and then re-set only to be broken again over and over again.