In some things we have choices, in others not so much. We are who we are born to be, yet that doesn’t mean that at some fork in life’s road we can’t “choose” to take a different path than the one upon we seem destined to travel. “The Choice” explores the role of choice and its consequences in a beautifully written, acted and directed episode of House M.D.
This week’s patient Ted has made a choice to live a lifestyle (or a lie, depending on your level of cynicism) that may not be who he really is. But his choice effectively removes the choice of his fiancée to know who she’s really marrying. Not that it will change anything necessarily, but it’s a pretty big secret to keep from the woman you’re about to marry.
Weaving together an interesting patient story with several character threads involving the entire cast, David Hoselton’s lovely script is the sort of complex mix of compelling character drama and procedural that is the House signature. Perhaps more importantly, it pulls our central character back into center of his universe, where he should always dwell (and which has been forgotten at times this season).
Ted and Nicole are about to tie the knot in a big church ceremony. But just before the “I dos” Ted faints, gasping for breath and unable to speak. Is it just the jitters? Is it as House insists (after obtaining some pretty damning evidence) that he’s faking to get out of the marriage? Or something more mysterious?
In the ER, Ted is prompted to protest when House pricks him with a needle. “Faking it” seems a logical (albeit simple) explanation for Ted’s syncope and aphasia. It makes sense until the same thing happens right outside the hospital after being discharged by the ER.
So what can mimic “faking it?” House wants the team to start back at the beginning to understand Ted in the usual invasive way: including breaking in to his old house. Who knows what toxic substances (or secrets) lie in the nooks and crannies of his previous dwelling?
And it turns out that House is right. Ted is faking—but not his symptoms. He’s got a big secret of which he’s in steadfast denial. Ted was involved with a man for three years: was it sex while drunk as he insists—or did they have a relationship? Ted says it was only one time; the boyfriend begs to differ. Of course this puts an entirely different cast on the case.
Ted has made a choice with his life: “I’m not gay,” he insists as if insisting it over and over will make it so—like going into homosexual “rehab” as he did. “I’m as straight as any of you!” he decries in 13’s presence (hmmm—of course 13 is not straight at all). Ted underwent “conversion therapy,” an intense “treatment” to make him not gay: a dangerous cocktail of aversion therapy, testosterone injections and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT, or shock treatment). Ted’s “choice” has come back to haunt him. Ted has a congenital condition that has caused most of his symptoms. That plus the ECT accounts for all of them. Surgery will fix this problem, but with Ted now outed, his horrified fiancée wants to end their relationship, no longer sure of her relationship.
“I believe we get to choose how we live our lives,” he pleads. But his fiancé also gets that choice, and her choice is to walk out.
Everyone has choices to consider in “The Choice.” House has woken up in the apartment next door, so drunk that he went into the wrong apartment and so hung over the next morning, he’s wearing sunglasses. He admits to Cuddy that he woke up in the wrong bed; it’s a unusually truthful admission from the usually deflecting House. Maybe he’s concerned enough about it that he wanted her to know. Cuddy is worried that House is drinking, something he should not be doing—and certainly not enough to get fall-down drunk.
But House isn’t “okay.” Right now House is an unwanted third wheel in his current living arrangement; and with no other ties, he’s probably alone a lot more than Nolan would want him to be. It’s too easy for him to fall back and he’s probably a lot more fragile emotionally than he’s letting on.
Wilson is worried enough to pay House’s team to ask him out to dinner or to just hang out. Taub, 13 and then Chase and Foreman. Wilson fears that House’s drunkenness is the result of loneliness and depression creeping back—the feelings of isolation that he can no longer obliterate with Vicodin.
Rather than refusing to play along with the outings and denying that he needs or wants the company, after Wilson admits that he’s done it out of self-interest to preserve his nascent relationship with Sam, House agrees. “I’m worried about you,” confesses Wilson. This is House’s way of helping. He’s willing to try—for Wilson’s sake. But Wilson has good reason to be concerned.
House has been holding back his feelings for Cuddy, choosing to act against his natural inclination and be a grown up about it. Likewise, he trying to be an adult and not interfere with Wilson and Samantha. He’s trying not to act out, but there is a personal cost for him.
The pain is worse (likely exacerbated by his internal anguish—and he looked pretty down for most of the episode), and the ibuprofen is probably irritating his stomach (anyone notice how he was holding it when he went to speak to Wilson?). It could also be his liver, but off Vicodin, it’s not likely that.
But House’s choice to play along with Wilson is a good one and he proves to himself that he can actually have a civil social night with 13—and with Foreman and Chase. I loved the scene in the lesbian bar with 13. She has had his number since season four. He doesn’t intimidate her or put her off. She is more direct with House than anyone else—but never from a disdainful or nasty way like Foreman or Taub. Likewise, House has mentored her and protected her since the beginning. I don’t see them at all romantically involved (as he says to Wilson, he can’t sleep with her—she’s his student!)
I also liked the karaoke bar scene with Chase taking the lead on “Midnight Train to Georgia” with House and Foreman singing backup. Jesse Spencer has a nice voice and the choreography (which I understand they did themselves) was delightful! It was nice seeing House have a purely for fun diversion, kicking back with two people he’s worked with for six years. None of them have chosen to be with each other, having either been paid or (in House’s case) persuaded into it; but the manipulation seemed to work and divert House from his sadness and pain.
And then there was House playing relationship fixer with Taub. Great stuff and classic House to do something nice in the most convolutedly annoying way possible.
But in the end, although House has fun with them, he can’t change who he is, no matter how much he might want to do that. House is a loner even in a room full of people (“House Divided,” 5×22). “Wisdom is knowing the difference between what you can change and what you’re born with,” House argues, just before he gets his patented epiphany moment. He can be friends with he fellows: it becomes a valid choice for him—but what prevents him? House defeats the idea before it can hurt him. But Wilson counters that House is being a coward by “labeling what you don’t want to change as being innate.”
I think that’s being a bit unfair to House, who does want to change. But his fear of forming ties is so long-standing; so much a part of him (and has hurt him over and over), this is probably more difficult for him than giving up Vicodin. Maybe it’s choice and maybe it’s not. House would not “choose” his life (and so often he’s made it possible for his patients to “choose” something better).
Case solved, patient cured, House sits alone in his office aimlessly playing poker on his laptop when Cuddy comes in. Like those solicited by Wilson, she asks him to dinner, broaching him carefully with small talk. But Wilson hasn’t paid her. She has chosen this moment to soften her season-long chilly relationship with House.
It is the first time since the fall (that we’ve seen anyway) that Cuddy has come offering an olive branch. But House still hurts; the expression on his face shows that he is still not doing well with her relationship with Lucas. He doesn’t have a choice. He’s trying to be an adult; trying to cope and let people make their own choices without his meddling.
Surprising Cuddy, he quietly declines dinner, telling her he’s not hungry. She’s caught him at a very vulnerable moment and he’s honest and open as he can be. Tired, unguarded, depressed. Cuddy wants to “be friends.” But things can’t go back to where they were.
House bares his soul to her (some of which was involuntary) in season five and in "Known Unknowns" this season; she knows how he feels. And friend is “the last thing” he wants of her. He doesn’t need “a friend.” House has made a choice both by his refusal of the invitation and by honestly revealing what's on his mind. For House, that's a courageous step.
I am reminded of the scene in Jane Eyre near the end of the book when Jane has returned to Thornfield Hall to find that it’s been burned down and Rochester is a blind, lame shell of his former self. He has been thinking of Jane in dreams—seeing her in drunken fantasies as he neared despair. But now she is back, and treading lightly, she offers friendship. “I will be your friend,” she offers. “Your helper.” Rochester turns angrily toward her telling her that this is not the destiny he foresaw. He neither needs or wants "a friend."
“Let’s be friends,” is among the most hurtful things you can say to someone who has strong feelings towards you. It’s a knife plunged into the heart. “Funny,” House say, seriously and contemplatively. “Friends is the last thing I want to be.” Juan J. Campanella beautifully lit and shot this intense scene. The closeup on House at the end reminded me of the final scene in "Daddy's Boy" as House, depressed from his visit with his parents, drives off into the night on his (then new) motorcycle. Hugh Laurie and Lisa Edelstein were great in this scene conveying every bit of subtext in their eyes and body language.
He has friends: he can hang out with his team if he chooses. Wilson is his closest friend. What he feels with Cuddy may include friendship (and he’s certainly shown it), but is essentially romantic. Being friends would be a pretense; it would be pretending that his deep romantic feelings for her don’t matter and can be compartmentalized while watching her be with Lucas. House can’t do that. It wouldn’t be authentic—and it would kill him (or send him running back for the shelter of narcotic numbness). Where this is going, I’m not sure. But I’m very sure the next couple of episodes are going to be of the breathtaking variety.
Next week: “Baggage,” written by Doris Egan and featuring a return performance of Andre Braugher as House’s therapist. Remember, I hopefully will be speaking with Doris Egan sometime next week after the episode airs, so if you have any questions for her, please be sure to let me know!
And finally an FYI for a very good cause: New York Times bestselling novelist Brenda Novak hosts an annual literary auction on behalf of diabetes research. Please do check it out—and pay special attention to this item featured especially for House fans.