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TV Review: House, MD – “The Itch”

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When you have an itch, the logical thing is to scratch it. For a very long time, in House’s case, the itch has seemed to be his attraction to dean of medicine, Dr. Lisa Cuddy. And despite House’s claim all the way back in season one that there is nothing but animosity between their flirtatiously hostile banter, we know better (well, I can't speak for anyone else, but…). On the other hand, scratching that particular itch is, to say the least, problematic.

At the end of the last episode “Joy,” House and Cuddy shared a kiss after Cuddy lost the adoption. Actually, much more than a kiss, it was the release of emotion built up over a long, long period of time. In the appropriately titled "The Itch," House and Cuddy try to deal with what happened — or didn’t happen — between them that night. Predictably, House brushes it off as nothing; Cuddy as a moment in which she leaned on a close friend. They are, of course, both lying — most especially to themselves.

House treats Stuart Nozick, an agoraphobic patient of Cameron's, so afraid to leave his home that crossing the threshold causes him physical pain. He refuses to leave his apartment, even for a needed surgery. And so the team is called upon to treat him in his home.

Stuart is, of course, a somewhat obvious stand-in for House — a man so afraid to expose himself to the possibility of joy, of happiness, that it physically hurts. House is terrified of exposure, of letting anyone see him unguarded, of letting them witness any glimpse of his (considerable) humanity.

House is so afraid of stepping outside the cocoon, still so wounded by events in his past that when House and Cameron were to go out on a dinner date in season one ("Love Hurts"), Wilson warned her that House might retreat inside himself forever should be once again be hurt. And, again in season two, he gave up Stacy (after pursuing her for months) rather than put himself through the inevitable pain that would come with her leaving him for a second time.

But last episode's kiss has left House bitten, physically and metaphorically; and he can't let go of it, no matter how hard he tries to hide it under wraps (or increasingly large bandages). More affected by The Kiss than he wants to admit, even to himself, House tries unsuccessfully to chalk it up to an awkward moment in time. But he is wrong, and despite himself, House begins to find himself slowly drawn away from isolation into once again living.

The patient’s illness is almost beside the point to the emotional strife that is driving his fears. But it's an interesting proposition: how to treat a gravely ill person who refuses to leave his home. It's a combination of Cameron's hyper-sensitivity to wounded animals and House' directness and engagement that save Novick's life. But as usual, the medical story is never as interesting as what the patient suggests about House (and everyone else in the main cast). And Novick's story not only has an impact on House, but also on Cameron, who is finally able to take a baby step in moving past both her dead husband — and House.

Cameron is unable to completely overcome the loss of her husband — something she must do to hang on to her relationship with Chase. It’s something that Chase perceives; realizing that he can only pursue her for so long, no matter how much he loves her. But Chase must wonder whether it's Cameron's dead husband or House that blocks their happiness.

And of course, there is House’s pesky mosquito. Wilson doesn't even believe that it really exists. It is, in his opinion, a metaphor for not dealing with Cuddy. The bite continues to annoy House until the end of the episode.

But the mosquito is real, and House even dreams of elaborate mosquito-zapping contraptions to get rid of the pesky little blood-sucker. As House does battle against the mosquito in his dream, all he manages to do is blow up his own apartment. Too bad Wilson didn't get a chance to analyze that dream. House is so disturbed by the dream (and the mosquito) that he is even unable to sleep in his own home, dropping in on Wilson in the middle of the night. But Wilson knows what House really needs, and that is Cuddy. Better to scratch the itch than to let it simmer, boil, and ultimately blow up in his face.

But of course this is House we’re talking about. And it’s not going to happen that easily. However, the fact that House doesn’t dispute Wilson’s assertions (combined with the noticeable lack of argument from House in his dealings with Cuddy — even when she boots him and the team from the case) tells us that Wilson is quite correct. And that mosquito bite keeps bleeding no matter how big a bandage House tries to apply to it. No matter how hard he tries. Metaphor, anyone?

But as much as those feelings buzz around him, persistent and refusing to go away, for House the fear of exploring those feelings is even worse. When Stuart admits, “I feel pain when I go outside, so I avoid going outside," House calls him on his irrational fear, telling him that he’ll die if he doesn’t go to the hospital. “I’d rather die in here than live out there,” is his honest reply.

It’s something that should resonate with House, who has so often been held back because of his own fear, telling himself that he’s better off without love, without companionship. As miserable as he is, exposure and rejection would put him in a much worse place.

Although Cuddy doesn’t share House’s fear of involvement (at least not overtly), she has convinced herself (perhaps correctly) that a relationship with House would likely combust and consume them both. Wilson doesn’t agree and is delightful trying to play matchmaker. (He’s a great “yenta,” which is Yiddish for someone who can’t mind their own business, and a character in Fiddler on the Roof: Yenta — the matchmaker!) Wilson goes so far to concoct an obvious yet endearing plot to make House jealous enough to act on his feelings.

But House’s fears run very deep, and maybe, like Stuart, House had always been isolated, afraid to connect with women on anything but a very cursory level. Stacy, the love of House’s life, was the only woman able to get past House’s barriers and his terror (and maybe House’s own version of post-traumatic stress disorder). And even when she was willing to return to him in season two, he retreated, unable to take the risk.

So House's whole life is tied up completely in his work, perpetually on the outside looking in (or, like Stuart, on the inside looking out). But for House it's the only way he can cope, deluding himself that he's "fine," and "better off alone."

“When one part of your life is the Titanic,” he says to Taub, deflecting, “you make a life raft of the rest of your life.” Work takes on more significance, etc. And isn’t that fundamentally House? His life is a wreck, and rather than try to repair it, he takes refuge in the one part of his life that isn’t a wreck. Cuddy offers House the promise of something else, but in order to access that promise, House has to risk much. Is it too much?

“If you want to change your life, do something!” House goads the patient, with a dawning self-realization. So, when House finally has the opportunity to destroy the pesky bloodsucking mosquito as it lands on his hand, he lets it live and lets it bite him again. And he resolves to take a giant step. Leaving his cane behind, he flees the apartment and heads for Cuddy’s home.

It’s extremely significant that House left his cane at home. He’s in no less pain, in no less need of it; yet it is something that, in his rush to act on his feelings about Cuddy, he has forgotten it. Or is it simply forgotten? House goes almost nowhere without that cane. So, is the cane also a metaphor?

When House walks without the cane, he is so much more vulnerable. He walks with difficulty, dragging his bad leg like an anchor. That cane is his guard against appearing too fragile, too vulnerable. And it's a physical barrier between himself and everyone else. By laying down his cane, he abandons his one physical defensive weapon. Without it, he is (literally) defenseless, but he is also emotionally unguarded. It’s an important moment for the character.

Standing in front of Cuddy’s window, House looks in on her, fighting his fear and on the brink of making the first positive change in his life in a very long time. As House pauses in front of Cuddy's home, we are able to peek into both the patient's life and Cameron's to see that they, having both heard and heeding House’s words, resolve to overcome their own fears.

Both Cameron and Stuart are able to take small, but significant steps toward opening their lives to the possibility of happiness. Stuart takes a few steps outside his home; Cameron invites Chase to cross her threshold. Cameron’s move is simple, making space for Chase in her dresser, allowing him to move into part of her life. Stuart takes a significant step outside the cocoon of his home.

Only House, hesitating at Cuddy’s door, just as he had at the end of season three’s “Half-Wit” at the pub’s entrance, backs away, unable to overcome his fear. He is unable to leave the safe cocoon of his own misery. At least for now. Hugh Laurie (again in one of those dialogue-free sequences) did a superb job of wordlessly conveying House’s diminishing resolve as he moved from his flat to Cuddy’s doorstep and then painfully down the steps to the sidewalk.

I really liked the episode. Even thought the parallels were pretty obvious, I like those episodes when the patient resonates so clearly with House’s own situation. The teams, old and new, played nicely together, with the old team taking the lead, “old school,” as House said. Cameron was her old, slightly annoying, hyper-ethical self, but I liked seeing the exploration of her relationship with Chase and how it has been affected by her fear of moving on. Jesse Spencer did a nice job conveying Chase’s resignation about Cameron’s lack of commitment.

Wilson was a delight, and I loved his role as House’s friend without the moralizing. He genuinely feels that House can achieve happiness with Cuddy, as she is strong, smart and already likes him. His pushing of House was appropriate and good-natured, as their relationship has been for the last couple of episodes. Robert Sean Leonard, too, hit all the right notes, being friend and go-between; nudge and listener. In all, another excellent installment in what I’m thinking might turn out to be my favorite season of all!

Random Notes: I am still working on that article about House and relationships. (Sorry for the delay, but hopefully it will be worth the wait). Later today, I’m participating in a conference call with Katie Jacobs and will report on it in the next couple of days. In the meantime, just a reminder that in January, House will move to Mondays, airing before new episodes of 24.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • *I guees you have read Hugh Laurie’s delightful novel “The Gun Seller” -if not, just ignore what i’m about to say because it contains minor spoilers about the book*

    I always thought that there are parallels with Thomas Lang (the protagonist of the Gun Seller) and Gregory House (and even maybe Laurie himself?), as they both are irascible and rather grumpy on the outside but sensitive and emotional inside. So in todays episode, when i heard the following dialogue between House and Cuddy:

    “-I was emotional because of the adoption falling through, and you, actually, let your human side show for a moment, that is why we kissed. I just wanna say ‘Thank you’ for not ..taking advantage.
    -You are welcome. Anytime you wanna stop kissing, I’m there for you”,

    it immediately rang a bell. And i tried all day long to remember what it reminds of, and then it just hit me! It’s Thomas Lang and Ronnie from the Gun Seller:

    “‘Thank you, Thomas.’ (..) ‘Thank you for what?’
    Ronnie looked down at the ground and kicked at something that probably wasn’t there.
    ‘For not trying to make love to me last night.’
    ‘You’re welcome.’
    I really didn’t know what she expected me to say, or even whether this was the beginning of a conversation or the end. ‘Thank you for thanking me,’ I added, which made it sound more like the end.
    ‘Oh, shut up.’
    ‘No, really,’ I said. ‘I appreciate it very much. I don’t try and make love to millions of women every day, and never get a squeak out of most of them. It makes a nice change.’”

    Aww, aren’t they both adorable. Yes, i know, they are fictional characters, but still 🙂

    Once more, i love your thoughts and your insights, and once again i couldn’t be more satisfied with the way the writers are handling the whole situation.
    Very House-y, but with a glimpse of humanness.

  • Barbara Barnett

    Thanks, Marianna. I thought that sounded a bit familiar. I do indeed see parallels between House and Thomas Lang.

  • Sheelagh

    I quite liked the episode ‘Itch’ . I tend to accept the medical ‘mystery’ of the week as a metaphor for House and willingly suspend my disbelieve in any medical reality.
    I was rather proud of House for making the decision to go to Cuddy’s home, even if he lost his nerve at the last minute. The ‘dance’ needs to continue for awhile longer & it wouldn’t have been consistent with the character if he had just gotten in there & acted on his desire. At least he had some insight and took a meaningful first step. HUGE for this character and some actual growth.
    I thought Wilson’s efforts on House’s behave were charming and I even liked his new ‘ tough love’ when he kindly threw House out of his apartment. Wilson does have more backbone these since returning but he also seems to have really committed to remaining a good friend to House.
    The fact that Cuddy ‘read’ both of them…if not herself.. like a good poker player was great. She was forceful but vunerable.
    The song I was thinking of for further down the road as House gathers his courage together was Divine Brown’s ‘ Lay It On the Line’. What could be better than a Canadian (!!) R&B singer for House’s ongoing efforts at commitment ?
    One question: why would the Show do reruns during the November Sweeps in the States ?

  • Sarah

    Cameron is unable to completely overcome the loss of her husband — something she must do to hang on to her relationship with Chase. It’s something that Chase perceives; realizing that he can only pursue her for so long, no matter how much he loves her. But Chase must wonder whether it’s Cameron’s dead husband or House that blocks their happiness.

    Please, Chase wonders nothing, last night he made it clear that he knew that Cameron’s fear of commitment was about her husband, he didn’t mention House not even once, and do you think he would have been so understanding with Cameron had it been House the cause of her phobia-commitment? Cameron’s over House.

  • Boffle

    Nice recap, Barbara. I like the parallel with Thomas Lang, Marianne: what a great book that is.

    So, here’s one of the subtlest and coolest bits I’ve seen on this show:

    The show aired on Armistice (Veteran’s) Day: 11/11/1918 was the end of WWI. The most affecting tv episode about WWI imho was Goodbyeee, the last episode of Blackadder, Series 4. HL played a wonderfully naive gung-ho lieutenant in that series and that last episode took place during the Third Battle of Ypres.

    I wondered if there would be some acknowledgement in “The Itch” and I think there was: House mentions “re-enacting the Battle of Ypres” using chlorine gas right after he asks the PoTW if he cleans the tub with bleach and ammonia. Perhaps HL used the name of that particular battle in honor of both the real tragedy and of the Blackadder episode which many have found so moving, black humor and all. Fine, fine writing!

  • James

    Later today, I’m participating in a conference call with Katie Jacobs and will report on it in the next couple of days.

    I just hope that your report will include something more than House/Cuddy love, life and highschool. Not everyone is so enamoured of this storyline and I find it very difficult to navigate your reviews trying to read what you have to say about Cameron, Chase or Foreman when 90% is about House and Cuddy relationship. Thanks

  • Kiddo

    AMEN, my friend.



  • Barbara Barnett

    Sheelagh–the reruns are running on Wednesdays only, along with the new eps on Tuesday. Not to worry!

    Sarah–of course it’s her husband. She is over House (I think, anyway–and House has no interest in her) but Chase still perceives House as a threat, I think, in some way. He’s alluded to it in the past.

    Boffle–Hmmm. Interesting idea. They would be clever indeed to make that sort of subtle self-referential commentary. I like it 🙂

    James and Kiddo–Have no control over the course of conference calls (I actually didn’t even get a question in this time). As far as the House/Cuddy content of my reviews, the last two episodes have been much about them. My commentaries, by design focus on House and how those in his orbit affect (or are affected by) him, so they will be House-heavy.

  • Tammy

    I LOVED last night’s episode but it had nothing to do with all the House and Cuddy implications, it had to do with the fact that we saw more of Cameron. Cameron has definitely grown as a character, and though may say that she was annoying and being highly over ethical, I think that’s what makes the show interesting. She was wonderful advocating for her patient despite having to deal with her own personal problems. Jennifer Morrison did a brilliant job each scene she was in and it just shows how much better the show is with her than without her. Chase included. Jesse Spencer was brilliant.

    The episode had a lot in it and it was more than just about House and Cuddy.

  • I love you.

    That is all.


  • sassydew

    Hi, Barbara, and thank you for another wonderful review! 🙂

    This episode isn’t among my favorites. I found the whole thing a little too much like a soap opera with House unsure of his feelings for Cuddy, Wilson playing the Yenta and there possibly being some truth to his telling Cuddy that he has feelings for her, and Cameron and Chase arguing about whose apartment they should sleep in.

    The parallels between House and Stuart were, I thought, a little too obvious, and as for Cameron, I’m just really not particularly interested in her issues anymore. (I like Chase, though, so I’m glad that she gave him a drawer.)

    I thought the mosquito/itch was kind of cliche and the apartment explosion more an excuse to blow something up than a profound metaphor, but that’s just me.

    Regarding Wilson pushing House to go for it with Cuddy, as much as it pains me to admit it, he sort of did the same thing where Cameron was concerned back in S1, and, of course, with Stacy in S2. I think he believes House will be happier in a relationship so he encourages him whenever an opportunity arises.

    I think House’s predicament regarding his feelings about Cuddy would have made more sense had mention been made of House’s past relationships with both Stacy and Cuddy because this would have provided the context for his current issue (not to mention continuity). Us diehard fans know about his history, but newer or less dedicated viewers maybe don’t know or have forgotten; we learned about House/Stacy in S1-S2 and House/Cuddy in S3 – both some time ago.

    I think what I missed the most here – and what I find lacking this season – is House himself. It seems that almost every episode is split between House and one of the ducklings, old or new. I watch primarily for House and secondarily for Wilson and Cuddy; I’m just not that invested in any of the ducklings to want to have them take up half the show.

    I don’t mean to be a wet blanket; I am very glad to see that a lot of people really enjoyed this episode! 🙂 In any case, Barbara, I always look forward to and enjoy your reviews, and I am anxiously awaiting your piece on love and the KJ interview!

  • Orange450

    Sassy, I haven’t even seen The Itch yet (I typically read Barbara’s review before seeing the episode – I think Doris Egan would strongly disapprove), but your post made me smile, because I thought it sounded very much like something I might write 🙂 Maybe we’re all beginning to rub off on each other!

    Barbara, I’m also looking forward to your piece on love, and your interview with KJ. My comments on Stacy took me longer to write than I expected, but I’m almost done, and will probably post it in this thread, if that’s OK with you.

  • Barbara Barnett

    Tammy–I am a big fan of the Chase/Cameron pairing. I’ve liked it since they got together in season three as FWB (Friends with Benefits). I’ve loved their courtship (and Chase’s Tuesdays) and enjoyed the fact that Cameron saw Chase for the catch his is in Human Error.

    I’ve liked them this season as well, and pull for them to make it. Everyone has their favorite focus, I suppose, and none is more valid than anyone else’s because we all have differing points of view; and the show is written to be differentially interpreted on all levels. Jennifer has really grown as an actress. Jesse has always been one of the strongest of the cast memebers. But (to me) the episode was about House, his parallel with the patient and his relationship with Cuddy.

    Renee–thank you ;)–(were you talking to moi?)

    Sassydew–as always your insightful comments are most welcome! I, too, miss more House. I do want him in more scenes (all of them, if possible, like House’s Head–but poor hugh!)

    Yes, I agree the episode was more obvious than most; I didn’t have to work very hard to find my metaphors 🙂

    BUt I have to admit to having enjoyed watching House struggle with his feelings and Wilson just enjoying being House’s friend. It would have been better to bring back the past, but for the characters, so much time has passed, would it have been realistic to do so? Wilson’s probably long forgotten House and Cameron’s date and his words to her about opening up; and alhtough I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten Stacy, two more years have passed since she left, and maybe her name is better left unspoken to House (who will always love her, of course)

    KJ interview should be up shortly.

  • Kate

    I think Wilson would support House with anyone, Cameron, Cuddy, Honey, masseuse, as long as it would give House a life apart from Wilson’s.

    I really liked this episode because it was back to the significant patient story and ethical dilemmas. It was thought-provoking and intelligent again, the whole show in old school style.

    I could have done with the House/Wilson/Cuddy passing-notes-in-study-hall plot. Has House never kissed a girl before? What is he, 11? Cameron grew up, now can House please.

  • Barbara Barnett

    Orange–no problem. I’ve been a little writing machine today. Phew. Three articles in one day! My stress (and my cold) are mostly gone and I can once again concentrate on writing a little more.

    Kate–Of course House has kissed a girl. He lived with Stacy and loved her. but maybe, like the patient, Stacy was a once-in-a-lifetime draw him out of his shell find (and maybe that’s why he came so unglued when she left the first time). House is a man with profound trust issues. In a way, he almost reminds me of Boo Radley (but just in one or two aspects).

    In a way, he is 11 (stuck in time) in a lot of ways. But his woundedness is one of his most important characteristics, and his struggles to overcome his problems (unsuccessful as they may always be) make him a pretty classic tragic hero.

  • Marie

    I am tired of hearing that House can never be in a relationship, he is destined to wind up alone, he is a tragic hero, he will never be happy, etc.

    Now, I definitely do not want to see sunshine and puppies, happy-in-love House. But I would love to see the series tackle a real relationship between Cuddy and House – one that is as contradictory and annoying and persistent as they are. House can grow without giving up being House. In fact, I think he should because the “eternally wounded” man is getting a little old.

  • Barbara Barnett

    Marie–I think they will tackle a relationship with House and Cuddy, but it will be complicated and fraught with all sorts of stuff.

    To me, though, if House “grows up”–becomes emotionally healed, it could go one of two ways. He becomes a funny jerk or a compassionate doctor who is funny but acerbic. the fact that he keeps his inner life under such wraps with only allowing us to see small bits of it–and to see him struggle–is at the heart of his character. But your mileage may vary. Of course.

  • Clare

    Could the dream scene be a symbol of a House-Cuddy relationship? I mean really… House and Cuddy together is the same as propane and a flame–ultimately.

  • Pam

    As to the cane-less walking, I also think it echoed back to House attempting to walk without it in “Honeymoon”. In moments like this one, it seems to indicate that House wants the life he once had, that he wants happiness, but it also suggests that House, just as House can’t walk for long or well without his cane, he can’t experience happiness or normalcy in his life without it soon collapsing in on itself.

  • Barbara Barnett

    Clare–That’s what I originally thought when I first heard about the dream. But let’s think about this a minute. The mosquito, which House is intent to obliterate, buzzes relentlessly. The mosquito represents the idea of Cuddy, which House cannot banish from his conscious or (evidently) from his subconscious mind. So he chases it, trying to rid himself of thoughts of her. He tries everything, but when he tries too hard (the elaborate zapper), it blows up in his face. In the end (outside the dream) and playing his guitar, House is again plagued by the mosquito, representing Cuddy re-entering his thoughts as he considers what he told his patient. But this time, rather than try to rid himself of the pest, he gently blows it off his hand, letting it live. It’s in that moment that he decides to act on his feelings because he’ll never get rid of them anyway, so he needs to do something. That’s my take, anyway.

  • Barbara Barnett

    #19 Pam- Yes. I absolutely felt a callback to Honeymoon (I wrote something about it, but had to cut it–getting way, way too long :))

    But I think your assessment is spot on. He does want to live a normal life, a happier life. He admitted it to dead Amber, and his actions with the Ketamine, as well as his search for some sort of radical therapy later in season three all speak to House’s desire for living a normal, happier life. Like he said to Wilson in “Insensitive” when Wilson ragged on him for wanting to do the nerve biopsy on Hanna. Wilson reminded House that his life would be shorter and he’d be on immunosupressants for life. House’s grim reply was “shorter, but normal.”

  • Orange450

    “And, again in season two, he gave up Stacy (after pursuing her for months) rather than put himself through the inevitable pain that would come with her leaving him for a second time.”

    Barbara, thanks for providing a hook on which I can hang my House/Stacy perspective! I refer to comments that you and others posted in your “Joy” review, so I wanted to get this out before we get too far away from that episode.

    “Stacy told House that he was “curry.” That curry is something you take in small doses because in bigger quantities it tends to burn the roof of your mouth. She missed “the curry.””

    Barbara, you included Stacy’s curry analogy in your take on the “fun” aspect of their relationship. I took it as an observation on House’s behavior in the relationship! (“you’re abrasive and annoying, and come on way too strong….”) The curry is addictive, and you love it, but it sets up a cumulative irritation – and you can take just so much of before it’s too much. We all know what a relationship with him would be like – no pain no gain, right? And you’d have to be able to put up with a lot of pain to hold out for the gain – even in good times! I think she definitely had the temperament for it, though, and took him in her stride, which probably can’t be said about most women. It will interesting to see whether/how Cuddy is put to the test.

    “But she also in my (humble) opinion (until that moment in Need to Know when he came to tell her to go back to Mark) didn’t understand the depth of House’s feelings for her”

    Barbara, not long ago you said that Stacy may not have been a reliable narrator when she told Cameron that House was the same before the infarction. I’ve thought the same thing ever since I saw ”Three Stories”. In fact, one of my very first posts at the Fox forum was a detailed analysis indicating how House was different before his leg – based on how he and Stacy were presented to us in that episode.

    This week you wrote: “Stacy, the love of House’s life, was the only woman able to get past House’s barriers and his terror (and maybe House’s own version of post-traumatic stress disorder).”

    While I don’t think that House was ever “easy”, I do think that there may not have been quite as many barriers to breach in the days when he and Stacy were first getting together. But that has no bearing on the depth of their feelings for each other, which I think were made very clear during their flashback interchanges in Three Stories. I think Stacy was conceived of and portrayed as a perceptive individual – one has to notice that it didn’t take her five minutes with him when she walked into the clinic to realize that he was profoundly affected by the knowledge that she’d gotten married.

    “and the devastating effect her leaving the first time had on him”.

    To be fair to Stacy, I think it must be borne in mind that she probably had no way of knowing – and that’s not a judgment on her perception or knowledge of him. We all know what House is like – how carefully he guards his inner core, how he lets almost no one in (and it’s only recently that he’s let even Wilson in as far as he has.) We all eagerly anticipate the occasional “reveals” that show us glimpses of the humanity and emotion that dwell deep under the surface. But the only reasons that we know how much goes on inside him is because 1) we probably spend much more time analyzing his every action, utterance, gesture, and facial expression than we spend analyzing the real people in our lives, and 2) most of the “reveals” that we *do* get take place when he is alone – and only we, the TV viewers, are privy to them.

    Given what we know about his ability to throw up an impenetrable forcefield, strong enough to repel any trespasser who tries to get too close, it doesn’t surprise me that he would have shut Stacy out so completely after the infarction, that there would have been no conceivable way for her to get in. She would have had a hard time knowing what was going on with him – whether he would be likely to pine for her after she was gone – as Wilson said, or whether he was pretty much the same – the answer she got from Cuddy. His oldest and closest friends misunderstand him regularly. And when he deliberately renders himself opaque, no one has a chance of chiseling in.

    In “Failure to Communicate”, she told him that she recognized the signs that she was being pushed out of Mark’s life, because she remembered how Greg pushed her out of his. It’s easy for me to imagine that his behavior to her made her think that he thought that he’d be better off without her. She would have had no reason to believe that he was devastated when she left.

    “What I don’t think she understood during most of it was that House wasn’t about the passion and the sex at that point ….They were not on the same page at all.”

    I have a different take on this. I think he did a number on her. She got swept up in reawakening feelings – just like he did – but his path was clear (given that he recognized no obstacle in Mark. As far as he was concerned, she was still fair game), while hers wasn’t. She came back as a married woman, and almost right from the get-go, House’s closest friend knew that House was going to try to get her away from her husband on his own terms.

    (It’s bad enough that House stole her file. But then he had to gloat over it with Wilson! Some friend, Wilson. He was on to House’s scheme from the very beginning. Why didn’t he tell Stacy: “Get out of here. You have a good thing going with Mark, and you know House – he’s going to do his best to ruin it”?)

    House jerked her around, he manipulated her, and he steadily wore down her defenses. We all know that he’s a master manipulator, and he pulled out all his stops with Stacy. I appreciate that he was struggling as well, but much of his behavior didn’t come across like someone deep in the throes of reclaiming a lost love, but rather like someone bent on bettering a rival almost for the sake of the competition, rather than the prize.

    I don’t think Stacy took her infidelity lightly at all. I do think that she was swept away by the intensity of her feeling for him – love, more than passion, even. Don’t forget that when he came to her office (because Wilson said she was waiting to find out if he was serious) in “Need to Know”, she was packing to go. After Baltimore she knew she was in over her head, and would be in trouble if she stayed any longer. She was doing the honorable thing by leaving. We have no idea of the words that got them together finally (more’s the pity!), but the way they looked at each other in that scene wasn’t about “fun and passion” on her part, any more than it was on his.

    I might not condone what she (and House) did, but I can understand the feelings that led her to do it. And they’re excruciatingly difficult feelings to have. I think it’s a lucky person who’s never experienced loving someone – that they can’t have – so deeply that they can contemplate pushing aside every sincerely-held core conviction or principle. May none of us ever know what she must have been feeling at the time. (And it’s to the incredible credit of the actors and TPTB that the emotion and conflict came through so clearly – to me, anyway.) I can imagine the torment she must have been in – and she played it perfectly, in the most understated and believable way.

    I think House misunderstood her on the roof. And dramatically oversimplified her ethical/moral dilemma. I didn’t get the sense for a second that she was trying to “have both”, but rather that she was trying to work out her problem – a problem that House didn’t share, given that he was able to think only of himself. She knew that what Mark had feared had come to pass. And she had told Mark that it wasn’t going to happen! She was caught between a rock and a hard place (to put it mildly), while House saw only a single decision that needed to be made with a swift slice of the scalpel. This is in keeping with his personality – he generally sees one direct way to a solution, he usually discounts collateral damage, and doesn’t always see both sides of a story.

    On your “Joy” review, SF wrote, in connection with House’s personality: “Tolerance, yes. Absolution, no.”

    I’m glad sf said this. I think we tend to cut House a lot of slack – usually for very good reasons – but we also tend to forget, sometimes, that his behavior can be quite blameworthy, too. During the Stacy arc, IMO, it often was. In their last scene together, I know he had his reasons for pushing her away (and I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think Wilson was entirely wrong). But there’s no denying that after chasing her for months – when he finally caught her, he tore her world to shreds, and threw the pieces back at her. And IMO, that’s where her tears and bewilderment were coming from, not because she finally understood where *he* was coming from.

    Oy, talk about getting way too long.

  • Marie

    I don’t see House becoming totally emotionally healed, and I’m not imagining another Patch Adams here.

    I appreciate everything you say about the continuing struggle (in fact, I think you have the best take on House of all reviewers). However, when I think of tragic heroes, especially per Shakespeare, the thing is that they’re dead after a few hours. To me, the same struggle is getting to be a bit boring after five seasons of it, and the writers seem to be making House more one-dimensional to keep driving home the message that he is miserable.

    I want House to have a relationship that is as imperfect as he is and to become a more broadly nuanced character through THAT struggle.

  • sdemar

    Thanks for your review, Sasmom.

    While I know it couldn’t happen, I so much wanted Cuddy to realize that House was watching her on the porch and open her door and call him back.

    I’m enjoying this arc for obvious reasons.

  • Grace

    Orange450, THAT WAS AMAZING!!! The Stacy arc is my favorite….such love…such passion. I’ve never seen that look on House’s face before or after. The moment for me when I KNEW that House really loved Stacy was when Mark was following
    House up the stairs in the hallway. House knew that Mark knew that he could make his injuries much worse, but Mark didn’t care. All he cared about was keeping Stacy. I think at that moment House knew that he couldn’t be that selfish.
    House knew that Mark would do anything for Stacy and House wasn’t sure if he was ready/able to do the same. So he ‘gave her back’ to Mark, even
    knowing how Stacy would hate him. To me there’s no doubt in my mind that the two of them deeply love each other and always will. I am hoping, in spite of feeling sorry for Mark, that in the end, Stacy will come back to House and that is how the series will end. Don’t get me wrong, what they did was WRONG, but maybe Mark will want to leave Stacy…….could happen!
    Anyway, I had a question for anyone. If House had his bad leg cut completely off and had a fake one fitted, would he still be in pain??
    Oh about House and Cuddy. I think Cuddy was exactly right when she told Wilson how the relationship would go.
    Isn’t Wilson just the cutest? 🙂

  • Yes I was talking to you Barbara. 🙂

    Anyway, sorry, but I really think it’s a disservice to the character of Cuddy to keep harkening back to Stacy. Yes, she was a HUGE part of House’s life and who he is. She’s GONE. And there’s a VERY GOOD CHANCE, she’s not coming back. Can we move on? I’m more interested in the characters we have on the show that can show us new things each week. And it’s not fair to keep looking back at Stacy — it’s time to give Cuddy (and LE, of course) a chance to SHINE.

  • sf

    Barbara – This is one of your best reviews. In it you took a big bite out of the show and described to us how it tasted.

    I especially like your line “…House begins to find himself slowly drawn away from isolation into once again living.”

    The line evokes how awkward House was in that process. Nicely done. I also like your perspective that the mosquito and itch/wound represented not just a kiss with an inconvenient person, Cuddy, but ultimately that the kiss released his deeply submerged feelings for her and that they are now pressing their way to the surface and bleeding out. (Quite different from a sleeping beauty kiss metaphor)

    Cuddy’s and House’s moment of clarity during the kiss won’t be wasted. House knows what he wants (Cuddy) but Cuddy is still focused on a baby while neither are willing to take a risk. Where they go from here, not even the writers know for sure.

    Orange – Your summary of the Stacy years was formidable.

  • Sue


    One of your best reviews. I liked the episode, but there is something missing that has been missing for me all season.

    To me, House the character has become relatively boring. Lost is the boyish charm, the instantaneous light to dark moments, the serious to snark, the 8 year old in a man’s body. All we get is his downtrodden demeanor, with a line or two delivered in a purposely animated manner. He is more one-dimensional, lacking the fuller range we saw in earlier seasons. There is no anticipation of that line delivered in a way we never saw coming.

    There have been many excuses for his recent demeanor-Amber’s death, losing Wilson, awkwardness after kissing Cuddy. We had up and down moments like this in earlier seasons, without House losing what made him special.

    Wilson has now become the comic relief on the show. We used to get that interspersed into House’s part; unfortunately, those moments are few and far between. Remember “Have you appeared in any pornos?” Where are the lines like that?

    I don’t know where the problem lies. Is it the writing, or is it how Hugh is delivering the character? House has gone through stages, starting out tentative in his demeanor in season one, more raucous in season 2, more serious in season 3, too serious and crude in season 4, and flat in season 5. Has Hugh lost the magic that made House so unique? Did he move too far past the point where House now has no charm anymore? Is Hugh’s heart still in it? Is House too familiar to him now?

    The overall quality of the show has suffered with the lack of humor and snarkiness in the writing and the character. I find I don’t care as much about House as I used to. He is not as engaging as he used to be.

    I haven’t read all the comments. I would be interested to hear what others think of what I wrote.

  • Pam

    While this arc is primarily about House’s struggle with pain and misery versus a chance at happiness, however fleeting, his life with Stacy, and the person he was then, is entirely relevant to how he may or may not approach Cuddy. This arc is doing a nice job, so far, of portraying the importance of Cuddy in House’s life, and how she plays a distinctive and significant role in it (different but no less significant than Stacy’s), but to discount House’s past and, as far as we know, his only happy romantic experience would be a disservice to this storyline. It’s certainly interesting for me to see how consistent House’s characterization is, and how his core motivations haven’t really changed. Personally, I hope that continues.

    Orange: I don’t think your assessment was formidable. I especially agree that Stacy must have faced some kind of wall in regards to House after the infarction. Based on “Hunting”, House took a great interest at that time in her misery level, undoubtedly hoping she’d be as miserable as he felt, and it is no secret that House pushed Stacy away. The interesting thing about Stacy is that she is one of the most emotionally healthy people to have appeared on the show. She not only attempts to pursue happiness (moving on to a marriage with Mark), but she refuses to subject herself to situations and treatment that is bad for her. I think, post-infarction, Stacy would have recognized that, despite her love for House, she shouldn’t remain in a relationship that had turned toward unhealthy, with her partner focused more on her misery rather than her happiness and being pushed away and shut out.

    I also agree that Stacy didn’t take her infidelity lightly, and her behavior on the rooftop did not indicate she had decided she could have both Mark and House. I agree that she felt caught, unsure of what to do so soon after she and House had slept together, and she was feeling the stress and struggle of what she should do. It’s unreasonable to expect someone to make a decision on what to tell their spouse the same night an affair occurred. I don’t think, however, her struggle with that decision meant she took the affair or her feelings for House lightly, but that she took it quite seriously.

    As to why House pushed Stacy away, I think it has a lot to do with one of House’s core character traits: his habitual desire to avoid pain. House views human connections, then their inevitable destruction as opportunities for pain. He felt that a renewed relationship with Stacy would inevitably end, and cause him more pain, and I think this is very relevant to the current arc going on in the show.

    Barbara, you mentioned in your reply to me that House is attempting to seek happiness, and I agree. I think he is struggling with lessening the emotional pain of loneliness and misery he experiences on a daily basis. House has known what it’s like to be in a good relationship, to love and be loved, and I think his life with Stacy, and the kind of happiness he found there is something he still wants, but struggles with the notion of it because he has rationalized that the pain of the loss of that kind of connection is both inevitable and incredibly painful. More painful, it seems, than the alternative of loneliness. During the week leading up to “The Itch” and then afterward, I compiled some thoughts about House’s approach to pain and how it’s affected him this season.

    As a series, House M.D. consistently focuses on the concept of emotional and physical pain, particularly in terms of House. Each character, throughout the course of the series, possesses varying outlooks on pain itself and copes with it uniquely. Much of the first season concentrates largely on House’s physical pain and his method of coping: lessening and avoiding it as much as possible through the use of Vicodin. As the series continues, episodes reveal a sense of House’s emotional pain, as well as the lengths House undertakes in order to avoid not only physical, but also this emotional pain. House intermittently exercises questionable measures throughout the series to avoid pain–a rejection of a renewed relationship with Stacy (“Need to Know”, 2.11), an experimental ketamine treatment (“No Reason”, 2.24), attempts to obtain the nerve cells of a CIPA patient for his own benefit (“Insensitive”, 3.14), an attempt to stage a medical condition to qualify for a potentially pain-relieving treatment for cancer patients (“Half-Wit”, 3.15), and an effort to fraudulently obtain Vicodin through forging a prescription in Wilson’s name (“Meaning”, 3.01). While this core trait appears frequently in previous seasons, no other quality dominates House’s characterization in season five more than his habitual desire to avoid pain. Subsequent of “Wilson’s Heart” (4.16), House’s desire to avoid pain, specifically through the prevention of personal loss, motivates each of his decisions in regards to his close relationships, especially the relationship he shares with Cuddy.

    Prior to the conclusion of “Wilson’s Heart” (4.16), House confesses: “I don’t want to be in pain. I don’t want to be miserable. And I don’t want [Wilson] to hate me.” In addition to viewing his pain as a source of his misery, House implies that the loss of an important personal relationship–Wilson’s friendship–would further it and, in an attempt to avoid the relationship’s destruction, House honors Wilson’s request for “time alone” during his bereavement leave (“Dying Changes Everything”, 5.01). Upon the discovery of Wilson’s decision to resign, House challenges Wilson’s choice, providing reasons in both calm and hostile manners, and, later, genuinely apologizes for his role in Amber’s death in order to save their friendship. Wilson invalidates the apology on the grounds that Wilson places no blame on House for Amber’s death (“Dying Changes Everything”, 5.01). Wilson also expresses a desire to escape House, not because of his part in Amber’s death, but because of the destructive effects that House–his personal qualities, attitudes, and habits–imposes on Wilson’s life. Wilson cannot recognize any redeeming qualities in House’s character, but believes that House “spread[s] misery, because [he] can’t feel anything else” (“Dying Changes Everything”, 5.01). Wilson acknowledges the need to care for himself and, consequently, not only physically separates himself from House, but also questions the validity of their entire friendship. House’s failure to prevent the loss of Wilson’s friendship forces House to experience the emotional pain he strives to avoid. House’s decision to utilize Lucas Douglas, the P.I., in an attempt to rebuild Wilson’s friendship demonstrate the gravity of Wilson’s absence as well as its effects; House must act, rather than pose a rational argument, in order not only to draw Wilson back into his life, thereby minimizing his emotional pain, but also to prevent the additional loss Cuddy, the only remaining pillar in his feeble foundation of support.

    The circumstances surrounding and reasons for Wilson’s departure as well as House’s instinctive desire to avoid additional emotional pain directly affect House’s subsequent approach to Cuddy in both “Adverse Events” (5.03) and “Joy” (5.06). Prior to “Joy” (5.06), the abstract threat of the loss of Cuddy’s support propels House to proactively secure Cuddy’s position in his life. With Lucas’s help, House formulates a mission in order to obtain “personal” and “embarrassing” (“Adverse Events”, 5.03) information about Cuddy, as well as to improve Cuddy’s perception of him. Under the guise of a manipulative game, House indicates that he hopes to use information “to scare her into saying ‘yes'” (“Adverse Events”, 5.03). That is, he hopes to encourage her to respond positively to him. This goal remains consistent with House’s interest to ensure that Cuddy remains grounded in her role in his life. Simultaneously, House sacrifices embarrassing, revealing material to Cuddy about himself. This action serves to improve Cuddy’s perception of him and prevent Cuddy from potentially reaching the same conclusions at which Wilson arrived in regards to House’s personal character prior to his departure. House’s attempt to paint himself “in a different light” (“Adverse Events”, 5.03) suggests a desire to illuminate a sliver of his own goodness in order to keep his relationship with Cuddy. His plan, however, fails on both fronts; he obtains no significant information about Cuddy, and Cuddy’s perception of House remains the same. According to Lucas, “not only didn’t she see [House in a different light], she didn’t even believe it was possible” (“Adverse Events”, 5.03). Consequently, the potential loss of his relationship with Cuddy, as well as House’s potential to experience additional emotional pain, remains a threat.

    House’s concern for the abstract, potential loss of his relationship with Cuddy diminishes upon Wilson’s return following “Birthmarks” (5.04). In the closing scene of “Lucky Thirteen” (5.05), however, this concern re-emerges. House discovers that Cuddy plans to adopt a child. Almost instantly, House realizes the magnitude and implications of Cuddy’s decision. The decision to accept a child “changes the rest of your life” (“Joy”, 5.06); House recognizes the potential shift in Cuddy’s priorities, the dissolution of his current relationship with her, and, consequently, the guarantee of the emotional pain of loss. Additionally, House’s visible, emotional reaction results not only from the implications of the news itself, but also from the knowledge that Cuddy, like Wilson following his departure, refuses to include him in her life. In light of Cuddy’s news, House renews his attempts to prevent the loss of his relationship with Cuddy in order to avoid an increase of emotional pain.

    With the loss of Wilson’s friendship still relatively fresh, House launches a campaign to prevent the destruction of his current relationship with Cuddy. House employs logical, but brutal, arguments in order to illustrate the fault in her reasoning and desire for a child. House remains vehement throughout “Joy” (5.06) and refuses to relinquish his stance on the matter. In the operating room, in which the baby Joy is born, House explicitly states: “This doesn’t need you. I do” (“Joy”, 5.06). House’s declaration reveals a thinly-veiled desperation to ensure that Cuddy will respond to him, rather than dismiss him; House receives confirmation, however, that Cuddy’s priorities have shifted, and House no longer receives “top billing”. House attempts to force her away from the child, serving to remind her of the reality of her “new life” and refusing to accept his demoted status, and exhibits a curt attitude towards Cuddy, displeased with the situation.

    House alters his approach, however, following the birth mother’s decision to keep her child. Upon the loss of a Joy, Cuddy’s grief replaces the child as a threat to House’s relationship with Cuddy. Cuddy’s grief and related emotions make her susceptible to viewing House negatively, as well as viewing his selfishness and his lack of support as cause for dismissal from her personal life. Because Cuddy’s situation mirrors Wilson’s earlier one, House needn’t seek advice about a suitable or safe way of approaching her; House already received it from Cuddy herself. In “Dying Changes Everything” (5.01), Cuddy advises House that if “you want to keep [Wilson], he needs to know he’s not alone.” In the final scene of “Joy”, House, in the best way he knows, follows this advice. House comforts Cuddy and attempts to encourage her to continue to pursue her desire for a child on the basis that she “would have been a great mother” (“Joy”, 5.06″). Because House follows Cuddy’s specific advise, his confusion is appropriate in light of her negative reaction. House exercises all of his logical options, acts on Cuddy’s advice, and demonstrates that he can consider the needs of others. Out of any other options, the kiss results from his desperation, a last-ditch effort to communicate to Cuddy that he possesses redeeming qualities, that he cares for her, which serve as a reason for her to remain in his life, and to improve her perception of him in order to keep her. Simply, House chooses to kiss her as his last effort to show Cuddy that she is not alone. He attempts to show her that he is there for her, effectively admitting that he needs to keep her in his life not only because she is important to him, but also because her continued presence spares House additional emotional pain in his life. Thus, House creates a literal connection to complement his emotional one. The kiss communicates the need he’s incapable of saying–a need for her to remain in his life–and a desperate need to avoid the pain of losing a person who is important to him.

    In the aftermath of House and Cuddy’s kiss, House’s need to avoid pain overpowers both any feelings he possesses for her and any desire for happiness. “The Itch” (5.07) draws clear parallels between House and the agoraphobic patient, specifically in their similar approaches to pain. Through his words to the patient, House expresses awareness that his own habitual avoidance of pain results from a rationalization formed to justify his way of life. Aware that this rationalization amounts to a lie, House comments on the patient, and, consequently, himself, citing that he “doesn’t think he’s happy here. He’s miserable. […] He’s also a coward” (“The Itch”, 5.07). This parallels House’s words to Foreman in “Euphoria – Part 2” (2.21), in which House expresses his belief that “pain makes us make bad decisions. Fear of pain is almost as big a motivator.” In both cases, House views his decision to avoid pain as a rationalization, leading to poor personal decisions. However, he also adheres to his worldview to the point that he believes fleeting happiness fails to neutralize physical or emotional pain, thereby creating a life-goal not of happiness but to minimize pain and to “keep misery to the minimum” (“Mirror Mirror”, 4.05). House’s need to avoid pain will undoubtedly affect his decision to enter into another romantic relationship, with Cuddy or any other woman, as “The Itch” (5.07) demonstrates. For all of House’s willingness to risk patients’ lives, his medical license, and his employees’ and employer’s jobs, House cannot risk experiencing additional physical or emotional pain; House would rather live with the knowledge that, when it involves personal emotions and decisions, he is a coward.

    I doubt this goal to minimize pain will ever change for House, and in that sense, he will always be cowardly, but what may change is his perception of which kind of pain is worse: the pain of constant loneliness and misery or the pain of finding a slice of happiness and human connection, only to experience the inevitable pain of losing it. This is the struggle that seems to be happening in House, and, in addition to seeing the importance of Cuddy in House’s life, I hope we see more of this struggle. Also, this season has made me realize that House is no less complicated than he ever was, and the writers have been remarkably consistent in keeping his core traits throughout the series.

    (Oh, my goodness, that was long. Sorry for going on and on, but it’s just really great to me how things are being tied together, and how skilled these writers are in shaping House’s character.)

  • Poor Wilson! ; ) He deserves more than a Cuddy kiss. As much as I enjoy RSL, the episode of him in bed with a new woman is the one I want.

  • sf

    Pam – When I wrote that Orange’s summary of the Stacy years was formidable I meant it in the sense of masterful or unassailable. In other words, excellent writing even when looked at from all fronts and perspectives. Solid.

  • Pam

    SF – Sorry. I assumed you meant the “causing fear, dread, or apprehension” definition of the word. Without a whole lot of context, I wasn’t sure, but sorry about that. We’re on the same page, after all. =)

  • Orange450

    SF and Pam, thanks for the clarification and the consensus.

    Pam wrote:

    “While this arc is primarily about House’s struggle with pain and misery versus a chance at happiness, however fleeting, his life with Stacy, and the person he was then, is entirely relevant to how he may or may not approach Cuddy. This arc is doing a nice job, so far, of portraying the importance of Cuddy in House’s life, and how she plays a distinctive and significant role in it (different but no less significant than Stacy’s), but to discount House’s past and, as far as we know, his only happy romantic experience would be a disservice to this storyline. It’s certainly interesting for me to see how consistent House’s characterization is, and how his core motivations haven’t really changed. Personally, I hope that continues.”

    I definitely agree with this. Sometimes I have the urge to tell House that “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, but I get the feeling that he’d just give me a rude snort 🙂

    I can also relate to your experience of compiling your thoughts as you observe themes and central ideas converging. You did an amazing job of tracing House’s approach to pain and the avoidance of it. I really appreciate the opportunity that Barbara’s blog gives us to articulate and air our various views in an environment of mutual respect and courtesy!

  • I’m late to this; just finally watched the episode last night.

    As you suggest, the parallels were more clearly and explicitly drawn than usual, maybe too clearly and explicitly.

    What struck me was House mocking the patient for being scared, and then the cuts back and forth as the patient does what House cannot. Wow. Who’s the chicken now, Greg?

    The other scene that was full of pathos was Wilson’s attempt to propose to Cuddy. She was surprisingly oblivious, and Wilson took the easy out, and it was almost too much to bear. Poor Wilson!

    So Taub and his wife make progress, Cameron and Chase make progress, and the patient makes progress, but House is unchanging. Very, very nice.

    What’s also interesting to me is how much more I enjoy these seasons without a clear antagonist than the seasons with Tritter or Vogler. As much as I loved the Tritter arc, my wife hated it, and the Vogler arc just didn’t work, because I couldn’t quite believe that House could fail.

    Anyway, excellent writeup again. Thanks, Barbara!

  • Barbara Barnett

    Hi Phillip–

    I am so much liking this season. I especially like the journey that House seems to be on. He has been more self-aware this season, picking up on clues to himself through his interactions with others.

    House’s fear is such a fabulous thing to explore because he is outwardly Mr. Confidence…even arrogant. But inside he is terrified, hurting and clueless about himself.

    I loved that he was able to try to take a step, but loved even more that he chickened out. As so often happens on House, he has a positive impact on others, but fails himself. Like Cameron astutely said way, way back in the pilot. “He cured you–you didn’t cure him.” This is a fundamental truth of the character. Glad you liked the write up!

  • Wilson proposed? Hardly. Like he said, it’s too soon after Amber. Think you meant propositioned.

  • sf

    Barbara wrote, “…he has a positive impact on others, but fails himself….This is a fundamental truth of the character.”

    It is generally agreed among many that the saddest words in Shakespeare’s tragedies are, “Never, never, never, never, never.”
    It refers to the death of a loved one (daughter) and the consequent futility of life thereafter for the lover (father). But while there is life there is hope.

    I wouldn’t resign House to hopelessness. He has the raw materials of the ‘good’ man and has the ability to develop them. However, I can also see a very powerful and neat(tidy) ending of the series if it is concluded with House’s death. Perhaps Cuddy would be carrying his child.

    But with Obama as president there is more of a chance that the scales will be tipped on the side of hope, rather than tragedy in David Shore’s writing room. Either way, House M.D. has been well worth watching.

  • Orange450

    SF wrote:

    “However, I can also see a very powerful and neat(tidy) ending of the series if it is concluded with House’s death.”

    As SF also wrote:

    “Never, never, never, never, never”!!!!

    I thought I detected a moment of hopefulness on his part in this episode, when he told Cameron that he risked his life because he didn’t want to be a cripple.

    I may be wrong, but it struck me that this was the first time that he’s ever admitted that he did indeed risk his life at the time of the infarction. I think he’d previously been quite firm that he was never in any danger of dying. I saw this as a subtle indication of his being honest with himself about himself – a state of mind that we don’t always find him in.

    It seemed to me that the throwaway line might be meant as further instantiation of the slowly increasing self-awareness that’s been the one of the overriding themes this season – realizing how much he needs Wilson, realizing that he’s more like his father than he thought, realizing that his feelings for Cuddy are stronger than he thought – which came along with the realization that she would make a good mother (and that her motherhood might not be a threat to him), and realizing that a destructive and hopeless downward spiral is not a good path to take in life (reflected in his reaction to 13’s activities).

  • Barbara Barnett

    Orange–yes, yes, yes, maybe. I agree that that line was much more than a throwaway. It’s the first reference to the events around the infarction since (maybe even) House and Stacy’s argument about it in Honeymoon.

    This season has been one of self-discovery for House. Something that might have happened in season three had the ketamine not worn off so quickly–and followed on quickly by his legal problems. After he was shot, he also became introspective, but also didn’t know quite where or how to start. Wilson was not helpful to him; this time he is. He’s also in a different place, and maybe he’s resigned himself to never becoming physically healed, and needing to finally enter the “acceptance” stage of grief over his loss (of mobility).

    He was pretty close to despair both in seasons three and in season four by the end in the white bus scene. At that point, hitting rock bottom (again) he determines that he doesn’t want to be miserable. And season five has been that journey, which has to begin with acceptance (or at least a move towards it) so that he can begin to allow himself to feel and allow those moments of humanity to be unfettered.

    Again, he won’t succeed, not for awhile–and this is what I love so much about the show. House can hope and wish and try all he wants. But actual permanent change is so incredibly difficult when you’re in such a deep emotional hole. We root for him, but know he can’t really succeed.

  • Sheelagh

    Well, perhaps House won’t completely succeed…or succeed in the way we anticipate. I thought the most pivotal line to date in this season was deliverd in ” Not Cancer” where House says to the corneal transplant patient that the difference between her bleak view of the world and his was that he :
    “hadn’t given up.”
    He got off the bus and moved into Season Five , and kept pitching !

  • Barbara Barnett

    Sheelagh–true. One thing that House hasn’t done is “given up.” He’s been on death’s door several times, and had he been despairing, he might have given up, but something won’t allow him to do that. The only time I think he was on the verge of it was at the height of the Tritter arc. In Merry Little Christmas we saw him as close to despairing as we’ve ever seen him.

  • Orange450

    “Again, he won’t succeed, not for awhile–and this is what I love so much about the show. House can hope and wish and try all he wants. But actual permanent change is so incredibly difficult when you’re in such a deep emotional hole. We root for him, but know he can’t really succeed.”

    One of the things I love most about the show (and the character) is the way House forces me to like him – sometimes even to love him – against my own inclination. If he weren’t trying – or if I was absolutely sure that he wasn’t going to succeed – I would find the whole premise unsatisfying and unfulfilling.

    For me, it’s the dynamic tension of his struggle – the two steps forward, one step back – done in such an unpredictable, yet (mostly) believable (and in hindsight – inevitable) way, which – IMHO – is a chief genius of the show (and the actor).

    I’ve been enjoying the discussion of House and his relationship to the heroes of Victorian novels that’s been going on over at your KJ interview thread (and I have a comment to make over there :-)), but I have to admit – my favorite novels in that genre are the ones with happy endings. “Reader, I married him” – now *that’s* the way to begin the final section!

    The true Romantic Hero usually undergoes a redemptive experience at the end of his story, which transforms him. We know that a happy House will mean that the series is over – but I would really love to see him end it off on a positive note like Rochester did. And Heathcliff. I just can’t decide what form the redemptive experience should take – there are several I would be happy to see 🙂

  • Barbara Barnett


    Did you ever read my essay on House as a romantic hero? I wrote it about a year ago, and is one of the first I posted here on Blogcritics.

    I think that a lot of (especially) women who gravitate to House do so not for the snarkiness but for his journey.

    I never really bought into the notion that people like House because he says what we can’t, has no filters and is a funny jerk. It’s the character’s essential humanity that I find fascinating along with his struggle. Something that Hugh Laurie so much infuses into the character.

  • JL

    Oh, dear, this terrific discussion of Bronte and Byron and everybody else has finally sucked me in. I suppose I’d better get into some reading.

    So: should I be reading Byron? Or should I tackle a Bronte? And which one is good to start with?

    (I did dabble with ‘Don Juan’ once…)

    (Preferably one that’s not overwhlemingly depressing, since I’m asking for recommendations, here…)

  • JL

    BTW, I should note that I have read your ‘House as romantic hero’ essay, Barbara – it was the first thing that brought me here and I thought it was just terrific. Thanks!

  • Barbara Barnett

    I’m totally biased towards Jane Eyre (Bronte). If you really want to be sucked in, rent the BBC version and then read the book–or vice-versa.

    But any of the Victorians–Thomas Hardy wrote fantastic tragic heroes. Anyone else???

  • Orange450

    What a beautiful article, Barbara! You have such a gift of articulating what is more easily sensed than said!

    If House continues to track along Edward Rochester’s (and Edmond Dantes’ – another classic RH) trajectory, he will indeed eventually have a redemptive experience that transforms him, as Edward Rochester did when he and Jane discussed their respective strange midnight experiences (p. 492 in the Bantam Classic edition). And as Edmond Dantes did when he realized that he had gone too far in his quest for revenge – although in both cases, the redemptive experience had to be precipitated by an unpremeditated tragedy. Which actually sounds like something the House PTB would do a very good job with.

    You captured him so well! Everything you said about him is true, and so, IMO, is everything I said about him in my long rant about the Stacy arc up above. If it was all about House saying what we can’t, and having no filters, and being a funny jerk, I’d be less inclined to like him – not more.

    It’s the way HL puts it together and makes us believe it – as we’ve all said a million times already, and will probably say a million times more. But it can’t be said too often!

  • Barbara Barnett

    Thanks, Orange. I remember from Jane Eyre (it’s now been awhile since I’ve read it) the sort of mind games Rochester played with Jane, going so far as to pretend to be a old hag fortune teller at a party to ascertain Jane’s thoughts before he hazarded revealing his own.

    It seemed as if Rochester’s reveals to Jane always came at night, at vulnerable moments, but then composure regained, he’d go back to hiding from her, until he finally proposed. The terrible tragedy of their relationship and the events that drove Rochester to the despair and his bad life-style choices ultimately drove Jane from him–until further tragedy struck and he could finally find redemption and cause for optimism. Sigh.

    There is a lot of Rochester in House (and a bit of Heathcliff as well). Hugh does such a great job bringing all of House’s complexities to light…

  • Orange450

    “But any of the Victorians–Thomas Hardy wrote fantastic tragic heroes. Anyone else???”

    My personal favorite is George Eliot, even if her work is not typically as romantically tempestuous as that of the Brontes. Although The Mill on the Floss is dramatic enough for anyone. You can’t go wrong with Adam Bede (I’m ashamed to admit that I’m more drawn to him than to the more typical romantic heroes). And The Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch present some very interesting romantic heroines – struggling with a different but just as compelling set of issues as the heroes do.

    Hmmm, now I’m wondering whether there are any good literary examples for the women surrounding House.

  • Barbara Barnett

    Love Eliot. Adam Bede was the first Eliot I read.

  • JL

    Thanks for your ideas!

    On perusing my bookcase, I find I already have an as-yet-unread copy of Wuthering Heights, so perhaps I’ll start with that (apprpriately enough, it was tucked in with Tess, which is who I was thinking of when I mentioned ‘overwhelmingly depressing’. I’d have to be in an unassailably content mood before I’d dare tackle another Hardy heartbreak…).

  • sf

    Orange, For the women surrounding House I would look at Margaret from Mrs. Gaskell’s “North and South” and there are a plethora of exceptional women in “Wives and Daughters”.

    All of Mrs. Gaskell’s heroes are women but she is also praised as being one of the only female authors who successfully and extensively explores the minds of her men. She does not dwell on tragedy but, in the midst of it, on overcoming it. She is an engaging force for life.

    If I had to quickly characterize Mrs. Gaskell, she would be a cross between Austin and Eliot, with the exception that her female heroes are always strongly and vibrantly connected to the people around her. No gray angst or alienation, just frustration.

    (I’m using the American spell check but I know there are a lot more Brits in my timezone, sorry.)

  • Orange450

    SF — Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my favorites too. I love Molly, in Wives and Daughters. (Mrs. Gaskell’s portrayal of Osborne in that novel is also very powerful, because she allows him to take such an unconventional route.)

    I agree with your comment: “no gray angst or alienation, just frustration”. I would add that she conveyes everyday emotions in a very authentic manner. I’m just not sure that I see a comparison with any of the House women. (Not in Cranford, either :-))

  • sf

    Orange, Margaret from Gaskell’s “North and South” would be Cuddy. Margaret held her family together after they moved to the industrial North as Cuddy holds the hospital together. Margaret even extends that support to the sick workers in the community as Cuddy does in her hospital. Margaret reforms and supports Thornton, the male protagonist, as Cuddy tries to reform and support House.

    Could Cameron be Molly?

  • Orange450

    SF – I don’t really see Cameron as similar to Molly. One of Molly’s most consistent characteristics is an emotional honesty and a total lack of guile that I don’t think Cameron posesses to the same degree at all. Also – at the risk of sounding old-fashioned – Molly has a natural refinement that would never permit her to perform of the reckless activities that Cameron has performed over the years.

    This game is fun 🙂 We’ll have to dig up some more classics along the way, and see whether or not we can match them up with other House characters.

  • sf

    Orange, It is fun, isn’t it? For Stacy, after almost no reflection, 🙂
    I thought of Sue from Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure”. I’m sure there is a better fit somewhere…

  • Nickel

    The one thing that I really noticed is that as soon as Cuddy realized that “The Kiss” meant something to House, she immediately pounced on him with control. He became subdued and she became more assertive. Another thing that I noticed was how quickly Cuddy rationalized the kiss. Of course hindsight is 20-20 but knowing what we know about season 7 it makes perfect sense that this episode played out the way it did. House protects Cuddy at every turn and that is never repaid by her. House did not take advantage of Cuddy’s vulnerability at that moment, but true to character she certainly does at his lowest point (actually both of his most emotionally unstable points HOOK UP AND BREAK UP).