Self-exile is a state of being all too familiar to Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie). But this week’s House, M.D. episode “You Must Remember This” it is not House who finds himself on the outside looking in.
I remember an episode from season three (one of the series best) called “Half-Wit.” The final scene of the episode finds House at the door of a tavern, afraid to enter and have a drink with his fellows—afraid to rejoin society after so many years of exile from it. Here we are four years later. House has been through a lot, and this season has found some happiness with Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein). He is on the other side of that door, looking out at others still trapped in exiles old and new.
This week’s patient, Nadia (Tina Holmes) is a waitress—with a seemingly perfect memory. She suddenly falls, her legs paralyzed. When her sister Elena (Claire Rankin) comes to visit, she makes matters worse; clearly the two have a troubled relationship. Unable to forget anything from her past, the patient holds onto the worst of her memories—holding onto them like stones surrounding a fortress. She cannot let go; therefore she cannot forgive. Even after the sister donates a kidney, the patient hangs on obsessively, refusing (or unable) to let go.
Eventually, House diagnoses her behavior as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)—and a symptom of a rare genetic disorder. Her seemingly perfect memory is really an obsession with remembering everything, and why she can’t forget—even when she tries. Nadia has perhaps 20 more years to live. It’s a miserable existence she has—unable to let go of past hurts and perceived betrayals. It has rendered her unforgiving and hard. But Chase (Jesse Spencer) provides Nadia with an out—a way to allow her to reconnect. But it comes at a price.
Chase prescribes antidepressants, which, he explains, can sometimes treat the symptoms of OCD, encouraging her to try again to reconnect with Elena. But, he adds, the antidepressants may cause her perfect memory to vanish. She can exit her self-imposed exile, but only if she’s wiling to sacrifice what “makes her special.”
It’s a dilemma in which we’ve seen House so many times over the past six years—but not this year. The episode asks a fundamental House question: Is it worthwhile to sacrifice what makes you special for a bit of normalcy and the chance at a relationship? But it’s asked through a different lens—one that’s inverted, with House’s situation nearly inside-out from where it was even two or three years ago.
Faced with the choice of taking Chase’s advice to use antidepressants to deal with her OCD or ignoring him, thus preserving her perfect memory and remaining in exile, Nadia argues that her obsessive memory makes her special: it is who she is. How many times has House been in that position over the course of the series, whether confronted by his own subconscious (“No Reason,” season two) or actual choices (“Painless,” season five) he needs to make: whether to sacrifice what he believes makes him special? Going all the way back to season two and Wilson’s accusation that House let Stacy (the love of his life) leave in order to remain miserable and a better diagnostician, House had most often “chosen” to keep his uniqueness at the peril of losing perhaps a last chance to be happy. “Merry Little Christmas” in season three reminds us that even if he cannot be “normal,” it’s not something he would choose if he had the chance really to alter his life.
Now, by season seven, House has changed his life. Forced at the end of season five to give up on opioid drugs to control his chronic pain, and under the care of a psychiatrist, House found himself by the end of season six in a position to love again (and be loved). And, although it’s never been directly addressed, House is still a super-diagnostician—still the cracked genius he’s always been.