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.
So here he is at an opposite pole to his patient, who is faced with House’s perenniel dilemma. And in the end, Nadia makes the choice that sacrificing a bit of what makes you unique may be worth the risk if it can lead to less misery.
The corollary question is whether House’s risk has paid off? Is House happy? I agree with Cuddy, who says in “You Must Remember This,” that part of House doesn’t really believe that he deserves happiness—and that happiness is fleeting at best, and always conditional. But he’s as secure with Cuddy as he’s been since we first met him nearly seven years ago. So, although he can be distracted (he’s always been distractable—since season one) by his relationship, he doesn’t seem to have given up much (if any) of his diagnostic super powers.
But the season is still young (we’re just halfway through), so who knows what challenges and obstacles will lie in House’s path. And we know they’re coming. And I have to wonder if there’s a certain amount of foreshadowing in Nadia’s choice.
By the way, it is nice to see sympathetic side Chase again: empathic and caring. He was recently given a wake-up call, reminding him of who he really is—after months of drowning his sorrows. In the aftermath of Cameron’s departure (and the Dibala assassination in season six), Chase’s misery and loneliness seemed buried in meaningless and shallow encounters. Obviously trying hard to fulfill his worst self-image, Chase seems to be beginning to find his footing. The empathy we’ve seen in seasons past seems to be re-emerging.
Taub (Peter Jacobson), who is also dealing with the misery of not living up to his own expectations, has been having just as tough a time. Now divorced from Rachel, he lives in a hotel; he is at a low point in his life—and to make matters worse, the poster boy of Princeton-Plainsboro has flunked his pathology board exam!
Although Taub prefers to suffer alone, House has other ideas and insists that he work with a tutor to assure he pass the exam. Taub chooses Foreman (Omar Epps), with whom he has developed an interesting relationship over the past several weeks. Over the course of the episode, Taub loosens up—and in turn—loosens up the chronically uptight Foreman along the way. Both men, living as islands a bit adrift, find friendship and someone with whom to share the misery. Taub’s issue is self-confidence; he sees himself as the failure at life and medicine, Rachel’s brother suggested in the last episode (“Family Practice”).
In the end, Taub’s self-confidence fails to re-emerge and he ends up cheating—buying a copy of the exam in order to pass it. (I find it completely plausible that House arranged for the buy himself to assure himself that Taub would pass. It would be perfectly Housian to do it, especially given Taub’s throwaway line early in the episode that House is actually concerned for his well being.)
I loved the role reversal scenario between House and his best friend Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard). Being involved in a meaningful and stable relationship, House finds himself in an interesting position. Wilson is recovering from a bad breakup and this really bothers House. And never one to leave anything (or anyone) alone, House tries to get Wilson back into the dating scene. He is especially concerned that Wilson has taken the extreme measure of adopting a diabetic cat, something House believes is akin to waving the white flag on living.
Cuddy wonders why Wilson’s loneliness (and unattached state) makes House so uneasy. She theorizes that House feels guilty for his own happiness—that he somehow doesn’t deserve it. And only by getting Wilson out of his funk, can House feel right. The dynamic between House and Wilson is fantastic, and in the end, when House is resigned to leave well enough (and Wilson’s cat) alone, he demonstrates his love for Wilson by infesting his home with cat food (in the form of—probably very expensive—white lab rats). It’s a gourmet delight for Sarah the cat.
(Interesting bit of trivia about the cat: apparently, the cat used for the episode also appeared in Hugh Laurie’s film Stuart Little several years ago. Writer Katherine Lingenfelter noted in a videoblog that the cat seemed to recognize his former co-star, purring relentlessly in the scene where House holds it!)
I loved the scenes between House and Cuddy in this episode; their sparring in the first half almost led me to believe that we were back in an earlier season. The final scenes, however reassured me that House and Cuddy have found something special and worthwhile. She understands that he may be off and running back to the hospital at a moment’s notice—off on the hunt for a diagnosis. Their comfort with each other is evident and lovely to see.
Bravo to new House scribe Lingenfelter on a great first outing. So what did you all think of this week’s House? And what was on House’s mind in that final scene as he and Cuddy lay in bed. Clearly something was on his mind. I think perhaps he was considering whether this new situation in which he’s found himself has come at some cost in the aftermath of Nadia’s case. But, hey, that’s just me!
New House episode next Monday has House participating in a school career day! I have no idea how he got himself into that scenario.
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