Make no mistake about it, I love House. I am a certified (or certifiable) fan of Hugh Laurie. So it was with great excitement that I loaded the VCR and parked myself on the sofa, ready to be wowed by the much anticipated first episode. But by the time it was over, I felt underwhelmed by what should have been a compelling season opener.
It had all the right elements that most of the fan-girls of the good doctor salivate over: House playing the guitar, witty repartee between House and Cuddy, amusing glimpses into the boyish friendship between House and Wilson, great shots of House’s piercing blue eyes, and even a gratuitous shot of his behind. I get it — Hugh Laurie is a sexy, multi-talented, amazing actor who richly deserves the accolades he has received (as well as those he lost out on – maybe next year Emmy voters!). Gregory House is a childish, sometimes clownish, but extremely gifted diagnostician who always gets the treatment right, but always almost kills the patient before he finally sees the big picture with a seemingly intuitive epiphany that hits him toward the end of every episode. This week’s patient puzzle was a tough one and the resolution of her story was a complete surprise. But something was missing.
It starts with a girl, Megan, and her boyfriend, Ben, having a slight tiff by cell phone while he waits for her outside of her office. Next thing you know, the building implodes and he is left outside, covered in dust, with a bewildered WTF look on his face. (As if there isn’t enough in the world to worry about, now I have to be concerned about going to work – maybe I should call in sick tomorrow.) We next see House in his office, playing a cool V-shaped guitar, which is plugged into an amplifier. In walks Cuddy, with the girl’s chart – she has broken bones and a fever that is not responding to treatment. House has done nothing for two weeks and hasn’t even started hiring a new team. House is not interested in the case and goes back to playing an amazing Van Halen arpeggio, which Cuddy cuts short by pulling the plug and challenging him to solve the case alone and hire a new team. House takes the bait and counter-offers with the proposal that if he solves the case in one day, Cuddy will leave him alone for one week about this team business. And they’re off.
Here’s where we discover the first missing item: House’s team. Remember last episode — Foreman quit, Chase is fired, and Cameron, in a final flirtatious gesture toward her elusive boss, tenders her resignation and strokes House’s arm, telling him that he’s going to be okay? So here is House, writing on his white board and bouncing ideas off no one. Cue the janitor, a sweet guy with an honest demeanor who plays along with House in this game of cure the patient. The janitor even throws out lupus as an idea of what is wrong with Megan – a knowing wink from the writers to the fans because we all know it’s never lupus. House goes so far as to send the poor guy to talk to Ben and Megan’s mother, pretending to be a doctor. I’m sure there is a law against this sort of pretense somewhere, but House is a child and laws were made for other people. House then tries to talk Doctor Buffer into doing the usual breaking into the patient’s home but the poor janitor won’t go for it without the requisite $50 bribe. House must not pay him, because the next scene has House luring Wilson into a free lunch but forgetting to tell him that it comes with a little larceny.
There is an almost voyeuristic pleasure in peeking into the friendship between these two doctors. The look on House’s face when he manipulates Wilson into doing some mold scraping beneath a sink is priceless. House goes into the bedroom and jumps on the bed (wait – haven’t we seen that before in Cuddy’s bedroom when the old team broke into her house to check for mold?) and it is there that he discovers Megan’s diary which shows that she was depressed. Logically, House assumes she was on antidepressants, which caused an infection in combination with the drugs the hospital gave her. After making the discovery, House finds Wilson cutting up a newspaper. Wilson says liquid Tide is on sale (shameless product placement) and makes like he’s cutting a coupon. House picks up a box of cheese crackers (more shameless product placement) and tells Wilson he solved the case so it’s back to the hospital for them.
House goes back to his office and we find the second missing item: House’s guitar. Why he would leave a $12,000 guitar lying around in an unlocked office is beyond me to begin with. But there is a clue! It wasn’t a coupon Wilson was cutting, it was a ransom note. Wilson is playing House’s game and doesn’t even try to hide that fact that he took the guitar until House hires a new team. House argues that he doesn’t need a team, and Wilson points out that he was bouncing ideas off a janitor. To make matters worse, Megan’s treatment isn’t working; she is dying.
The game between House and Wilson is fun to watch and it is a nice change of pace to see Wilson having a laugh at House’s expense. That is until the writers do that thing they do and turn Wilson into House’s annoying armchair psychotherapist. Wilson tells House that the reason he won’t hire a team now is because losing the last team hurt him. House needs to get over it. One of these days, I think House should just deck him. Instead, he ups the ante by stealing and hiding one of Wilson’s patients.
House ignores Wilson’s psychobabble and continues trying to figure out what is wrong with Megan. All signs point to the fact that she is not the girl her boyfriend thought she was and the symptoms, secrets, and treatments pile one on top of each other while her condition worsens. During her surgery for internal bleeding, House notices that Megan has an enlarged uterus and signs of recently having had an abortion, despite the fact that her boyfriend claims they wanted to have children. Blood tests reveal that she had been on the pill. That nails it: everybody lies. House prescribes yet another treatment but more complications ensue. Now Megan is having an allergic reaction – to the antibiotic given to fight infection. But wait… she was on the same medication before the building collapsed and had no reaction. This sends House back to his office to stare forlornly at the white board covered with symptoms and no team to back him up.
Wilson confronts House about the missing patient, berating him that stealing a sick man is not the same as stealing a guitar. What if the nurses gave his patient the wrong meds and there we have it… the Aha! moment. We can literally see the light bulb above House’s head as he realizes that is what’s been wrong with Megan all along.
House goes back to Megan’s room with another chart. The mother asks what he is doing to Megan and he coldly says, “Nothing.” He explains Megan is not feeling anything at all, because the girl in the bed is not Megan. She is another similarly featured girl who was in the building with Megan when it collapsed. The chart he brought was for the other girl whom everyone assumed had died in the hospital the day before. She had been on antidepressants, had an abortion, and was on the pill. It was Megan that had died. He proves it by removing the tube from the girl’s throat and asking her name. The girl whispers, “Liz.”
The genius of this plot twist is that the audience gets to feel the anguish of Megan’s loved ones. Throughout the episode, we were given bits and pieces of the patient’s story to the point were we are emotionally vested in her outcome. We experience the frustration of the family as Megan’s health deteriorates but we still hope that House will cure her. That hope is thrown back in our faces by a bizarre twist of fate. Someone was saved, but she was a stranger.
And worst of all, but sadly true to character, House didn’t care. In what could have been a poor attempt to comfort the boyfriend at the discovery of this tragic mix-up, he said to him, “Your girlfriend never lied to you.” Even for a fan-girl like me, who feels that House can do no wrong, it came off as callous and uncaring. This brings me to the third missing item from the episode: the little spark of humanity that House keeps hidden from the rest of the world. This was not the House who argued with a patient in the pilot to choose to live with dignity because death is always messy, nor was he the House who heroically lied to a transplant board on behalf of his bulimic patient who needed a new heart, or helped the vegetative state guy protect the heart he wanted to donate to his son when he committed suicide. This House was truly an uncaring bastard who bragged to his boss that he solved the puzzle all by himself.
Cuddy comes to House’s office at the end of the episode and leaves a pile of resumes on his desk, telling him that he could have solved the case a lot sooner had he had his team. She orders him to hire a new team, no matter what it takes. The final scene has House in a large classroom, tuning his guitar and speaking to unseen potential candidates. When the camera pulls back, you see that it is a roomful of hopefuls, not just three. He tells them that they are in for a tough, perhaps abusive interview process. And with a final guitar chord flourish, the episode ends. And now, let the games begin. House can build his team, and the House writers have a whole season left to wow us.Powered by Sidelines