With FOX re-airing House’s third season on Friday nights, this week we got another peek at “Cane and Able,” episode two. I can’t honesty tell you how many times I’ve watched this emotional episode. (Trust me, it’s a lot.) But each time I pick up more nuances to Hugh Laurie’s perfect performance that cause my heart to break for House.
I think it is clear by the beginning of the third season that House’s best friend Wilson has a fundamental misunderstanding of House and how his genius works. Wilson may understand his friend on a personal level, enabling him to tolerate House’s less virtuous character traits, and I think Wilson cares about him (and vice versa). But I think that Wilson’s lack of understanding about House’s intellectual life and his psychology nearly destroys House. And it is not until “Merry Little Christmas” that Wilson begins to understand, when it is nearly too late. (Ah, but what good drama that makes!)
House is, in a lot of ways, like a math genius who always knows the answer, but can't quite tell you how he got there. His epiphany about Richard (the wheel-chair bound patient in “Meaning”) at the university pond was not unlike associative leaps he's made a hundred times in the past.
But this time, House’s stroke of diagnostic genius occurred in a context of which Cuddy and Wilson could not make sense. Wilson and Cuddy were chagrined that House had somehow twisted his own intention to simply “help” Richard into a diagnostics case because he couldn’t resist “playing God.” Because he needed the “fix” of a puzzle, the “rush” of solving a medical mystery. The fact that House was actually right made little difference, whatever House’s motives. But that was last week. And now, Richard, cured based on House’s theory, is back at the hospital, well on the road to recovery.
Richard, however, is the least of House’s problems. The twinge of pain that House felt in “Meaning” has returned with a vengeance. Early in the episode, House is thwarted by obvious pain preparing to go for a run. He spots his cane, sitting idly in an old golf bag; it seems almost to taunt him, and House clearly is tormented by the reminder that he stands on a precipice, and it can all come crashing down. And soon. House reluctantly takes a Vicodin and shakily makes his way to the shower. No run today. Another in a long line of signature Hugh Laurie dialogue-free scenes, providing us with more insight into House’s inner life than would 20 pages of dialogue.
Noting that House is limping again, self-appointed House-sitters Wilson and Cuddy warn him not to slack off on the rehab. Clearly not something he wants to discuss, House deflects, leaving Wilson and Cuddy to argue about the cause of the returning pain. Has House lost his confidence, causing him to become withdrawn? Or it is simply (and tragically) that the ketamine is failing? In any event, Wilson sees House’s recovery as an opportunity to steer House towards a simpler, less risky form of medical practice, rendering him less reckless, and perhaps less self-destructive? Wilson continues to operate on the false assumption that House’s associative leaps and intuitive flashes are simply “luck,” risky for the hospital, for House, and for patients.