There was some apprehension mixed with my excitement over the season two premiere of House, M.D. The season one finale saw Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) seemingly as low as he could get – broken heart re-broken, picking at his emotional scabs, testing his physical limitations, drinking, and downing Vicodin mournfully rather than defiantly. It was a suitably melancholy way to end off a season getting to know this beautifully melancholy character, but House the show is at its best when House the man brings on the despair wrapped in humour, and there's not a lot of humour in wallowing.
The finale also awkwardly inserted House's ex-love, hospital lawyer Stacy Warner (Sela Ward), into the show as a recurring character, leaving me with the fear of soapy residue eventually clinging to the character study and procedural drama I love, and dashing hope of more focus on the underdeveloped secondary characters. Would there be room for that if the writers concentrate on a character who is theoretically not a permanent addition?
But Tuesday's premiere episode “Acceptance” brings back the almost manic wit, shows us hilarious drunk House instead of morbid drunk House, and leaves behind the threat of suds. Yet it doesn't abandon the revelations of last season, when we learned that not only did Stacy make the decision that cost him full use of his leg and sentenced him to chronic pain, but they still have feelings for each other that are complicated by the fact that she's married and he's bitter.
In this opener, House bargains with boss and frequent sparring partner Dr. Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) to be assigned the case of Death Row Guy (aka Dead Man Dying aka Clarence - guest star LL Cool J). He then tricks Stacy into arranging his transfer to the hospital so he can diagnose his mystery ailment before shipping him back to prison to be executed (it's apparently the law – can't kill someone who's not healthy). When she calls him on the lie, he tells her he's fine working with her as long as she keeps her distance. "I'm a lawyer. You're a jerk. There's bound to be some overlap," she says.
House's easy banter with Stacy overlays an uneasy attempt to find a way to trust each other, or accept that they can't trust each other. Their conversations take on a poignant dual meaning without hitting us over the head with melodrama, as discussions of trust concerning the case at hand mirror knowledge of the betrayal that helped doom their relationship. "I had to do what I thought was right," she says at one point - about exposing a deception to Cuddy, but it's hard not to think about the decision that crippled him, too. "That's the only reason anybody does anything," he replies.