Part One of this two-part piece examines House (Hugh Laurie) and Cuddy’s (Lisa Edelstein) relationship (known in the House fandom as “Huddy”) during the first three season of House, M.D. If the first three seasons of House laid the groundwork for a House-Cuddy relationship, it did so slowly (sometimes invisibly).
Whatever might have begun to flower at the end of the third season, was placed backburner as House embarked on an overlong multi-episode arc to replace the two fellows who quit (Foreman and Cameron), and the fired Chase. Dominated by this eight episode story arc and shortened by a writers strike, season four had little time for fanning the nascent sparks between House and his boss. However, several episodes, including “Ugly,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Living the Dream” feature moments of flirtation and charged banter between them.
For example. In “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” when Cuddy asks House to prepare performance review for his team, he eschews the responsibility in typical Housian fashion; instead he delivers a pointed performance review of his boss. “[Y]ou’re desperate to have someone jump on you and tell you they love you one grunted syllable at a time. What you want, you run away from. What you need, you don’t have a clue. What you’ve accomplished makes you proud, but you’re still miserable.” House’s review hits the mark, and it’s not until the end of season six that Cuddy actually realizes just how accurately. Obviously, House’s answer to what she wants and needs is “House.”
In “Living the Dream,” House articulates what he desires from Cuddy (professionally), but does it on the phone in such an intimate way, it’s practically a seduction. He wants Cuddy to stop him from the most reckless part of himself, admonishing her that she should be fired for allowing him to go too far out on a limb with his patient, even though in the end his diagnosis is correct. But with Cuddy taking the phone call late at night in bed, and punctuated with his “what are you wearing?” and soft-spoken “Goodnight, Cuddy,” it’s absolutely courtship—House-style.
In “House’s Head” we are once inside House’s subconscious—glimpsing Cuddy through that prism. As in season three’s “Top Secret,” Cuddy’s role in House’s mind is to help solve a case. But this time it’s an erotic fantasy conjured when House drugs himself to recover short term memory lost after sustaining a serious brain trauma. In a too-small school-girl uniform, Cuddy performs an seductive strip tease for House while engaging in the sexiest differential diagnosis I’ve seen on the show. She is House’s ultimate woman, at once brainy and sexual—and all in his head. And in the final scene, when House has pushed himself past all reason to recover his lost memories, he goes into cardiac arrest. Wilson and Cuddy team to administer CPR, but it’s Cuddy who gives House “the kiss of life.”
Season four ends with the camera focused on House lying in his hospital bed, Cuddy sleeping in the chair nearby, her hand clasped around his (“Wilson’s Heart”). She has stayed with him—at his bedside—for hours, worrying while he’s in a coma and relieved when he comes out of it.
Season five cranks up the volume on House and Cuddy’s dance – but not immediately. The first order of business is to reconcile House with best friend Wilson in the aftermath of Amber’s death. And nearly as soon as Wilson and House are reunited as friends, House learns that Cuddy plans to adopt a child, having given up her earlier attempt at in vitro fertilization (“Lucky 13”).
House learns of her plans only after intruding upon her and Wilson while they’re shopping for baby furniture. Normally, we’d expect a rash of mockingly sarcastic comments to spew forth from House’s lips, but about Cuddy’s impending motherhood; instead, House appears stunned, speechless. Quickly donning a pair of sunglasses, lest Cuddy see into his heart through those eyes of his, House leaves her to her crib-buying. But we know from the brief glimpse of his eyes; her news hits him like a dagger.
Why does this news hit him so hard? Is it that change-averse House fears yet another disturbance in his orbit so close on the heels of Wilson’s return? Or does he feel the rising unacknowledged panic of missed opportunity? What chance does he have competing for Cuddy’s attention once she has a child to care for—and to love her unconditionally?
A baby is the one usurper House is unlikely to supplant by mockery, games and general harassment—although he certainly tries his best to do just that in the next episode, “Joy.” But by the end of that episode, Cuddy’s adoption plans are dashed—albeit temporarily—after the baby’s birth mother has a change of heart.
Doing a complete reversal from continually mocking her motherhood aspirations while awaiting the baby’s birth, House visits Cuddy at her home to offer comfort. Significantly, it’s House and not Wilson who’s gone to her. He tries reassuring her that there are plenty of unwed mothers-to-be in the sea from which she adopt. But Cuddy claims that she’s done. More important, the devastated Cuddy isn’t buying the quick change of House’s attitude. Confronting him, she wonders why all of a sudden he thinks she’ll be a good mother, when he had been doing his best to prove that she would not be. She lashes out at House who stands there dumbfounded when Cuddy asks why he “always has to negate everything.”
It’s a question to which hasn’t the answer. All he can think to do is to take her in his arms; it is another turning point in their relationship. Stripped bare of their usual guard, they stand vulnerable before each other. They kiss (in a kiss that caused every female fan of that relationship to flutter), but stop short of anything else. Significantly, it is House who stops them, declining to take advantage of the situation, something for which Cuddy is grateful (as she tells him in the next episode, “The Itch”).
But it is in “The Itch” that House begins that long road of coming to terms with his feelings for his boss. Wilson, well aware of House’s feelings, argues that a mosquito bite plaguing House throughout the episode is imaginary and actually a manifestation of House’s “itch” for Cuddy. Naturally, House vociferously denies this assertion, but in the end, takes Wilson’s advice to “scratch” the itch and approach her. Leaving his cane back at the apartment, House ventures to Cuddy’s home, but stopping short of knocking on either her real or metaphorical door. Peering through her window from outside, House loses his nerve, unable to take the last crucial step over the threshold.
At the end of “Last Resort,” we learn that Cuddy, too has been thinking about how (and whether) to address her feelings for House. (Although Wilson suspects in “The Itch” that she is thinking about it more than she admits.) Randomly picking up a conversation they’d not been having (at least not aloud), Cuddy insists to House that a relationship between them would never work. Slightly confused (because they hadn’t discussed it), House says, “If you’re suggesting that you screwed up because of a non-relationship with me, I don’t know how I can help you. ’Cause the only change you can make from a non-relationship is…”
By this time, House has hatched an elaborate plan to court her (much easier than actually talking to her). As her office is being repaired after the “Last Resort” hostage crisis, House surreptitiously procures from Cuddy’s mother her medical school desk, bringing it to Princeton-Plainsboro to surprise her (“Let Them Eat Cake”). The significance of the desk to Cuddy (and House) is something about which we can only speculate. It is a sweet gesture, deeply romantic, and something, although unexpected from House, is somehow exactly the sort of thing he does (and does well). It’s a small step in this very slow dance between them, and it seems that this is the pace most comfortable for House. When Cuddy tries to up the ante by suggesting everyone’s expecting them to get together, House backs away with a crass grab for Cuddy’s breast, angering her and causing her to back off.
Shortly thereafter, Cuddy finally gets her chance to adopt (“Joy to the World”). This time, his response is to watch her watching over her new baby girl, wishing her a quiet, resigned “Merry Christmas.” It’s too late for him—and he’s lost the fight—at least for the moment. House retreats to a more comfortable default position as Cuddy comes to terms with new motherhood. Their feelings surface in unexpected places, like House’s evocative and moving serenade to Cuddy as he sits alone at the end of “Unfaithful.” Unable to bring himself to attend, he articulates what he feels through a lush and evocative melody—emotions he hasn’t the ability to say aloud.
After House’s fellow Lawrence Kutner commits suicide in “A Simple Explanation,” Cuddy’s concern for House’s well-being is nearly instinctive. Understanding that House is far more upset by Kutner’s demise than he lets on, she checks on his progress with the current patient. House understands why she keeping a close watch—and why she hasn’t taken him off the case, giving it to a less distracted doctor. “You wanna transfer the case but you won’t because you think it’s the only thing that’s holding me together.” Cuddy doesn’t deny it; House, who hates pity and solace more than almost anything else, allows it—and doesn’t argue that he’s okay. It’s a small moment in a crucial and emotionally exhausting episode, but it speaks volumes.
However, as season five winds down, House has more serious issues when he suffers a serious emotional breakdown. The weight of a year’s worth of losses is too much for House’s psyche, and not only is he haunted by a hallucination of Wilson’s dead girlfriend Amber Volakis, but suffers ultimately from the grandest of delusions: Cuddy becomes both savior and lover (“Under My Skin”). In House’s break from reality, Cuddy first helps him go through Vicodin withdrawal, supporting and comforting him with ginger and honey: she is strong, sure and loving. And in the morning after his darkest hour, Cuddy is still there and in this fantasy, Cuddy and House make explicit their mutual attraction, consummating it before House realizes in the next episode that none of it is real. He is still hallucinating, still on Vicodin, and Cuddy and he are not involved in an affair. The terrible truth is too much for House, who admits himself to a psychiatric hospital where he stays for two months. “Huddy” is for another time—if ever.
When House returns to Princeton-Plainsboro at the start of season six, he is a changed man in some significant ways. No longer on Vicodin, he uses Ibuprofen and antidepressants to make the pain tolerable. Now living with Wilson, House tries being more social, even accompanying Wilson to his cooking class! When Cuddy visits to see how he’s doing, House is cooking with a classmate, and even the classmate notices the sparks. “Lady, kiss him or leave!” she finally admonishes (“Epic Fail”). But things have changed between them, and if season five found House and Cuddy moving closer and closer, season six begins with awkward disclosures and missed opportunities.
After leaving Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital, House seems ready to start something significant with Cuddy in the aftermath of his brief affair with Lydia, the sister-in-law of a fellow patient. More than giving House much needed human contact, Lydia reminds him what it’s like to feel human emotions and to connect with another person—to feel love and express it. But Cuddy has moved on with House’s friend, private investigator Lucas Douglas, as we learn in “Known Unknowns.”
For much of season six, this is where we (and Huddy) are left. House and Cuddy interact relatively little, and House seems reconciled to have missed his chance (after trying unsuccessfully to break up Cuddy and Lucas). House tries for a while to re-engage Cuddy in the provocative game playing they’ve engaged in for years, but ultimately she’s has had enough. “It’s not fun anymore,” she tells him finally in “Ignorance is Bliss.” And as House tells Wilson, he’ll leave it at that, accepting that he’s lost.
We see scattered hints and clues here and there that suggest House’s continued feelings for Cuddy—and the difficulty he’s still having in dealing with them while trying to be an adult about her relationship with Lucas. In “Wilson,” House finally admits that he’s not coping well after deflecting Wilson’s concerned inquiries. But when Wilson asks what evil plot House may have up his sleeve to punish Cuddy and Lucas, House deflects. He has none, and won’t deny Cuddy her relationship—her chance at happiness.
As the season winds down, House withdraws, sinking deeper into himself; his leg seems to worsen, and we note a decided uptick in his alcohol consumption—especially after Wilson, too moves on with his life. Whether prompted by concern about his emotional state or his absence from her life, in “The Choice,” Cuddy asks House to dinner, hoping for assurance that despite her relationship with Lucas, their friendship is still intact. But House, not wanting to settle for “just being friends” tells her it’s the last thing he wants to be. His tone is bitter, yet resigned.
But the truth is revealed in “Baggage” when House’s psychiatrist Dr. Darryl Nolan learns during a session that House has gotten himself beaten in a bar brawl. “What did you screw up?” Nolan demands, suggesting that “on some level” House intentionally got himself beat up. “Why are you punishing yourself?” he wonders.
Finally piecing together House’s current state of mind via the deflections, obfuscations and red herrings of House’s description of his week, Nolan suggests that House’s current angst involves his relationship Cuddy. And with that Nolan hits tender nerve. Having followed all of Nolan’s instructions, taken his meds, undergone psychotherapy, tried to be a “better” person, House is still stuck at “miserable” while everyone around him has moved on and into relationships. Calling Nolan a “faith healer” who takes advantage of those who “want to believe” (as House has for a year), House walks out on his session dispirited and feeling betrayed.
Of course that brings us to last season’s finale “Help Me,” which brings House and Cuddy to the nadir of their relationship in an angry and bitter exchange, but which also finally six years later brings them together in that remarkable final scene of the season. And here we sit a week before the House season seven premiere wondering how it will all play out. Will their relationship flame bright for the first half of the season and weave back into the overall story narrative fabric? Will it flame out entirely, leaving both Cuddy and House devastated in its aftermath, or something in between?
What do you think? Take the poll below.
Invitation to all of my readers: if you are in or near Chicago September 19, please be sure to join me for the launch party for Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D. You are all invited! If you can’t be there in person please follow the party virtually.