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Stacy, Cameron, Lydia and Cuddy: House has shared relatively few kisses in six years, but they say a lot about him.

Dr. Gregory House and Kissing: A Trip Down Memory Lane

For a guy who talks a good game, our Dr. Gregory House has been a relatively celibate character over the six years we’ve known him. I wouldn’t say he lives a monastic life, but it’s probably not that far from the truth. House seems to be a paradoxical monogamist, who has, from time to time, found himself in bed with married women. Yet, even with them, he’s looking for more than a one-night stand. Peer beneath the surface and you will find that House takes romance, love—and sex— pretty seriously.

House seems to possess a considerable romantic streak, and that plays out in how he views others’ relationships and his own. It’s as warped as the rest of him, but we can see it in evidence as he plays his own brand of Cupid rescuing other people’s relationships: Foreman and “13,” Chase and Cameron, Taub and Rachel, Wilson and Sam.

We perceive House’s romantic streak the corsage he gives Cameron in “Love Hurts,” the prescription he leaves Stacy for her “heart condition.” She is to meet him at dawn (I think it’s got to be dawn) on the hospital rooftop, where they embrace and talk about how they still “fit” together and plan for the future (way before she is ready to make this sort of commitment).  His advice to Cuddy in “Who’s Your Daddy” about selecting someone she trusts and like sperm donor instead of an anonymous “number” is seemingly contrary to the objective empiricist House. But he reminds her that an ideal, yet coldly conceived genetic match is not the answer to selecting a father for her hoped-for baby.

House makes elaborate, romantic gestures instead of saying what’s really on his mind. The desk he gives to Cuddy in “Let them Eat Cake” is something that likely takes weeks, if not months, of planning, but is likely far easier for him that simply telling Cuddy how he feels about her.  

And then there’s the book: Cuddy’s great grandfather’s medical text is something House probably discovered years earlier, acquiring it with her in mind. Saving it for a “special occasion,” it’s a thoughtful gesture, intended to deeply touch her. The moment to give it now past when Cuddy seems secure in her relationship with Lucas, House gives it to her anyway. Is the gift a sign of his resignation—or is it House-code for something else? Is he really being an adult when he learns that Cuddy and Lucas will be living together, or has he not quite accepted it and is still signaling his interest in her? Clearly it’s the latter, as we see how House reacts to news of Cuddy and Lucas’ engagement. He can be an adult about their cohabitation—but the finality of their marital commitment is a bombshell that sends House reeling.

In his fantasy life—the life he wishes he could live—House is assertive (and I don’t mean in his usual leeringly over-the-top way) and confident with women he cares about. In “No Reason” (season two) House’s mind conjures a complex hallucination. He and Cameron engage in a sexually charged conversation where he dares her to touch him, acknowledge the attraction and sexual tension between them. He then deftly undresses remotely, demonstrating the proficiency of a robotic surgery machine. It’s an intimate moment, and he’s more direct with her here than he’s ever been, but it’s all in his head.  

And at the end of season five, House loses himself in a delusion where Cuddy is sexually attracted to him even at his worst. He is more confident and assured about the whole thing than he would be in reality: “I always want to kiss you,” is something he’d never say at that point in the series narrative (except in broad jest); remember, this is the guy who couldn’t bring himself to ring Cuddy’s bell (in reality or in metaphor) in “The Itch.”

House makes it well known that he uses “working girls” to fulfill his sexual urges. Using hookers is a lot less stressful and much easier on the heart than becoming involved only to be rejected or betrayed. But when he is involved emotionally (whether in reality or fantasy), House seems more the gentle and tender type than the bodice-ripper is self-projected image would suggest.  He talks an amazingly good game. But evidence suggests something to the contrary.

Over the seasons, we’ve actually seen House involved in kissing several times. The way he kisses is specific and significant, providing us with a guide into House’s heart. He savors; he doesn’t devour. His eyes close and his body language is assertive but not aggressive. Like he tells Dr Nolan in “Broken,” kisses are good things, and when Lydia kisses him in that episode—an ostensibly casual kiss—he considers it, thinking about it for hours as he mines it for meaning. To House, kisses appear to a sign of deep intimacy, different than the physicality of sex. From the way he kisses, it appears to be less a means to an end…and, instead a goal unto itself—whether or not sex is ultimately involved.

So, as a service to the House fandom, and given that House is finally taking a step forward in his love life, I have gone back through the years to revisit House and his intimate encounters. I ran a poll to see what you all considered to be House's best kiss. More than 1900 people voted, and it's still open, so if you haven't voted, now's your time! The poll results are included in parentheses.

“Honeymoon” (season one finale) – By the time we get to “Honeymoon,” we know that House and Stacy’s history is deep, and that it likely fractured as a result of her decision to authorize surgery on House’s leg—surgery that left him in chronic pain. (We won’t know until later how disfiguring the surgery also leaves him).

We do know from “Sports Medicine” that relationship hurt him enough for Wilson not to tell him about having a casual dinner with her—and for Wilson to warn Cameron (“Love Hurts”) about getting  involved with House unless she’s very sure about it (and another emotional wound may just do him in. Never mind that Wilson can be a bit of a drama queen.) House has been pining for Stacy for five years!

So now Stacy comes back into House’s life, tells him she married someone else, but wants his help in fixing her husband Mark. OK, so he doesn’t actually kiss anyone in the episode, but he does actively embrace Stacy while she’s feeling lost and helpless as husband Mark is dying. And it might have easily become kiss had Stacy not broken the spell.  House initiates the contact, drawing Stacy to his chest. We see that it moves him deeply to see her in such distress—and he feels helpless to make it better. There is much unspoken love in that embrace.

At the episode’s end, Stacy visits House’s office to thank him for curing her husband. House tries to make light of it when she tells him that although “he’s the one,” she can’t be with him. But instead of responding with characteristic sarcasm, he accepts her rejection without protest. She rewards him with a kiss. It’s innocent and tender—sweet, and not quite on the lips. House’s eyes are closed but his expression conveys deep emotion. When his eyes remain closed after she breaks the kiss, it is clear as the episode’s shooting script notes, House has fallen in love with her again.

“Failure to Communicate” (mid season two—38 votes): Snow bound and sharing a hotel room—and many episodes past “Honeymoon,” House and Stacy finally kiss. Sniping at each other for weeks. She is angry that House has pilfered her therapist’s private case notes, but clearly still has some feelings for him. Despite House’s self-professed ambivalence about her, he cannot really deny how he feels.

After their flight back to Princeton is cancelled, Stacy informs House that she has thoughtfully booked a hotel room for them. “You’re leg can’t take a night on a cot,” she reminds him thoughtfully. House is intrigued, but skeptical. Is she toying with him, or does she mean what he thinks she means?

Standing in the doorway of their room, House wants Stacy to be clear about what’s going on. She explains that their relationship is like an addiction—Vindaloo curry. (No wonder they like each other—they both speak in metaphors.) And she misses the curry. House seems slightly astonished at this turn of events, but tossing the cane on the bed, he draws her gently towards him.

He doesn’t immediately go for her mouth, but gently nips at her upper lip and around her mouth (enough to drive a woman insane, to be sure!)—before actually kissing her on the lips. It’s a moment anticipated for months by House (and many viewers as well). I always loved that even as House answers the phone (reluctantly) and talks with his team, he stays physically connected with Stacy. She cuddles with him—and he keeps giving her those exquisite little kisses. (Did it get suddenly hot in here?)

“Half-Wit” (mid season three, 304 votes)—Stacy has now been gone a year, and House has been through the ringer. Now, as far as his team knows, House has brain cancer. He’s enrolled in a clinical study to treat depression in terminal patients, but the Scooby Gang wants another shot at diagnosing him—hoping things aren’t as dire as they appear to be.

House isn’t very cooperative of their efforts, but in turn, each of his fellows offers support. Cameron comes alone to House’s office on the pretense of requesting a recommendation letter. There has always been an attraction between House and Cameron, but something that House has never chosen to act upon, due to their unequal power relationship, partly the perceived age difference, and partly out of his own fears. He has confided in her, been playful with her—even regarding her sensually in “No Reason.”

But Cameron as Cameron leans up to embrace him, House looks wary and unsure, even looking around to make sure it’s a private moment. It’s the kiss anticipated by fans who wanted to see Cameron and House finally lock lips since season one. Getting into the kiss finally, House enjoys tasting Cameron’s mouth (and tongue) until he figures out her ulterior motive: to stick him with a needle and grab a sample of his blood to test. Although she initiates the kiss, as Cameron reminds him, he “kissed back” and House seems disappointed that it wasn’t for real (or was it?).

“Joy” (mid season five, 342 votes)— Although he might want to, and although the opportunity might have been there, House does not kiss Cuddy until the end of “Joy.” Their relationship is too significant for him to embrace her and too fraught with danger, but in this moment none of that matters. Triggered by a crisis point in their relationship, the situation removes House’s guards and filters and allows him to touch, where he ordinarily might back away or deflect.

During the episode, House continually insists that Cuddy is not prepared for motherhood. He’s an annoying brat, and whether he’s trying to make a point or not, his lack of support must sting her. When he finds that she’s lost the chance to adopt a baby at the last minute, House goes to visit her in her home. Reversing himself, House finally tells what’s really in his heart. Suddenly supportive, Cuddy is furious with him, asking him why he must negate everything. And House is at a loss.  “I don’t know,” he says. 

But seeing her in that moment: furious, in tears, vulnerable and wounded, House is undone; instinct overtakes extreme guardedness and he gathers her in his arms. He kisses her like he has no choice. He is where he must be. The kiss is full of pent up emotion (probably built up over years in each others’ presence) and sexual tension finally released. Notably, it is House who ends it and they each can only stare breathless and speechless, overcome by the power of the moment. It is a turning point for their relationship—and, ultimately, for the series.

“Under My Skin” (end of season five, 342 votes)—After the passion of their kiss in “Joy,” both Cuddy and House shrink back to their more comfortably antagonistic roles. It’s clear that House has been deeply affected by what has happened between them, although his social ineptness and fear make it impossible for him to act. Unable to knock on her door in “The Itch,” he acquires for her instead a remarkably romantic and sentimental gift in “Let Them Eat Cake.”

Not attending the naming ceremony in “Unfaithful” for the adopted Rachel because both he and Cuddy are too reticent to admit that he should be there, House pours out his feelings alone and into an evocative piano improvisation instead.

As season five moves towards its dark conclusion, House’s world crumbles and his feelings for Cuddy take a back seat to the nightmare in which he finds himself. Within that horror, House fantasizes a relationship with her; she is both savior and lover. She saves him from himself and rewards him by loving him—being with him—even at his worst. Exhausted and depressed, House’s mind conjures a moment of passion. “You want to kiss me,” Cuddy tempts seductively the morning after she helps him detox from Vicodin. “I always want to kiss you,” he replies.

Even in fantasy, and even as he literally sweeps Cuddy off her feet, his initial approach is a gentle first kiss—a taste—backing off momentarily, regarding her, before allowing passion to sweep over him. When it becomes clear that it is not real, the knowledge destroys House as he tries to make sense of their differing accounts of what had transpired the night before.  

“Broken”(season six premiere, 0 votes)—A mutual attraction with the sister-in-law of House’s fellow patient at Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital leads to this brief but significant affair. Lydia, a beautiful, intelligent musician comes frequently to Mayfield, and as she and House strike up a casual relationship, they become closer. When Lydia sweetly kisses him at a hospital social gathering, House is both elated and disturbed, not knowing what to make of it—nor whether he’s ready to act on his attraction to the married woman. But then he sees her sobbing one night. It’s late and House’s defenses are down.

We’ve already seen House reacts to women who are in distress (Stacy in “Honeymoon,” Cuddy in “Joy”). There is so much more to this first kiss than sexual urge. Chivalrously holding out his hand, she rises into House’s comforting embrace. Holding her, they slowly dance to an only imagined tune. And at first, that’s all they do. Who wouldn’t be turned on in House’s arms being held like that? And House, who has kept inside so much emotion for so long, finally is open enough to feel and respond. Even with all that passion, House kisses first with such gentleness…making it that much more intimate. Their lovemaking overwhelms him, moving him to tears.

“Help Me”(season six finale, 799 votes)—Although Lydia moves on, the impact she makes is significant, if not (seemingly) too late. House has learned that he can love, be rejected and manage to survive. It gives him the courage to pursue Cuddy as we move into season six, but Cuddy has moved on herself. Realizing that House is trouble and a poor choice for bringing up baby Rachel, she has opted (as Stacy had) for second best (well, maybe not even second best).

Trying to carve out a relationship with Lucas, Cuddy tries to push House away and out of her mind. But even Lucas continues to feel House’s presence throughout the season. We barely see House and Cuddy interacting during much of the season, but I wonder how much of that is intentional.
Are we to perceive Cuddy trying (even desperately) to not get too close to House? Because, as we find out by the end of season six, try as she might, she can’t deny her love for him. And as House reaches his lowest point in a nearly a year, there Cuddy appears—almost an apparition. In a mirror image of “Under My Skin,” they are in his bathroom as House sits on the floor, future uncertain—two Vicodin in his hand.

But instead of a delusion, this time, Cuddy is really there. Finally on the same page, this kiss is different than the unbridled passion and angst of “Joy” and the frenzy of House’s fantasy in “Under My Skin.” This is a celebration between two exhausted people—no longer fighting destiny; no longer fighting themselves. He almost seems to stops himself from diving in too aggressively, opting instead for those wonderful sweet, delicate kisses around her mouth—pure torture. And the final shot of their intertwined fingers is a symbol of their solidarity as season seven commences. I can hardly wait!

About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."

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