Thursday , April 18 2024
Is House capable of love? This two-part article explores the women in Dr. Gregory House's life.

Dr. Gregory House in Love, Part 1: Of Monster Trucks and Vindaloo Curry

In the House, MD season five episode “Joy,” House and Cuddy kiss, lost in the emotion of Cuddy’s loss and (partially, I think) House’s own personal earthquakes. That kiss (and the requisite eye-gazing that preceded it) was filled with a novel’s worth of narrative and dialogue. Hugh Laurie and Lisa Edelstein were pitch perfect in enunciating House and Cuddy’s sadness, need, and passion. As impulsive as that kiss was, it spoke of something deep within House; something he keeps locked away and very much under guard. And as subsequent episodes unfold, House continues to consider whether to remove the padlocks on his inner self — whether it’s worth it to put his toe back into the water.

The character of House is written as emotionally stunted and socially awkward. But was he always that way? Was the House that kissed Cuddy a brief glimpse of who he was “before?” Someone capable of deep sympathy, caring, and even love? How much of the House who came to Cuddy’s door in “The Itch,” but then backed away at the last minute, the one who lacks the self-confidence to put himself out like that, is a result of his last serious relationship? How much is this the real House?

Our first inkling that House may have had any sort of love life (and our first inkling that it ended badly) comes in the mid-season one episode “Sports Medicine.” Learning that Wilson is going to meet someone called “Stacy” for dinner, and that he lied to House about seeing her tells us that “Stacy” is important to House’s story. Wilson is concerned about House even knowing they’re meeting, to which House says, “Of course you should see her; you’re friends. Say ‘hi’ for me.” House’s demeanor and tone of voice is serious and tinged with regret. We (or at least I) are intrigued by this tidbit.

At the episode’s end, House is walking with Cameron at a monster truck rally to which he’s taken her (we’ll get to that in a minute). She asks him, as they watch young lovers holding hands and flirting, if he’s ever been married. At first House deflects, telling her that she’s ruining a nice evening by bringing up anything personal. But he suddenly reveals enigmatically, “I lived with someone once.” We’re left wondering if that might be “Stacy.”

The news about Stacy comes at an interesting time in the show’s (and House’s) narrative. In that same episode, when he asks Cameron to attend the truck outing with him, he is so shy and awkward, it’s clear that it’s something he hasn’t done in a very long time. In House’s mind, it’s not even a date. (“Oh, like a date?” Cameron asks. “Exactly,” he acknowledges. “Except for the ‘date’ part.”) Dating, as we learn a few episodes later, is something with which Dr. House is supremely uncomfortable.

“You Don’t Love, You Need…” (“Hameron”)

But House’s extreme discomfort (and gun-shyness) in dating situations is the last thing that people expect when Cameron blackmails House into a dinner date. Wilson, Foreman, and Cuddy all give House dating (or dumping) advice, not really considering that House is very private about his feelings on the matter. Cameron, too, has no qualms about trumpeting their date to her colleagues, without much regard to House’s feelings. (Feelings are the one thing most of his colleagues are pretty sure he does not possess.)

But Wilson does knows better, and cautions Cameron that “it’s been a long time since he’s opened up to anyone. If he does and he’s hurt, there may not be another time.” Wilson’s words suggest that whatever went on between House and Stacy shattered him to the point that he is unwilling to open himself up again to that sort of hurt.

House takes the date quite seriously; he is attracted to her, in spite of himself. Perhaps he dares to (internally only) hope that she might really like him. His nervousness getting ready for the date was completely endearing and completely in character. Having met Stacy at that paintball tournament (which we don’t find out until season three), it wouldn’t surprise me that they never went out “on a date.” House is embarrassed at having bought Cameron a corsage, confessing the lameness of the purchase. Wilson’s sweet “I think she likes lame” is a great play on words. She would indeed appreciate the sappily romantic gift, and at the same time, she is attracted to House’s “lameness.” But unfortunately, this attraction is really her downfall.

But her attraction to his woundedness, to which she’s drawn like a beacon, ultimately ruins her chances with him (if ever she had a real chance, anyway). When House challenges her in “Love Hurts” during dinner about her attraction to him, instead of telling him why she likes him, why she’s spending all of this energy in pursuit of him, she hits him with a direct question (never a good thing for House). She gets right to the point. “I have one night… I want to know how you feel about me.” She hasn’t known him long enough to understand that House never approaches anything directly, preferring oblique and obscure metaphors rather than literal conversation. So he strikes back directly, deflecting anything he might feel.

His words, however, are more an indictment of himself than of her, telling her that she could only view him as her next “project.” Because House adamantly refuses to be defined or bound by his disability, she has zero chance with him. Nothing can be about his leg, hence everything is about his leg — even Cameron’s attraction to him.

At the end of “Love Hurts,” after his date with Cameron, House digs through his wallet, finding a small bent photograph — something that must have been lurking there for a long time. He gazes at the photograph yearningly. We realize eventually that he’s looking at a photograph of Stacy, his lost love. The date has aroused in House feelings he probably has kept repressed for five years or longer. It leaves us wondering about this woman that so hurt House that it left him in such a fragile state.

Of course we only needed to wait one episode to learn more about the mystery woman, Stacy Warner, who pops back into House’s life five years after she left him. We know little about their time together, not learning of how they actually met until mid-season three ("Son of Coma Guy"). They met playing paintball: doctors vs. lawyers. It’s astonishing that House would have ever been a social enough creature to participate in team sports, especially something as social as paintball. But he did and House and Stacy moved in together after just one date. When we first meet House, ten years have passed since their meeting.

Vindaloo Curry (House and Stacy)

House’s stunned expression when he hears Stacy call his name at the beginning of “Three Stories” is a look we’d never seen to that point in the series. His eyes soften and seven years of anger seemed to vanish from his face. House’s only greeting is “Hi, Stacy" in a tone that is both heartbreaking and heart-melting. She smiles warmly and wanly at him, and House is clearly taken until he catches himself and the guards return, turning down her plea to treat her sick husband. The moment is intensely private and they seem momentarily oblivious to the chaos of routine hospital activity that seems to swirl about them. By the episode’s end, after a mini-catharsis, in front of a roomful of strangers (and his closest associates), House rethinks his position and agrees to treat Stacy’s husband despite his bitterness.

There has always been a lot of debate within the House fandom as to whether Stacy’s actions were justified. In her mind, she was saving the life of a man with whom she was deeply involved and whom she loved. She couldn’t understand House’s resolve to die rather than live as an amputee. House’s fears seemed irrational to her and driven by his situation. But even knowing that House would end up hating her, Stacy defied House’s wishes, saving his life (in her opinion) at the sure cost of destroying their relationship.

But House had never stopped loving Stacy and her return in “Three Stories” and (especially) in “Honeymoon” dredges up House’s long buried and extremely conflicted emotions. His immediate reaction towards her is sarcasm and anger (always House’s fallback position) but he is slowly drawn back to her, familiar banter mixing with anger, resentment, and bitterness for her and for Stacy’s husband.

For me, House’s tipping point comes during the rooftop scene in “Honeymoon.” Confessing to Stacy that he’s at a loss regarding Mark, House comforts her in an embrace that strongly suggests House’s five-plus years of longing for her. His embrace, the confession, his reluctance to let her go — all completely unguarded — all signal that he still harbors very powerful feelings for her. It’s as shocking as it is revealing that he would make himself so vulnerable to her.

Stacy also continues to have feelings for House, although, as she confesses at the end of “Honeymoon,” she cannot be with him. She rejects him because she felt alone in their relationship. (Well, that and the fact that she’s now married.) Although Stacy lets him down as gently as she can (from her point of view), House is clearly pretty devastated, as evidenced by the subdued reaction to her words. And I think Stacy misreads how deeply House still feels for her. (Although House doesn’t really help her understand either.)

But interestingly enough, Cameron does not misread the signals he’s sending out. She reads them loud and clear. Having mistakenly believed that House is simply “too screwed up” to love anyone, she observes House throughout the case. She realizes that House is capable of great love (and selfless love). She (rather cruelly, I thought) tells him, “I’m happy for you,” knowing that House’s love for Stacy (at this point, anyway) is strictly unrequited.

House’s feigned indifference towards Stacy’s return to the hospital at the end of “Honeymoon is contradicted by his actions. In one of the series' most poignant scenes, House desperately tries to erase time and circumstance, trying to walk normally, without the cane. Perhaps if he can, he will be “whole” enough to win back Stacy’s affection. (I think that’s what’s going on in House’s mind here.)

Of course he fails, collapsing in pain and frustration. What an interesting bit of continuity that in season five’s “The Itch,” House’s impulsive, resolute decision to visit Cuddy includes leaving his cane at home — despite what it does to his mobility, and (most likely) pain level.

After returning to work at Princeton Plainsboro in season two, Stacy got lots of mixed messages from House, mostly suggestive of mind gamesmanship and resentment, but not love. House was clearly conflicted about both her presence back in his life — and about his own feelings about her. He vacillated between complete (although feigned) indifference, resentment, and desire. He wandered between wanting her and wanting her gone; his actions were just as erratic, following up his theft of her psychiatrist’s records in “Spin” with his sincere question to her at the end of “The Mistake” about how to deal with their feelings and each other. No wonder Stacy was confused.

But there were moments of honest emotion between them. In the midst of “Hunting’s” mind games came House’s honest confession as he and Stacy lay in wait for Steve the rat. But House doesn’t really reveal his feelings for Stacy to her until “Need to Know.” Even in “Failure to Communicate,” she could have initially read his willingness to have sex with her as physical desire and not emotional longing.

In “Failure to Communicate,” House continues his awkward and slightly weird courtship. He tries engaging Stacy in small talk at the airport, tries to be supportive of her tiff with Mark, annoys her like an eighth grade boy with a crush.

Stacy, trying to avoid House entirely because she is in a particularly vulnerable state, finds that she cannot ignore him. She is drawn to him like the proverbial moth drawn to a flame. Mark is vanilla and white bread; House is an exotic curry. Mark is pushing her away; House is being supportive. When the airport is snowed in, Stacy surprises House by telling him that she’s taken a room, understanding how hard a cot will be on House’s leg.

A skeptical House wonders what Stacy really has in mind. Admitting that she misses “the Vindaloo curry” of their relationship, she explains that taken in too large amounts curry can burn the roof of the mouth. She wants him — and wants him back in her life after five years’ separation. Acknowledging her own vulnerability in this intimate situation (of her own devise), House approaches her, and reveals his own vulnerability in their almost-shy kiss. It’s the kiss of lovers who have been apart a very long time. It’s searching, shy, slightly awkward and incredibly tender: a kiss of re-discovery.

She misreads him and his feelings in “Need to Know,” first stunned at Wilson’s hyberbolically delivered news that House had spent the past five years pining for her; that to him this could not be a one-night stand (as he believes Stacy views it.) Her bewildered visit to Cuddy asking what House was like after she left gave Stacy no answers, as House would never have let Cuddy see him pining after anyone.

House presents Stacy’s choice to her: “It’s not easy, but it’s simple. You can have a life with him or a life with me, not both.” But it’s not easy, and Stacy ultimately decides on the curry. But House, having spent much of the remainder of “Need to Know” really considering and trying to come to terms with what a renewed relationship with Stacy really means for him, breaks it off. He can't put himself through the emotional maelstrom of her leaving him again, which he sees as inevitable.

Wilson is angry with House for sending Stacy away, believing that House refuses to allow himself to be happy, and has gotten rid of the most obvious route to it. In fact, House’s nearly pathological avoidance of pain is what stops him from taking a chance with her again. But the closure he receives in their breakup frees him to possibly fall in love again.

Part two of “Dr. Gregory House in Love” will be posted later this week. It will focus on the interesting and long-standing relationship between House and Dr. Lisa Cuddy. A new episode of House airs Tuesday night on FOX, as Cuddy (whose office was destroyed during “Last Resort’s” hostage standoff last week) moves into House’s office. Hmmm. Sparks of all sorts are sure to fly.

About Barbara Barnett

A Jewish mother and (young 🙃) grandmother, Barbara Barnett is an author and professional Hazzan (Cantor). A member of the Conservative Movement's Cantors Assembly and the Jewish Renewal movement's clergy association OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement. In her other life, she is a critically acclaimed fantasy/science fiction author as well as the author of a non-fiction exploration of the TV series House, M.D. and contributor to the book Spiritual Pregnancy. She Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (

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