I was watching the USA Network House marathon yesterday (not that I haven’t already seen every episode at least 10 times—or more), trying to figure out if there was any theme to the seemingly random array of episodes. But something occurred to me as I watched “No Reason,” the season two finale, shown just before “House Divided,” a late season five offering.
In “No Reason,” House’s (the ever-engaging Hugh Laurie) hallucinatory antagonist pointedly asks him, “Why do you want so hard not to be human?” It’s an incredibly sad question that House asks of himself (via his hallucination), and part of a series of difficult and introspective questions—and harsh decrees in the arguably most introspective episode of the entire series run.
We are now several seasons later and after being plagued by more hallucinations at the end of season five—and not the result of serious trauma this time—House made a decision to be “more human:” to try to feel, be social and not numb himself to a world in which he has no trust. Not that he had much of choice, of course, given the circumstances at the end of season five.
Being human has always been too much of a risk for House to take. I would speculate that time after time through his life, he has let down his guard—let his human side out of the closet—only to have his worst fears realized. It’s easier to deflect with sarcasm, pretend not to care, and put a big “keep out!” sign at the doorway to his heart. It’s easier for him to deny having any humanity at all (as he does so often, but no more poignantly than in “No Reason”). But you can only forestall emotions so long until they inevitably come flooding out wild and uncontrollably.
And when that happens to House at the end of season five, he once again suffers hallucinations. But, unlike his “No Reason” experience, these hallucinations are more self-destructive than self-exploratory; they torment him until he quietly becomes completely unhinged when reality comes crashing down around him. The one thing he could trust—his rational mind—was no longer trustworthy.
“What do I have?” he asks of Cuddy in his “No Reason” hallucination, believing that Cuddy traded his sharp, rational mind for a pain-free existence (without his consent). His mind is all he has; it’s all he is (in his mind). Losing that (as Wilson suggests in “Simple Explanation”) is probably House’s greatest fear. And while fear of intractable pain from his leg injury has driven so much of House’s life, fear of losing his mind trumps the pain by miles.
Having no choice by the end of season five, House puts himself into the hands of a perceptive and smart psychiatrist (Dr. Darryl Nolan, played by the fabulous Andre Braugher) who tells him that the only way to begin healing is to tap into his humanity, once again to begin trusting in the humanity of others. It’s a tall order for House, whose trust issues may well go back to his childhood.
But House allows himself to connect with another patient (Alvie) and then with the sister of another patient (Lydia) while in the safe cocoon of Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital with his therapist close by to help him deal with the inevitable emotional crises.
But by the beginning of the next episode (“Epic Fail”), House is back in his more familiar surroundings. And season six has been an exploration of how House has dealt with a new way of dealing with pain, depression and comprehending his own humanity.
House is certainly trying. He has tried to avoid the traps that led him to the “dark place” (as he calls it in “Epic Fail”) to the point of being hesitant to take his place as head of the diagnostics department. It hasn’t been a smooth ride for House, and may account for the season’s slightly off-kilter feel (in my opinion, anyway).
As far as we can see, House has been following his doctor’s instructions (more or less) by living with Wilson (although I long for him to return to his own apartment) to avoid the isolating effect of living alone, and living with more pain rather than resort to narcotics. House has also risked his heart only to be rejected (“Known Unknowns”), and after a half-hearted attempt to sabotage Cuddy’s relationship with Lucas, he backed off, letting their relationship be, realizing there’s little he can do at this point to win her back. (“Wilson”). But in “Remorse,” House saw a reflection of his self image in a psychopathic patient. It alarmed him when she saw him as a kindred spirit, someone like her, who eschews any sort of humanity.
House probably gives himself far less credit than he deserves (although he can be a complete and unmitigated jerk—and has at times since his release from Mayfield; to wit, his destructiveness in “Teamwork” regarding Chase and Cameron’s relationship). He has always performed anonymous and sometimes selfless acts for those around him. He has made grand and dramatically romantic gestures and has been a perceptive and wise advisor and advocate to his colleagues (most recently “5 to 9”) and his patients (and their families) over the years. House’s therapist asks him in “Broken” why he thinks people will like him less knowing the “real” House: why the smokescreen? The “real” House isn’t such a terrible person.
Part of House’s problem is that he’s handcuffed by his belief that words in and of themselves are meaningless: cheap and hollow gestures designed to make us feel good without having an impact on the victim. It’s something he’s talked about since the beginning of the series. And even after therapy, I’m not sure House really believes that words can heal (sometimes) as well as actions—and not everything has to be “fixed” to be put to rights. But he’s tried (and continues to try to try).
House has come a long way this season from the world-weary man who could barely force himself to enter a pub to schmooze with his fellows (season three’s “Half-Wit”). He’s gone speed dating; he’s taken cooking classes and danced with Cuddy. When Cuddy broke his heart in “Known Unknowns,” House acts like a grownup (well, after the aforementioned unsuccessful sabotage effort). Admitting to Wilson that he is far from “OK” with her rejection, House has chosen to move on rather than sink into a funk and numb himself with drugs—or worse.
Where will House end up by season’s end is anyone’s guess (if you haven’t read spoilers…and even then). As we wait for the season to start up again, I look forward to seeing where House’s journey takes him next. A big part of me keeps thinking of something David Shore (and Hugh Laurie) once said about the character: “two steps forward and three back”). And I think therein lies the biggest clue.
So? What do you all think? What fate is in store for our favorite anti-hero? (No spoilers, please.)
The next new House airs April 12 with “Lockdown,” directed by Mr. Laurie himself. He is also scheduled to appear on Jay Leno April 9.