Spoiler Alert: some details of Monday night’s House episode revealed toward the end of this article.
Since Season 2, we have seen Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) flirting with trying radical fixes for his leg. For all his cynicism, rationality and skepticism, House has always been gullible and unbelievably naive when it comes to The Leg. As much as he would mock, deride and ridicule patients who have tried all
varieties of snake oil, House is just as prone as any of his last-resort patients to false (and not-so-false) hope.
The question is, “Why?” What is it that propels House to take risks with his health and well being? Why self medicate? Why not just visit a pain specialist and trust the process? What does he have in common with the last-resort patients who come to him, willing to be berated and mocked to have a chance at his medical mojo?
“The Fix” revisits this familiar House themes (particularly explored in Season 3), but now after the enormity of the events in House’s life post-Mayfield. At the beginning of Season 6, after his release from Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital, House seems a changed man. After months of in-patient therapy at a psych hospital, he is released with a new lease on life—and a new outlook.
On antidepressants, ibuprofen and undergoing therapy, House embarks on trying to live a somewhat normal life. (By the way, I do not believe we are ever meant to understand that House’s pain is completely controlled by the any combination of distractions, therapy, antidepressant drugs, which are also used to treat chronic pain), and Motrin.)
His pain ebbs and flows, exacerbated when he can’t find enough distraction to keep it at bay. Distraction and therapy—and increasing amounts of ibuprofen (and not a little alcohol), along with the terrible fear that going back on Vicodin will unleash the demons in his mind keep House away from narcotics. His main distraction for nearly two seasons has been Cuddy: the pursuit, trying to be a better person (for her) all help to keep House’s mind from the chronic pain.
But by the end of the last season, with Cuddy now engaged to Lucas, and a patient with whom he has connected in a very visceral way, now dead, House returns home at the end of “Help Me.” His leg in agony, his life in tatters, his last (he thinks) chance at happiness has vanished. House is only rescued from despair by Cuddy’s 11th hour declaration of love.
I’ve spoken in previous articles about Cuddy’s ambivalence going into their relationship—and about House’s fear that Cuddy would end it, so I won’t explain again why I feel the breakup in “Bombshells” doesn’t bother me as much as it has many others in the fan community. I do, however, agree with the assessment by some that it feels abrupt coming immediately after House’s drunken declaration to Cuddy in “Recession Proof.” Her decision to end it seems arbitrary, something even she acknowledges to Wilson.
The breakup triggers an “oh what the f**k” reaction in House, propelling to do his best to live down to everyone’s worst expectations. Back on Vicodin, perhaps as much to punish himself as to make the pain go away, House is out of control for two episodes before ending the bender, considerably worse off than when he began it. This is House at his most self-pitying and pathetic. He doesn’t seem to care about anyone or anything, least of all himself. I’ve never especially liked this House, where any sympathy for him is because we feel sorry for his circumstances. Sympathy for House should mainly come from his latent (albeit wounded) nobility.
It is incredibly hard for anyone to find sympathy for House during this time; he lashes out at everyone, most significantly himself. There is little redeeming about him, and there is no sense that he is coming to his senses through either of these episodes (until the final scene of “Fall from Grace.” He’s disaffected from the medicine and the patients; medicine has always been his “one thing,” and in the two post “Bombshells” episodes, House’s passion for that “one thing” has fled. (We won’t even talk about the nonsensical monster truck differential and the farcical “green card” wedding in “Fall from Grace.”)
And although he crawls out the other end of this period beginning to come to terms with the relationship, House is still badly wounded and bleeding internally. No one, not even Wilson, recognizes that House is in as much distress as he really is. In “The Fix” Wilson thinks House is finally getting back to normal; he’s clearly not.
I’ve considered that perhaps House’s nearly year-long involvement with Cuddy may have been in some ways a pause button on the last scene in “Help Me.” And now, without the support, distraction and happiness of this relationship, House comes crashing down, picking up right where he left off going into last season’s finale. It wasn’t a good place. And I wonder how much emotional damage (held at bay for months) suffered by House’s encounter with Hanna in “Help Me” is affecting his judgment going into the season’s final episodes. It goes back to the leg: what was done to it, and the damage (physical and emotional) done.
It’s not that House hasn’t tried (or at least contemplated) radical therapies for the leg before. At the end of Season 2, after some serious soul searching House tries the veterinary anesthetic Ketamine, and in Season 3 after the Ketamine fails, House explores transplanting nerve cells into his leg that can feel no pain (“Insensitive”) and goes so far as to enroll himself in a drug trial that involves a sticking an implant into the “pleasure center” of his brain (“Half Wit”). In Season 5, he tries Methadone, nearly killing himself in the process. Freedom from pain and its transformative effect (less misery) are ultimately the real “white whale” to House’s Ahab.
But in “The Fix” we see House stealing an experimental drug—something not even yet in clinical trials, injecting it into his veins on the basis of the researcher’s protocol for rats. This is a level of desperation we’ve never seen before in House (although he’s come close). What drives House to try these insane experiments on himself? That is an answer to which we come closer in Monday’s new episode “After Hours.”
“After Hours” intersects three stories; they each take place late at night. Thirteen’s prison acquaintance appears at her door late at night suffering from a stab wound to the abdomen received at a crack house. Refusing to be taken to a hospital, she insists that 13 treat her at the apartment; she agrees. Perplexed by her friend’s loss of blood pressure on one side, 13 needs help and calls Chase, who is at home reading in bed (about the Crusades!?). But upon seeing the friend, Chase insists they get to the hospital despite the friend’s terror of being arrested as soon as they hit the hospital entrance.
The second begins when Taub finds out that the nice young nurse with whom he’s been hanging out (literally, I suppose) is (oops) pregnant. Taub has no interest in becoming a father, and goes to drown his sorrows with Foreman at a strip club, where Taub has an interesting (and possibly life-altering) encounter.
The third story finds House getting some frightening news. You know that experimental drug he’s been taking? The one that finally has begun to work? Well, it seems that rats on which this drug had been working so well to rebuild muscle have all died of large tumors. Although the researcher takes the news in stride, House is freaked out to say the least.
Doing an MRI on himself, House sees the same sort of tumors in his right leg that killed the rats. Intending to remove them himself proves a little too much even for House.
The episode deals with unreasonable (or perhaps reasonable) fear in all three stories; each of the characters has to address deep seated (and sometimes irrational) fears, some going back months; some years. Most significantly, we gain a new understanding of House, one that cuts to the core of his pathology and his deepest fears.
I will tell you that the tension is unrelenting and there are two scenes that misted my eyes. There are important moments for five of the series regular characters, including one dormant story thread that makes an unexpected (and very welcome) reappearance in the fabric of this excellent episode.
I have to warn you, the episode is very, very graphic in parts—almost unwatchable for a couple moments, so be prepared. I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t.
In the meantime, enjoy clips from Monday night’s show, which airs 8PM ET. And if you haven’t, please check out my interview with House executive producer Katie Jacobs.