It’s been several years in the making, but this year “Huddy” will happen on House, M.D. That is, House (Hugh Laurie) and Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) are about to embark on a relationship. According to the show’s Powers That Be, the two will really try to travel this road, fraught though it may be with potholes and other obstacles (including, I’m sure, House’s considerable issues and attitudes).
Season six ends with the camera focused on House and Cuddy’s clasped hands as they embrace standing in House’s bathroom. Nearly a mirror image of House’s season five delusion about Cuddy in “Under My Skin,” Cuddy once again rescues House from the depths of despair, this time with a simple declaration of her love, and more significantly this time for real.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think the House brain trust initially intended for House and Cuddy to wind up together six years after House’s “thin line between love and hate” rant in “Occam’s Razor.” House doth protest too much when Wilson suggests there’s something more than antagonism between House and his boss, hence the “thin line.” House retorts that this metaphorical line is long, deep, and quite heavily guarded.
No matter House’s feelings toward Cuddy at the beginning of season one, television characters often take on lives of their own (sometimes much to the chagrin of the writers and authors who create them), and here we are. The X-Files creator Chris Carter insisted for years that any sparks flying between Mulder and Scully were purely incidental and no romance had ever been intended for the FBI partners. But a mystical ingredient called “chemistry” happened between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson and unresolved sexual tension replaced any other sort of tension between the characters. The characters took on lives of their own, and (for better or worse) at times it drove the series narrative almost as right alongside aliens and the “the consipiracy.”
Some fans (a minority, in my opinion, but a significant minority) are afraid of this thing House creators David Shore and Katie Jacobs have released, calling it the series death knell, the jumping of the proverbial shark (and much worse). But I trust the immense creativity of the writing team to maintain a light touch on this relationship. And by light, I mean not fluffy, but handled gently. I also trust Hugh Laurie not to ever make House too happy, too healed or too hopeful. And I trust Lisa Edelstein to relish the relationship, but not to let Cuddy get too starry-eyed.
The series writers have often played with the conditionality of love; it’s something about which House is certain. “All love is conditional,” House argues in “Son of Coma Guy.” Sometimes we just don’t know where the boundaries lie. House is pretty certain by the end of season six that Wilson’s love is unconditional, and he tells his psychiatrist in “Baggage” he can say anything to Wilson, knowing that he won’t abandon their friendship. That friendship has withstood quite a lot, especially with House’s need to test its boundaries: Amber’s death, House’s incessant game playing and manipulation, and interference in Wilson’s love life. House’s love for Wilson has also withstood a lot of battering, mostly from Wilson’s sometimes destructive meddling and manipulation.
As the relationship between House and Cuddy is about to heat up exponentially, I wonder what the future holds for these two characters. Will they mesh or will it end up being a mess? Will their relationship burn bright, burst into a chrysanthemum of fireworks and catastrophically crash, destroying their personal and professional relationship? Or will it do a slow burn, heat up and settle in, rewoven into the fabric of the series narrative?
We all know that House lies — all the time. And some of us have known he has lied most vehemently about his feelings for the Cuddy since the start. With House (the character) nothing is ever simple, and his feelings for his boss are complex and conflicted, a mix of admiration, caring, and (probably) a giant dollop of resentment (especially in the first years of the series). Add to that, for the first season and a half, House is dealing with those oh-so-buried emotions about his ex-significant other Stacy—and his attraction to Cameron.
Of all the characters orbiting House, Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) has, since season one, perceived something behind all of House’s leering, sexist commentary about Cuddy’s body parts, clothing, and actions. Equating House with an adolescent boy who “likes” the smartest (or prettiest) girl in class, he sees House’s attitude as akin to pulling on Cuddy’s braids or dipping her pigtails in a metaphorical inkwell. He knows.
So what’s the story with those two? According to series canon, House and Cuddy have known each other longer than any other two characters on the show. When House was at the University of Michigan Medical School, he met a first year student. It’s not absolutely clear, but it’s implied that Cuddy, like House, was in medical school. He sized her up quickly and accurately by glancing at her course schedule, and was intrigued enough to seek her out at a fall dance. The interest was apparently mutual, since Cuddy also stalked House, auditing an endocrinology class in which he was enrolled and also trying to find him at the same dance. Their brief encounter made enough of an impression to House that his subconscious pulls it up obliquely in his “Under My Skin” delusion about her.
Spending the night together, House had intended to follow up, but learned the next morning that he had been booted from the first of three medical schools from which he was expelled. (The second was Johns Hopkins; at this point we don’t know the third—or where he finished his medical degree.)
We learn this bit of information in “Known Unknowns” (6×07) and can only speculate about what that night was like—and perhaps why in season five, House retrieves Cuddy’s medical school desk from her mother’s house to surprise her (“Let Them Eat Cake,” 5×09). That desk holds some significance for him, and since he disappeared from her radar after that one night, one can only guess why. (Is it getting hot in here?) Anyway, I digress.
Presumably they both finish medical school, perhaps not really thinking of each other like two ships passing in the night, significant only for that singular encounter. House meets Stacy, fall in love and a couple years later, House gets a clot in his right thigh—which brings us to the next significant milestone in the history of these two.
There is little, if any, recognition between House and Cuddy during “Three Stories,” a season one flashback, revealing the history of House’s leg and his relationship with Stacy. It is the real only peek backwards in the series’ history, and the fact that neither House nor Cuddy acknowledges each other in the episode is interesting, given what we know now.
It’s possible that so early in the series history, there was no intended back-story to House and Cuddy. It’s also possible that the one-night stand from years earlier was ignored by them both (or dealt with off screen). How’s that for “fanwanking?”
By “Humpty Dumpty” early in season two, however, the suggestion that there might be “something” going on between House and Cuddy beyond simple snarkiness becomes more explicit. All three of House’s fellows wonder about their unusual relationship. Cameron is curious as to why Cuddy hasn’t yet fired House for his attitude; Chase and Foreman wonder why House seems to know where Cuddy keeps her spare key. Wilson calls out Stacy for her curiosity about House and Cuddy’s relationship. And in the end, House asks, “Why does everyone think we’ve had sex?”
But season two (at least the first half of it) is devoted to House’s pursuit (and eventual winning) of Stacy; there is little to suggest through those episodes much of anything special between Cuddy and him. And by “Skin Deep,” Cuddy deeply wounds House by treating him with a placebo during a week of devastating pain (pain that Wilson attributes—significantly—to the end of House and Stacy’s brief affair).
Things begin to change by the end of season two when Cuddy asks Wilson to dinner (“Forever”). To me, this will always be the turning point—signifying the moment, perhaps, when the House creative team began to understand that they might really have something to play with beneath usual banter between the two characters.
In “Forever” (one of the last episodes of season two), House is almost pathologically curious about this dinner invitation. Wilson insists that “it’s a date.” House is equally adamant that it cannot possibly be. “You’re too nice for her; she’s not needy enough for you,” he points out. House is always curious—about everything—particularly when it involves either Wilson or Cuddy; this involves both of them. But when House realizes that Cuddy may have sought out Wilson because he’s an oncologist, and therefore she might have cancer, House is immediately concerned. Hovering around Wilson as he surreptitiously does some DNA marker testing on Cuddy’s saliva, House is so anxious to know, Wilson wonders about why. House denies it, deflecting with a comment about Cuddy’s evilness. We know he’s lying; so does Wilson.
It’s not cancer; Cuddy is trying to conceive via artificial insemination, using fertility meds to improve her chances. Wilson is but a potential sperm donor—not a new boyfriend. House deduces this by observing the pattern of Cuddy’s moods and eating habits as clues to her hormonal state. Anyone that aware of another’s behavior has to either be a stalker, insanely curious—or just insane. But never mind that; the most important bit of information we can gather is actually what he does (or doesn’t do) with the information.
House, who is almost as big a yenta as Wilson when it comes to everyone but himself, keeps her confidence, not even telling Wilson. By the next episode, “Who’s Your Daddy,” Cuddy enlists his aid, asking House to help her both with the needed fertility injections and with selecting an anonymous sperm donor. The fertility injections are an intimate and private affair to Cuddy, and the fact that she trusts House to help her I believe touches him profoundly. The first of the two injection scenes in “Who’s Your Daddy” is one of the sexiest medical scenes I’ve seen as House swabs Cuddy’s tush with an alcohol swab—thoroughly. She seems to enjoy it as much as he is, and House’s gentleness and professionalism remind her that, yes, House can be serious and… medical.
Although House helps Cuddy with the injections, he disapproves of her choice to use an anonymous donor. You might think that the uber-rational House might approve of removing the messy humanity from procreation as Cuddy is doing. But House thinks she’s wrong, and that selecting someone she trusts and likes is a much better way to create a child. He goes about it awkwardly, and I don’t think he’s suggesting himself as a donor (although I think he’d like to be asked), but I think that he’s disappointed that she’s removed all emotion and personality from the process.
I think she takes what House says to heart, and for a brief moment, Cuddy may consider asking House to be her baby’s father. But she backs away from the idea in a very charged scene between two very reticent characters. Would they have taken another step towards each other? Perhaps, but whatever might or might not have happened is thwarted by the season two finale when House is shot and nearly murdered.
“No Reason,” the season two finale, takes place (nearly entirely) in House’s mind—a hallucination while he lies bleeding on his office floor after he is shot in the neck and abdomen. Although the hallucination is a stinging self-indictment of the series’ central character, seeing into House’s subconscious and for the first time we catch a glimpse of how he really sees Cuddy (as well as other characters).
In his hallucination, House perceives Cuddy’s desire to cure him of his chronic pain (but paralleling his experience with Stacy in “Three Stories,” Cuddy performs a procedure on him without his consent). Throughout the hallucination, he is furious at the betrayal, believing that the cure will adversely affect his genius. How dare she (and Wilson) conspire to trample on his rights and potentially kill his career in medicine? But in the end, briefly regaining consciousness as he is wheeled into the emergency room, House listens to his Cuddy subconscious, requesting her to treat him with ketamine, an experimental veterinary anesthetic to “reboot” the pain centers in his brain. House’s hallucinatory savior is a role played by Cuddy several times over the following seasons.
Season three is a very difficult time for House (at least through the first half of the season). Pain-free weeks disintegrate into legal trouble as he misguidedly tries to deal with renewed leg issues when the ketamine treatment stops working. Cuddy colludes with Wilson trying to get House to “change” while he’s still healthy and relatively happy (“Cane and Able”), and then again later in the season, trying to manipulate him into rehab by denying him needed pain meds (“Merry Little Christmas”). They are not on the same page much during these episodes. House is a pain in the ass to Cuddy, whining about his blood-stained carpet having been replaced (“Lines in the Sand”), but that pales in comparison to the very “sharp stick” with which he pokes her in “Finding Judas.” He tells her the unthinkable—that it’s a good thing she never became a mother, because she’d be terrible at it. Ouch. He makes her cry, and she believes there may be an element of truth to his painful words.
That, of course, does not stop her from perjuring herself in “Words and Deeds” to resolve House’s legal difficulties. She lies to keep him from going to jail for 10 years and losing his medical license. Although House would likely attribute it to her protecting the hospital’s “biggest asset,” Cuddy likely does it because cares a lot about House.
It is in the last half of season three that we begin to be able to pick up on more intense feelings between them. House is jealous in “Insensitive” when Cuddy has a date with nice (and wealthy) guy. He teases and mocks, but is a deer caught in the headlights when Cuddy suggests that House’s interest in her is more than professional. Her date observes that Cuddy is “different” when she’s engaged in conversation with House, suggesting that she thrives on this unique relationship and implying that she’s unavailable to anyone else.
Then there is that lovely little interplay in “Half Wit.” Cuddy’s concern over House’s health mirrors his concern about hers in “Forever,” and when House visits her late at night at her home and she hugs him (in friendship), he grabs her tush. She doesn’t slap it away or even push him away; she accepts it for what it is and appreciates House for who he is.
We dive back into House’s subconscious again in “Top Secret,” where Cuddy once again is there, this time to help him solve the case. But she’s also there because House connects her with his patient—eventually. At the end, we get a wisp of a hint that House and Cuddy had a night of… something, although that “something” is never quite spelled out. Cuddy tells House to get over her: to stop fantasizing about her and interrupting her dates. “That ship sailed long ago,” she reminds him. But has it? Nah.
House is jealous that Wilson has expressed an interest in Cuddy in both “Act Your Age” and “House Training.” He goes so far in “House Training” to seek out an ex-Mrs. Wilson (Bonnie, wife #2) to understand how Wilson works his charms. And in the season three finale “Human Error,” Cuddy visits House late at night in his office as he ponders a patient alive only by artificial means. The patient has traveled thousands of miles through significant danger to see him, and Cuddy believes that House is reluctant to turn off the machines because he doesn’t want to disappoint the patient’s husband and destroy their dream. House denies any romanticism in his calculation, but as we know, House lies (most of all to himself).
Also interesting about that scene is his observation that he likes the way the dim light of the room plays off her legs. At the time, I remember commenting to fellow fans that I thought House and Cuddy had begun an off-screen affair (and even wrote some fanfiction about it!). But it becomes clear in the next season that they haven’t. But that’s for part two.
To be continued, so stay tuned!
On a personal note: thank you to everyone who has emailed and tweeted such kind words about Chasing Zebras, which came out this week. It is greatly appreciated!