The FOX Network press release for next Tuesday’s House, MD tells us that House’s father dies. On most television shows, we would know what to expect. Funeral, family, tears and hugs, reconciliations and regrets. But seriously, guys, this is House, MD we’re talking about, right? Nothing is ever conventional about House or House. Throw Wilson into the mix (we know he’s there from the episode previews) and who knows what we’ll get?
Of course we should expect some sort of exploration about House and his troubled relationship with his dad — and an exploration of House’s fractured relationship with his best friend Wilson. (And speaking of the wonderful duo of House and Wilson, be sure to check out next week's issue of TV Guide — hitting the newsstands Thursday — which features a wonderful interview with Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard discussing their estranged alter egos.)
So, with no new House episode to discuss this week, I thought it might be fun to speculate about how House might confront the death of his father. We already know something about House's relationship with his parents. And it's clear that his relationship with them is strained (especially with his father). House seems to avoid all contact with dad, at least.
In “Daddy’s Boy,” House’s parents have a stopover in Newark on their way to Europe. They want to drop in on their son, and House is, to say the least, reluctant to meet them. But rather than lie and make up an excuse for not seeing them, House manipulates himself into having alternative plans. He sets up dinner with Wilson so that he is unavailable. When Wilson learns what House has done to avoid his parents, he tells his friend to either see them or not, but not to use him as an excuse.
Soon, it seems, everyone in House’s circle knows that his parents are coming to visit, although no one but Cameron, Cuddy, and Wilson seems the least bit interested. He asks Cuddy to assign him to the clinic; she tells him to do the grownup thing and lie to them. Tell them you’re busy, she says.
“I can’t lie to my mother; she’s a human lie detector,” laments House. He knows that his mother will pick up on a lie, and interpret it to mean that he doesn’t want to see her. But it’s not Mom that House is avoiding — it’s dad. “I don’t hate her…” he confesses to Cuddy. “I hate him!” House says this with great bitterness.
But Mom and Dad House do come to visit, dropping in on House as he’s embroiled in a case. At least he has an honest excuse to spend as little time with his parents as possible. But even in that brief meeting, it’s clear that something’s going on beyond an unreasonable hatred of a parent.
John House is a Marine pilot. Knowing House, the quintessential non-conformist and a natural rebel, it’s obvious from their first meeting why there’s friction between the two men. When House tells his parents that he has no time to have a polite and pleasant family reunion because he has a patient dying, House senior can’t avoid a dig into his son that perhaps they should see him when he has “things more under control.” Of course, House has the case under control and is notably defensive at the notion by his father that it’s not. We get the distinct impression that they’ve had this conversation before — and not about patients.
But Blythe, House’s mom, convinces him to at least take a break and have something to eat with them in the hospital cafeteria. And when Cameron, who has been annoyingly curious throughout, turns down Blythe’s offer to join them, House is visibly relieved that whatever goes on during dinner will be kept relatively private. Blythe and John dig into their meal, while House leaves his Reuben sandwich and fries on his plate, disinterested in eating, and very, very quiet.
John also digs into his son, telling him how lucky he is to even be able to walk, criticizing him for using a handicapped parking space and mocking his lack of “babes.” When John excuses himself to use the restroom, House and Blythe are left alone. Ever the peacemaker, Blythe tells House that John’s “only tying to help.” When House tells her that he doesn’t need or want his “help,” Blythe tells House, “you’re perfect just the way you are…” House smiles wanly, retuning her smile, both acknowledging it’s a lie, but a beautiful lie.
Finally, sitting in the dark, alone in his office, his parents long gone, House absently plays a handheld racing game. Cameron comes in, and for her earlier discretion she is rewarded with a rare moment of openness from her boss. But he tells her a painful truth about his relationship with his dad. “My father wouldn’t let anybody lie about anything… great for boy scouts and police witnesses, but lousy for a dad.”
House doesn’t elaborate on what he means, however. Did House senior never lie to soften the blow of bad news to his son? When House first learned to ride a bike and fell off, did his father not tell him words of encouragement, telling him “you’re doing great,” but instead berated him for falling off? Tell him that he’s a lousy musician whenever he hit a duff note on the piano? Tell him that he was an idiot or stupid when he brought home a “B” report card?
Or did House’s dad issue severe punishment for young Gregory when he lied? Lying is something no parent tolerates (or should), but I get the impression that John House would take it to an extreme. His mother, who House describes as a peacemaker, who “hated conflict,” probably turned a blind eye to the tension between House and his father, not wanting to upset John at all, believing that interference would not mitigate the conflict but make it much worse.
Later in the episode, Wilson tells Cameron that House is a disappointment to his parents. Cameron wonders aloud to Wilson how on earth House’s parents would consider him a disappointment. “He’s a doctor, world famous,” she declares. “How could he possibly be a disappointment?”
Wilson speculates: “Do you know what’s worse than seeing your son become a cripple? Seeing him be miserable.” Wilson speculates that House’s father is disappointed that House can’t overcome his “adversity,” rise above it. Get over it.
But we’ve seen House in the morning, getting out of bed, and knowing that every day is an effort for him. House gets little credit for the courage it takes to never miss a day of work; to push through incredible pain — and for a proud individual — to ignore the curious eyes of strangers. (But I digress…)
We learn a lot more about House’s relationship with his father later in season three, in the episode “One Day, One Room.” That episode was one of those (I think like “Who’s You’re Daddy”) that people either loved or loathed. I loved it for what it told us about House on a lot of levels… and not just his relationship with his father.
In “One Day, One Room,” House is forced to spend time “just talking” to a young rape victim, who sees in House “someone who’s hurting, too.” Something that a lot of House’s patients seem to see, and something to which they often gravitate. But in this episode, House also reveals that as a child (and we have no idea how old he was) he was abused by his father. I would speculate that this is the first time he has ever spoken to anyone about this. And I believe that neither Cuddy nor Wilson are aware that he is an abuse survivor.
We learn that House had been forced to sit in baths of ice, and forced to sleep overnight outside. At least. It’s all he revealed, and House, a notably unreliable narrator, may not have been telling the complete story. We also don’t know about Blythe’s knowledge or complicity. My guess is that being a “peacemaker,” and not wanting to make things worse for young Greg — and wanting to please her husband — she probably saw what she wanted to see. And House doesn’t seem to blame her for his problems with his father.
Which brings us to next week’s episode, “Birthmarks.” Of course, as with any television series, the question is: how much of the show’s established canon will impact the episode? I’m pretty sure that House’s difficult relationship with his dad will play a significant role, but will the issue of the abuse come up? Or will it be forgotten and not mentioned at all? In general, the series has been very good with continuity, particularly after season one (when the show’s producers had no idea they’d even have a second season, much less a fifth).
We know (from the episode publicity shots and the previews) that House is asked to deliver a eulogy at John’s funeral. Dragged there by Wilson, House does get up to the podium to speak. But what comes out of his mouth? Does he say what is in his heart? What he has wanted to say for years, but could not? Or does he hold his tongue out of respect for his mother, letting her believe a beautiful lie about his father — that he was an honorable and good man?
House internalizes so much, it’s very possible that it’s the latter. But when he’s goaded, he can be brutal and brutally honest. So it really could go either way. And how does Wilson fit into this family scenario? We know that it is Wilson who drags House, kicking and screaming, to the funeral, but how does that affect their estrangement? Will House’s actions or words at the funeral have an impact on Wilson — for good or bad? It all remains to be seen next Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. ET.
In the meantime, visit FOX.com’s official House site; the kind folks there have posted four episode clips for “Birthmarks.”