As House, M.D. fans (well, nearly everyone who reads my column) breathlessly anticipates the much-hyped (and from what little bits I’ve seen, well-deservedly so) “Bombshells” episode to air Monday night, I thought it might be time to take a deep breath and step back.
At the end of this week’s episode “Recession Proof” Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) declares that given a choice between happiness and being a genius doctor (a choice that is in his mind more than reflective of reality), he chooses to be happy and in love with Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein). This is an enormous thing for House. I’m not going to go back through the episodes to cite chapter and verse about why; I go into that in my “Recession Proof” review.
What I do want to delve into is House and Cuddy’s relationship, now nearly 10 months old. (Season 7 begins moments after Season 6 ends in the series narrative.) Season 6 ends on Cuddy’s disclosure that she’s broken up with her boyfriend Lucas Douglas (Michael Weston). Choosing the relative safety of being with the goofy, affable, but more-stable-than House Lucas, Cuddy sacrifices what she truly wants for the stability of what Lucas can bring to Rachel, Cuddy’s young daughter. But in the end, she realizes that stability is no substitute for happiness (even if it brings a certain amount of misery along with it) and real love, something she admits when she tells House that as much as she wishes it weren’t true, she loves him.
For his part, this disclosure makes him wonder if he’s not started hallucinating again. But she’s real, and assuring him at the end of “Now What?” that she understands who and what he is, House accepts that and begins to open up to a possibility that hasn’t existed for him for years.
Cuddy sees in House what lies beneath. She knows he can be a jerk; she knows he’s needy and self-absorbed—a narcissist to the core. But she also knows (and reminded in the Season 6 finale) he’s dedicated and passionate as a physician and healer. He can be self-sacrificing and compassionate, and even selfless if the situation demands. House is not good on the niceties—the little things that convention demands whether it’s dealing with a patient or in his relationships. But the big things, he does extraordinarily well. Grand romantic gestures? Career-risking heroism? He’s your guy. He can be sweet and tender, but it’s not like Cuddy is so taken by this that she’s blinded to his considerable baggage—something that hits home by the end of “Recession Proof.”
In Cuddy, House sees someone who’s smart and beautiful and with a sense of humor that can appreciate his. She’s not above being his partner in crime, enjoying the ride. It’s probably freeing for her to be with House—in many ways. She can be herself, let her hair down and not be judged. He’s loved her for years (in my opinion, that subconscious recognition came toward the end of Season 2) and I’m pretty sure it’s unconditional. House sees her as an equal, a woman with whom he can go toe-to-toe and not always win.
This relationship was never intended to be easy, something House articulates in “Now What?” Understanding and fearing the path upon which they are about to embark, he forewarns (before they take more than the first step) that he will likely do things that will be repellant and “horrible.” “Get out before we’re in too deep,” he’s almost saying to. “Don’t put me through the inevitable breakup.” Because, he says, one day, she’ll wake up and no longer be able to put up with him. The glow of sex and new love will, of course, fade away into the realities of a committed relationship.
Cuddy has more than herself to think about, no matter her intentions. She has a child, and while she doesn’t need House (or anyone else, for that matter) to raise Rachel, being involved with a man like House can be like having a second child. And the question on her mind at the end of “Recession Proof” has to be whether it’s ultimately in her best interest (and Rachel’s) to be involved with him—no matter how she feels toward him.
During the first third of the season, both House and Cuddy seem to be acting from a position of fear. House plays games; he lies—he’s testing the new relationship, wondering if her breakup with Lucas was impulsive. Cuddy tries to distance her relationship with House from Rachel, keeping him out of that important part of her life. In the back of her mind, she probably wonders the same thing, but also if House is stable enough to be involved with her—and be a surrogate father to Rachel.
Both walking on eggshells, they try to be what each thinks the other wants, and by the end of “Selfish” they both realize that by not being themselves at work, they stand a good chance of not only torpedoing their relationship, but losing patients along the way. House needs to practice medicine the way he always has. That means he will argue, lie, obfuscate, and manipulate.
But House’s fear of sabotaging the relationship leads him not only to cheat to get his way professionally (something I believe Cuddy accepts), but he lies to keep her from knowing that he’s done it. There is a difference, she suggests between the two things, and it’s an important distinction. “Do what you need to do,” her words suggest—“but in the end be honest with me that you did it.” To do otherwise is insulting. And that’s a reasonable request.
Once they mutually understand this (which takes a couple of weeks), House promises that he’ll never lie to her again. It’s a lie; Cuddy knows it’s a lie, but as long as the lies are in the patient’s interest—and not to keep it from her—she seems to be pretty good about it. He’s lied freely ever since. I know that sounds convoluted, but we’re talking about House and Cuddy here, so convoluted works!
The striking thing about these early episodes is that despite the arguments and fear each has, I believe that both House and Cuddy are committed to making the relationship work. House doesn’t back away from her—or the argument. The conflict within the relationship is played out maturely, which is surprising considering what we know of the relentlessly childish House. I loved the scene in “Small Sacrifices” where House and Cuddy are arguing about House’s lying (and who knows if it will escalate into a breakup?). Mid argument, they dress for a formal dinner. Wordlessly, Cuddy turns her back to House and he zips her dress. It’s such a small thing, I realize, but it says a lot about the relationship: “yes, we are arguing, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still involved and together.”
And so the season goes on. But “House is House.” And his petty annoyances begin to mount up for Cuddy. He leaves the toilet seat up; he shirks his male responsibility to take out the trash. He uses (and macerates) Cuddy’s toothbrush. This juncture in House and Cuddy’s relationship reminds me of House’s final conversation with Stacy Warner in Season 2 (“Need to Know”). Telling her that he is afraid to get involved with her again; he knows what will happen. “How do you think this is gonna end?” he asks her. “We’ll be happy for what? A few weeks, few months; and then I’ll say something insensitive, or I’ll start ignoring you. And at first it’ll be okay. It’s just House being ‘House.’ And then at some point, you will need something more. You’ll need someone who can give you something I can’t. You know I’m right. I’ve been there before.”
“Two Stories” plays out (and plays on) this scenario of House’s worst relationship fears. But he’s in too deep to run away from the relationship. He has tasted (perhaps only for the second time in his adult life) what it is to need someone. Instead, he concocts an elaborate and grand scheme to show Cuddy that he’s not so self absorbed, and that he does care for her—even if appearances may suggest otherwise. The scheme backfires terribly, but Cuddy, from within her anger about it, can’t help but be touched that House has gone to so much trouble, just to prove himself to her. It’s a long way from “I don’t want to go there again” with Stacy to his relentless desire to make this relationship work.
What I like about Cuddy during all of this is that she allows House his flaws, and despite whatever reservations she might have about his stability—and his self-absorption she doesn’t doubt his earnest love—not in the end. She gets angry; they argue and talk about it. Like two adults they try to surmount the annoyances and petty grievances in favor of something more.
But by the end of last week’s “Recession Proof,” Cuddy seems to be asking herself if House is worth all the anxiety, aggravation and worry. Losing a patient, House broods upon the possibility that he had been too distracted to have made the correct diagnosis earlier in the case. Sitting alone in his office, House deflects the loss, lightly saying “It happens” to Wilson. But House never takes a patient loss lightly. He is ever asking “If only I…” taking responsibility in a way that would stun his team.
But when Wilson leaves, House gets plastered in a local pub, the weight of this loss—and every other loss he can recall—on his mind. “They’re all dead, Wilson,” he says when his best friend locates him in the pub. All evening, we can imagine, House has been turning this in his head, believing that his happiness comes at the cost of lives otherwise saved.
This isn’t a new revelation to us. We know this is something with which House has grappled for years. But his angst here isn’t due to the burden under which he’s placed himself, but because he is agonizing over what to do: give up Cuddy—or give up the notion that the entirety of his existence is tied up in medicine. This is a huge decision for House; he’s come a long way from his insistence that medicine is all he is and all that he has.
His decision made, he goes to talk to Cuddy. Ah, but where is Cuddy’s head at this momentous decision point? What should she be thinking? House has been by turns annoying and endearing; disrespectful and admiring. And as the “honeymoon” appeared to have ended with House’s neglect of the “little things” and Cuddy’s irritation at House’s neglect, House screws up “big time” in “Recession Proof,” not showing up at an important evening in Cuddy’s honor.
So as he comes staggering into her home, soaking wet, bleary eyed and drunk, declaring his undying love, Cuddy must be wondering if this is really what she wants for herself—and for Rachel. In a way, it’s the flip side of House’s decision. Is loving House worth all the work involved in this high-maintenance man?
Yes, she knew what she was getting herself into (as much as she can know), going in with her eyes open, but sometimes what you get isn’t what quite what you expect, eyes open or not. But in Monday night’s episode “Bombshells” none of this will matter—and all of it will matter, as Cuddy’s health becomes a big unknown.
So come back after the episode and discuss freely. I won’t get to see it until several hours after it airs, but I’ll try to post my post-episode commentary sometime Tuesday. Meantime, enjoy this clip!