I was cleaning out my computer files the other day and came across my season five wish list, published in this space last August. As season five was three weeks away, I made public my hopes for the season to come. Those of you who read this column regularly know that I felt season five was one of the series’ strongest overall.
With the Emmy nominations just a few weeks away, I’m hoping the series—and its star Hugh Laurie—will be honored not only with more nominations, but with a few statues during the September ceremony. But more about that next week. For now, I want to revisit that wish list, for it explains in large degree why I really loved season five as so many of my hopes for the season were fulfilled (to greater or lesser degrees). The show went way beyond my expectations, especially with the season's final arc leading to House's breakdown. So, here's what I asked for last August:
More introspective and thoughtful House. I had been disappointed with the degree to which those introspective moments had been lost during the overcrowded (and shortened) fourth season. At the end of season four, when I interviewed executive producer/writers Garrett Lerner and Russel Friend, they assured me we’d see a more introspective House at least for the first ten or so episodes already planned out by last May. They weren’t kidding. It is in those moments we witness House’s humanity (even when no one in his own universe gets the privilege). In season five, we got lots of reflective moments, moments of great emotion.
More clinic moments. I love the clinic “beats." They lighten up even the darkest and most serious episodes as well as House's own moodiness. I felt that season four also sacrificed these important moments, needed to balance the inherent comedy and tragedy of the series. Something else Lerner and Friend had told me was that we would get more of these in season five, as the writers also missed those "clinic beats."
Unfortunately, we got very few clinic patients in season five; on the other hand, they were excellent, even classic. Of course, there was the unforgettable DeeDee, the "actress" who outed Kutner's Internet scheme to profit from House's name and reputation. Although she wasn't technically a clinic patient, she did end up there. Her rendition of Harry Nilsson's "Coconut" song was a highlight of the season (if not the entire series). The two patients House saw in "Softer Side" were also pretty memorable, especially the guy who "hurt everywhere," and Cuddy planted just to see if he would exercise House's sarcasm muscle. And the woman who had a unique method for administering her inhaler ranked right up there from "Jelly Girl" back in season two ("Deception"). And, of course, who can forget Carl Reiner's hysterical squawking man, whose story makes a 180-degree switchback to an incredibly poignant moment with House.
An exploration of House and Wilson’s complex relationship. I'm just going to quote what I said last August: "Way back in season one, Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) said that his friendship with House is an 'ethical responsibility.' Why?"
Season five gave us some big clues about what he meant. As we learned about Wilson's schizophrenic brother Danny in "Social Contract" (who vanished after Wilson hung up the phone on him years earlier), it is easy to understand why Wilson feels he has a responsibility towards the troubled House. Wilson must have a very deep fear that if he abandons House, he will simply disappear, if not physically, at least emotionally—or socially. Become the recluse we first met when the series began. Also, as we learned in "Birthmarks," House bailed him out of jail when he was but a young doc. Perhaps he feels he "owes" House. Forever.
"Where did Wilson and House meet; how did they become friends?" I wondered how such different people could maintain such a close friendship. Is it only that Wilson "feeds on neediness," and that House is so needy? Well we certainly got the answer to both questions in season five. Of course, we discovered the House/Wilson "origin story" in "Birthmarks." And what an unexpected tale. Who would have thought that it was House who bailed the young and newly divorced Wilson out of jail after he instigated a fight in a bar?! And we, along with Wilson learned that it's not only House's neediness that feeds the friendship. Although Wilson took a hike after Amber's death (and in a rather cruel fashion), he finally realized in "Birthmarks" that House's energy, curiosity and general tendency towards entropy exhilarates Wilson, making his otherwise ordinary world come alive with all sorts of unanticipated delights.
An exploration of House and Cuddy’s layered and uniquely intimate relationship. Noting that season four had ended with Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) sitting vigil at House's bedside in "Wilson's Heart," I wanted to see where the House/Cuddy relationship would travel in season five. This wish was also granted as much of the season focused on their dysfunctional relationship. House and Cuddy are both wary, socially awkward individuals. They each made tentative steps towards each other, but were quick to scuttle them, deny them…or simply play them out only in their heads, being too apprehensive to actually do something about their feelings for each other. Cuddy finally got her baby, and House eventually resigned himself to it, despite feeling threatened by this monumental change in Cuddy's life. And they came this close to finally getting together. But I'm satisfied and look forward to a time when House, recovered from this year's ordeal might feel safe to place another hesitant foot in the relationship waters.
A real place for Chase and Cameron. I think they're getting there (finally). I really enjoyed the Cameron/Chase story arc: Cameron's (Jennifer Morrison) cold feet and Chase's (Jesse Spencer) almost-sappy romanticism. Starting back in season three with Chase's every-Tuesday "I like you" to Cameron (how very Lord Peter Wimsey!), we witnessed a classic courtship.
How far Chase has come from the spoiled, insolent brat he was in the first season! And Cameron, an naïf with a crush in season one, has matured into an independent, and strong minded woman. Yes, she has issues (who doesn't on this show?); but I thought Cameron's reasons for wanting to hold onto her dead husband's sperm was bizarre, but made a sort of sense for the character. Did we get enough Chase and Cameron in season five? No. I think the many pages of scripts dedicated to 13 and Foreman made created a lopsided, elevating them to near co-star status for several episodes late last fall. I would have liked to see more from Chase and Cameron earlier on in the season, and much less of "Fore-teen." I did, however, adore the joy of their wedding poignantly intercut with the tragedy of House's journey to Mayfield.
Something for Foreman to do other than sneer at House. Yes. Foreman (Omar Epps) had way too much screen time. But it was almost worth it to see him get his comeuppance. House did a nice thing for Foreman, pushing him out of the nest. (And it extracted that great comment from Wilson about House's seldom-acknowledged nobility streak!) But Foreman's arrogance did him in—and almost caused him to lose his medical license—with the Huntington's Disease clinical trial.
Continue the building of the new characters. I ventured a hope that we'd learn more about them, and the writers and "powers that be" would give them a chance to grow—and grow on us. We learned more about 13's (Olivia Wilde) family history with Huntington's and her self-destructive streak. And we saw her become involved with Foreman, and have her career saved by House. (Yes, I know. The show devoted waaaay too much time to her story line.) We also learned more about Taub (Peter Jacobson), who remains enigmatic and conflicted about being stuck in House's mad scientist's world, while being ever-more drawn in by the sort of work (and the immense good) they do. Kutner's (Kal Penn)shocking suicide elicited such a reaction from the show's fans, it's clear that he'd become much beloved. His tragic end drove the final story arc of the season, driving House off the deep end.
And a bit of (non-spoilery) news for next season: it has been reported by Entertainment Weekly's Michael Ausiello that the first episode will run two hours (first time for this show) and will be directed by Katie Jacobs, who directed the fabulous "Half-Wit," "Wilson's Heart," "Last Resort").