For weeks now, I’ve ruminated upon why some of my friends in the House, M.D. fandom have become frustrated with the series. Why am I’m still enjoying House’s (the ever-incredible Hugh Laurie) journey, while others have become disenchanted? And still others, who a year ago or more wondered why I was still so intrigued, have rediscovered House, finding it once again enjoyable?
I know the arguments on both sides: what people have told me; what I’ve read on the couple of fan forums on which I participate—and of course the very lively comment thread at Blogcritics’ Welcome to the End of the Thought Process feature. Personally, I continue to be captivated by House’s story. I love that he has struggled this year with his tendency to screw things up, putting in an effort to make things work with Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein). I’m sad it has ended, yet I’m incredibly curious about what will happen now that they have to really deal with each other for the first time since “Bombshells.”
I hated that House had gone insane after the breakup, setting his self-destructive button to “11.” But it is perfectly in character. We know he fell apart after he and Stacy broke up. I don’t imagine he sat in a corner and cried; I do imagine that he set out to destroy himself, leaving Wilson to pick up the pieces.
Yes, he indulges himself with a bevy of hookers, trying to bury his pain over the breakup. Yes, he tries his best to hurt Cuddy back, finding no satisfaction in it. Those two episodes following “Bombshells” are very hard to watch, but not because they are “bad.”
I’m certainly disappointed that the pivotal House-Cuddy relationship fell apart so quickly after a multi-year build up, although in “real time” they’d been together nearly a year. But, I’m a big fan of the boy meet girl-boy loses girl dramatic structure, so I’m not entirely sure if in the end, we don’t see House back together with Cuddy (or even Stacy, for that matter).
But the comments from some long-time fans, many of whose opinions I’ve respected since almost the start of the series, have to make me wonder whether there’s something I’m missing? Has the series begun to lose a step? Or has genuine disappointment with the series’ main story arc formed a tipping point after which all the small irritants become now become magnified?
Does, then, the tolerance for those smaller annoyances (like plot holes, timeline goofs, or temporarily setting a favored character into the background, for example) depend on your disappointment with the larger story? Have the little things that have annoyed many viewers for years come into high relief and hence a step too far, after sending House tumbling once again very close to the abyss as he had been in the aftermath of “Bombshells?” (And for other fans with the scuttling of Jennifer Morrison’s Cameron?)
In seasons past we’ve heard some of the same complaints: too little House, the absence of clinic beats, too little interaction between House and the patient; House isn’t being serious enough; House’s misery is too unrelenting. I would agree with many of those grievances and have aired them myself. Where I disagree is in the notion that the writing has suddenly become “bad,” and that the overall story has derailed into a black hole.
Although I’m disappointed that House and Cuddy’s relationship ends in “Bombshells,” I’m not unhappy with the show; I don’t think it’s necessarily time for House to be happy and healed. I’m also an unrepentant angst whore, so I would not be crazy about a happy and lighthearted House, if that ever happened for very long. Does he deserve happiness? Absolutely. Does he deserve to be loved? Of course. And I’m thrilled we’ve gotten to see this side of him during Season 7. But where would they go from here?
I know one of the series’ main tropes is that “people don’t change,” and I accept that. People can want to change; people can reveal heretofore repressed and hidden parts of themselves, but they are who they are. They can cope better or worse as the years pass, and their own situation and relationships change around them, but the fundamental person doesn’t change. Maybe House can learn to better cope with life (and perhaps this is a perfect opportunity for the return of Dr. Nolan, the wonderful Andre Braugher!), but he is who he is.
We’ve known House for nearly seven years at this point. The surprises are fewer, and maybe his behavior after seven years of misery and angst is less forgivable now than it was before we knew just how set into the fiber of his being it is. Fans sometimes tell me that they watch an episode from one of the first few seasons and marvel at the subtle storytelling: how it begins to weave House’s story through the patient’s experience, and how that doesn’t happen nowadays. I would agree that there have been missed opportunities to explore House’s relationship with his father—and his mother; even his codependent relationship with Wilson through one or another patient this past couple of years. But that’s always been the case with the show (and I would venture to guess other series as well).
But as Season 7 winds down to the final four episodes, I wonder if some of those disenchanted fans will come around? Might they be happier with the show’s direction and storyline come the season finale?
That definitely happened in Season 4, arguably the most controversial season for fans. Many intensely disliked most of that season, admittedly an aberration broken up with a long writers strike.
The hiring-arc-cast-as-game show struck a lot of fans as too over the top and unbelievable, even from within House’s world. Upset that Chase, Cameron, and Foreman had been cut from House’s team at the end of Season 3, fans were in no mood to see Chase return not to diagnostics, but to surgery, and even more unbelievably to see Cameron suddenly chief of the Emergency Room. That elicited a big “huh?” from regular viewers.
Episodes like “Whatever it Takes,” in which House is whisked away by black helicopter to the CIA did Season 1 no favors. Yet the power and impact of the season’s final episodes, “House’s Head,” and “Wilson’s Heart” left all the rough parts forgotten in the dust; those episodes regularly rank among the most popular and best of the best among seven seasons of House.
Every year has had points at which many fans thought the show had seen its better days. Maybe they’d had enough of House making two steps forward and three back (or even one back).
Hugh Laurie famously said several seasons ago that House stands on the ledge only for so long before people will shout “For heaven’s sake jump already!” House has certainly been on the ledge more than a few times. The Season 2 finale finds House having been near-fatally shot; in season three, House nearly ODs on Oxycodone.
The end of Season 4, he nearly dies from brain trauma, and at the end of Season 5 he hits rock bottom as a direct result of all he suffers starting from the end of Season 4. Each time, House picks himself up to push his way forward bit by bit. He slips and falls; he suffers emotional and physical setbacks; he endures. It’s what he does.
During Season 6, House tries to be a better person (most of the time). He expresses remorse and tries to make amends. When he stumbles, he tries to repair the damage; he’s a jerk, but he tries not to be. But in the end, it’s to no avail and by the opening scenes of the Season 6 finale, House has come to the conclusion that no matter how hard he tries, it’s not enough. He’s no happier than he ever had been, despite his efforts; he’s gotten no satisfaction from his efforts. But something changes, and then at the end of Season 6, we get the taste of potential redemption.
And for the first time, many fans have hoped along with House that he finally might get a bit of happiness. During Season 7 we’ve seen House happy, tender and in love. He’s been as adult in his behavior as he’s ever been, trying to confront issues with Cuddy straight on instead of with game playing (except for those times when his fear of losing her have messed with his mind). But even this is not enough, and in the end, Cuddy makes a difficult decision to end the relationship.
House reacts to the breakup badly, reverting to his most self-destructive basic instincts. If he is going to be assumed to be irredeemable, then why not act the part? But as he tells Wilson in “Out of the Chute,” he thought he would need a couple of weeks to sort things out. And true to his word, by “The Dig,” his bender had ended. And despite the sense from some fans that House is back to “square one,” I don’t think he is. His comforting words (well, as comforting as House gets) to Hadley at the end of “The Dig” suggest a person changed by his recent experience.
There are four episodes to go in House’s Season 7. My sense is that House’s journey in those last episodes will be a bit of a roller coaster. Next week in “Changes,” Cuddy’s mother (Candice Bergen) is back in the picture, suing Princeton-Plainsboro for malpractice, and putting both House and Cuddy’s jobs on the line. The situation will undoubtedly place House and Cuddy in a position where they must finally deal with each other in the breakup’s aftermath. The remaining four episodes appear to be intense, and as always, I wait to be blown away as the seventh season draws to a close.