After Hugh Laurie, nominated for his third Emmy, was yet again robbed for his nuanced and brilliant portrayal of the confused and driven Gregory House in last season's "House's Head," I have to wonder what Laurie has to do to win the award? My theory is that he inhabits the role so completely that Academy voters don't think he's really acting. Anyone who knows Laurie's work, understands what an extraordinary, albeit, completely fictional creation is his Dr. House.
But now it’s season five, and the House team have conjured up what could be the most compelling story arc for our (anti-) hero of the entire series run. I have often called Wilson House’s anchor into the real world. Without Wilson, House would grow increasingly more isolated, retreating further and further into his safe but lonely existence.
We see evidence of that right from the start of season one in the series pilot. Emerging from his office (it would seem) for the first time in a long time, self-consciously observing people observing him as Wilson walks alongside, House is clearly uncomfortable in public. Yet he’s been cajoled (OK, manipulated) out of his safe haven on the pretext of treating Wilson’s cousin.
Over the course of four seasons, Wilson has continued to manipulate House, mostly “for his own good,” constantly seeking a window of opportunity in which House, perhaps, can “change.” Can be less miserable, perhaps even grab a modicum of happiness. Wilson has viewed House as someone who unhealthily revels in his misery, holds onto it as if it’s some sort of talisman. Often those manipulations backfire, causing more damage than any possible good they may have done.
In season one’s “Control,” Wilson called his relationship with House “an ethical responsibility.” In the context of Amber’s death at the end of last season and his decision to “divorce” himself from House, has Wilson decided that his “ethical responsibility” (whatever that might mean) to House no longer exists?
The sheer force of House’s personality would suggest that he would dominate virtually any relationship. But examining the relationship between House and Wilson (beyond the “bromance”) I think that Wilson is absolutely the dominant personality in it. Wilson often and readily lies to House, manipulates him and can even beat him in poker. They hyper-observant House can read anyone and everyone. But not Wilson. Wilson tells House in the season five premiere that “you manipulate everybody…” But there is no one more manipulative than Wilson with regard to House.
So, I wanted to take a closer peek at that pivotal and devastating final scene of “Dying Changes Everything.” What was said and what it means.
Internalizing what Cuddy has told him, House has realized that his scheme of guilting Wilson into staying hasn’t worked and the only way remaining to him is to strip his emotions bare and tell Wilson what he’s really feeling. House walks in, hesitant. “I’m sorry,” he begins, voice low and gravely. He pours out all he feels: the rationalization ("I know I didn’t try to kill her; I know I didn’t want her hurt; I know it was a freak accident.") But with the rationalization comes confession and the feeling of some measure of responsibility: "I feel like crap. And I know she’s dead because of me.”
“I don’t blame you…” Watch House’s eyes here. He is bewildered. They are asking Wilson to explain–If Wilson doesn’t blame him, why is leaving? Why is he acting like this towards him? But mostly, I think, House is relieved to have this out in the open, and to hope that things can go back to normal after Wilson’s processed what he needs to process.
“I tried to,” Wilson continues. “I must’ve reviewed Amber’s case file a thousand times to find a way…But it wasn’t your fault.” It almost seems as if Wilson can’t blame House for Amber anymore than one can blame a wild animal for biting. House is who he is, which is why Wilson (in his own mind) has to make the choice he makes.
“Then, we’re OK.” House's syllogism is hopeful. "Amber is dead; you don't blame me. Therefore, we're fine. We can put this back to rights." This is all that House wants to hear–that he and Wilson can go back to the way it was, even if it takes Wilson some additonal time to grieve, as long as "we're OK," House's world can go back to normal.
House’s voice is tentative as he tests the waters with Wilson. But you can see the hope in his eyes as he continues to take another small step. “I know you’re not,” he offers,” but maybe I can help…” House is trying to find his footing while Wilson realizes that House has grabbed onto this small admission from Wilson, but has misunderstood the big picture. House's syllogism is wrong, and his logic is faulty. So Wilson, reluctantly, explains it to him.
A word in Wilson's defense: Wilson is in a bad place here. He is likely blaming himself for Amber’s death, thinking that if only he didn’t feel at House’s beck and call, this never would have happened. Amber wouldn’t have felt the need to pick House up. So, I see where Wilson’s anger and frustration originate. Wilson has come to the conclusion that House is simply too toxic, and he has to distance himself. But the cut has to be clean and (in Wilson’s opinion sharp as a scalpel’s incision).
“No, we’re not OK. Amber was never the reason I was leaving. I didn’t tell you, because…like I always do…I was trying to protect you.” Understand, that House doesn’t ask for Wilson’s protection, probably doesn’t seek it. Yes, House is needy, but he would respect Wilson pushing back; respect Wilson’s need for space if Wilson hadn’t built his part of the relationship on feeding on House’s neediness. House has always hated Wilson’s interference, while coveting his friendship. But Wilson has always felt a need to “change” House; or to help him…or, as Wilson says…protect him.
“Which is the problem. You spread misery because you can’t feel anything else,” begins Wilson’s litany of House’s human failings. Is Wilson right about that? Is this Wilson’s grief talking? We know House hates being miserable (despite what Wilson told him in “Need to Know”). It’s an incredibly cruel accusation, to tell House that he makes everyone miserable because he can only feel misery; that he’s incapable of feeling real emotion. We actually (as viewers) know that’ it’s not quite true. It’s always been my contention that House feels too much. He represses his emotions to keep from feeling, but he too often unsuccessful. And when he does feel–does outwardly care–Wilson can’t seem to leave that alone. He has to pick at it, like a scab until House feels the need to conceal himself again.
Wilson continues: “You manipulate people because you can’t handle a real relationship; And I’ve enabled it: the games, the binges, the middle of the night calls…I should have been the one on the bus…You should have been alone on the bus. If I’ve learned anything from Amber it’s that I have to take care of myself. We’re not friends anymore, House. I’m not sure we ever were.” Is this Wilson trying to convince himself? Does he really believe that he and House have never been friends? Yes, Wilson needs to take care of himself; but does taking care of himself really mean divorcing himself from House?
Watch House’s entire universe come crashing down during Wilson’s gentle, but so harsh tirade. House says nothing in his own defense. Doesn’t argue with him; doesn’t push back. He just stands there stock still, not saying anything; not moving. Just lost.
I would speculate that House probably agrees with everything that Wilson says to him (except the “friends” part—I think that stunned and stung House deeply). House doesn’t want to be miserable (as he said on the white bus)—yet Wilson has just told him that he is incapable of feeling anything else. House doesn’t want Wilson to hate him, and Wilson doesn’t hate him. Wilson is telling him something else. Wilson is telling him that he no longer cares; that he’s indifferent; that he’s immune from House. The finality of Wilson’s words suggests a marriage long festering and finally breaking, leaving one of the partners beyond caring. For Wilson, this one last phone call pushed his friendship with House one phone call too far.
At this point, Wilson sees their relationship as lopsided. Wilson giving; House taking and giving nothing back in return. And House has no answer for that. Because in that moment he agrees, trapped within his own feelings of worthlessness. Of course we know that Wilson will come back, don’t we? But it will be a rocky and treacherous road for them both.
This next batch of episodes look to be intense and serious, and I can’t wait. Of note in an otherwise disappointing (on so many levels) Emmys, congratulations are due Greg Yaitanes for his superb directing of “House’s Head,” winning an Emmy for his efforts.
House airs Tuesdays on FOX at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.