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Reflecting back on the controversial Season 7 and looking forward to Season 8 (and its challenges).

House, M.D.: Looking Back on Season Seven and Ahead to Season Eight

House, M.D.‘s Season 7 was, in many ways, an experiment. Putting characters together in a sexual relationship is always tricky on a TV series, and giving House (Hugh Laurie) a taste of what it means to be happy and loved is likewise a bit risky to do on a show where, as the central character, he is a fundamentally unhappy and troubled soul.

Cuddy tells House she loves him, and he follows. It’s probably been so long since anyone has told him that, and it’s been so long since he’s desired her, that all rationality flies out the window as he gladly follows her, despite her obvious ambivalence, and his fleeting recognition of it.

House ignores his internal warning system, expressed to Cuddy in the season premiere, and lets his guard completely down in many ways. And when it ends—when he ultimately cannot meet her ever-changing standard of acceptable behavior, he is crushed. His anger, directed inward until the final scene of the season is both at himself and at Cuddy. And to a lesser degree at Wilson for encouraging him.

Wilson may have done House a great service in the long run to have warned Cuddy, as he had Cameron back in Season 1 not to get involved with House if she had the least doubt. “If he opens up and gets hurt, there may not be a next time.” It’s a dire warning about House’s fragility that Wilson gives Cameron in “Love Hurts.” 

Througought their Season 7 relationship, House is driven by fear; Cuddy by ambivalence. They’re each waiting for the other shoe to drop. Cuddy is waiting for House to disappoint her; House is waiting for Cuddy to realize what a big mistake she’s made by hooking up with him. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. 

Cuddy’s basic understanding of House seemed to have fled, and she is unable to separate their professional and personal relationships, however she might try. She seems too often betrayed and disappointed by House’s professional actions, despite his reminders that his actions as “boyfriend” have to be considered differently than his professional behavior. Her disapproval is more strident. 

But what we also get is House often being more obnoxious than usual with patients—and with his team. He is less engaged with the medicine far too often. He’s also too often the idiot in the room, and too infrequently the troubled genius, deep in thought and thoroughly involved on some level with curing the patient. Obviously this ramps up once he begins his descent into hell after the breakup, but he’s much less sympathetic in general—except in the realm of his relationship. Perhaps they’re both overcompensating.

I never doubted that House and Cuddy would break up—and this season. It was inevitable from the start, especially given Cuddy’s deep ambivalence about the whole enterprise. But should it have come when it did, when House seemed to have come to a new understanding about their relationship (“Recession Proof”)? It seems somewhat arbitrary, but from a narrative point of view, it does seem to jibe with Cuddy’s mercurial take on relationships in general.

House’s reaction to the breakup also seems consistent with what I believe might have happened after Stacy leaves him (long before we’d ever met House). We know that, deeply hurt and feeling betrayed, House basically fell apart. Wilson reminds us of that a few times during the early seasons of the series, so House’s insane overreaction to the breakup with Cuddy, as abrupt and arbitrary as it seems, makes narrative sense.

The one thing I do wish is that the exploration of the House-Cuddy relationship might have dug a little deeper into the psyche of each character—not making them at all more “lovey-dovey” or happy, but digging into the emotion of House’s struggle with happiness, and with being involved in a serious relationship. But that is a creative choice, and I cannot fault the creative team for not taking a path I would have wanted. The brain trust of any television series has to follow its own vision. The House viewership is too diverse—and watches for too many varied reasons—to please one faction of fans or another.

So where has Season 7’s controversial ending left us as a lead in to Season 8? “Now what?” we may ask, echoing the title for last season’s premiere episode. Where do they go from here? How do they go from here? That is the question reverberating through much of the fan community. A portion of the fan community believes that the ending to “Moving On” has undermined the character of House to a point where he cannot be redeemed at all. 

Most seasons leave the fan community with lingering questions both about the narrative if not the series itself. “How will House come back from a stay in a psych hospital?” “How will the series hold up with Chase, Cameron and Foreman gone?”

But here, seven seasons in, many die-hard fans are beginning to wonder about this version of House who thinks nothing of crashing his car into someone’s occupied home. Clearly out of his mind, even if just for that moment, the action is reprehensible. It’s a side of House many (but not all) fans never anticipated. Or like.

Ever dancing on the edge of likability, House has never become wholly unsympathetic. Yet, crashing his car into an occupied home, understandable or not, seems to me possibly pushing him over that edge into the realm of being unsympathetic. And will fans continue to care about him if that’s where he remains?

That’s a big question, and one to which I believe the writers will respond very early in the season. But it will be tricky, and they have to keep in mind that most fans of the show do not watch to see an unlikeable ass—at least not long term. They want to see House struggle with doing the right thing, with ethics, with his personal and professional choices. Ultimately, in my opinion, House is a compelling character because he tries to do the right thing. He is who he is—the jerk and all. But his quest to be happy; his quest to be healed; his quest to do the right thing are what make this character likable despite deep flaws.

Looking ahead to Next Season

Having aired my thoughts on Season 7, I do have my personal wish list for next season, whether Season 8 is the final season—or the penultimate series of episodes. So, writers and producers: please take note!

Deal with the crash. Whatever his motivation, House crashing his car into Cuddy’s home at the end of “Moving On” is a horrendous act. It is exponentially worse than anything House has done to anyone in the time we’ve known him. Yes, it may be the impulsive act of a man at the end of his rope; he may be out of his mind; he may have simply snapped. It doesn’t matter.

He has destroyed part of Cuddy’s home, terrorizing four people and whatever neighbors might have witnessed it (not to mention Wilson). There have to be serious consequences for his actions. It would be creatively dishonest for the series to whitewash things and jump ahead three months back at Princeton-Plainsboro, situation normal (as had been the case at the starts of  Seasons 3 and 5). The fans felt cheated then, and though those seasons turned out to be two of the series strongest, too much of the fan community is upset and angry right now for the story to jump-shift like that. We need to see House dealing with the legal, personal and professional ramifications of his actions, finding a way to somehow redeem himself in the eyes of his colleagues and the viewers. 

I completely trust the writers to find an intriguing way to do this, and I think like all shocking cliffhangers, this one leaves a lot of questions, but as many possibilities, including how they deal with Cuddy’s obvious absence in the aftermath. Her departure was something the creative team could not anticipate, and it will create both a major void and some opportunity. But it would, of course, be much better if they might…

Find a way to bring back Lisa Edelstein—if only for an episode or two (or a full story arc). Her departure is real blow, and despite the fact that House and Cuddy’s personal and professional relationship now lies in a pile of rubble, Cuddy is part of the show’s foundation—and could have been a key to House’s road back.

No matter what else happens next season Cuddy will likely continue to permeate House’s universe. How can she not? But House and Cuddy deserve a decent closure, and although that can happen off-screen, and probably will to a certain extent, it would be great to find a way to bring her back and give the fans some closure as well. This is out of the writers’ hands, of course, but given the fan reaction to her departure (one group took out an ad in Variety this morning!) and the controversial ending to the season, Edelstein’s return—whatever it costs the network to do it—would be a balm to many fans of the show. Which leads me to this next wish, and perhaps a way to free up some of that cut budget…

Cut back on the blockbuster sequences. Over the years, the teasers—usually introducing the week’s patient—have gotten increasingly elaborate. Particularly over the past two seasons, they have have become almost self-contained mini movies, often with little impact on the story other than to wow the viewer. They are great if they are meaningful to the story, and I admit that I’ve loved a lot of them, but for an episode feature that ultimately has no impact on the emotional heart of the story (with rare and noteworthy exceptions), in the end, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Some of them are also quite lengthy, and I’d rather have a minute or two more of the actual story (the AWOL clinic beats come to mind) than a mini-movie of the week.

I don’t know how much those blockbuster teasers cost, but if they have to trim, trim there. I do not pretend to know anything about television series budgets, and we may indeed see cutting back on the teaser “wow” factor due to budget constraints, but I would like to understand that the series didn’t sacrifice a principal cast member for the sake of a series of big-bang teasers that viewers watch once and forget.

Give House a real friend. During his lunch with Cuddy in “Moving On,” House rants with barely-concealed anger about the way in which both she and Wilson constantly lecture him on his life choice. “I did it to fix my life. No, wait. No, I did it because I’m a deeply unhappy person. No–no, I did it to get sympathy from you. I did it to piss you off. I did it because I’m not over you. Or I was over you, and I was moving on. I did it because I wanted to know what it’s like not to be in pain. I did it because I want to feel more pain…” House desperately needs someone who accepts him for who he is instead of constantly haranguing him. Have House encounter someone either at the hospital or outside it who just “gets” him. Perhaps the new dean… Or maybe Wilson can gain a new understanding of House (after he redeems himself of course).

Be careful in choosing a new dean of medicine. An core underpinning of the series has suggested that only Lisa Cuddy can both control House and give him enough freedom to save his “hail-Mary” patients. Choosing her successor is one of the most important decisions the producers have to make going forward.

I’ve heard around the fandom “Why not Foreman (Omar Epps)?” “Why not Wilson?” While Foreman has the administrative chops, and he’s come a long, long way this year in “getting” House a little more, I don’t think he’d be effective. He’s as stubborn as House—and he thinks he’s a better doctor than House. Neither trait will allow him to cut House the slack he needs. House would likely run rings around him, and could lead to House and Foreman more resembling Colonels Klink and Hogan (from the 1960s sitcom Hogan’s Heroes). That would be very, very bad.

Wilson is on the hospital’s board and is already a department head, but I believe we need Wilson and House to maintain voluntary peer relationship they now enjoy. So who, then?

I’d love to see a new female dean played by a very strong actress who brings snap and seriousness to the role. I’d also like to see her come in already knowing House’s reputation as a brilliant, troubled diagnostician and understand him from the start. I’d love to see their relationship be completely professional (no flirting!), and for she and House to come to a mutual understanding at some point. Who should play my ideal dean? Helen Mirren? Allison Janney? Mary McDonnell?Someone like that would be just fine by me.

Deal with the pain/drugs issue. Especially if this is to be House’s last season, I would really love to see the series address House’s pain and drug issues head on. House deals with the issues many chronic pain sufferers deal with, including that of being understood—and having his symptoms dealt with adequately. House is also now back on Vicodin, and the pain is exacerbated by his ramped-up emotional turmoil. His physical pain and emotional health are tied up together. Perhaps introduce him to a smart, compassionate pain specialist. Hey, maybe that should be the new dean’s medical specialty!

I’d like to see of House’s serious side. House has been preoccupied first with his pursuit of Cuddy—and then the relationship itself. He’s spent more time on that, and less with patients, eager to slough off most responsibility onto the team. Although he’s always done that, it’s been more often these last couple of seasons. We tend to learn about House through his interactions with his patients—what’s really in his heart and on his mind. I’d love to see more of that.

House is also a genius and a fundamentally very serious thinker, despite the deflective games and his tendency towards laziness. Yes, he’s childish and sometimes childlike, but that’s not how he got to be a renown genius. Yeah, he can be lazy, but no one worked harder than he did in the first several years than House at solving those cases—late at night after everyone went home. Along those lines, I wouldn’t mind seeing more philosophical and ethical arguments between House and his patients (or anyone). Or just House, deep in thought for more than five seconds.

Music has always been for House an emotional language. He has often poured out his soul on the keys of his wonderful baby grand. I’d like to see a return to House the musician, the scholar, the guy who speaks six or seven languages and keeps a biography of Beethoven on the piano. But more important than that, let us into his emotions through his musical spirit.

Bring back Katie Jacobs as a director. One of the series Powers that Be (she is a showrunner), Jacobs has been much missed for her behind the camera skills during Season 7. Having brought us such wonderful episodes as “Half-Wit,” and “Broken,” Jacobs has a way of tapping into the emotional heart of the story and its characters. Her episodes have brought out some of the series most poignant moments. She’s less about the shock and awe camera work and more about capturing the intimacy underlying the wonderful stories the writers tell. While both are important, I have to wonder what she might have brought to the table (or behind the lens) had she directed some of this season’s exploration of the House-Cuddy relationship.

Make Wilson House’s real ally instead of his Jiminy Cricket. Wilson has spent much of the past seven years lecturing House about how not to live his life. And sometimes Wilson is right. But House’s resentment of Wilson’s hectoring has certainly contributed to House’s state at the end of Season 7. I would love to see Wilson become the truly supportive friend he can be—non-judgmental and non-enabling.

Keep developing the supporting characters. I love what the writers have done with Chase (Jesse Spencer) and Foreman this season. Slowly, slowly Chase has begun to find his way back from the Dibala affair and his divorce from Cameron (Jennifer Morrison). I’d like to see that continue as subtly and realistically as it has. And for the first time, I think I’m beginning to really like Foreman. He’s loosened up and has come, I think, to an understanding about House—even an acceptance.

I like the relationships that seem to have formed between Chase and 13—and House and 13 (Olivia Wilde). I know she’s not a universally-like character, but both men seem have an affect o the otherwise stony Remy Hadley, and she likewise clearly affects them in interesting and non-sexual ways. Taub (Peter Jacobson) is such a schlemiel. I hope he gets his just desserts from both his wife and lover.

House, M.D. is still one of the best written and acted series on television. The dialogue is still snappy; the scripts are still dense. Hugh Laurie is still brilliant. But like any series going into its eighth season, some getting back to basics—the things that have always made this series great on so many levels—may be needed. And with the departure of a principal cast member—and the direction taken with the Season 7 finale, it’s probably more important than ever. I’m looking forward to Season 8 with great anticipation, and some bittersweetness due to Edelstein’s departure. I will miss her and hope she returns at least for a few episodes. I’m curious as hell about how the writers and David Shore will dig House out of the hole into which he has dug himself.

Your thougths are welcome, as always, but please try to stay on topic. Personal attacks (whether directed at me, a commenter, or anyone else) are unwelcome and risk deletion as they violate BC’s comments policy. I will be taking a summer hiatus from my House column to focus on other writing and promote Chasing Zebras, but I will be back if there’s siginifcant news about Season 8. So stay tuned. 

About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books.Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."

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