Sunday , September 20 2020
Is House an addict? I suppose that depends on your own point of view.

House, MD: Revisiting the “Tritter Arc”

Last Monday, FOX began re-airing the third season series of episodes known in the House fandom as "The Tritter Arc." Like most of the series' extended character arcs, fans tended to love it or hate it. Personally, I like these longer stories because they give viewers an opportunity to see more deeply into the character(s) — and to watch Hugh Laurie magically pull new rabbits from his considerable thespian hat.

That FOX has decided to re-air this third season arc now, just before new episodes begin is unfortunate only because it will end abruptly without closure to make way for the brand new episodes (unless FOX decides to add extra House reruns to its April schedule). I'm all for the new episodes and cannot wait for the final four installments of the current season. But newcomers to the series will not have had the opportunity to see the Tritter arc play out. Of course, all of you "newbies" can buy the DVD or download the remaining Tritter episodes from Amazon Unbox, so it's not a total loss.

In any event, I'd like to give my take on the first two episodes of the Tritter Arc. The story begins with episode five, "Fools for Love." As House covers his dreaded clinic duty, he walks into an exam room to treat the next patient, Detective Michael Tritter.

House observes Tritter, already in a foul mood from waiting two hours to be seen, who believes he has a sexually transmitted disease (STD). House notes that the rash doesn't present like an STD, and I'm pretty sure that House knows an STD when he sees one. He also observes that Tritter is chewing nicotine gum, which evidently causes skin dryness. The location of the irritation suggests a diagnosis and course of treatment, which House offers with his usual cold bluntness. House's demeanor and attitude are, needless to say, neither compassionate nor kindly, but nothing in his behavior or words warrant what Tritter does next. For, as House reaches the door on his way out of the exam room, Tritter kicks his cane, sending him reeling into the closed door as he tries to catch his balance.

"Patients don't want a sick doctor," House tells Wilson in one of the first scenes of season one, revealing how he believes patients view him. From the very first episode of the first season, it is clear that House's self-image is very much tied up with the condition of his leg, his limp, and need for a cane. He does everything he can to hide his disability, from pushing himself to walk faster than anyone else to refusing to ever discuss his physical problems with anyone.

The degree to which House tries to minimize his leg is obvious when when we see him alone in his apartment. His gait is slower and his limp more exaggerated away from the potentially pitying eyes at the hospital. And, being tripped, intentionally and smugly as Tritter does, must be particularly humiliating to House in the aftermath of the returning pain, and in the aftermath of the shooting.

So, should House have left the thermometer in Tritter's butt? I get that it was nasty; but the jerk probably deserved it, to an extent, at least. What was House supposed to do? House has by now concluded that Tritter is a bully. (Who else would trip someone with an obvious physical disability?) And, in House's mind, what he did was a reasonable response; it wasn't harmful, not really painful. Agreed. It was slightly humiliating and cost Tritter more time in the clinic. Understand, I do not believe that what House did was appropriate, and I'm not justifying House's actions. But from House's perspective, it probably put them even.

Afterward Cuddy forces House to apologize to Tritter, and House spends some effort avoiding a face-to-face with the detective. But when he finally does confront him, House is far from repentant, understanding that neither of them would actually be sincere, so why bother with social niceties? But it is not actually an apology that Tritter seeks, anyway. That was made clear by Tritter himself. No. Tritter's goal is to humiliate and humble him — destroy him if he can. And Tritter, channeling a bit of Inspector Javert (Jean Valjean's pursuer in Les Miserables), sets about to do just that — systematically and relentlessly over the course of this and the following six episodes.

Tritter clearly doesn’t like “wise guys." He’s probably seen his fair share of smart-ass, arrogant professors, doctors, and other Princeton types, who (from Tritter's point of view) look down their noses at a lowly cop. And maybe House's attitude became the straw that broke that camel’s back. By bringing House down, making an example of him, Tritter is going to teach a lesson to them all.

Speeding home on his motorbike at the end of "Fools for Love," House is pulled over for going 40 mph in a 25 mph zone. House is not surprised that it is Tritter who has stopped him, and initially views it as Tritter's lame attempt at payback: a weak bit of revenge. "Fine. Okay. You got me; give me the ticket," reads House's expression. But House, being House, needs to push back. (The man has simply no sense of self-preservation.) He has to be sarcastic about it.

But then it dawns on him that Tritter is pursuing something much more dangerous than a simple ticket. “You took a pill when seeing a patient earlier; your pupils are dilated.” (Yeah, well never mind that it's dark out and Tritter's probably got dilated pupils, too.) When House realizes what’s happening, he tells Tritter that he has no probable cause to push this any further. “I wasn’t weaving; I’m not drunk…” Even though Tritter’s “probable cause” is pretty shaky, he can still use it to do what he’s doing… so what if it doesn’t stand up in court? The intent is to use his legal authority and power as a cop to bully House and beat him (metaphorically) into submission.

As "Que Sera, Sera" (episode six) begins, House has now spent the night in jail with no pain meds and no cane. Of course none of this does much for House's mood; he is certainly no less argumentative than when he was arrested.

Bailed out by Wilson, House’s first order of business it to get his Vicodin dose (so, clearly, Wilson's prescribing for him again.) He does not yet understand that Tritter is a real threat to him because House is convinced that he has no real case against him. He believes that you ignore the bully — refuse to play along and take the bait — he will soon go away to hit on an easier mark.

But House fails to grasp the expansive powers granted to the police and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) with regard to potential drug abuse by physicians, particularly in trafficking. The police have a lot of latitude when they believe that physicians are over-prescribing or trafficking in prescription drugs. It's even possible, in Wilson's case, that he's already being watched by the DEA (as we saw in season two, Wilson prescribes medical marijuana). So, House's inability to take the Tritter threat seriously can easily have ramifications for Wilson (who is House's prescribing physician), especially if his connection to House adds fuel to any other suspicions about him.

But in "Que Sera, Sera" Tritter is mainly interested in House — specifically what House may or may not have stashed at his own flat. And when Tritter and his team trash House's apartment, coming up with hundreds of pills, he looks House in the eye, challenging him point-blank about the legitimacy of his prescriptions. There is a fear in House's eyes as he can't honestly answer the question.

It's actually stunning that in the relatively short time between "Meaning" and this "Que Sera, Sera" House has collected so many pills. But the sheer size of House's stash may also suggest an answer to the question of how he has been handling the events that have recently befallen him, particularly the shooting and failure of the ketamine.

Although House's response to Wilson as to why he would need so many pills was typically sarcastic, it did carry some truth. Just as fear of being cut off from the one thing that allows him to feel "normal" and (as he said in season one's "Detox") "let him do his job," drove him to steal prescription blanks from Wilson, the same fear has driven him to hoard Vicodin. As House said to Foreman in "Euphoria" (season two), fear of pain affects one's judgment.

Everything that happens to House from "Cane and Able" on through the remainder of season three has be viewed through the prism of House's suppressed emotions about his shooting and the ketamine. Over the course of season three's first five episodes, House has gone from completely off Vicodin, running eight miles a day, to hiding 100 bottles of the painkiller in his home. It's certainly not "normal" behavior, the way House has been hoarding Vicodin. Is he simply hoarding them out of fear? Or is he taking so much Vicodin (and ramped it up so quickly) that he's taking it for more than physical pain? Is he now taking it to numb himself from thinking about the shooting, the hallucination, the ketamine and its failure? If so, is House an addict?

He certainly admitted it in season one's "Detox," but there is a difference between physical need for a drug and psychological addiction. (Full disclosure: I'm not a psychologist, nor am I a drug expert of any sort.) My mom takes Vicodin for her severe arthritis. Concerned that she would become an addict, she asked the doctor. He told her, yes, that she will become addicted to the Vicodin. There is no real way to avoid it when your only course is a narcotic. Over the course of three years, I saw her go from taking an occasional pill to 80 mg/day — and now even that doesn't really help. Oxycontin is next up the ladder for her, and then a morphine pump. So, yes, House is an addict. But is he an addict? I suppose that depends on your own point of view. And do semantics matter when the issue is someone's personal (physical) pain and need to control it? And the Vicodin seems to work for him.

What are House's options? Some of that is explored in the remaining episodes of the Tritter arc, and (of course) is the subject of many a fanfiction story (including my own). There's a fine line between physical tolerance for narcotic and psychological addiction, and maybe, for House, it's a little of both.

Reminder: New episodes continue on Monday, April 28. The season finale will air May 19.

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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