I know it’s been a while since my last House, M.D article. In the few weeks since I last posted, Hugh Laurie has been nominated for both Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards—and Garrett Lerner, Russel Friend and Peter Blake have been nominated for a Writers Guild of America (WGA) award for last season’s finale “Help Me.” You may remember that I had the good fortune to interview the three writers the day after “Help Me” aired, and I’m thrilled they’ve been recognized by the Writers Guild for their excellent script. Good luck to all of them.
Where We Stand at the End of Season Seven—Act I: House and Cuddy
In the final scene of “Small Sacrifices,” the closing moments in the “first act” of House, M.D.’s season seven, House (Hugh Laurie) confesses to Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) that he’s lied to Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) while apologizing to her for another lie. But what is the lie? Is the apology itself insincere, or is the lie that he tells her he’ll “never lie to” her again? The answer to that question is a critical piece of the season seven puzzle—and could have a large impact on how the rest of the season (and House and Cuddy’s relationship) will play out once the series returns from its winter hiatus (January 17).
We are now more than a third of the way through season seven, and with the show on hiatus, I thought it might be the perfect opportunity to take a closer look to see where these first eight episodes have taken the series, and where the series might head in the coming months.
The biggest change, of course, is the new dynamic between House and Cuddy. Season six ends with Cuddy’s declaration of love, which seems not only to stun him, but brings him, Phoenix-like from the ashes of real despair. We’ve seen House in dire straits before (“No Reason,” “Merry Little Christmas,” “Wilson’s Heart,” “Both Sides Now”), but a patient death in “Help Me” leaves House in a pretty fragile state (something even Foreman notices) by the time Cuddy gets to him in the closing moments of last season. He’s always gotten up an dusted himself off to see a new day and mock another colleague. But we usually see him on the edge of an abyss and have to wait until the following season to see how it all resolves.
But season six didn’t leave House barely hanging; it left us with House and Cuddy together, holding hands. And over the summer, instead of fearing for House’s well being, fans wondered could (or should) this new relationship last more than an episode or two.
House and Cuddy are both pretty relationship-averse; they like what they have (or may have given a chance), but neither is especially adept at nurturing it. If it all goes to hell eventually there will be possibly irreparable hurt on both sides.
House understands this, and it is his greatest fear poised on the brink of something new and ultimately terrifying for him. He is able to articulate this fear to Cuddy honestly and painfully in the season premiere “Now What?” He seems caught where he had been in season two (“Need to Know”) with Stacy.
But Cuddy reassures House that however screwed up he is, he is one incredible man and he needn’t worry about expectations of change. Even though, as House warns, he will likely do “horrible things” to her. It’s who he is. But Cuddy is aware of who House; she has fallen in love with House as he is. Why should she want him to change?
There is a tension between the two new lovers beginning right from the second episode “Selfish,” now freed of the dreamlike cocoon enfolding them in the premiere. Striking the right balance between their professional—often contentious—relationship, and their strong feelings for each other, has made their dynamic even more complex as both characters try not to dynamite the fledgling affair.
Their efforts not to step on the other’s toes, hence, their reticence to act as they normally would at work nearly costs a patient her life in episode two. It is an important point to address early on, exploring House’s desire not to bend their relationship, refusing to risk it—instead avoiding what he does best: skirting medicine’s conventions and rules.
House is the one always willing to risk himself for the patient; he has never placed much value on his life or welfare. But now something’s changed and the risk is suddenly too great. It’s an important lesson they both must learn if their work and personal relationships have any chance of success. House must practice medicine without regard to Cuddy’s feelings; and court Cuddy as if he were not the maverick rule-breaker he must be to be effective. Cuddy has to be able to reign in her star doctor without fear.
Lying, doing things behind Cuddy’s back, are as much a part of House’s medical practice as his associative leaps. And as much as Cuddy says she doesn’t expect House to change, she wants him to change—at least in some ways. And she’s deeply hurt when House does one of those “horrible” things he warns her about in “Now What?”
In the episode (“Office Politics”), House treats the campaign manager during the height of the election season. The only way he believes he can make the diagnosis is by testing the candidate, who House believes has the same condition. Cuddy refuses to allow the test, but House does it anyway—and behind her back, lying about it to her.
But House’s problem isn’t so much with the lying itself. He does what he needs to do; Cuddy respects that. House does that sort of stuff all the time. But usually House owns up to his deceptions, even embracing them. But here, House’s fear that this will upset Cuddy (and the new relationship) drives House to perpetuate the deception. And when Cuddy finds out that he’s lied about lying, she feels professionally disrespected and personally hurt. In her mind, I believe, House has made of fool of her. It’s not the initial deception, but the perpetuation of it that has upset her.
Now your mileage may vary on this, and as viewers you may believe that Cuddy is unreasonably upset. In the subsequent episodes, Cuddy doesn’t help the situation; she insists on an apology. And when House tells her that he did what he did to save the life of a patient, he’s misreading why she’s so upset. Cuddy never says to House that it’s the compounding of the lie that has her so upset with him. So. House isn’t going to apologize for doing something to save his patient (especially because what he does is perfectly in character for how he practices medicine)—and Cuddy becomes entrenched in her position. She’s angry about the lie, and as time goes on, it doesn’t matter which lie—just that House lied to her!
But, we soon discover that even despite this ratcheting tension, neither House nor Cuddy have an interest in breaking up. House doesn’t seek out another outlet for his more…physical…needs. Instead, he complains about giving his hand a workout in the absence of sex with Cuddy. He wants, in his own subversive way, to let her know that his underlying feelings haven’t been altered by their fight.
There’ a short break in the tension between them when House may have exposed himself to smallpox (“A Pox on Our House”). But the two issues are unconnected, and House’s brush with death doesn’t affect Cuddy’s anger. But it does show us that anger doesn’t equal falling out of love—or even wanting to bail on the relationship. I have to say that I really loved this exploration of what it means to remain committed to a relationship even when embroiled in a heated argument.
This is an adult take, and I’m really liking it. I like the fact that Cuddy is upset by House’s deception; I like the fact that House is clueless about what’s actually upsetting her. But I also like the fact that their fight doesn’t preclude her being even more upset that House may be dying, and that in “Small Sacrifices” she expects that House escort her to a wedding (and a rehearsal dinner).
I like that without a comment (lewd or otherwise) and without missing a beat, House zips Cuddy’s dress for her as she readies herself for the dinner. This feels real to me. I think what’s remarkable is that these things happen very early in their relationship. They haven’t been together more than a few weeks, yet it’s clear they want to weather the storm and not simply say: “tried it; didn’t work. See ya ‘round.”
Maybe you disagree with me. (And I’m sure more than a few of you will—and let me know about it.)
House finally does apologize, being the first to blink in the conflict. “I will never lie to you again,” he says to Cuddy. As I asked at the time the episode aired, did he really need to make that extra (and obviously untrue) assurance? To tell her what is undoubtedly a lie—one that not even Cuddy believes he’ll keep?
It’s clear when he confesses to Wilson that he lied, he’s conflicted about it. Wilson thinks the lie is a good step, and applauds him for it. He told her what he needed to even if he doesn’t quite believe it. It is what people do occasionally to stay in a relationship.
By the way, I like the way the writers are weaving in the relationship stuff (notwithstanding that I’m a fan of the relationship) because it’s not the focus of the show. The relationship informs both House and Cuddy’s actions without overpowering the rest of the series. It’s unobtrusive without being totally behind the scenes and lends the series more options and avenues for exploring House’s character (which always should be the object of the show).
What will happen from here on the House and Cuddy front? I do think their relationship will continue, but continue to challenge them. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to note that we’ll soon meet Cuddy’s mother (being played by the wonderfully acerbic Candice Bergen) and sister. How that will play into and around House and Cuddy’s relationship is anyone’s guess, but I think the results will be amusing and insightful. If I were to predict, I would venture to say that we’ll be exploring the relationship for the balance of the season.
The Wilson Situation
As we moved into hiatus, Wilson and Sam (Cynthia Watros) are no longer together. As fragile as House and Cuddy’s relationship appears, “Small Sacrifices” suggests that it’s actually more durable than we might imagine. On the other hand, the renewed relationship between Wilson and Sam is easily broken when Wilson proposes.
Sam’s excuse that Wilson doesn’t trust her falls flat to my ears. Wilson discovers problems (potentially serious problems) with Sam’s radiation dosage records, and rather than believe she’s made some potentially very reckless errors, he’d rather believe (as does House) that she’s overdosed patients intentionally, pursuing a more radical therapy course than indicated (which is the sort of thing House would certainly do).
But to me, that alone would be insufficient to scrap a relationship that’s been going on for months, and leads me to believe that it’s an excuse. Sam doesn’t want to marry serial groom Wilson; so on this flimsy pretext, she leaves.
Wilson is now single while House is involved in a serious relationship. How will Wilson react? As House’s relationship with Cuddy matures and House finds his footing within his changed surroundings, will he become less needy of Wilson? And along with the breakup, how will that affect Wilson’s “need to be needed” now that he’s not—needed? Will he become clingy and prove himself as needy in that respect as House has in the past? Or will he seek out new and needy companionship? There is a lot of interesting potential in that breakup, given the time and circumstances. I hope the series explores this altered dynamic between House and his bestest buddy.
Exit “13” and Enter Martha M. Masters
Olivia Wilde’s movie career has created for the House folk a new opportunity. With Wilde’s departure (temporary or not), the team needed a female presence to balance the testosterone-laden Diagnostics Department. At the end of “Now What,” we are not only left with the question of what’s to be next for House and Cuddy, but what’s next for “13?”
She vanishes without a trace (with some suggestion that House may actually know what she’s up to), and Cuddy insists House hire (and we all know how enthusiastic he is about hiring new fellows). So, Cuddy foists upon him third-year medical student Martha M. Masters (Amber Tamblyn). Masters, who is geeky, brilliant, socially awkward and just as much outside the circle as House, has provided new opportunities and challenges for House and the team. She has a particularly rigid moral code, and like House wants to do the “right thing.” However, she believes, unlike her new boss, that she can achieve that without lying, cheating or stealing. Her record so far is mixed, and for the moment, House is tempering his frustration with her. In the end, will she show that there’s more than one way to be “right?” Or will House end up eating her alive?
One thing we know about House is that he respects his staff most when they stand up to him, offer him alternative scenarios and theories and prove him wrong. I can see Martha has the tenacity to do this, and at the same time, be tempered by House’s wisdom and understanding that sometimes doing the “right thing” requires re-interpreting, if not completely breaking, the rules. I’m looking forward to seeing where this is going in the coming months. Tamblyn told me recently that she’s signed for the balance of the season, so even if and when Olivia Wilde returns, she might stay around for a bit. I’d actually like to see the two of them in scenes together: the cynic vs. the idealist.
Taub (Peter Jacobson) is getting a taste of his own medicine in a way as his wife Rachel has become emotionally involved in an ironic long-distance relationship. Her new confidante and friend is also the spouse of an unfaithful partner; Taub wants her to end it, and although they’ve never met, he considers it emotional involvement. All I can say is “good for you Rachel,” and don’t give up the supportive friend. You go, girl!
In the meantime, I think that both Omar Epps and Jesse Spencer as Foreman and Chase respectively are being underutilized. And that’s unfortunate. Both have had a few nice scenes here and there, but I hope the show picks up either on the fallout from season five’s Dibala affair or from his divorce from Cameron. The series writers are notorious for picking up on old threads and teasing them back to the surface, so I hope that happens in the not too distant future.
House comes back January 17. I will appearing on Fox’s Madison Wisconsin affiliate to talk about season seven (and Chasing Zebras, of course) sometime during that week (the interview is being taped January 13). I’ll post more information about that on my Twitter feed as time gets closer as well as details about a major book signing in Chicago coming up on January 20.
What do you hope to see on House in the coming months? Let me know in the comments thread! Wishing all of you a very happy new year!