According to the Urban Dictionary, bromance: "the complicated love and affection shared by two straight males.” Not necessarily up on all the latest pop-verbiage, this was new to me until recently when Nightline did a piece on it a few months ago. I am told that bromance is mutual, while the (also popular term) “man crush” is a one-way relationship.
I don’t watch Nightline, but I am curious, so I Googled the term to get more insight into what it exactly means for two guys to be in a “bromance.” Of course the source of my curiosity stems from the House fandom’s constant attempts to characterize and dissect the unique relationship between Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) and his friend and colleague James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard).
A significant (minority, I think) portion of the House fandom believes there is even something much more than bromance going on between House and Wilson. (Just read all of the “slash” fanfiction out there.) Is it, as many of them think, that the two men have a romantic penchant for each other, just burbling below the surface of their mutual sarcasm? Or is it more “bromantic” than romantic?
Myself, I think that House and Wilson are like brothers — playing out that old comic feature from Highlights for Children, “Goofus and Gallant.” It’s obvious who is who. But it’s a surface game — casting Wilson as the serious and “good” Gallant and House as the wild mischief-making bad boy Goofus. Because as you all know, Wilson has a dark side — manipulative and secretive, sneaky and sanctimonious. And House has his nobility; serious when it’s important, self-sacrificing when necessary, fiercely loyal, and (when the situation calls for it) compassionate.
It often appears that House is the needy one in the relationship, and Wilson the doormat (feeding on neediness) that House sucks the lifeblood from with his neediness. Why would Wilson put up with it? Is it just this need to be needed? Is that simply Wilson’s “pathology?” Is he an emotional vampire, as House suggests?
Wilson certainly views himself as House’s protector, although House just as certainly sees Wilson as interfering and self-righteous. Wilson has sometimes shown a profound misunderstanding of his best friend (most notably in “Meaning”/”Cane and Able”, “Need to Know,” and “Merry Little Christmas”). But his admonition to Cameron about House’s fragility in “Love Hurts,” and his parallel warning not to toy with House’s affection delivered to Stacy in “Need to Know,” suggest that Wilson usually has House’s well-being in mind.
House’s shows of caring for Wilson are less obvious (as is all of House’s emotional life), but it’s there and profound in its own way. The most obvious examples were in this past season’s finale episodes “House’s Head” and “Wilson’s Heart.”
So, as we look forward in two weeks to the start of season five, and knowing that the new season will bring a rift (and hopefully repair) of House and Wilson’s relationship, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at some of the most memorable House-Wilson moments. For whatever we think of them and their relationship, clearly it has worked for them. And I think we all have some idea as to what might happen each of them if it ended. And it ain’t pretty.
“Damned if You Do.” This episode has bromance galore. From House and Wilson discussing Dante’s circles of Hell in bookend scenes to their Christmas eve feast of Chinese food (from cartons) in House’s apartment, this episode clearly defines them as very good friends, and as far as Wilson is concerned, someone he’d rather spend time with than his wife.
“Histories.” That final scene where House has followed Wilson to the street where he last saw his brother, now presumed by Wilson to be homeless – or worse. It was a quietly genuine moment between them — no snark; no pretense.
“Detox.” The confrontation between House and Wilson at the episode’s end is a pivotal scene in the series’ history. House admits his addiction to Vicodin, but insists it’s not a problem. We learn that Wilson engineered the entire wager between House and Cuddy, and that Wilson understands (at least for the moment) that perhaps his manipulation has caused his friend enough damage.
“Sportsmedicine.” I loved the adolescent conversations between them about baseball cards and tickets to the Monster Truck rally. But that poignant moment in House’s office where the clearly hurt House learns that Wilson has lied to him to cover up dinner with Stacy (who we have yet to meet in the series’ narrative) is a wonderful establishing moment to me.
“Mob Rules.” Corvette joy ride. Need I say more?
“Babies and Bathwater.” Wilson quits, telling House that the only two things important to him: “my job and this crazy screwed up friendship,” weren’t valued enough by House to give Vogler’s speech. But fundamentally, Wilson understands (sort of). House’s nature (and native sense of justice) would let him do nothing else.
“Love Hurts.” As House readies for his dreaded date with Cameron, Wilson lies on his sofa giving advice. (Condoms pre-treated with antibiotics!) To me, that scene in House’s apartment really crystallizes their relationship. Wilson’s tomcat bravado; House’s nervous awkwardness. But Wilson’s assurance to House that the corsage (as sweetly silly a gesture as it is) would be appreciated by Cameron is a great moment. We also get “Wilson the protector” in this episode as he warns Cameron that “it’s been a long time since he’s opened up to anybody. If he gets hurt, there may not be another time.”
“Honeymoon.” House calls Wilson from his home-cooked dinner, disturbed by his feelings about Stacy’s husband Mark. A nice supportive moment.
“Accetpance.” “Bros before ‘hos’.” Wilson suggests that House trust Stacy, as he may need her (not to mention win her love). Wilson’s advice to House doesn’t turn out well, and Stacy fails the trust test. But lunch with “Coma Guy” was a nice moment.
“Need to Know.” Protective Wilson again appears, this time warning Stacy that she should not play with House’s emotions. He tells her that he was left to pick up the pieces after Stacy left, and to tread carefully. She chooses to believe Cuddy, who saw no evidence of a grieving and broken House (as if he’d willingly show that side to anyone!) But Wilson is correct, and in the end House shies away from putting himself through another emotional wringer, telling Stacy to go back to Mark. There’s another great scene in which House goes to Wilson for advice. Unfortunately, the final scene of the episode shows Wilson as completely misunderstanding his best friend, his motives, and feelings, accusing House of enjoying his misery.
“Distractions.” House and Wilson listening to “von Evil” lecture on migraines.
“Skin Deep.” In a great scene as House undergoes an MRI, Wilson tries to relax the worried and slightly freaked-out House: “House, this is God.” One of my favorite House-Wilson scenes. Ever.
“Sex Kills” through “Sleeping Dogs Lie” Of course in season two, we got to see House and Wilson actually living together during this story arc. These episodes are filled with enough bromance to fill an entire column.
I loved the series of pranks (with a purpose) House plays on Wilson in “Safe.” The point of the pranks was to both have fun—and to wake Wilson from his passive-agressiveness with regard to his marriage. Wilson finally does react, pushing back (some would argue rather cruelly and dangerously by breaking House’s cane—but House certainly appreciated it.
“House vs God.” The poker game. With the tables turned, House has the opportunity to lecture Wilson about his own reckless behavior. It almost turns very nasty, until the hospital calls; suddenly all rancor falls away as they, together, turn their attention on the patient.
“All In.” Every scene between them crackled; whether on the phone or playing poker. Or discussing Moby Dick.
As much as season two served to promote House and Wilson’s mutual affection, season three’s events seemed to destroy it. With House’s self-esteem so wrapped up in his diagnostic ability (which was at risk by undergoing the Ketamine treatment), Wilson’s betrayal in “Meaning” seems all the more tragic. House’s stealing of Wilson’s prescription pads intensified their rift, which wasn’t resolved until the second half of the season. The “bromance” was definitely on hold throughout much of the year.
“Son of Coma Guy.” Although the relationship between House and Wilson was pretty frosty in this episode, their abiding friendship shines through when House decides to assist Gabe Wozniak’s suicide. Without his asking, Wilson provides House a cover story and then silently sits vigil with House in the hallway awaiting Gabe’s suicide.
“Top Secret.” Conversation about the Village People in the bathroom. Too funny. Although I thought that Wilson was pretty unsympathetic to House, who was in supreme agony throughout the episode.
“Insensitive.” House and Wilson’s heart to heart chat after Wilson discovers that House has been researching the patient’s disease for his own purposes was a high point in season three. Wilson is best (and most effective) when he confronts House privately and appeals to his better nature, than when he’s lecturing him. And House’s admission that he’d rather live a shorter, but normal, life than a long life in pain was a very moving reveal to Wilson.
“Act Your Age.” The relationship between House and Wilson is healed into playfulness after House gives Wilson theatre tickets and he takes Cuddy. This is the House-Wilson relationship at its most “bromantic,” and luckily for us spills over to lighten the very bleak and heavy next episode, “House Training.”
Speaking of “House Training,” I think that the scene where House awaits the patient’s death says much about the House-Wilson relationship. House has been up all night in his office, and Wilson brings him a cup of coffee, sitting vigil with him. As House performs the grim task of autopsy, Wilson deals with the patient’s grandparents, securing their consent for the procedure. Wilson seems to understand in this episode why House “needs” to do what he does, even when others do not.
“Alone.” In the season four opener as cruel as it seemed, there was such a playfully evil glee in Wilson’s guitar-napping scheme that it is hard to be angry with him. I think even House appreciated Wilson’s scheme. It was a manipulation that House himself might have masterminded under different circumstances.
“Whatever it Takes.” We saw Wilson enjoy the cool of House being at the CIA (before getting slightly nervous about the likely background checks performed on House’s close associates).
“Mirror, Mirror.” There was the lighthearted argument about who’s the alpha in their relationship. (And in my opinion, Wilson is the real alpha, despite House’s apparently more dominant personality.)
“It’s a Wonderful Lie.” One of my favorite season four House-Wilson moments was toward the end of this episode, when House’s epiphany was provoked by Wilson’s ridiculous (but adorable) reindeer hat. (Or, as House puts it, a “moose on a Jew.”)
And of course we cannot examine House and Wilson’s relationship without recalling the stunning (and amusing) revelation that in dating Amber, Wilson was actually (well, metaphorically) sleeping with House. And that eventually, House understands the significance of that relationship, giving it his (ambivalent) blessing. Before tragedy strikes them all.
Bringing us to the stunning and emotional season finale episodes. In “House’s Head,” reaching beyond his head injury into his heart, House knew that he had lost an important fragment of his memory during the accident. It was so important that he pushed himself beyond all reason to find out what it was, and who it involved. And it wasn’t (in my opinion) just idle curiosity.
It was important because it was Amber (of course). Had his subconscious lost Amber — lost the missing thread for which he was searching — they never would have found her. I think House realized in the fleeting moment of the crash that the flu pills (which he saw her take) and the crash added up to Amantadine poisoning. But it was a fraction of a second before all Hell broke loose. And even after the crash, House continued to try to keep Amber alive and track her whereabouts as she was rescued from the bus. But leaving the bus and the immediate environment of the memory, the essential bit of information was lost to him. Except that he knew it was very, very important.
Of course in “Wilson’s Heart,” we see where House’s heart also lies. Still suffering serious head trauma, House tries (not very successfully) to balance friendship and medicine. Time after time, he makes medical decisions that are more about making Wilson feel better than anything else. And in the end, House makes a willing and brave choice to risk his life to save the love of Wilson’s.
There is no question that Wilson and House’s relationship is the most significant in either of their lives. And the fact that season five begins with that relationship torn asunder, suggests a very compelling, intense and wonderful beginning to the season.
So… what are your favorite House-Wilson moments?
Season five begins September 16 with “Dying Changes Everything;” the Emmy Awards are September 19, and the magnificent Hugh Laurie as well as the series itself (and “House’s Head” director Greg Yaitanes) are among the nominees. So, fingers and toes crossed! Hugh Laurie is also scheduled to appear on Leno Friday, September 12.