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Has this season of House, M.D. all been in House's mind? And can fans expect more of the same when 13 returns in "The Dig"?

Restless House, M.D. Fans Wonder What’s Next?

(Mild spoilers ahead for House, M.D. Episode 7×18)

House, M.D. fans are restless. In the wake of the bombshell of “Bombshells” and the seemingly arbitrary breakup of House (Hugh Laurie) and Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), many fans are wondering if Season 7 has all been a “Huddy” dream (literally) gone bust. 

Some have speculated that maybe House had fallen into more dire straits than we imagined at the end of last season’s finale “Help Me.” Had his disaster-scene injuries more significant than we originally thought? Had he actually OD’d on the Vicodin he’d unearthed in his apartment? Has he been in a coma all season and, along with us, been transported to some alternate universe of House’s mind?

Hugh Laurie in "Bombshells" courtesy FOX

 

There have been few clues that lend credence to this theory. For example, very observant fans may have noticed that House stopped wearing a wristwatch (the one he got from Kutner) at the start of this season. Interestingly, according to various reports, the decision to get rid of the watch was a specific and intentional detail courtesy of the series star and executive producer Hugh Laurie. But why? What reason would he have had to make that acting choice?

Again, there are a few differing speculations floating around. You might recall that, during the season premiere “Now What,” there is a strong sense (at least in House’s mind) that once Cuddy leaves the haven of his apartment and walks out the door, the entire thing will vanish into thin air. Is House trying, at least metaphorically, to stop time while he’s involved with Cuddy, believing that their relationship is fleeting? That would explain the watch’s reappearance after the breakup.

Or does the watch’s absence indicate that something’s not real about this entire scenario? But if none of this is real and all plying out in House’s mindscape, then why is House limping? Why is he in pain? Why is he using the cane? When we’ve been inside House’s dreams and hallucinations before, he has been pain free (which is House’s ultimate fantasy). Maybe I’m thinking too hard about this!

David Shore and the rest of the creative team have never shied away from dancing on the high wire, making unexpected pirouettes and taking some big risks. And making Season 7 House’s dark fantasy/nightmare certainly would be that. But, like I said, I’m unconvinced—but not un-convincible.

So what is going on?  That, I guess, is the question. The corollary to that question is, of course, a reprise of the question asked in the season premiere: Now what?

At the end of “Now What?” House expresses the same deep reservations that he had about becoming involved again with Stacy in Season 2’s “Need to Know.” He believes that as well-intended Cuddy may be to overlook House’s less gallant behavior, she will eventually not be able to accept him and all his warts. He’s reluctant to “go there” and risk exposing himself. It is one of his worst fears that he will venture forth and allow himself to be vulnerable, only to have his heart broken.

But House is convinced by the end of “Now What?” that it’s worth the risk. All through the early episodes of Season 7, House seems to be walking on eggshells, trying to avoid making Cuddy too angry, while also trying to do his job, which often means making Cuddy angry. He tries incredibly hard to make it work, but there is always a certain foreboding that House feels it’s all about to fall apart. And when eventually it does—his deepest fears realized.

You can argue that it’s a self-fulfilled prophecy, and that somehow House subconsciously sabotages the relationship, but personally, I see no evidence of that. We get plenty of Housian shenanigans, some of it designed to avoid bigger trouble; some just because he’s House and that’s how he acts. And of course by the time we get to toilet seats left up, toothbrushes and taking out the garbage, Cuddy is precariously close to her tipping point. The “little things” become magnified and more than mere annoyances. But sabotage? 

House has always been a relatively reclusive character—very reclusive in the first season as he slowly emerges. He is private to the degree that the only people he seems to share himself with emotionally are strangers and others simply passing through his life—dying patients, hookers, bartenders.

In the first couple years of the series, House’s heart is so guarded that Wilson actually warns Cameron to be very sure she wants to pursue House because “it’s been a long time since he’s opened up to anyone.” If he’s rejected, Wilson cautions, there may not be a “next time” (“Love Hurts,” Season 1).  

Slowly over the seasons, we see House slowly opening himself to the women in his circle, including Cameron of course, Stacy, and then Cuddy. House never becomes emotionally invested in a relationship with Cameron, and they are never together, so when Cameron gets involved with Chase, he pretty much accepts it an moves on—even encouraging helping to repair their engagement when it is on the rocks towards the end of Season 5.

When House broke up with Stacy, long before we ever met him, we are told by Wilson that House fell apart, leaving Wilson to pick up the pieces. When Stacy comes back into House’s orbit, at first Wilson is wary, warning her, like he’d warned Cameron not to “toy with him” (“Need to Know”).

And then House becomes involved with Cuddy, stripping most of the barriers from around his heart, and opening himself to the possibility of love—and even happiness. As House fears it will, the relationship shatters in “Bombshells” sending House off the rails, first into a hedonistic bender and then pushing his over-the-top behavior even further into the stratosphere in many ways.

The breakup with Cuddy is the worst of House’s fears realized; it’s Wilson’s warning to Cameron and to Stacy realized. House’s reaction to it both in “Out of the Chute” and “Fall from Grace” are all about trying avoid confronting the deep hurt he is feeling.

I think the final scene of “Fall From Grace” is a significant moment for House. A two-week bender of drugs, insanity, and over-the-top behavior has not made him feel better. There’s no catharsis; no payback; nothing. And I think in that final scene with Dominika in “Fall from Grace” is a moment of clarity for House.

It is that moment that leads into the next episode “The Dig” (airing on FOX Monday, April 11). And it is House’s first step in the direction of finding himself again.

I will tell you at this point that I’ve seen episode 7×18; I will do a proper preview of “The Dig” at the end of the next week. House seems to have settled down much since we last saw him après Green Card Wedding. Dominika is nowhere to be seen (she’s in Atlantic City with her boyfriend, House explains). But he’s wearing no ring at all. And, although I watched it without taking notes, I do not believe I saw him take one Vicodin. Interesting.

There are strong suggestions in “The Dig” that House, while still mourning the loss of his relationship with Cuddy (and that is made clear), he is beginning to process what happened and also beginning to pull himself together to the point where he is able to something extraordinary: something of which we know House capable, but that no one with whom he associates would really expect. I can’t say more without spoiling it.

The episode has everything in it that we might expect in the best House episodes (except that neither Cuddy nor Wilson are anywhere to be seen). It is funny and sassy, but it’s also serious, emotionally resonant and poignant. 

And to me, “The Dig” doesn’t really fit the “this is all a hallucination” scenario. I won’t say too much else at this point. I know some of you are not very fond of 13, but her return (for House’s 150th episode) provides a perfect vehicle for House to begin to get his life back together, and to demonstrate his depth of feeling and humanity. How that will translate once he has to once again interact with Cuddy, I have no idea.

Feel free to ask questions. I cannot spoil plot points (and wouldn’t want to do that anyway), but I’ll be happy to answer what I’m able without giving too much away.

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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