At a press conference a couple of years ago, House, M.D star Hugh Laurie refers to a scene in Star Trek classic in which Captain Kirk looks out over the cosmos, saying ”somewhere out there someone is saying the three most beautiful words in any language.” But says, Laurie, those three words are not what you would expect. They’re not “I love you.” They are, Laurie recalls (though not completely accurately), “Please help me.” Laurie goes on to suggest that “House is a character in need of human contact and some kind of redemption.” That ‘please help me’ aspect I think is an important element in the show.”
“Help me.” A plea from a young woman on the beginning of a promising life; she has a new husband, the hopes of a family. She is crushed beneath a building, and trapped by a giant crane that toppled into the building, her leg wedged under tons of debris. Rescue is not imminent. It is also the title of the House, M.D. season six finale. And it is one of the series finest hours.
I keep saying that, it seems this season. Yes, season six had its problems; I know. But episodes like “Help Me,” “Baggage” (last week’s episode), and “Broken” stand right up there with House classics like “Three Stories,” “House’s Head” and “Both Sides Now.”
At the end of last week’s “Baggage,” House's psychiatrist Dr. Daryl Nolan (Andre Braugher) hits a tender nerve when he suggests that House’s misery may have something to do with his non-relationship with his boss, Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein). House denies the connection, and deciding that he’s had it with Nolan and psychotherapy, he accuses his therapist of being a “faith healer,” preying on those (like him) who “want to believe.” He’s given it a year and nothing for him has changed; everyone around his has found happiness—are “moving in together.” He’s done everything Nolan has asked (which in itself is amazing for the cynical House)—and his is still (if not more) miserable.
“Help Me” begins where last week’s episode ends: with Dr. Ernest Cuddy’s medical text. House had been holding onto the antiquarian book for years, saving it to give Cuddy for a “special occasion.” Clearly, House believes the window of opportunity has passed for a special occasion they can share, and he gives it to her (and Lucas) wishing them success as they begin a “new chapter.” It’s a housewarming gift. Is this a signal that perhaps House understands it’s over and that he’s lost? Is it resignation? Is he trying still (even after giving up on Nolan’s help) to be grown up about it while trying to steer himself on a new path?
Cuddy reacts strangely to the gift and House, which House attributes to her being on the verge of a breakup with Lucas, but he’s wrong. This is House still holding onto to the possibility that maybe he’s wrong after all—and there’s still a chance. In any event the gesture is enormous for House, and deeply sentimental. It’s a beautiful gift, something to which Cuddy barely reacts. I think she’s taken aback by it. But she avoids the issue entirely, telling him they have to be at the site of a horrific crane accident. NOW!
A giant crane has toppled over into an occupied building, injuring scores; several people are still missing, presumed trapped beneath the rubble. We never see the accident. There are no explosions, no fireworks. We discover the site as House does after he pulls up astride his motorcycle. Stunned and horrified by the enormity of destruction, he wanders the site at first in disbelief, taking it in.
House is House: in doctor mode, but not interested. Encountering the crane operator, he finds an excuse to go back to Princeton-Plainsboro: the operator has symptoms odd enough to catch House’s curiosity. But Cuddy’s not buying it, and the operator is sent back by ambulance with Foreman. The team will deal with the guy who caused the disaster, while House stays onsite.
And then House hears a tapping. He sure it’s someone buried and unable to communicate, but after exploration, the rescue workers hear and see nothing. But House, being House, explores further into the rubble. Startling him, someone grabs at his cane. “Help me!” It’s a young woman caught, her leg trapped beneath the debris.
So begins a remarkable hour of television. Remarkable for the series of events that leads House right back to his own leg injuries, and right to the core of his misery as he endeavors to save the life of the young woman.
Everything, from the direction and camera to the wonderful performances work to keep us on the edge of our seats as the building in which House is hunkered down with the patient might fall in on them at any moment. The situation is fragile, but no more fragile than House himself, the tension between him and Cuddy and the life of his patient.
Will the building come down on top of them? Will House’s patient survive her injuries—or even her rescue? And what is the cost to House through it all—physically and emotionally. In the midst of the disaster site’s chaos, this is a quiet, emotional and resonant story. And like the best House episodes, the impact comes not from the blockbuster setting nor from the catastrophic disaster in which it (mostly) takes place, but from the personal story of House and his patient.
To say any more would give too much away, and even I don’t know how it ends. The folks at FOX clipped the final minute or so from the press screeners, so I guess we’ll all have to find out together Monday night. Can’t wait.
I will be doing an episode wrap up early next week with House executive producer/writers Garrett Lerner and Russel Friend, and co-executive producer/writer Peter Blake, who wrote “Help Me.” In the mean time, enjoy my interview with Doris Egan and don’t forget to bid on this very Housian item offered by novelist Brenda Novak’s auction to benefit diabetes research (bidding is open through the month of May.)