“You can’t keep going like this. Something has to change.”
This last exchange in “After Hours” between House (Hugh Laurie in a brilliant performance) and Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), for all it’s familiarity, is noteworthy for House’s lack of push-back against Wilson’s nagging. House knows it’s true, perhaps truer than at any other time since we met him.
“After Hours,” is the penultimate episode of House’s seventh season, and after all of this season’s pyrotechnics, production numbers and high-wire acts, it really comes down to this simple exchange. “Something has to change.”
Garrett Lerner and Russel Friend’s straightforward, yet heart-stopping script ties together three separate stories, which never intersect, themselves, but which elaborate on a familiar House theme. The simplicity of the story lines belies the complexity of emotion in this study of cause and effect. Oh how I have missed Friend and Lerner’s wonderful scripts this season. (This is their first since last season’s finale.) From “House’s Head” and “Wilson’s Heart,” to “Broken” and, of course “Help Me” (often in collaboration with Peter Blake, and sometimes David Foster), this writing team is great at mining the series core themes and getting to the real emotion of House’s story.
I’ve liked much of Season 7, but I’d yet to watch an episode this season that’s left me breathless at the commercial breaks (although fortunately I didn’t have to watch the episode with commercials—Phew!). Until now, that is.
To House, everything goes back to The Leg. From Season 1, he insists that all of his pain, torment and sadness originates in Stacy’s single decision, made without his consent. All control over his own future was ripped away when she made the decision to have Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) do the debridement on his leg. And everything from that moment on was dictated by The Leg. His undiagnosed illness led him to diagnostics; the chronic pain led him to dependence on narcotics. Chronic pain changes you, I’m told. Everything becomes about that one thing that now rules your physical and emotional life. And the decisions made in direct contradiction to his wishes destroyed whatever trust he may have had in medicine and in people.
Of course, we know that House’s trust issues go much deeper than that—to his relationship with his parents certainly and whatever he suffered under John House’s roof. And another person might have reacted differently to the realities presented to House post surgery. But House’s damaged leg is the albatross around his neck; it affects everything else; every consideration.
He self-medicates; he researches crazy theories that may alleviate his pain. It is the White Whale to his Ahab. Wilson and to Cuddy usually are able to keep close enough to him to protect him from his own recklessness and the worst of his self-destructive behavior. But over the last several weeks, in the aftermath of his breakup with Cuddy, House has put up more walls between himself and those closest to him.
Barely speaking to him, Cuddy is still trying to convince herself that she doesn’t love or care for House. She keeps herself distant enough that she would have no idea what House’s state of mind may be. Wilson is still trying to pick up the pieces and lead his friend back to some state of normalcy, inventing games and diversions to keep House from falling into despair.
Wilson can usually read House (at least as far as knowing that something is not right with him), but he’s been so focused on diverting House from his pain, that he’d missed just how deeply wounded House had become—so desperate that he experiments on himself. So far gone, that he’d rather risk mutilating his leg further, or worse, than trusting a surgeon to operate on his leg.
So much of Wilson and Cuddy’s lives are dictated by caring about their very troubled friend, they have little energy left for anything else. As much as each might want to move past him, neither Cuddy (as she admits at the end of “Help Me”) nor Wilson (“Birthmarks”) has been capable of leaving House.
But neither of them has been watching very carefully as House has been on self-destruct since the end of “Bombshells.” And as much as House wants to be left alone, he also craves the filters that Wilson and Cuddy provide to protect him from his most self-destructive inclinations.
House knows as he recovers from the surgery to which he finally agrees that lectures are forthcoming, telling Wilson, however, that he’d hoped to wake up to someone who can’t speak “judgmental.” But as much as he says he doesn’t want anyone to dictate to him how he should live his life, he needs and usually appreciates his friends’ counsel. Without it, shutting them out of his life in an elemental way, House nearly kills himself, this time with a combination of experimenting on himself and the self-surgery.
Other times he’s considered radical therapies for himself (“Half Wit,” “Insensitive,” and “Softer Side”), either Wilson or Cuddy stops him before he does any real damage. Now I’m not saying that either of them is a paragon. Many times, particularly Wilson, has jumped to the worst conclusions about House. And when House decides to live down to the worst expectations of his closest friends post “Bombshells” it is their low expectations at which House is aiming.
House is driven by abject fear here. He doesn’t know whom to trust, so he trusts no one. But as House is about to be wheeled into the operating room, he realizes that once again the course of his life is out of his control. He will be under general anesthesia as the doctors operate on his leg to remove the tumors he had tried removing himself. His biggest fear is that once under then knife, the doctors will decide that his leg is beyond saving, and they will amputate. We are right back at “Three Stories” and that crucial decision point about The Leg. Just as then, House is terrified. House has to trust someone; he trusts Cuddy. He puts his destiny in her hands. Only let them cut if absolutely necessary. And in so doing it puts a burden on her shoulders.
Cuddy’s cannot get away from House, as much as she tries. Of course this is exacerbated by daughter Rachel, who has forged a friendship with House—and misses him since the breakup.
In the end, House’s efforts, as crazy as they seem are to make his life better. He is not suicidal; he is trying to make his leg better. So his life can be better, as Cuddy observes.
But as Wilson says, something has to change. We’ve been here before with House so many times. He wants to change, he tries to change, to make his life better. But at this point it’s up to him. He’s in control; he is the only one who can alter his destiny. Wilson can’t do it; neither can Cuddy. They can only perform first aid on House’s broken life, or emergency surgery when necessary. Indeed, House has to take it into his own hands to perform the real surgery on his life. But is he ready?
The episode’s other story lines, although nowhere as intense and compelling as House’s, elaborate on the themes played out in House’s story. Thirteen’s (Olivia Wilde) decision to euthanize her brother haunts her, now informing everything in her life—every decision she makes henceforth. Her story parallels Chase’s (Jesse Spencer) and the burden he has carried since assassinating President Dibala in Season 6. Chase has, since that moment, been tormented, by it; unable to share his burden with anyone meaningful. And it is in the connection between Chase and 13, that both may get what they truly need—the opportunity for solace. I am very interested to see how this plays out.
This week’s patient, a junkie ex-con, stabbed in a crack den, wasn’t always that woman. A police officer, she killed a young man in self-defense, but the action, justified as it might have been, has marked her, changed her and destroyed her.
Taub (Peter Jacobson), too has a life-altering fork in the road in “After Hours.” His most recent affair has led to an unplanned pregnancy, and he has no interest in the burdens of fatherhood (in itself a life-altering event). But faced with a life-passing-before-my-eyes moment at gunpoint, Taub has second thoughts along with a second chance at life. Maybe becoming a father, leaving a legacy—a next generation—has merit and will allow him to eventually leave this earth believing he has done something good.
I cannot end this review without talking about Hugh Laurie’s performance. As difficult to watch as the self-surgery scene was, I managed to catch enough through my splayed fingers to witness an amazing, intense and gut-wrenching performance. His scenes with Rachel Cuddy exchanging pirate lines were delightful, and I loved the tentative touch House gave his right leg after waking up from surgery, to make sure he still had it. Brilliant acting all the way through.
I also have to say how much I enjoyed the exchanges between Rachel Cuddy and House. And it appears that it will be through her that an official cessation of hostilities will occur between House and Cuddy. Her get well note to House, obviously a note from both Rachel and her mother, invites House back into both their lives, expressing, very simply, how much they miss him.
There is so much more to say about this fine episode, but I will leave that for you all, and for later in the week when I chat with writer/executive producers Lerner and Friend about “After Hours” and Season 7.
House returns next week for the season finale “Moving On.”