When I started writing for Blogcritics last October, House, MD was already well into its fourth season; my first episode commentary was on the third episode of the season, “97 Seconds.” So as FOX re-airs season four on Monday nights over the summer, I will take the opportunity to fill in the couple of episodes I missed first time ‘round (I watched them, I just didn’t write about them!) Tonight, FOX re-airs “Alone,” the season four premiere.
When last we saw House, he had eliminated his entire team in one fell swoop in “Human Error.” Season four opens two weeks later, finding House as we last saw him — playing guitar. (Although now it’s no longer the vintage Gibson "Jumbo" acoustic model, but a vintage Gibson “Flying V” electric. Geez — he has nearly as many guitars as I have!)
Unwilling to hire fellows to replace the departed Cameron, Chase, and Foreman, Cuddy hands House a new case file. They argue in an exchange that can only be called “The Cuddy Blues,” their usual thrust and parry punctuated with electric blues riffs played by the ever-amazing Hugh Laurie on the aforementioned vintage electric. House contends that he can’t take on a case because he doesn’t have a team. And then that he doesn’t need a team because he doesn’t have a case. Obviously! After negotiating deal, House agrees to take on the case of a building collapse victim. If he solves the case without any help from an (unnecessary) team, Cuddy promises to leave him in peace for a week.
But in this tragic case of mistaken identity, the question becomes whether House might have solved his case quicker (and saved the patient) with a team of inquisitive fellows challenging his every theory. The patient, who is virtually unrecognizable after being crushed in a building collapse, exhibits symptom after symptom, each of which point to a lifestyle that is as unrecognizable as the victim’s face, leading House to conclude that she is leading a double life, lying to both her mother and her lover. House correctly treats each new symptom, “curing her” only for her to develop a new symptom, each time. In the course of diagnosis, he discovers that his injured patient is an alcoholic (unbeknownst to her lover) and has had a recent abortion (although her boyfriend insists that they were planning on having children). Not quite the girl with whom he believed himself to be involved!
When her final symptom turns out to be something not possible (an allergy to a drug to which she cannot be allergic), House finally realizes that she was misidentified in the chaotic aftermath of the building collapse. She is simply the wrong woman. Would House, team intact, have figured it out in time to save the patient? Is House, as Cuddy and Wilson contend, better off with a team than operating alone?
But solving the “riddle of the week” is not the only reason Cuddy and Wilson believe that House “needs a team.” They’ve known House a lot longer than we (as viewers) have. In the pilot episode we are made aware that House had to be cajoled and manipulated from the safety and isolation of his office. And even then, he had a team of young fellows (although they are shown to be doing crossword puzzles and research). He doesn’t answer phone calls or requests for consult. Maybe Cuddy and Wilson fear the same thing will happen: that House, alone, will withdraw once again to the isolation of his sanctuary.
House certainly believes that he’s better off sans team. He can play his guitar, learn complicated (and loud) guitar riffs (without disturbing anyone), and hide out in his office. He can deal with patients as necessary (and only as necessary) without having anyone get too close. Without a team, House is still a creative, brilliant thinker. His mind moves very fast, leaping from one set of ideas to another, making connections that no one else can see. And without a team he doesn’t need to explain to anyone how he got from A to B to Z. On the other hand, as quickly as his mind works, he his ideas emerge unrefined and unfiltered.
As Cuddy suggests at the end of “Alone,” Cameron, Foreman and Chase had worked as a sort of filter or sieve for House’s ideas. Even as he taught them, asked questions in the most Socratic of methods about diagnoses to which he often already knew the answer, their responses challenged, validated, corroborated, and solidified his own final sketch of the problem.
Even House realizes this to a certain extent. With Chase, Cameron, and Foreman gone, House looks to substitutes much as he did in season three’s “Airborne.” A maintenance engineer who happens by House’s office is pulled into his orbit and becomes Dr. Buffer. He then attempts to manipulate Cuddy, Wilson and even the ER staff into brainstorming his ideas on the case. Wilson and Cuddy refuse to play, and Wilson (in a hysterically funny side story) cruelly kidnaps and mutilates House’s expensive “Flying V.” He sends House “ransom” notes from the "diabolical kidnappers" and threatens to slowly tighten the strings to cause his beloved new guitar incalculable pain (oh the humanity!), House gives in, agreeing to interview fellowship candidates rather than play along with Wilson’s game.
In a particularly poignant scene, House faces off against the stack of CVs, staring at them, considering the task ahead of interviewing and hiring new fellows. House is clearly troubled at the prospect. But why? Is it really that stressful for him? Does House really fear the working with a team?
Wilson thinks it’s because House is too sensitive to change and loss, and has been hurt by the loss of his former fellows. He formed connections to them, and their loss leaves House at sea. Better to have no team than to have to deal with the anguish of loss, suggests Wilson.
I’m not sure that Wilson is right here, but loss is something I would think House would not be comfortable with in any event. He has suffered separation much of his life. From moving around (presumably) as a military brat — leaving friends and schools behind at each move, to the loss of his right leg, his athleticism, his independence, and his pain free existence (because of a choice made for him, without his consent, therefore out of his control); the loss of the love of his life. It’s not a great wonder as to why (with Wilson’s assumptions and experience about how House deals with loss) Wilson is adamant that House refuses to hire a new team out of fear that he will lose them (again).
Of course, House, himself, argues that he doesn’t want a new team because he doesn’t need a new team. And (in a sense) he probably doesn’t. He was able to diagnose the patient, but imperfect information (and the lack of people off of whom to bounce ideas) may have delayed discovering that they were treating the wrong patient. But House relents in the end, understanding that Cuddy in her wisdom may be right, and does perhaps realize that “team” is better than “no” team. And he got his guitar back. But House will go about hiring a new team, as only House can. As he says, "wear a cup — and let the games begin.
House appears on Monday nights on FOX at 9:00 p.m. eastern time throughout the summer. The DVD is due out August 19!