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A classic House, M.D. episode has House and the team diagnosing a healthy man who's about to die.

TV Review: House, M.D. – “Brave Heart”

Courage—a brave heart—necessary to take on the most difficult of tasks. Several  characters in this week’s House, M.D. episode “Brave Heart” need one. The patient of the week, Donny (Jon Seda), House (Hugh Laurie), Chase (Jesse Spencer), even Cameron (Jennifer Morrison)  and Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) all have things to confront—difficult, if not impossible obstacles and demons.

The episode starts with another “blockbuster” teaser, which has become a series signature (fabulous directing, guys!). This time it’s a full-on police chase, complete with gymnastic, fleet-footed suspect. It ends as our patient of the week, a cop, tries to leap tall buildings with a single bound—and doesn’t quite make it.

The cop is reckless, not because of death wish, but because he knows he’s going to die. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather all died of a heart attack just after their 40th birthdays, we learn he is about to reach that age, and according to his partner, just doesn’t care. He’s been to several doctors, none of whom can find a thing wrong with his heart; Cameron refers him to Dr. Gregory House.

Donny faces his fate bravely, fatalistically. He pursues no relationships, and when confronted with a son of whom he knew nothing, Donny rejects contact with him because he can’t inflict the pain on his son, inflicted upon him when his father died. But House points out to him in a classic House-patient one-on-one scene that he’s copping out of relationships and life, using his fate as an excuse for recklessness and responsibility avoidance.

It’s advice House gives through a new prism, from the other side of his own nightmare, and it is a wise perspective. It works, as once they’ve figured out the 40th birthday mystery of his family, Donny begins to courageously step beyond himself to begin bonding with his son.

Chase needs his own brave heart as he wanders aimlessly through the aftermath of his own nightmare, having two weeks earlier assassinated a genocidal dictator. The weight of what he has done begins to crush him, and he cannot find the courage to talk to even (or especially) to his wife. It eats away at him little by little in a beautifully rendered performance by Jesse Spencer.

Foreman (Omar Epps) urges him to talk to Cameron, who is worried and suspicious. She obviously knows he’s hiding something. House, too, urges Chase to seek help. “I’m fine,” Chase tells him, using House’s favorite pat response to any personal inquiry. “You shouldn’t be,” House tells him, knowing Chase is lying. The weight of past actions is something House knows about intimately and it has nearly destroyed him—more than once.

Chase does go to confession, seeking absolution, but the priest refuses, saying that a few “Hail Marys” aren’t going to absolve the intentional taking of a life. He urges Chase to turn himself in to the police. Chase is shattered, believing he did the right thing in killing Dibala when he had the chance, but not wanting to live with the horror of it on his conscience. Chase is boxed in, unable to tell Cameron, unable to go to the police, unable to live with himself. The bravery he had in killing the dictator has fled as he is confronted with demons much more challenging than Dibala. Will Chase find the needed courage, before it destroys his marriage and his soul.

House, too, must muster his own “brave heart” as he tries to find his footing back in medicine. Getting back on the “zebra” himself, now fully in command of the department (albeit without medical license), House is certain the deaths of Donny’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather are all a coincidence. But when House gives him a placebo and discharges him, Donny dies four hours later.

And House is hearing voices, keeping him up at night, as he continues to sleep at Wilson’s (Robert Sean Leonard) house. Considering he was suffering visual and auditory hallucinations only a few months earlier, this must be terrifying for him. But House keeps this to himself, worried and anxious, but afraid to tell anyone. After Donny collapses, House blames himself. Although Foreman reassures House he had good reason to discharge the patient, he wonders “what is wrong with me?”

Of course there is a logical explanation for the voices, but the still-fragile House, now bunking in a room surrounded by Wilson’s remembrances of Amber, is understandably unnerved. As we know, Amber, about whom House must still feel enormous guilt, haunted House last season in hallucination form. You can literally feel his building panic as he continues to hear voices, which now invade him even at the office.

House consults an audiologist, who tells him his hearing is fine, and if he’s hearing voices, then it’s probably psychosis. This is not really something House needs to hear just after discharge from a psych hospital. House must now confront the real possibility that he’s not healed, and he’s still suffering psychosis, even off Vicodin for months.

Wilson and Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) try to be supportive, but House can’t muster the courage to talk to them. They have no idea what’s going on with him, but he’s willing to bow out of medicine, rather than discuss his fears with the two people closest to him at this point. The combination of the voices, the missed diagnosis, and his still unrecovered confidence, along with his fragility leads House to believe he’s not ready to come back to medicine. “I’m not ready to be a doctor again,” he admits honestly to Cuddy.

But House figures it out on his own and confronts Wilson the next morning. Wilson has been talking to the dead Amber as he goes to sleep each night. (My mother used to do this with my dad after he died, too.)

“Talking to her makes me feel better; you don’t,” he explains, when House wonders why he’s talking to him! Ouch. But House doesn’t mock him for his sentimentality as he might have in earlier seasons. And in a poignant final scene, House tries to “talk” to his father, realizing that it wasn’t all bad, and that maybe he’s been focusing on the wrong things. He’s self conscious about it, even completely alone, and tells Wilson “it’s stupid.” But it’s an incredibly brave step for House, someone who has carried this particular burden since childhood. Maybe he can begin to take a step forward. This is House’s “brave heart.”

What a great episode! It was great to see the original team once again working together a second week in a row. Long-time House scribe Lawrence Kaplow expertly wove together a delicate tapestry of “brave” and not-so-brave hearts. Lovely moments between Wilson and House, showing their mutual concern and mind games with each other: good times! The scenes between Chase and Cameron were fraught with tension: we know this cannot be going anywhere good for them.

I loved the small steps House is making towards Cuddy. As with his job, House is trying to find his footing—and his bravery—here too. He is trying to let her know how he feels, and his question about how they stand with each other mirrors hers in “Epic Fail” (6×02). Their banter, as the young medical student observes, is “foreplay.” And it will be interesting to see where this storyline is going as well.

A couple of random notes: Those who follow Twitter, may be aware that House executive producer/director Greg Yaitanes has been assembling a Twitter army of House followers, and has been gifting fans with little inside bits and pieces (none of which is really spoilery), so be sure to follow him. Also, I am putting together a compilation of House “10 Bests,” for a forthcoming series of articles. So please hop over to my personal site and participate if you wish!

No House for two weeks! I will try to pop in with a couple of fun things during the hiatus, so stay tuned.

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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