Candice Bergen returned in tonight’s House, M.D. episode “Changes.” I can’t help but get the feeling that we are in some sort of holding pattern, with House (Hugh Laurie) a ticking time bomb waiting to fracture him into a million pieces. I think the finality of the breakup, which I sense that House had believed redeemable until the final scenes of “Changes,” is a fuse finally lit.
On its surface, “Changes” revisits familiar House themes: life sucks, and hopeful romantics are fools. Better to be cynical, not care (or try not to care) and muddle along, unhappy but with fewer hurts.
This week’s patient Cyrus (Donal Logue) is a repair guy who strikes it rich in the lottery. He falls ill, seemingly supported only by his close and caring friend, constantly at bedside. A vision from his past enters after years, Jennifer (Megan Fellows) to be with Cyrus in his time of need. It is something for which he’s longed and about which he’s fantasized. A lost love found. Is this seeming fairy tale for real? Or is she just a gold digger after Cyrus’ fortune? In the end it turns out that she’s a fraud and in collusion with the best friend to tap into Cyrus’ lottery winnings. The dying man has, despite his new riches, loses everything—even the hope that remained when Jennifer’s return was just a glimmer of a dream.
It’s been a few weeks now since House and Cuddy’s (Lisa Edelstein) breakup, and tonight’s episode is the first time they’ve really had to deal with each other since since. Enter Cuddy’s mother Arlene to concoct a very lame plot to get them back together.
Arlene is an inveterate meddler, but also very smart. (At least she thinks she is.) Cuddy asks the still-recovering Arlene to move in, immediately signaling to her that as along as she’s moved in, House and Cuddy stand no chance of coming together. So she decides to sue the hospital (and House and Cuddy). It puts both their jobs in jeopardy—if she actually goes through with the threat.
But as House realizes, that’s not Arlene’s intention. She wants House and Cuddy on the same page: talking, arguing, screaming and yelling—and getting the issues out in the open. She wants them back together. She’s actually pulling a page out of House’s book. (No wonder she likes him.) And by the way, I would not doubt that Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) is in on her plot.
Arlene’s attempt to make herself their common enemy is actually something House does in Season 6 (“Moving the Chains”). Then, it worked, bringing together Foreman and his brother Marcus, unified against House. Arlene is not so lucky.
This episode is really about protecting yourself against unrealistic expectations, no matter how realistic they seem—fatalism as a coping mechanism. “You lost your mother, euthanized your brother, your life expectancy is that of a pretty good sitcom. If you can convince yourself that you’d be miserable even with out all that, then maybe you don’t have to hate the universe,” House says to 13 for dealing you a very bad hand. It is the way she survives, House observes. “Vanquish all hope ye who enter,” and life is livable. She tries to live a life as a fatalist, but fundamentally she’s not no matter how much she tries.
Thirteen notes House’s track record with love, with drugs and with pain, wondering about his story. He tries to play the fatalist’s game—be a true cynic, but in the end he can’t succeed because his fundamental humanity won’t allow him to completely give up on hope.
In a lottery you risk money over and over, expecting you won’t win, but hoping you will. Lottery winnings don’t come with coping mechanisms to deal with the unexpected (or expected) disappointments that come along with newfound riches. In a lottery, you only risk your money, a dollar or two at a time. As 13 points out, Cyrus’ lottery experience is a metaphor for living a hopeful life. “Lotteries suck,” she says. You keep risking; you keep hoping, knowing there’s very little chance to win. And when it’s not a dollar, but your heart, it’s just not worth it to play the game.
The end of the episode destroys House’s slim hopes for reconciliation with Cuddy. (I do think that when he realizes Arlene’s ploy, House momentarily hopes she’s right and succeeds.) But Arlene’s little plan does nothing to convince Cuddy that she was wrong to break off the relationship. With House standing there, she explains bluntly to her mother that they will not be reconciling. By the time she turns to House, he is gone. Whatever balm she might have applied, and whatever opportunity to get closure (at least at that moment) vanishes when House does.
Would House likely have been better off in the long run had Cuddy just left him alone and not gotten involved with him—not gotten his hopes soaring and tasting a moment (or a few months) of happiness? Oddly (or perhaps not so oddly), this reminds me of Season 6’s premiere “Broken.” It’s an oblique connection, but it just occurred to me writing this commentary, so indulge me a moment.
In “Broken,” one of House’s fellow psych patients Steve suffers delusions as a result of post traumatic stress (he lost his wife on 9/11). Steve believes himself a superhero, someone who can leap tall buildings and rescue people. After a disastrous confrontation with one of the psychiatrists, Steve withdraws into himself; he’s nearly catatonic.
House misguidedly, but with good intention (mostly), wants to help him, taking Steve to a local carnival where House indulges Steve’s fantasy, taking him on a ride that lets them fly high above the fair grounds. It gives Steve a moment of sheer delight—perhaps the first one in many years. He really can fly! But it goes wrong. Elated, and thinking he really can fly, the delusional Steve takes a leap off a parking garage, seriously injuring himself. House thought he was making a connection, making this kid’s life better, but he wasn’t equipped for the situation and a life was nearly lost, leaving House and Steve both shattered by the experience. The false hope given to Steve nearly destroys him, and not just mentally.
The parallel to House and Cuddy goes back to the final scene of “Help Me.” After years, she realizes that she loves House and would be making a mistake to marry Lucas. The trigger is watching House lose all his guardedness in front of a patient—seeing him (perhaps for the first time in a long time) as he really is underneath all his crap. But she leaps into the relationship without considering the damage it can do in the end, both to their relationship and to House. But why would she? Why would she even consider that House isn’t equipped to handle things if it all goes wrong? Yes, after his brief affair with Lydia in “Broken,” House is able to recover from the breakup. “She’s gone and I’m lost,” he confesses to his psychiatrist Dr. Nolan (Andre Braugher). But House is in treatment, and on antidepressants, and he can cope.
By the end of Season 6, House had come a long way from “Love Hurts” (Season 1) where Wilson warns Cameron that she’d better be sure that she wants to be involved with House—before she does—because it will destroy him to have his heart broken (again). It’s the same admonishment he gives Stacy, telling her not to toy with House’s heart.
Because he keeps himself so guarded, pushing his hookers in everyone’s face (and I do not for a moment believe that House is anywhere as promiscuous as he promotes, which Stacy argues in their first scene together in “Three Stories”), no woman—not Cameron, not Stacy, not Cuddy can really know how seriously House takes being in love. House is an “all in” sort of guy. He’s the same way with relationships; to him, nothing is casual. Especially not with Cuddy.
For House, Cuddy is a fantasy—a dream come true. The lottery won. He’s wanted this relationship with her since college. So it’s a far different scenario.
She goes into the relationship ambivalent, and as much as she tries to tell herself that she doesn’t want House “to change,” and that it doesn’t matter that House is a narcissist and a jerk, at least on the surface, it really does matter.
Cuddy never intends to hurt House; she wants this to work, and she undoubtedly loves him. But eventually she loses patience with him, until it all falls apart. It’s not really her fault, except in becoming involved in the first place. Would it have been better for House in the long run for her to simply marry Lucas?
“Changes” leaves House in a place we’ve never really seen him: without hope. He was close mid season three, facing drug fraud charges and possible prison. But this hopelessness seems different—centered not on his professional life or his disability, or even his drug use. At this point in the story, House is for the first time hopeless. Is House in Dante’s final circle of hell? Without hope or chance of reprieve?
For all his protestations that “normal is overrated,” House craves a sense of normality that has thus far eluded him, perhaps his entire life. House’s hopes for any sense of a “normal” life are seemingly gone, and where that will lead, is anyone’s guess. (Although the promo for next week’s episode seems rather dire for him.) Paging Dr. Darryl Nolan!