I’ve always liked the character of Dr. Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer) on the Fox TV series House, M.D. His journey from the closed-off, apathetic, lazy fellow he appears to be when we first meet him to the compassionate, thoughtful surgeon he has become over eight years has been fascinating to observe from the other side of the television screen.
This week’s House episode, simply called “Chase,” focuses on the intensivist/surgeon, who’s been with House longer than any other doctor on his team. Still hobbled from last week’s stabbing (actually, the timeline has moved ahead by three weeks), Chase isn’t sure that he wants to come back to work at Princeton-Plainsboro; he is sure, on the other hand, that he wants nothing more to do with Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) or the diagnostics team.
Chase’s colleagues are concerned that he is not recovering from the emotional trauma of the incident, however much his physical wounds heal. (And they’ve apparently healed enough for Chase to enjoy wild emotionless sex.) Adams (Odette Annable) and Park (Charlyne Yi) suggest he get some therapy; Foreman tries forcing his hand by requiring him to work his clinic hours, even if he’s not ready to experience House quite yet (or ever). Even House—not one to apologize for anything, ever—reiterates his apology to Chase, hoping to get him back to work.
Although Chase isn’t ready to return to diagnostics, he does agree to attend his clinic hours. His first patient? Moira (Julia Mond), a novitiate, preparing to take her Carmelite vows and become a cloistered nun.
I have to wonder, knowing both his and House’s history, whether there had been some sort of conspiracy at play here. I can totally envision House and Foreman in cahoots, making sure that the next sick religious person (bonus points if female; double bonus points if she’s a Catholic; triple bonus points if she’s a nun!) fell into Chase’s care. (I almost wouldn’t put it past House to hire an actress to play a sick nun, but I don’t think that’s the case here.)
By now, we all know Chase’s backstory. Starting out as a seminarian, Chase was on his way to being a Jesuit priest before being sidetracked into medicine. Way back in season one (“Damned if you Do”), Chase explains that he’d failed some sort of cosmic test of faith necessary to devote one’s life to the priesthood. In “Chase,” we learn that his reasons for joining the order were flawed in the first place. With an alcoholic mother and a father that was never there (and eventually abandoned the family), the priests and nuns that taught him in school provided the only real, stable family he had known growing up.
He wonders why Moira, older than most novitiates, and worldlier, has decided on shutting herself away from the world in a convent. As the truth eventually emerges, it resonates deeply with Chase as he finds himself drawn to the young woman, giving him a lifeline (or so he thinks) as he tries dealing with the stabbing in isolation.
But Moira’s faith is shaky—her reasons for entering a cloistered life have more to do with running away from a terrible tragedy than being “called” into the service of God. Meeting Chase has shaken that faith further as she’s drawn into a physical relationship with him after she’s released from the hospital and his care. But a near-death experience after she takes a sudden turn for the worse wakens her finally to the voice of God that she’d never heard. The experience solidifies her shaky faith (and her shaky reasons for taking vows), rejecting Chase for life in a monastery.
By this point, Chase believes he’s in love with her, attributing her close encounter with God to a chemical reaction in the brain as it’s deprived of oxygen near death. It’s a completely Housian response—one that House, has used, himself, to explain his own near-death experiences.
But when he realizes that Chase is about to explain the chemistry of near death to his patient, House stops him cold, warning Chase that to shatter Moira’s belief, misguided though it may be, would be needlessly cruel and destructive. But, Chase believes that House is simply hoping to obliterate his dreams of a reconsidered life because House, who is incapable of human relationships, can’t stand anyone’s chance at one. But he’s wrong.
In a phenomenal, emotional scene towards the end of the episode, House explains that by destroying Moira’s belief, Chase will end up miserable. “If I wanted you to end up like me,” he says, “I’d urge you” to destroy her faith and take this chance on love. House believes any relationship that may follow will either blow up in Chase’s face (like all relationships must)—or Moira will come to resent him for destroying her faith. (Boy, that doesn’t sound like House, does it?) Either way, Chase end up in misery. Instead, House cautions Chase, urges him to not hit her squarely in the face with The Truth.
House has done stuff like this before, but it’s usually sneakier—part of his usual manipulative subterfuge shtick. Here, he is practically pleading with Chase to stop himself—before he becomes House. It’s a wonderful, powerful moment for these two characters, in many ways so similar. It is House at his most protective of the vulnerable Chase. This is no real change in House, just a subtle change of tactic—more urgent, perhaps.
Is House’s more overt reaction a result of “Nobody’s Fault?” Is he beginning to re-evaluate his own life? Of course, you wouldn’t know if from the pranks he pulls, shooting paint balls and dropping water balloons on poor Taub, who’s taking a self-defense course. On the other hand, Taub may be learning better self-defense by House’s frequent attacks than he is from his class. Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s House’s way of helping the cause in his usual Housian fashion.
We are now at the halfway point of House’s final season. With 10 episodes to go until the series finale, I was glad to be treated to a Chase-centric episode, and Jesse Spencer is an excellent actor, who’s great at the art of understated emotion.
I liked “Chase.” House writers Peter Blake and Eli Attie crafted a deep script, full of echoes and grace notes that call back to episodes from the series’ earlier days and what we know of Dr. Robert Chase.
And, now onto the final act of a great television series. As much as I will hate to see it go, I can’t wait to see what the creators have planned coming weeks. A new House, M.D. airs next Monday night at 8:00 p.m. on Fox with “Man of the House.”