A classic House, M.D. tale unfolds in the seventh episode of the series’ eighth season. Writer David Hoselton has been writing for the series since season three, and plucks at several deeply buried (and tiny) little threads (including one about Chase’s talents as a hypnotist plucked from “House’s Head,” creating a classic House episode in “Dead and Buried.”
House (Hugh Laurie) finds himself in direct conflict with Foreman (Omar Epps) over the case of a long-since dead child. The new dean wants House to diagnose a 14-year-old with an odd constellation of symptoms. But House has other ideas. Intrigued by a grieving and miserable member (Channon Roe) of his anger management class, House becomes obsessed with finding the cause of his son’s death.
Although pursuing a dead case (as it were) is likely less productive than solving a live one, House can’t help himself despite the warning from Foreman that he will send the still-paroled House directly to jail should he continue. Wilson is caught in the middle trying to navigate between cajoling House into considering consequences and trying to get Foreman to back down from his hardline stance.
Which is the more difficult task? Hmm. Trying to get House to back away from a case that’s caught his eye is like trying to pry drugs away from an addict. In a sense, as Wilson points out, solving medical puzzles is a sort of drug. And House has an addictive personality.
But why is House so drawn to this particular case? Why now? He has always used puzzles (and other addictive substances) as a way to distract himself from life, and right now, his life sucks. Chained to his home and office by a short tether, House must be going stir crazy.
The novelty of freedom is now old news, and things have settled in. He’s bored and likely frustrated by the imposed limitations. House’s leg appears to hurt in the vicinity of the monitor bracelet, and that can’t be a good sign. Perhaps the one case a week load just isn’t enough to distract him. He needs more, especially because he’s on such a tight leash.
As the team tries to diagnose the 14-year-old girl, House goes off to a crypt, breaks into a residence, and gets into trouble dead kid’s mother (played by Julie McNiven, who played Ginn on Stargate Universe, a now-defunct series I’ve only just gotten into). Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) suggests that House is being driven by a deep-seated desire to return to prison. House vigorously denies this, but Wilson could have a point buried deeply within his advice and counsel.
In the end, House’s persistence pays off for the living offspring of the dead kid’s mother; it is a genetic defect that killed the boy, and House’s diagnosis will save the life of the boy’s younger brother. And after realizing that part of the 14-year old’s problem is multiple personality disorder, he saves her life as well.
There was a lot of energy in “Dead and Buried.” The script is snappy and quick; a lot of little jokes and asides helped to propel the story and balance out a pretty serious episode. I really am beginning to like the repartee between the four members of House’s team. Charlyne Yi’s dry and straightforward delivery as Park erases any sort of nerdy innocence, and Taub (Peter Jacobson) continues to offer his own twisted, sarcastic view of everything. But the revelation here is Chase (Jesse Spencer), who has finally come into his own. He’s a serious team leader, and obviously House’s right hand. On the other hand (the left, perhaps), his secret life on camera as the Aussie TV doctor is hysterical. I hope that continues.
Now, to what I think is the core of this episode—the power struggle between Foreman and House and its referee Wilson. Foreman has never really understood House as anything but a hyper-rational man. Wilson (and we) know that is far from the truth. House is not always rational; his motivations for his actions are fueled by a lot of buried emotion. He tries to be that rational machine-man Foreman thinks he is, but he’s always been a miserable failure at it. And of course, that makes him just…miserable.
Foreman believes that House will act according to his own self-interest. He has much to lose by disobeying; therefore he won’t take that step too far. Foreman is, of course wrong.
Foreman is also wrong in the way he’s been trying to handle House—keeping him on a short chain, muzzled and eventually broken. He’s trying to control his troubled genius of a diagnostician. And maybe that’s the source of House’s angst—and why he feels it necessary to risk so much to pursue a puzzle; to find a better distraction from his pain and boredom.
Wilson uses the Cuddy card. “Cuddy,” explains Wilson, “didn’t fail.” She managed House, and didn’t try to control him. (Of course every time she’d tried to control him during her tenure, she, like Foreman—and Wilson, would fail.)
“Cuddy knew more than anyone what a tool House could be,” Wilson observes. It’s a fantastic line, one with two very different meanings. Yes, House could be (and still is) a “tool” (in the pejorative sense). But House is an effective tool for the hospital; a finely calibrated and expensive bit of diagnostic expertise in the Princeton-Plainsboro arsenal. Great rewards come from handling him well; disaster (expensive disaster) if he’s wasted or broken.
It’s an important lesson for Foreman to learn, and a long time coming. Perhaps this will be the start of a new phase in their relationship, although Foreman is often so thick, that I wonder.
In many ways “Dead and Buried” reminds me, as have others this season, of a season one or season two episode. The little we glean about House is buried deeply within the other story threads, so much so, that I wonder if I’m imagining a character arc at all. But I do think it’s there, and will come to a head at some point before the series breaks for winter hiatus.
A new House episode airs next Monday on FOX.