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In the last pre-strike House, MD House treats a Hasidic woman who collapses at her wedding.

TV Review: House, MD – “Don’t Ever Change”

First things first. Congratulations to the writers and the WGA for staying strong and negotiating a good (but not perfect) deal with the conglomerates. Today, David Shore and Katie Jacobs can go back to their offices and polish up those scripts that were dropped last November when the Writers Guild (WGA) went on strike.

The WGA has given permission to “showrunners” (writers who also have producing responsibilities) to return to work in advance of the WGA vote on Tuesday to formally end the three-month old strike. (The contract itself should be ratified over the next couple of weeks by a vote of the full membership.) So, Mr. Hugh Laurie: get thee to Heathrow, start working on that signature House scruffy look (you looked way too dashing and suave at the BAFTAs last night) and hop on the next available London to LA flight. According to reports, there will likely be anywhere between four and seven new episodes of House airing come spring.

That said, onto the final pre-strike episode, “Don’t Ever Change.” House, MD has tackled religious themes several times in its three-and-a-half year run: directly in season one’s “Damned if You Do” and in the second season episode “House vs. God,” and indirectly in several others. Dr. Gregory House (the always brilliant Mr. Laurie) is a self-described atheist. But he’s not a knee-jerk atheist. He has clearly given a great deal of thought to it; his knowledge of philosophy, religious texts, and cultures is evidently broad and deep. And he continues to explore (and refute) notions of God and the afterlife.

In itself, that is not surprising from what we know of the character, who is immensely well-read, well-traveled, understands many languages including Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Hindu, (and a least a little) Yiddish, and (as we learn in this episode) Hebrew. House’s quest for understanding God’s existence of lack thereof is an integral part of his character. On the other hand House’s public persona, the one he presents to the world, is one of blatant bigotry and disdain. So it was with great interest that I watched Tuesday’s episode, as it focused not only on my own religion, but on Hasidic Judaism, a branch of very religious Judaism that is inaccessible even to most modern Jews.

David Shore is Jewish. Although, from what I’ve read, he is not particularly “observant” of Jewish religious practices, his twin brothers are rabbis affiliated with Aish Ha Torah, a wonderful place of cyberspace Jewish learning, which, in my “day job” as a Jewish educator, I have utilized since long before I fell in love with House MD or ever heard of David Shore. My gut instinct told me that House would treat the religion and culture respectfully. And my faith in Mr. Shore was richly rewarded. For while House was his usual abrupt and disdainful self, the script's religious aspects were sensitive and respectful. My absolutely favorite moment of this episode (and I had many favorite moments) is when the husband chants the traditional Friday night blessing of his wife from the Book of Proverbs, "Aishet Chayil – A Woman of Valor". Beautifully edited, the husband chants and the couple prepare for the onset of Shabbat (Sabbath) as House peers thoughtfully out his window, explaining the text to the Jewish, but secular, Taub as he considers the patient, a newly-bred, and newly-wed, Hasidic woman, Roz Viner.

A former record producer and heroin addict, Roz has become a “ba’alat t’shuva” — a non-practicing Jew who has "returned" to traditional Judaism, in this case Hasidism. Collapsing at her wedding, she finds herself with a slew of symptoms — and under the care of House. Focusing on the idea that anyone who would make such a radical lifestyle change would not do so on their own, House believes that her lifestyle change is a symptom.

One of House’s mantras is that people cannot change; they lack the ability to alter their intrinsic nature. The theme of “change” plays throughout the aptly-named "Don't Ever Change," asking the question: can someone change — reaching beyond oneself to something better? Can Wilson change his unsuccessful relationship pattern? Can Taub find an affinity for a religious life he seems to detest? Can Amber be other than a "cutthroat bitch?" And what of the patient, who seems to have found a way to make a fundamental change away from life in the fast lane to something simpler, and hopefully more authentic?

But House’s contention is that we are who we are. And I actually think he’s right. Certain aspects of our personalities and natures come to the fore at various times and in differing situations, but fundamentally changing who you are may not be possible. When House allows a more compassionate, thoughtful part of his nature to show, it is not that he is different — or that he’s somehow changed (or inconsistently written). Those things have always been part of his nature, brought out by circumstance.

And as it turns out, House is incorrect about the patient, and her lifestyle change is not at the root of her illness. Her condition has been caused by the poor engineering of her kidney. Once discovered, the condition is correctable, enabling the newly married couple to start pushing out a multitude of "hassidlings," as House would put it.

The "change" theme is explored in greater depth by the wonderful side-plot, which focuses on the unique relationship between House and his best friend Wilson. Thrice-divorced Wilson tends to become involved only with needy women (in House’s view, anyway). Under Wilson’s attention, they become less needy (as House explained in season two’s “House vs God”). Wilson gets bored, goes elsewhere, divorces, feels guilty and goes on to save another needy woman as the pattern repeats. And, as we learned last episode, Wilson has a new girlfriend — Amber Volakis, otherwise known (to House, anyway) as Cutthroat Bitch, who House ultimately decides is a "needy" version of himself.

This all piques House’s interest as much as it disturbs him. While House thinks he is trying to protect Wilson by interfering in the fledgling relationship, Wilson and Cuddy know that House is possessive and needy himself, and it is his insecurity that drives his meddling. When House tries vigorously to persuade Cuddy to join him in his intervention, Cuddy assures House that he has nothing to fear. “You will never lose your friend: you are the long distance runner of neediness,” she swipes. Ouch!

In the post-Super Bowl episode “Frozen,” Cate asks Wilson why someone who is “nice and responsible” is best friends with the brilliant but not-so-nice House. Wilson asks her if perhaps he sees something in House other than the misanthropic jerk; Cate suggests that perhaps Wilson isn’t as “nice” as he seems, implying that there is some other reason.

Is there is something in their “screwed up friendship” (“Babies and Bathwater”) that Wilson needs? Wilson seems to constantly try changing House. But then when House really does seem to be functioning better, quietly taking hesitant steps back into society, Wilson subverts him by goading him or lecturing him. It happened last week in “Frozen” and in “Meaning,” the first episode of season three. If House is healed, emotionally, Wilson may face the same dilemma he has with his ex-wives — House will no longer “need him.”

Cuddy seems to agree with House that Amber is a poor dating choice for Wilson. Taking a House-like swipe, Cuddy tells Wilson that after Amber there will be nothing left of him but a "chalk outline on the floor." Double ouch!

Not believing for a minute that Amber is truly interested in Wilson, House endeavors to uncover her agenda. But does she really have one? Amber eventually admits to House that all her life she's had to sacrifice love for respect. With Wilson, for the first time in her life it is possible to have both. Nothing ulterior. She is not blackmailing House into offering a job; she's not after revenge. This confession seems to resonate with House, who, at that point backs off, giving Wilson’s new relationship an opportunity to flourish without his interference. (Yes, I know that it is entirely possible that his backing off is a ruse and only temporary.) Amber hasn’t “changed her spots” so much as to let the more open and vulnerable side of herself be exposed in the presence of Wilson’s attention. And I think House gets that.

A stunned Wilson wonders whether House, himself, is trying to change by accepting the new relationship. House denies it, insisting that people can’t change — even if they may wish to do so. It is impossible to change one’s nature.

What is House’s true nature? Is he really, at his core, a bigoted, cynical misanthrope? Or is that an artificial personality — a persona he's tried to craft for himself, an attempt to escape from his own humanity? As Wilson claimed at the end of the season one episode "Detox," House has changed. A lot, and more than can be explained by age or circumstance.

I believe that fundamentally House is a romantic, an idealist (disillusioned though he may be). He despises this about himself; he distances himself from everyone: friends, potential lovers; patients. He will do anything to prevent himself from being emotionally touched, emotionally involved. And he puts a great deal of effort into that struggle: from isolating himself in misery; from overusing drugs; from pushing away people who would otherwise love and embrace him. His inability to completely overcome his better nature — to change — makes him miserable. He wants not to care; he wants not to feel. And, like that alcoholic Cuddy referred to early in the episode, House falls off the wagon time and again.

In my (not-so-humble) opinion, House will let Wilson and Amber be, because he’s convinced that maybe Amber provides just what Wilson needs: a female version of himself. And I will leave you with that thought as we re-enter hiatus-land.

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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