Another incredibly dense and fast-paced episode as House finally puts his permanent team into place. Games within games in House, MD episode nine, appropriately (if a bit obviously) called “Games.” Of course the entire season’s storyline has revolved around the “game” played by the master game player himself as he has slowly and (despite the conventional wisdom of his Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital colleagues) deliberately selected his new team of fellows.
House is the ultimate strategist, a chess player of the highest caliber; and he has spent much of the eight-week fellowship audition observing, judging, nudging, and strategizing — choosing a team of doctors in the only way he can. Far from the image he has projected of being arbitrary and impulsive in his picks, House is keenly aware of the intellectual, medical, and moral fiber of each candidate.
The situation became difficult for House during this last week of the competition, as dean of medicine Lisa Cuddy ratcheted up the pressure on him, insisting that he cut two candidates from the pool of four. Threatening to make him pay for the extra staff expenses out of his own salary does nothing to budge him from his comfy seat in the doctors lounge and its High-Def TV; however the threat to move the disabled doc’s parking space to a remote lot on the hospital property is quite another thing. With the four remaining candidates, he finds it difficult to choose, and true to himself, he tries to avoid firing anyone, rather than get rid of two doctors. I believe he has formed attachments to these four, which is borne out as the episode concludes, as House finds it difficult to say the words “you’re fired” to any of them.
And so, House begins his final selection round — diagnosing and treating Jimmy Quidd, a 38-year-old, punk-rocking heroin addict admitted to House’s service via the Princeton-Plainsboro emergency room. The patient has a whole host of symptoms that may or may not be attributable to his drug addiction. Throughout the diagnostic process, House observes the way in which each of the remaining four fellow candidates diagnose and relate to Quidd — both filtering their thoughts through his own process — and judging their analytical skills and character one final time to assess how they would each fit into his unique department.
The key to the patient lies in his past, and how it links to his present. Somewhere along the line, Jimmy Quidd – folk singer, a young man who loves children, who, as House says “has a heart, perhaps a soul,” – changed. And discovering who Jimmy Quidd actually is beneath the mascara and drugs and street-toughness leads House to the answer: measles — a childhood disease, which barely exists anymore, acquired via his interactions with children. Mr. Quidd, it seems, volunteers at a children’s shelter, exposing a warm heart concealed by years of drug abuse and hard knocks. But despite Quidd’s external lifestyle, he cannot keep fully concealed his true self, the irony of his situation being that his good deeds, coupled with a screwed up immune system caused by drug addiction, nearly led to his death.
“One of the tragedies of life,” House once told Stacy, “is that something always changes.” An event, a set of circumstances occur that profoundly change one’s life, setting it off in another direction — sometimes for the better, but often, believes House, for the worse. One bad decision can leave a man crippled and in chronic pain for life; one tragic event can turn a nice kid into a drug addict — a street punk and a loser. It’s easy to wonder what might have happened to Jimmy Quidd. Was his music (as pretty as it was) undistinguished, rendering him an “ordinary” musician? Did he have a driving need to be unique? Special in a way that only notoriety can make him? Was Quidd’s self-destructiveness the only way he ultimately could put an end to the misery of being trapped between an inherent niceness and his need for a life less ordinary?
Wilson’s non-cancerous cancer patient was living an ordinary life before Wilson diagnosed him with terminal cancer. Sentenced with only months to live, the patient was prepared to go out in a blaze of glory. He became alive in a way that only knowing you’re going to die soon can allow. He was ready. Prepared. But Wilson’s clemency hurls him back to the ordinary and boring day-to-day of simple existence. And a bewildered Wilson wonders how a commuted death sentence can render a patient angry.
House isn’t at all perplexed; he understands the patient's reaction. Expected it. The patient's reaction echoes back to House’s hallucination in the season two finale “No Reason.” In that episode, House hallucinates that Wilson and Cuddy have conspired to fix his leg, and without House’s consent. Wilson and Cuddy are both dismayed and bewildered that House is angry to find his leg working and pain free. In the dream, Wilson explains the cause of House’s anger to him, suggesting that his pain and his disability are what made him “special” and that giving up his pain, becoming “normal”, rips his uniqueness from him. Now, although this is Wilson speaking, it is all happening in House’s mind, and is part of House’s subconscious speaking. And here, in season four, with Wilson’s patient, House can see for himself that his dream spoke a truth about human nature, if not his own nature. (In the hallucination, House’s anger was more about the lack of consent, which hearkened back to House’s original injury.)
The story of Wilson’s patient also explores the tension that has been building all season between House and his friend. Wilson wants to compensate the patient for the $6000 he lost as an indirect result of the misdiagnosis and House intervenes by suggesting to the patient that he sue Wilson (a case that is in no way winnable) and refuse the $6000 offer, actually saving Wilson his $6000. It is a move that Wilson ascribes to House’s need to control even Wilson’s money, something that House does not refute, but, in fact, is an attempt to help Wilson, and protect him.
In spite of (or maybe because of) the tension between the two friends, I have really liked the House-Wilson dynamic this season. Yes, Wilson continues to try to manipulate and fix House; but he’s less preachy and less self-righteous than he’s been for at least a season. He’s worried about House, pointing to two extremely risky bits of self-experimentation that House has attempted this season. And although House seems happier and more comfortable this season, we have to wonder what lurks beneath that would so ramp up his self-destructive streak by sticking a knife in a live electrical outlet and allowing himself to be used as a human test tube (as he does in this episode).
So, House fired the cutthroat bitch. Wanting to win at all costs can be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you play it. House asks Amber at one point why she wants to win – to be right – at all costs. She replies that people who win are happier than people who lose. Wrong answer. And any similarity between House and Amber disappears at that point. Of course we all know that winning (or being right) doesn’t make House happy. House’s need to be right comes from another place. But when House goes at the diagnosis, risking his career and his life, he does it “because it’s right.” He does it for the patient’s welfare, not his own. And certainly not for his own satisfaction. So it’s not surprising that Amber eventually had to lose. And losing is part of the diagnostic process. "Humility is important," House said way back in season one. "Especially if you're wrong a lot." Being wrong is a necessary evil on the path to being right when you're chasing zebras.
But even with her take on medicine, House cuts Amber from the staff reluctantly. Thirteen, too, is initially cut from the team, and it is with even more sadness that House releases her from his service. Of course, the game was still afoot, and far from being over, House still had one card to be played. And play it he did, out-manipulating Cuddy at her game, thus keeping at least three. The final hand played, House takes one final look around the lecture theatre, and with a sigh, relieved that the game is over, shuts the light on chapter one of season four.
And now we have two months until the show returns from its winter hiatus. (The official word from FOX this morning is that the next new House will air January 29.) Lots of time to mull over the new team, speculate on each member’s role and how the veteran cast members will fit into the new gestalt.
Random notes and observations: That was Hugh Laurie’s lovely acoustic guitar composition (played by Hugh) that House played on the record towards the end of the episode. The piece is elegant and lyrical and a nice gift to us fans to discover another facet to Hugh Laurie’s Renaissance-man qualities. And even more impressive than House’s improvised blues piano riff (which was short and sweet) earlier in the episode.
Wish list for the rest of the season:
• Find a place for the new team in the show or cut them loose. I’d love to see a bit more Chase; a lot less Foreman and even less Cameron.
• Stop insisting that Foreman and House are cut from the same cloth. They are not. Yeah, they’re both smart. We get it. But the resemblance ends there. House has a tenth the ego, a fraction of the arrogance and fathoms more soul and soulfulness than Eric Foreman.
• I am loving the continuing electricity between House and Cuddy (which had been lacking before “Games,” this season) and hope it continues and continues to heat up.
• Looking forward to episodes that are less surficially humorous and more serious. I know last season was very dark and angsty, but the pendulum has nearly swung back the other way, and it’s time to return to a little more angst and introspection. Reflective moments with House sitting alone in his flat or at his piano.
• Finally, and most importantly — a settlement to the writers guild strike. Like now. I mean it, guys. Compensation for work. Full Stop.
Happy Hanukkah to all of my Jewish readers and friends. A season of light and joy to all.