It opens innocently enough as the camera pans back to reveal the wrap up of a routine C-section delivery. But within a moment or two, a new family's world is turned on its head as an infant child goes missing from the bassinet at her mother's side. So begins "Lockdown," episode 17 of House, M.D.'s sixth season–directed by none other than series star Hugh Laurie.
Laurie is no stranger to directing–nor to directing himself. He directed himself in several episodes of the British television series Fortysomething a couple of years before he did House.Laurie has grown tremendously since then and his American directorial debut exhibits a deft and light touch. He knocks it out of the park.
The missing newborn triggers and intense but appropriate response: the hospital is put in "lockdown." No one comes or goes; everyone stays in position until security finds the baby. But the lockdown at Princeton-Plainsboro and the mystery of the missing baby only serve as a framing device to the real story, back with the show's regular cast of characters. Paired off and trapped in place, each duo passes the time, bored, isolated and with only the other for company and/or amusement until the crisis ends.
Someone clearly has made off with the baby. Was it her big brother, who resents the little intrusion into his life? Was it a nurse? In the blink of an eye a baby is gone–vanished into thin air. The truth is only revealed when a subtle, hidden symptom of an aide reveals itself. She seems normal until suddenly, quietly–she's not. (She had been suffering mild and unnoticeable seizures all day.) Cuddy's (Lisa Edelstein) sharp eye and quick thinking catches the subtle symptom and rescues the baby, hidden among the laundry by the sick aide. But, as I said, the missing baby story mere glue for four other stories, also about hiding and revealing.
Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) surprises Chase (Jesse Spencer) by hand delivering their divorce papers and they are forced to share a small examination room and confront their relationship. Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) and 13 (Olivia Wilde) are involuntary companions in the hospital cafeteria, where they engage in a game of "Truth or Dare;" Foreman (Omar Epps) and Taub (Peter Jacobson) find themselves in the deliciously inviting file room, where they have access to everyone's personal files. House, caught in the hallway when the lockdown happens, ducks into a darkened patient room, where he has to confront the death of a patient whose case he had once refused.
It was a joy to see Jennifer back as Cameron, if only for this one episode. (Although the door was left open for a return.) Chase has been tormented for weeks (well, at least since "Private Lives") by the belief that Cameron never really loved him.
Chase hits it perfectly when he tells Cameron that he could never measure up to the idealized version of love only possible when it ends too quickly (albeit tragically). Cameron's first husband was terminal when they married and she spent a year caring for him and loving him in a way that's impossible in a normal relationship. A wise colleague of mine has a favorite saying about making every day count as if it's your last on earth. And when you know every day might be your last, life takes on an intensity that's unrealistic in an "ordinary" relationship.
At first Cameron isn't interested in confronting what went wrong with their marriage so quickly. It's easy to say that it was House's fault; or that Cameron left because Chase's assassination of a genocidal dictator was morally indefensible to her. Or that he was toxic.
But in the end, in the quiet dark of an exam room, Cameron reveals what's in her heart, taking responsibility for not sticking around through the rocky shoals that might have been ahead for them. It's clear she's also been doing some thinking and has some regrets. And she doesn't seem quite ready to entirely let go of Chase. I hope Jennifer comes back next season; I think her relationship with Chase would take on added dimension and sparkle post-"Lockdown."
Taub and Foreman trapped together in the file room has such delicious prospects. And anyone in the viewing audience who thought we might get a peek at House's personnel files and some big reveal about either his employment history, medical issues or anything else have been watching too many House promos! It's not like they didn't try, of course. They found House's credentials file, but realized that House had falsified his records: not to sanitize his background, but to make it seem worse! Why he would do this is interesting to speculate about.
House's real track record is probably pretty spectacular, malpractice cases notwithstanding. And although House talks a very good game about recklessly going where no doctor has gone before, when he actually performs a procedure, it is usually with meticulous precision. He would not do a brain biopsy without imaging; he just wouldn't. But Taub and Foreman would want to believe it; would believe it as it's so much a part of House's public face.
By the way, Foreman should get stoned much more often. I like him better when he's not cloaked in self-righteous judgmentalism and House's Vicodin seriously loosened him up. But Foreman is not as self-confident as the image he projects. He had come down to the file room to purge a notation in his files, that he'd been put on academic probation for faking a lab result. (His actions are an echo of his reveal to his patient Lupe in season three's "House Training.")
Foreman, it seems, has been looking over his shoulder for years as if he'll be outed as not belonging–perhaps even a fraud. In this respect, he's the anti-House; House doesn't care, in fact he revels in his bad-boy image.
Ultimately, realizing that it probably doesn't matter much at this point, Foreman decides not to rip out the damning page from his file. But Taub, his cellmate during the lockdown, does a very House-ish thing, removing and shredding the file page, but only after Foreman has gone. It's an anonymous, yet illegal, act done to protect Foreman's future–exactly the sort of gesture for which we've come to know House.
Taub, too has secrets to reveal: an illustrious career sidetracked by success and fortune. Is his working for House his way of working out the regrets of his life and returning to the more noble medical work of his youth?
Wilson and 13 are locked in the cafeteria. Although the two are ostensibly playing "Truth or Dare," they're really playing "House and Wilson," with 13 in the role of House. Exploring question of Wilson's love life, 13 accuses him of holding back on possibilities because of how it would affect House. She calls thinks House is simply an excuse to avoid getting involved with his first ex-wife. But tapping into Wilson's more self serving side (and yeah, we know it's in there) 13 manipulates him into doing something for himself.
Their conversation nicely reflects back on the season four episode in which Amber admonishes Wilson to buy the sort of mattress he'd prefer and not the one he believes she'd want to have. It's an attitude that leads to resentment (and in Wilson's case three divorces). How long would it be until Wilson begins to resent House living under his roof and that relationship explodes (and does much damage to House's psyche)?
Thirteen's subtle manipulation is House-like, indeed. Annoying, but at the same time, making a point–one well taken by Wilson. They even bid each other good night in the end House-Wilson style!
A word is needed here about the series timeline. (Yes, I know.) Wilson and his first wife were married from 1990 to 1991. Which would make House and Wilson's first encounter in 1991 or 1992. But then there's Hector, the dog of Wilson's second marriage. Hector is 17 years old by the end of season three when House takes the unfortunate animal in. Do the math and it just doesn't work. So the only thing possible is for Bonnie to have exaggerated Hector's age–or the timeline doesn't work. 'Nuff said on that. And now onto the main event: House's encounter with a dying patient, Nash (David Strathairn).
I had reservations about how Hugh Laurie would direct himself in his scenes with Strathairn, hoping that we would catch glimpses of the more human side, but wondering if Laurie would prefer to play the jerk card.
But Hugh sees House as a man who has both suffered and has witnessed much suffering and that come through in his scenes. We see a Gregory House very much changed in some ways. He is no longer afraid to reveal his regrets, and he readily apologizes to Nash for never having helped him when he might have. What a change from the man for who apologies are meaningless. And House's was heartfelt and genuine. How different his actions here than in "Remorse," when his apology was forced and did not come naturally to him.
We also learn a bit about how House has been dealing with the pain. House has a dilemma. He is obviously worried; the pain has increased and, as he tells Nash, he believes the artery where the original clot presented has been further damaged. But. He hasn't yet gotten an arteriogram, which would prove House's concern–or provide evidence that there's another source for the pain. House's fear is that if it's not physical, he might be suffering emotional pain. He's worried about it. He doesn't want to know the answer to the question; the answer might be too difficult for him to handle.
So, House is on Ibuprofen and (I'm assuming) still on antidepressants. He's still staying away from narcotics. Some fans have wondered why House is able to control the pain with only Ibuprofen. I'm guessing that he's on a prescription level dosage of the drug, which works because, in addition to the dependence on Vicodin, he was suffering some degree of narcotic-induced hyperalgesia. Once he detoxed in "Broken," Ibuprofen helped to make the pain more tolerable. He's certainly never been pain free this season–and it's been getting worse over the season.
Is Nash a peek at House's future? Is he destined to die alone: a pathetic wretch of a man living a life disconnected from his own humanity and from others? House tells Nash that he felt better off alone, but that changed while he was in treatment at Mayfield. In "Broken," House connects with Lydia, and he tells Nash that she showed him that it was possible to form a connection and feelings for someone. Something fundamental changed in House with that encounter. He had been flirting with connecting (with Cuddy) for most of season five, but House's broken psyche interfered. And now, healing, he no longer wants to wrap himself in his isolating shell. And, as we learn in "Wilson," he fears being alone. It may be among House's greatest fears (along with a worsening of the pain; the return of his Vicodin habit, and a resumption of his hallucinations).
He wants to connect with Cuddy–and he's tried ("Known Unknowns"). Right now, she's involved with Lucas and there's very little House can do to change that. Cuddy needs to realize for herself that she's settling for something less than love. But the faint hope that House might be able to win Cuddy may be one of the driving forces in House's life right now, helping to keep him from backsliding (that along with his fear of the hallucinations, which is much stronger, I would guess, than his fear of the pain).
House is full of regret about what might have been with Cuddy: a relationship at this point (at least in House's mind) that must feel only a faint glimmer of a possibility. Nash's words to House, "Tomorrow will be the same for you…but yesterday would have been different," speaks poignantly to those regrets.
What else does House regret? His encounter with Nash confronts him with a harsh truth–one House probably thinks about only rarely, if at all. What becomes of those patient consult requests that House tosses into the recycling bin? Do they get better? Are they all like Nash and eventually die from lack of diagnosis?
Even if they are, how responsible is House for those untold deaths? What sort of responsibility does he feel? We know how he feels when he loses a patient, but Nash presents him with something he's probably never considered. Will we see a more thoughtful House? (I doubt it, but it would be something interesting for the writers to play with.)
Nash assumes that House wants to up his morphine doses and knock him into a chemical haze to avoid talking about it; but is that true? I would guess at the beginning it might be, but House doesn't like to see a patient suffer any more than any other doctor (and maybe even less given his history). He continues to sit with Nash after the crisis is over and is free to leave behind this unwelcome reminder of a House casualty.
House's gentle (and blunt) honesty is just what Nash needs to make one final call to his daughter. It's a wonderful moment and something House certainly had no obligation to facilitate. And in the end, House still ups Nash's morphine, sending him more quietly and far less painfully into the night. I love these moments on House.
I liked "Lockdown." It was an unusual episode and Hugh did a great job in his debut directorial debut. He elicited lovely and nicely understated performances from his co-stars, especially Jennifer Morrison and Jesse Spencer in their scenes. I hope he gets the chance to direct again before the series runs its course.
Next up is "Knight Fall." I'm a big Renaissance faire fan, and the thought of House paying a visit to the faire makes me smile. And yes, if you've seen the promo, you've seen House dressed in appropriately Tudor-esque gear. Love it.