I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this episode. After last week’s brilliant “Birthmarks,” featuring a terrific reunion for House and Wilson, important character reveals both for their relationship and for House himself, and that sucker punch of a final scene, I was not so interested in this week’s presumed focus on 13.
I like 13, also known as Dr. Remy Hadley, and I think having a fellow with a dire neurological disease is an interesting plot thread. But the show is called House, after all, and I am most pleased (as are many viewers) when the series is focused on him. So, admittedly, after the network hype, press releases, promos (mental note: must stop watching them!) and previews, I was less than enthusiastic.
That said, I should know better. And trust the writers and show creators to serve up a good episode, if one that lacks the emotional punch I got last week. (Well, they can’t all deliver that sort of a sucker punch.) Episode five of this fifth season of House, MD, “Lucky Thirteen,” addresses life changes, the control (or lack thereof)) we exert over them, and how we deal with them.
In 13’s case, she is dealing with the life altering news that she has active Huntington’s Chorea, an aggressive and ultimately fatal genetic disease. She reacts to her disease by cruising gay bars for women (13 is bisexual), using drugs, and drinking heavily. She tells Foreman that she’s trying to cram as much “living” into her shortened life span as she can. And it’s also clear that her hard-living lifestyle is also designed to let her numb herself to the bleak reality of her mortality. If she’s “having fun,” she can’t think about her impending death. But her crash and burn choices can only hasten the inevitable, something that House sees (and understands all too well).
But when 13 shows up for work late and drunk — something House has said in the past he doesn’t tolerate — House saves her career by not forcing a drug test, but fires her. I don’t think he expects her to go home, but to do exactly what she does — stick around and try to prove that she still can work.
There is much about 13’s situation that resonates with House. Certainly, he’s not terminal, but I think that in some ways House sees himself on a long road towards death — a protracted death. His words to her: “You’re on a downward spiral; you slash away at anyone who tries to help until no one tries to help anymore. Till you hit bottom; until you’re dead.” These are words people have probably been saying to him for eight years. Words he doubtless tells himself, has told himself, particularly in those weeks that Wilson had tried to cut House from his life. For all of his manipulation and moralizing lectures, House not only loves Wilson for his friendship, but because even his lecturing confirms to him that someone still cares.
Eventually House rehires 13 after she has delivered the dire and terminal news to her dying friend. But why? 13 begins to say to House…”you’re trying to save me. You’re doing exactly the same thing to me that you think I’m…” House interrupts 13’s thought with an epiphany about the diagnosis. But I think 13 was about to suggest that House had rehired her because he was convinced that she could — despite her self-destructiveness and out of control downward spiral — still make some sort of human connection. And as long as she can still connect to someone, something (House says it’s to the diagnosis), she still has some hope (and hasn’t hit bottom).
This scene made me recall something 13 said to House last season (“You Don’t Want to Know”) regarding hope and House’s endless curiosity. She suggested to him that he constantly seeks answers, uses questions, his curiosity to keep his own connection to hope. “You spend your whole life looking for answers,” she said. “Because you think the next answer will change something, maybe make you a little less miserable. And you know that when you run out of questions, you don't just run out of answers, you run out of hope.” House’s words to 13 seemed to me a very apt bookend to that scene.
House has never been comfortable with major life upheavals. And he has good reason to distrust them — and to fear them. In season one’s finale “Honeymoon,” House tells Stacy, as he comforts her, unable to diagnose her husband, “One of the tragedies of life… something always changes.”
To House, change is always a difficult thing. He talks about change, asks about it, wonders about its effects all the time. “Dying changes everything.” “Almost dying changes everything… for two months.” “People don’t change.” And as much as people in his orbit try to change all the time (sometimes successfully), House is incapable of it. He is frozen in time; as if his life was stunted on the date of Stacy’s betrayal. The day when everything for him changed big time. And for him, when others around him change their life situation (for the better anyway) it’s really, really difficult for him. Because he cannot go along with them; he can’t change too. He’s stuck.
I think the most important line in “Lucky 13” is one that Foreman said to 13, once she finds out that her friend is going to live, while she continues to die. “I feel alone. And she hasn’t left,” 13 says to Foreman. 13 feels alone, left behind as the friend moves on with her life and there is nothing she can do to alter the course of her own life; at least nothing that will ultimately change the outcome.
Isn’t this exactly what House fears? That Wilson has moved on? House worries now about how his relationship with Wilson has altered over the four months since Amber’s death. He tests it and investigates it; but Wilson is one step ahead, turning House’s expected curiosity into an equally elaborate prank on House, which, more than anything should tell him that everything is okay with their relationship. “We’ll go bowling on Monday; I’ll be over for poker over the weekend…” Nothing’s changed.
I really loved Wilson in this episode. He knew that House would only believe that things had returned to normal through action, not word. So Wilson played House’s game, and one-upped him — something House always appreciates. I adore that playfulness so much more than the lecturing and manipulation that so often has characterized Wilson’s relationship with House.
So House, now content that his relationship with Wilson is fully restored, finally finds out why Wilson was late for work that morning. And the news shakes House’s foundation once again. Cuddy, who has never quite given up on having a child, apparently, is planning to adopt. She has confided in Wilson to be her character reference; but unlike House (who kept her secret) Wilson (the eternal yenta) couldn’t quite keep the news to himself. Drawing House to a baby furniture store, Wilson and Cuddy spill the news that she’s going to adopt, just having been approved in the morning. Expecting a “mazel tov” or House’s typical sarcasm, the two are surprised at House’s strange reaction. It is one of the episode’s most interesting (and revealing) moments.
House is not simply surprised, not just shocked. He’s visibly upset. Really upset (as in choking back tears upset) — which he would probably ascribe to the onion he had just sliced to confirm his diagnosis of 13’s friend. Lucky he had those sunglasses, huh? (Hugh Laurie really sells this without saying a word. His expression changes from default indifference through 150 different emotions in the span of 30 seconds).
Why is House so upset? Is it that Cuddy confided in Wilson, not in House? Is it that he simply didn’t know? That Wilson and Cuddy were able to keep a (gigantic) secret from him again? House so much needs to control his situation. A man who was able to control so little as a kid, whose medical treatment was wrested from his control as a man, he needs to control what he can within his sphere to keep his balance. This threw him off his balance big time. And right on the heels of Wilson. Just when he thought things were back to normal, the rug is pulled out from underneath him.
The lyrics to the song that underscores the final scenes of the episode suggest House’s state of mind as much as 13’s. Cueing off House’s reaction to Cuddy’s news, the lyrics to Annie Lennox’s “Dark Road” play the story of 13’s loneliness — and House’s: “I cant find the joy within my soul/It's just sadness takin’ hold/I wanna come in from the cold/And make myself renewed again/It takes strength to live this way/The same old madness every day/I wanna kick these blues away…It's a dark road/And a dark way that leads to my house…”
But as much as the lyrics express the loneliness, they also express a glimmer of hope that change (for the better) is possible. In a sense, I think that’s what House’s new favorite, but odd, congratulatory phrase is all about. He uses it twice: “If you’re happy, I’m …” first when learning that Wilson may have a new girlfriend and is trying to accept that Wilson may still have a life apart from House, and second when he learns that Cuddy is going to adopt. House is trying, it seems, to accept that his friends’ lives can change, even profoundly, without shutting him out. He doesn’t quite believe it, but at least he’s trying. And, for House, that’s huge.
Okay. So. Next week. Everyone see the preview? Very, very provocative, indeed. More on that over the weekend, I think. But in the meantime, what did you think of “Lucky 13?” and what do you think might happen in next week’s episode “Joy?”