Apologies for this coming a bit later than I’d hoped. I wanted to get the Lisa Edelstein interview up last night. If you haven’t yet read it, do check it out.
Something seemed off to me for the first half (or longer) of “Massage Therapy” this week’s House, M.D. episode. Not so much with the patient, whose story is made up of lie upon lie; we only get to the truth (and a rather simple explanation of her condition). But the whole episode: the relationships between the main cast felt uncomfortable to me. I kept wondering why. Was it the script? The acting? The incessant commercial breaks? (It’s the first episode I’ve watched this year as it aired—with all the commercials—ugh.) Then it finally dawned on me near the episode’s end when House (Hugh Laurie) and Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) confront the truth—and stop lying to each other; stop hiding from each other. Just like the patient—and nearly everyone else in the story.
“Massage Therapy” was written by Peter Blake, whose writing on the show is always interesting (“Help Me,” “Remorse,” “Here Kitty,” “Joy”), often peppering his scripts with subtly entwined threads. So what was I missing? There had to be something more.
Then I realized that the characters seemed off because they were supposed to be. Like the patient Margaret, who’s hiding behind a façade of illness out of fear her husband would leave her if he learns the truth. And like House, Cuddy, Chase (Jesse Spencer), new fellow Kelly, and even Foreman (Omar Epps), who all hide their in one way or another out of fear. You might think that Kelly, a psychiatrist, might have had a little insight into the patient’s problems (or at least make a stab at it). But she submerges her psychiatric instincts and training to prove herself an able-enough diagnostician to make it on House’s high powered diagnostics team. House’s badgering and bullying intimidated her enough to obscure whatever skill she might have used.
Margaret, a young married woman, presents with abdominal issues and hallucinations. But House is preoccupied; he is much more interested in figuring out why Chase hired her than in what’s ailing his patient. House is often brusque and annoying, and it’s not unlike him to badger a fellow, but he is pretty brutal with her. His behavior seems to intimidate her (and she seems out of her depth, reminding me of Dr. Samira Terzi, late of the season four hiring arc.
No matter what avenue the team follows with Margaret, they hit dead end after dead end; she seems almost a pathological liar. Although “everybody lies,” she lies more than most, as if any truths would be far worse than any lie in which she might be caught.
In the end House realizes that she is schizophrenic, and with her symptoms are caused by a severe reaction to the drug Risperidone. All of her symptoms disappear once she is hospitalized, no longer on the meds. Of course, off the meds, her schizophrenia re-emerges, which confuses the diagnosis even more.
If Kelly hadn’t been so busy trying to prove herself as an able diagnostician—and had House not been so eager to badger and intimidate her for sport as well as to simply test her chops)—they might have figured it out much sooner. So the patient’s insistence on hiding her illness and Kelly’s hiding from what she knows best conspire to hide the truth. Of course we all hide from each other; we’re all afraid of rejection, but that fear, the tension and anxiety it causes can be as toxic as Risperidone is to the patient.
And what’s with Chase? Is House right that he is compensating for his loss of Cameron with his new hire? Shedding his “good guy” image from the last couple of seasons, Chase seems to have returned to his indifferent stance of the first couple of seasons.
Chase reacts to loss and fear of rejection by building walls of indifference. (Remember how he reacts to his father’s visit way back in season one?) But when he begins to allow the walls to come downopens up in season three, it is to Cameron, who in the end leaves him—just as his dad had (and his mom, figuratively). So now, as in Chase 1.0, this Chase is hard, cold, self-interested. He doesn’t “care.” There’s no payoff for caring—either in taking the world on your shoulders as he had in assassinating the dictator Dibala in season five (“The Tyrant”) or in loving Cameron. And it will eat away at him bit by bit. But in the meantime, Chase reverts to hides himself behind his interior battlements and gets his “Clooney” on.
So what is Foreman repressing? He certainly seems to get on Kelly’s case. Is Chase right when he suggests that Foreman is upset that they’ve gotten a replacement for 13—or that House asked Chase to hire—and not Foreman?
Which brings us to House and Cuddy. The episode’s title obviously originates in the issue created by House’s massage (or more specifically, his choice of masseuse—a hooker with whom he’s had a sexual relationship).
(It’s no secret that House has used hookers to satisfy his physical needs; they’ve provided him with sexual release while allowing him to avoid any pretense of intimacy. We’ve also known him to have friendly relations with them that have less to do with sex and more to do with some sort friendly acquaintanceship.)
So, as Cuddy leaves House’s flat after a romp in bed, she is met by House’s masseuse-hooker. House uses massage to ease the pain in his leg, and throughout the series, we’ve seen House turn to massage to keep it under control. So this (in Cuddy’s words) “slutty” young woman, it appears, has been both to House.
House is honest with Cuddy, explaining that before they were together, he got a massage—and a happy ending from this young lady of the night. But now it’s just a massage—no “happy ending.” This is just not acceptable to Cuddy, who may buy the idea that House is no longer having sex with his “masseuse” but is unimpressed by House’s assurances that her therapeutic hands are the only ones that can ease House’s pain.
Her reaction is understandable. I’ve always believed that House is a pretty monogamous guy. But when not in a serious relationship, he’s relied on the relief over involvement. But that’s not really what this is about. Is House trying to bend his relationship with Cuddy to test its security? He’s been known to do that (most obviously with Wilson). What are her limits? He would have known that Cuddy and the masseuse are likely to run into each other. She doesn’t just randomly stop by House’s apartment; he would have had an appointment. Cuddy is meant to encounter her.
House is also still feeling insecure about the relationship, so House is even more likely to put it to the test. When Wilson wonders whether House has yet interacted with Cuddy’s daughter Rachel, House lies to him, insisting that she’s “boring” and has no burning desire to be part of the domestic side of Cuddy’s life. “She comes over, we hook up, she leaves… You get the sex, dinners and video game partnership and a full night’s sleep.” Idyllic. But it’s not—and House doesn’t think so either. But it’s a very typical House comment, and we’re meant to understand it as Wilson does: House is being commitment-averse and he’s unwilling to take a step forward.
Wilson assumes Cuddy has asked and House has always been ready with deflections or a million excuses why not. And House never dispels that. Throughout the first part of the episode, I wondered, like Cuddy whether House is hedging his bets, having second thoughts or really unwilling to take that further leap into intimacy. It didn’t make sense to me, knowing what I believe I know about House.
But then there is the AHA! moment for the audience, and it all comes together: clarity for us; clarity for the patient, and clarity for House and Cuddy. Fear couched in House’s perpetual testing of the relationship’s boundaries parallels Cuddy’s fear of taking another step with House: letting him be part of Rachel’s life—and spend the entire night with him. It’s not that House doesn’t want to play with Rachel or wake up in the morning next to Cuddy. It’s that Cuddy hasn’t offered that part of herself to him. She too is afraid. And House calls her on it. Good for him!
These are two huge steps forward for Cuddy. House wonders why she isn’t ready to take them. His earlier conversation with Wilson suddenly sounds less like indifference towards Cuddy’s needs and family consideration and more like hurt. He can’t admit to Wilson that it’s Cuddy who has commitment issues here.
But instead of insulating himself from it, House asks her why. Of course it’s precipitated by her own accusation that House is trying to sabotage their relationship (which would be very House) by flaunting a hooker masseuse in her face. Massage therapy, indeed!
Two notes: I will be a guest this evening on the Canadian radio program KW Magazine with John Maciel (CKWR in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario) to talk about House and Chasing Zebras. I will also be interviewing Robert Seidman from TV by the Numbers. With all the talk about ratings these days in not only the House fan community, but all ‘round the ‘Net, he will try to demystify it all for us. So look for that article later this week.
A new House episode airs next Monday at 8:00 p.m. ET on Fox.