Way back in the season three premiere, “Meaning,” Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) had returned from three months of rehab and recovery after having been shot. Asking to be treated with an experimental procedure involving the veterinary anesthetic Ketamine, House was back and pain free. He jumps immediately into two cases, which alarms Wilson and Cuddy, who believe House is simply trading “solving puzzles” for taking Vicodin. The switch does nothing to solve House’s addiction issues. Well, they dealt with that one effectively didn’t they?
Three years later we are at the same crossroads in “Epic Fail,” the first episode since House has been released from Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital. But this time, instead of resisting help—and falling prey to well-meaning but misguided colleagues during a critical and vulnerable time—House asks Dr. Darryl Nolan, his Mayfield Psychiatrist, to be his guide and mentor. On Nolan’s advice, House avoids jumping back on the horse, and in a strikingly honest exchange with Cuddy and Foreman, House resigns his position to pursue a less-pressurized career in research.
Nolan has also advised House to get a roommate. He doesn’t want House to isolate himself. “It fosters depression,” he says. So, of course, House has moved in with Wilson. Advised to get a hobby, the skeptical House tags along with Wilson to his cooking class. And surprise of surprises, House seems to have a flair for the chemistry-lab like feel of gourmet kitchen. House’s knowledge of chemistry serves him well as he whips up delicacies from near and far.
At least for awhile, the cooking seems an able substitute addiction; and a good distraction from the pain. House’s thing for cooking leads me to wonder if that gourmet kitchen in House’s apartment had gotten a much better workout in his pre-recluse days.
Cuddy visits House while he’s engaged in cooking up something in Wilson’s kitchen with a Chinese classmate, who (apparently) speaks no English (House and the classmate trade barbs about Cuddy in Mandarin Chinese). Cuddy is concerned that House has resigned because of her. House, who could have made any number of quips and insults, chooses a more sincere approach. “You flirted; I fondled. I hallucinated sex with you and then shouted it from the hospital balcony,” he reminds her, taking full responsibility the entire incident. And then she surprises him by saying she’ll miss him. I think he’s pretty moved by that, until the classmate interrupts the quiet moment—in English!
“Epic Fail” is an old-style House episode: a classic House formula of testing and guessing: no plot twists, but played out against the parallel trials of House and Foreman. And the diagnostic department falling apart. Like the virtual reality game designed by this week’s patient (but not as scary), House and Foreman battle the monsters and demons, which attack from all sides.
House’s quest is to stay drug free and deal with his pain by distraction rather than narcotics. But it’s also a battle to win the trust of those closest to him. I couldn’t help recall the season three episode, “Words and Deeds,” when House, at the time in rehab, resisting everything and everyone as fools and idiots, confesses in group therapy that his friends “have no expectations” of him. And they still do not.
Wilson treats House as he always has, lecturing him, manipulating and assuming House has not changed. When Wilson breaks his own toilet to steal a urine sample for a drug test, House expects it, and he’s ready for it. He’s disappointed in Wilson (and Cuddy, who doesn’t really enjoy being dragged into the scheme this time), wondering why Wilson didn’t simply ask.
As House begins to feel his way along this untested route, Nolan is the life-preserver neither Wilson nor Cuddy can be. House doesn’t trust Wilson (or even Cuddy) enough at this point (and with good reason) to confide much in them. But in Nolan, House has finally discovered someone with whom he can be serious, acknowledge his fears and not be judged. Someone who can really help him at last.
House visits Dr. Nolan several times during “Epic Fail,” each time when he seems lost, seeking direction when he’s feeling slightly rudderless and feeling incapable of coping safely with his pain. It’s telling that House is alarmed late in the episode when Nolan confesses he may have misjudged the importance to House of practicing diagnostic medicine as a coping mechanism for the pain.
House knows how close he came to losing everything that matters to him, most of all his mind and grip on reality. This is the most important battle of his life, and playing by the rules is the only way to win it. There are no cheats or shortcuts or hacks. It’s as real as it gets. When House nearly slips, the pain becoming so intense he feels he can do nothing else but find some Vicodin, he stops himself and finds a substitute. And then, most important of all, tells Nolan. He doesn’t try to scam or cheat; he is honest and sincere.
For House it has always been about the pain and fear of the pain. But after the events of season five, House is even more afraid of the hallucinations returning than the pain. As long as the fear of losing his mind overshadows his fear of the pain, he will probably be able to overcome his inclination to easy answers, like Vicodin, to deal with his life. This is the beginning of what will likely be a season-long journey for House.
Besides the hospital, the one place House avoids is his apartment. But in a moment of darkness, when nothing seems to help his leg, he returns to the darkened room (the electricity has even been turned off). House is wary here, glancing around, remembering the horrors he experienced when last he was home.
Although it’s likely Wilson and Cuddy have gone through the apartment and disposed of House’s stash, they couldn’t have known all the hiding places. And as House confessed to Cuddy in his detox delusion in “Under My Skin,” he keeps a secret supply in the closet—in a shoe. And there it is. A last bottle of the “good stuff.” One pill and no more pain, must whisper one part of House’s mind (maybe even Amber’s echo). But the rational part of House’s mind must also have its say, reminding him Vicodin nearly destroyed his mind. We never know for certain whether he’s actually refrained because the camera cuts away. But I tend to believe he has not. Do you?
Foreman’s battle is more straightforward, but to his career, no less important. He wants to win the role he’s been gunning for since he joined House’s staff: to run House’s department—and prove he can do it as well (if not better) than House. With the department closed down for three months, he has been waiting in the wings for his chance. No sooner does House resign than Foreman swoops in (like one of those ginormous birds in the virtual reality game) for House’s remains.
I loved that Cuddy acknowledges the small fact that diagnostic medicine departments do not exist outside of the House-universe. The Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital department of diagnostic medicine was created exclusively for House. (Compensation for what the hospital did to his leg?) But Cuddy reluctantly gives Foreman a chance as a new patient arrives, a virtual reality game designer, who seems to have all the answers and an intimate relationship with Google.
Anyway, Dr. Eric “I’m as smart as House but nicer” Foreman is an “epic-fail,” as the episode title tells us. Where House is sarcastic, Foreman is dictatorial; where Foreman tries to control everything and be the “decider,” House filters ideas and theories through years of experience and an encyclopedic knowledge of medicine, science and history. And he’s not much nicer than House, if at all. The “I’m the Boss” smugness pours from every pore. And it drives a big wedge within the department, causing a rift with 13, and leading to Taub’s resignation.
Omar Epps does a great job in showing us Foreman’s barely concealed glee at taking the diagnostic reins. He struts into House’s inner sanctum like a crowned king. You can practically hear him thinking: “Mine. It’s all mine.” But, Foreman has only one shot to make it work.
He has no help from the patient, who, with his symptoms from burning hands to priapism to iodine mumps, challenges Foreman more than 13 and Taub combined. The patient plays along with the diagnosis, bringing in experts to help him do his own virtual reality differential, and try to solve his own medical mystery on the “Interwebs.”
The patient is the sort of Internet-savvy geek House eats for breakfast in the clinic. However, I can imagine House striking some sort of bond with the game designer. Sure, House would mock him for getting his diagnosis off the “Interwebs,” while asking him to be a beta tester on the new game he’s designing.
Foreman likes playing Dr. House. He does everything he thinks House would say and do. But Foreman’s view of House is only on the surface, so his mimicry is false. When asked if he is the replacement for the genius that runs the department, Foreman replies that he’s “Genius 2.0.” And he has the chutzpa to really thinks he is. But, as the episode title says, “Epic Fail.”
In the end, House, seeing the patient’s plea for a diagnosis on the Internet, can’t help himself. He submits his call, and lo and behold, it’s right. It is a slightly obvious plot turn, one you could see as soon as the patient offers $25,000 reward online for the right diagnosis. How could House, who seems to constantly be surfing the ‘net, resist?
He knows he’s not supposed to “go back to his old habits,” including diagnostic medicine, but when he tells Nolan he’s slipped—not by taking Vicodin, but by diagnosing the case (and showing up Foreman in the process), he thinks he may have been too hasty in warning House off diagnostics. Time will tell if getting back in the game, as it were, will prove too risky for House.
A word about the graphics in this episode: stunning, especially in high definition. I think this was easily my favorite teaser ever. And yes, it’s the geek girl in me talking. But spectacular work on the part of the graphics department.
James Earl Jones guest stars in next week’s House episode, airing Monday, October 5 at 8:00 p.m. (ET) on FOX.