Monday , April 15 2024
The second entry of season five finds House dealing with his own grief.

TV Review: House, MD – “Not Cancer”

Over the course of four seasons of House, MD, we have observed its central character (played to perfection by newly-minted executive producer Hugh Laurie) go through a lot. We’ve seen him battered and bruised (emotionally and physically); we have watched him cynical, sarcastic, sappily romantic, desperately ill and in the throes of withdrawal. He’s been depressed and even occasionally happy.

In “Not Cancer,” the second episode of season five, we find House desperate, less and less able to hide his panic and his feelings about the loss of Wilson. They seep into the differential diagnosis sessions and his conversations with the patient; in front of his hired private investigator, they become transparent, as even this hired hand feels House’s agony at having lost Wilson’s friendship.

“What do I get from Wilson?” House inquires absently (and almost to himself) during the first differential diagnosis session. His fellows argue about what might and might not have made six transplant victims ill (and fatally so in several cases). But House’s mind is elsewhere, almost in a parallel scene, ignored as the medical debate continues.

Kutner finally bites: “He paid for your lunch, liked monster trucks and was your conscience.” Of course the question was rhetorical, and House (able to mentally multi-task better than anyone), who appears to not have been paying attention concludes that “it’s cancer.”

So, armed with Kutner's insights on his “Wilson” problem, and leaving the surviving two patients to the team, House (rather pathetically and awkwardly) goes deep into the wilds of the Princeton Plainsboro cafeteria to seek out a new friend. Passing the “Kutner test” of monster trucks and paying for House’s lunch, the poor victim of House’s friend-lorn attention, Dr. O’Shea, seems not to care that House downs three Vicodin, and better still, like Wilson, has a moralizing opinion of House’s ethics. (Although I have to say that House’s decision not to remove the blind patient’s only functioning eye is more compassionate and certainly more responsible than Foreman’s desire to remove it.) House’s reaction to this potential Wilson-replacement is, “I think I’m falling in love.”

House has also hired Lucas (Michael Weston) a private investigator, who I really thought I would dislike as yet another character in an already too-crowded cast. But I like him. And evidently, so does House, who sees beneath the guy’s slightly dippy exterior to the very sharp-minded man beneath — despite wearing argyle socks with construction boots (and Vans). He has hired the PI to supplement the investigative duties of the fellows, and he appears to be good at his job. But he’s also pretty good at House-reading, and probably has more potential as a Wilson surrogate than O’Shea. He’s a bit of a con man, charging randomly large amounts of money for his information (and doesn’t take checks).

Asked to spy on O’Shea, while ensconced with House in an ice cream truck, Lucas tells House he’s spying on the wrong guy. “You’ve got no reason to be O’Shea’s friend. Part of the pleasure of friendship is to trust them. Trusting without absolute evidence — and then being rewarded for that trust.” House has always trusted Wilson (sometimes to his own detriment), and maybe House’s reward has been Wilson’s friendship and camaraderie — no questions asked. Hey, we know Wilson is a manipulative guy. Maybe for the first time in his life, in House he’s found someone who doesn’t dismiss his friendship for lack of trust; for fear of being played (in a way only Wilson can). And maybe that’s what Wilson gets out of the friendship. (I know… stretching, aren’t I?)

“You’re investigating the wrong guy,” says Lucas. “You really want to know about Wilson.” House is stunned by the knowledge that Lucas has been investigating both him and Wilson on the side. “You want to know if Wilson’s been pining for you. If there’s something about him that will make him come back.”

Caught off guard, House really can’t deny it (or his feelings). So, pretty hesitantly, House asks for the truth. He’s reluctant to hear it, but can’t resist. There’s no sarcasm to deflect the question. Watch Hugh Laurie’s face in this scene. Every emotion is in the stillness of his expression: fear of what he expects to hear; hope that reality is better than expectation. He looks like a deer caught in the headlights and swallows back the emotion of that very brief moment of not knowing. I think at this point, House simply wants to hear any news about Wilson, wants one glimmer of hope to hold onto. We seldom see House so emotionally naked. The PI picks up on House’s vulnerability, understanding how hurt House will be with the news, even only having known him for a short time. Lucas is truthful, but gentle, looking away and giving House a bit of privacy in what is surely very difficult news indeed for him. House is quiet. No rejoinder, no smart comment, no snark. He simply looks away, unable to hide his profound disappointment. He is literally saved by the bell (well, his cell phone ringer, anyway).

Unfortunately, the “bell” only leads to more frustration — this time about the case. This leads to the first of two wonderful encounters with the patient. (I have sorely missed those patient heart-to-hearts.) Although admittedly their conversation seemed slightly random within the case, I really liked the fact that the formerly blind patient could sense House’s anxiety and pain. “Would the world be any different if your leg was fine?” she asks after disclosing that she had been an architect, who found the world ugly after recovering her vision. This gets to House (especially in his vulnerable state of mind).

“Nope,” he replies flatly, knowing where this is going. But that was the easy question.

“Think you’d be any different?” she continues. This question really strikes at the heart of House’s being. So much of his self-loathing, his behavior and drug use is tied up in his leg. He can’t answer the question, but she makes the connection between herself and House. “You don’t seem all that different.” I took that to mean different than her. She saw an ugly world, one that was not quite up to the beauty that her doctors predicted she would find once she regained her sight. She’s still alone, still without joy or peace of mind. House’s world is dark, and he hides from the ugliness behind a cynical façade and in a pill bottle (or whiskey bottle). She gave up the beauty of art; he gave up so many other things.

But he tells her that he hasn’t given up, and that’s the difference. And he’s certainly right. Something in his makeup, his psyche, won’t let him completely succumb to despair. For him, it’s the puzzle, and up till now, Wilson’s friendship.

House finally visits Wilson after Lucas tells him that Wilson has not mentioned House’s name once in conversation or in grief counseling. Under a pretext of needing an epiphany in the case (okay, so he does need an epiphany and Wilson often provides the necessary prodding), House knocks on Wilson’s door, offering him a consulting fee of $400. Paying for Wilson’s time, literally throwing money at him, tells us how desperate the normally tight-fisted House is at this point. And despite the epiphany he hopes to get, House is there to engage Wilson in some sort of dialogue. Wilson is not buying, telling House to go away. As the door slams, House drops all pretense, asking “How are you?” Knowing that Wilson hasn’t mentioned him, knowing that Wilson believes that he is toxic, House still unguards himself. And it’s still not enough. “Don’t do this,” Wilson says. “I’m trying to move on in my life.”

“By hanging out with Cameron? With Cuddy? With Foreman? But not me?” This is House at his most brave (emotionally); he’s trying to push past his own fear and Wilson’s reluctance and maybe save them both. He is near tears in this encounter, waiting. “You want to move on from me, you’ve got to deal with me; talk to me.” House is right. This is Wilson at his most passive-aggressive — refusing to deal with what is at the core of his anguish (beyond Amber, even). This, too, is what Wilson gets from House — someone to prod him when he’s being passive-aggressive, refusing to deal with problems. For all of House’s inability to confront his own issues, he is very insightful about other people, and his honesty with Wilson is brave and sincere. But Wilson wants nothing to do with it, warning House to stay away, refusing to offer an opinion on the case.

House does get his epiphany, however, speaking with Lucas about the purpose of cultivating friends. “Friends keep you from sitting in a room alone,” reveals House. And for him, I’m certain that’s true. I believe that House may be headed for that existence, and I wonder if it frightens him just a little bit. Is that why he’s so desperate to acquire a new friend to replace (what he perceives to be) the only friend he has? Why he pathetically (albeit lightly) asks Lucas if he wants to be friends?

After Cuddy shoots down House’s new theory (that the patient doesn’t have cancer, but cancerous stem cells) by forbidding him from performing a dangerous test, House retreats to Wilson’s office, where he sits alone in the dark, thinking about how he can get around the guards now posted at the patient’s room. He has had his epiphany; the final puzzle piece has locked into place, but there’s nothing he can do about it. I’m sure he’s also processing all that Wilson has told him as well.

Over this scene is the fabulous Dave Matthews song “You Might Die Trying.” I wish I could quote the entire song, so perfectly it fits with all that must be going on in House’s heart and head. “To change the world/Start with one step/However small/The first step is hardest of all.” House is pondering his now dead relationship with Wilson, his setting foot into the world alone, and his patient. Bravery comes in all forms.

“If you give, you, you begin to live./You begin, you get the world.” He can let the patient die, which will surely happen (because he’s solved the puzzle and knows the answer) or he can defy Cuddy and give this woman a gift he cannot have for himself: the ability to see the world in all its colors. To see the world as more beautiful than she believes it to be — and give her the chance to avoid his fate.

So he defies Cuddy, and in that wonderful final scene with the patient, House delights (as much as he can) in giving his patient something meaningful, even if he can’t have it himself. House is in a bad place — and even the patient, who barely knows him, picks up on his sadness.

Finally, late at night, still at the office, House wonders if he can buy Lucas’s companionship, his camaraderie (and his instincts, as well). House – who hates paying anyone anything – the supreme mooch, is willing to pay for the friendship of someone he barely knows. What a sad, sad place for House to dwell.

Parts of this episode were overwhelmingly sad. Like Wilson, House is in mourning. House is mourning the loss of his dearest friend, who denies that there ever was a friendship in the first place. House’s grief is camouflaged as something else, and he won’t be cut any slack for it. His grief is private, thereby made even more poignant.

I continue to enjoy Kutner, who seems ever more a combination of whiz kid and teddy bear. I am surprised at how much I liked the PI Lucas. He’s bright and he has an easy rapport with House. He can have a lightening effect on House as he goes through this very difficult time. I hope he does.

Congratulations to Mr. Hugh Laurie on his well deserved and long overdue executive producer status on the show. What he has brought to the character of Gregory House makes him an integral part of the House creative team! House airs Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m. (Eastern Time).

About Barbara Barnett

A Jewish mother and (young 🙃) grandmother, Barbara Barnett is an author and professional Hazzan (Cantor). A member of the Conservative Movement's Cantors Assembly and the Jewish Renewal movement's clergy association OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement. In her other life, she is a critically acclaimed fantasy/science fiction author as well as the author of a non-fiction exploration of the TV series House, M.D. and contributor to the book Spiritual Pregnancy. She Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (

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