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House and Cuddy are finally together after six seasons. Will it work?

TV Review: House, M.D. – “Now What?” In Depth

There is moment in the season two episode “Need to Know” crucial to understanding the inner workings of Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie). After pursuing Stacy (Sela Ward) for months, he has finally won her back from her husband Mark. She’s prepared to leave him and make her life with House. But House has second thoughts, not about his love for her, but about his own ability to be functional in a long-term serious relationship—which is the only sort of relationship House seems able to desire (beyond the basic necessity of hookers). 

He tells Stacy to return to her husband because a relationship between them could never work. She will expect him to change, to be somehow transformed by their renewed love. But he can’t change—believes himself incapable of it. Stacy is perplexed because she hasn’t asked him to change, but House, steeling himself for the worst, avoids the possibility of disaster by avoiding the relationship. He sends the speechless Stacy back to her husband, and House heads to the roof to brood. End of story. 

In the House, M.D. season seven premiere “Now What?” House and Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), too, come to this juncture. But unlike House and Stacy, they confront House’s fears squarely in the face. Talking it out, they both want this to work. 

What a great way to start season seven! Picking up moments after the end of “Help Me” (actually beginning with a pivotal moment from the season six finale), we find House and Cuddy pretty much where we left them at the end last season.

Losing a patient under tragic circumstances in “Help Me,” House is at the end of his emotional tether. Returning home, House’s self-loathing and agonizing pain send him into the depths of near-despair. Even Foreman (Omar Epps) is concerned for his well being. 

But season six ends with the appearance of House’s rescuer, Cuddy. Declaring her love for him—despite her better judgment—she informs him that she’s ended her engagement to Lucas Douglas. The season ends on their clasped hands as they stand kissing in House’s bathroom.

As season seven opens, they are still holding hands, now in House’s bedroom, where he still can’t quite believe this is all real. Lightly caressing her hand with his thumb, House seems almost in  a dream, as if he can’t quite believe this isn’t some figment of his exhausted brain.

Noting the very real blood-soaked bandage on his collarbone, Cuddy needs to make sure he’s okay. Her touch is reassuring as she examines the hastily stitched laceration gained in “Help Me.” Cuddy leaves his side for a moment to get towels; House ponders his hand. Disbelief pours off him after she goes? Is it real or some tortured hallucination? He barely says a word; makes a move. 

When she returns, House is an obedient child, House lets Cuddy remove his shirt, wash his chest, his dust-covered face. There is nothing sexual about her ministrations: they are loving, but with purpose. House is astonished yet still silent. His eyes seem to search for confirmation that she is not some vision of his tormented mind conjured by exhaustion.

Then she goes for his belt buckle. We would expect House to make some sort of lewd comment by now, but almost certainly when she goes for the buckle. Instead he is shy. At first, he seems unsure that he wants her to do what he thinks she’s going to do. But he doesn’t stop her. Then, she does the unthinkable. On her knees, Cuddy pauses at the scar—the deep disfigurement of House’s right thigh, caressing it. The scar: a wound, years old, that still causes both physical and emotional pain is not something House wants touched, or even shown. 

“Don’t, please don’t,” he pleads quietly. But Cuddy reassures him that “it’s okay; I love you.” And then she kisses him there, in that hated spot: the source of so much (but not all) of his anguish. He allows it, and then lifting her in to his arms, plants her on the bed where they make love. There is an incredible tenderness to their lovemaking: there is no devouring, nothing is taken for granted; all is savored. And when it’s over, House asks the inevitable question. “Now what?” Roll credits.

This is how the House, M.D. season premiere begins. For those of you who have viewed the pairing of House and Cuddy with some degree of skepticism, I think they’ve got it. Even the musical underscore is perfect for that scene: the opening stirrings of a concerto: chamber music, perhaps.

Doris Egan’s wonderful story and collaborative work of the House creative team has made the season premiere memorable for many reasons. Yes, there is much we’d expect: hospital scenes, humor, House’s snark, but there is much more, but never out of character. We are always aware that we are, after all, watching House, M.D. Resetting the series once again, this new storyline has tremendous potential, offering House, perhaps, his greatest challenge yet: a mature, romantic relationship with his boss.

House and Cuddy have different ideas about what’s next, now that they’ve had sex, which they explore in the afterglow, cuddled up in bed, House’s thumb gently caressing Cuddy’s arm and other accessible parts. Cuddy is being practical: go home, shower and return to the office. What they’ve shared is but the beginning of a journey for them. So leaving, picking up her life to resume and then return to House’s arms later that day or the next seems perfectly natural.

House has other ideas. He wants them to take the morning to explore each other—to be with each other, to discuss the ramifications of the entire enterprise. What does it mean—to each of them, to their working relationship and the way in which House functions at the hospital? Cuddy suggests that House not overanalyze things between them. “Why can’t it just be nice?” she asks—a parallel to Lydia’s question in last season’s opener “Broken.” Lydia was looking for a fling; House never does, it seems. For him, analyzing—or at least further exploring—is important. Being on the wrong page with Stacy in season two and with Lydia in “Broken,” only succeeded in House’s heart being broken.

They are interrupted by Cuddy’s Blackberry and House takes matters into his own hands, telling her new assistant (who I adore already) that whatever it is, he can handle it himself. Claiming to be Cuddy’s nanny, House proclaims Cuddy sick and requiring a day off. Except, the problem, it turns out, is that the hospital’s only available neurosurgeon has just fallen ill. This wouldn’t be such a huge deal if was not for the fact that without a functioning neurosurgeon onsite, the hospital has to forfeit its Trauma Center status and virtually close down significant parts of the hospital. 

Cuddy is unaware of the developing crisis, as House effectively shields her from hospital business, while keeping himself quite in the loop as his team tries to manage things (and cure the sick neurosurgeon ASAP) without involving Cuddy. The hospital storyline serves as a nice counterpoint to House and Cuddy’s cocooning, providing humor and way to take the viewers to a venue other than House’s apartment. 

Wilson also provides a humorous diversion when he comes a-knocking at House’s door, certain that House is depressed or on drugs after losing his patient. And when House refuses to let him in, naturally, Wilson breaks in, thinking the worst: House is back on Vicodin or worse. And for a brief moment, we, and perhaps, House consider the possibility that he’s right when Cuddy hides out of sight, and is nowhere to be seen. 

So, now what? House has never been one to be into dalliances (at least from what we know of him). He had a serious and intense relationship with Stacy before we met him; and when she appears back in his orbit, his first sense is not to have a fling with her, but to embark upon a real relationship. He is astonished when Stacy initially doesn’t seem to be planning on telling her husband about it, much less forsaking him for a life with House, which is what House is offering.

When he does have a brief affair with Lydia in “Broken,” it is not without a lot of trepidation, soul searching and hesitation on House’s part. And when she, too, leaves, House is devastated. House is not one for half measures, and this clearly applies as much to his love life as anything else. 

House gently tests the new relationship around the edges, suggesting that perhaps Cuddy would prefer a casual, open relationship with no commitments (while taking a bath for two), something Cuddy disputes. House wonders whether Cuddy is ready to go public with their affair, or keep wants to keep it secret. Is she willing to take an impulsive vacation with him to faraway romantic local—one to which she’s wanted to travel for a long time? Yes—and no: yes, she will go with him, but not tomorrow. She has a child to look after and a hospital to run. 

Courting  Cuddy with small romantic gestures House reminds us of just how romantic he can be: the “lame” corsage he buys for Cameron (“Love Hurts”), Stacy’s prescription for her heart condition, the desk he procures for Cuddy from her mother’s house, the medical text purchased long ago and intended to give to her for a special occasion. His actions in “Now What?” flow from House’s genuine romanticism that leads him in “Baggage” to convince the patient’s husband to stop badgering his wife and court her; that leads him to suggest to Foreman that love causes us to do the “stupid” things (“Lucky 13”); that has him plucking petals from a daisy while thinking about Lydia (“Broken”). 

In “Now What?” House’s gestures are sweet and intended to woo: he tries (disastrously) to untop a champagne bottle with  a sabre. He produces a “gourmet” home-prepared breakfast for which he gently flaked stalk of fresh corn (corn flakes, get it), and produces a sick looking cracker with ketchup on it as a gourmand’s delight. He draws Cuddy a bath (although it’s also a diversion when he does it), which he tells her is full of spices and good herbs, and is really a bizarre (and uncomfortable potion) of Old Spice aftershave, scope, Epsom salts and some other stuff House keeps on the bathroom shelf. 

We learn that House likes cuddling, kissing softly and caressing: he loves and craves contact—something we rarely see in him. He and Cuddy seem comfortable together: sitting on the sofa actually talking—honestly about their future together; playing boggle, finding exotic places on the Internet while lounging—au naturel—in bed. 

When Cuddy straightforwardly asks House why he hasn’t yet said the “L” word (since she’s already taken that step), House doesn’t have a quick reply, giving Cuddy pause. But then House reveals Boggle cubes, which spell out “I lobe (sic) you.” Claiming he forgot to grab a “V,” we (and Cuddy) are led to assume it’s a deflection. And maybe it is. 

In the end, just as Cuddy is about to leave, House expresses his fear that their relationship can’t work ultimately because he can’t change enough to make sense for her. And we get the biggest reveal of the episode (yes, including the physical reveals). Cuddy refuses to accept House’s pessimistic stance and insists he explain.  Taken aback with the rawness of House’s confession, she listens as he explains the inevitability of her deciding to leave him, ultimately unable to accept his behavioral flaws. Her being with him at this moment in time is a fluke; she has been swayed, he believes by one event experienced in a cramped hole at a disaster site. It’s an aberration. He has not—and cannot—change sufficiently.

“I am an insane choice” for a woman with a child, he argues. He has even locked the door, as if afraid that once she walks out of the sanctuary of his apartment and back into her real life, she will sober up and realize her folly.

But Cuddy stuns him, saying that she doesn’t want him to change. She is not seeing him through rose-colored glasses; she knows he is screwed up. Yet, she asserts “You are the most incredible man I’ve ever met.” For all his flaws, all his problems, she sees and understands—and loves him because of—and in spite of—it all. It is this moment that House says words we haven’t heard from him since that fateful day years ago, just before his life is irrevocably changed by a surgeon’s scalpel. “I love you,” he tells Cuddy, looking into her eyes.

And then there’s the “13” mystery. She’s going far, far away, but doesn’t even wait until she’s had her party cake (and neither would I since it’s not “good luck” her colleagues are wishing—it’s happy Bar Mitzvah!?). Does House know that 13 is taking a leave?  And poor Chase, who’s not shy about asking 13 if they can have sex—since she’s headed out of the team and he has no time for proper build up to the question. Needless to say, she say “no.” And 13…er…Olivia Wilde is off to do a movie (and then perhaps another one). Will she be back? And when? And will Cuddy allow an all-male diagnostics team? 

So, what now? In episode two, “Selfish,” House will tackle a great case, and House will host one of its best clinic patients in years as the new couple try to figure out how to make the relationship thing work. It’s a great episode, more back to basics, but with the added tension of House and Cuddy really, really (and quite seriously) trying to secure their infant and completely out-in-the open relationship. What a great start to the season, don’t you agree? So, stay tuned!

Thank you for all your well wishes on the official launch Sunday night of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D. They are much appreciated!

About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."

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