In one very important way, this week’s episode of House, “Recession Proof” (7×14) is pivotal both for the character of House (the always-amazing Hugh Laurie), and for the series. For Dr. Gregory House, the events of “Recession Proof” are a turning point for him, a significant barrier at last addressed—at last surmounted.
The patient this week is an out-of-work real estate developer, who has been unable to tell his wife that he’s now working as a janitor and has put them in dire financial straits. After he collapses at an Asian restaurant after consuming a live—and squiggling worm-like delicacy (ick), the team tries to piece together possible causes through lies and the things he’s concealed that might provide insight into his rash, fever and organ failure.
Along the way, Masters (Amber Tamblyn) begins to understand the value of lying, as she is forced to deal with the patient’s wife—and gain her confidence and consent. Under Chase’s (Jesse Spencer) caring mentorship, Masters gets through it, wiser and more understanding that the blunt truth, harshly told, is not always the right thing to do.
In the end, House realizes that the patient suffers from a treatable genetic condition. But, by the time he puts the puzzle pieces together, and arrives at the correct diagnosis, it’s too late. Masters and Chase arrive just as the patient arrests, and despite Masters’ heroic attempts to revive him, the patient dies. It is the first time for her—she’s never lost a patient, but again, Chase is there, providing guidance and quiet support. I’m really liking this Chase! Glad he’s back.
Meanwhile, House has a command performance: he must escort Cuddy to a hospital charity gala being thrown in her honor. We know, as well as Cuddy and Wilson, that House has a bad track record attending these sorts of events. However, he plans on going, insisting that he will be there—and even taking Wilson’s $200 bet on it. Despite Wilson’s (and by extension, Cuddy’s)
extreme skepticism, House even auditions a mariachi band (to hire at his own expense!) to surprise Cuddy at the gala. This is her night—and, after all, the dinner is in her honor. House believes she deserves more than a token gift from the hospital board—she deserves a grand gesture (like a mariachi band) to truly mark this moment.
But then his patient dies. And House, believing that he should have put it together earlier, wonders if it’s his fault. He worries whether, in the end, he was too distracted by his command performance to escort Cuddy to gala charity event. But he’s not brooding only about the loss of his patient as he sits alone in the dark of his office. House is also considering the cost at which his relationship with Cuddy comes. Is she so much of a distraction, that his love for her costs lives? It’s irrational math, but not to House. It’s been one of his core beliefs since the first episode, and he’s always given up on happiness, healing and love rather than really test the theory. So, while everyone else goes to the party—even the team, none of whom take patient deaths quite so to heart—House, at an emotional crossroads, broods alone about a choice between who he needs to be and who he wants to be.
So, again the series returns to the question of the effect of love and happiness on House’s ability to be a genius diagnostician. It’s come up over and over during the series run. At the end of “Need to Know,” after House has sent the love of his life, Stacy, away and back to her husband, House goes to brood on the hospital’s rooftop. Wilson is furious with him, telling him that he essentially sabotaged a good thing (never mind that Stacy was married at the time) in order to keep his specialness. But that is the first of many occasions over the seasons.
In Season 3 (“Resignation”), Wilson secretly slips antidepressants in House’s coffee, which make him “hazy” and demonstrably happier. (Yet, when he feels that he came in late on the diagnosis because he was “hazy,” “happy,” or whatever, he realizes that the pills take away his edge—what he needs to be uber-doc.) Then in Season 5, House finally finds something that will (if used carefully) will make his quality of life considerably better—methadone (“Softer Side”). Finally convincing Wilson and Cuddy that it eliminates his pain completely, he feels better—happier. But in the end, he takes a pass on using the powerful pain killer because he feels he missed a diagnosis, his sharp senses dulled by his ability to feel something other than misery.
So here we are in Season 7; House has found some happiness falling in love with Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein). He’s overcome several obstacles and they’ve withstood several arguments and more than six months later they are committed to each other and to making this relationship work.
We’ve seen House at this crossroads, as I’ve said, choosing to stay true to himself rather than take the risk of compromising his medical mojo. But we’ve also seen House stand at the brink and choose a riskier path. At the end of season two, after a series of hallucinations and interior conversations with his antagonistic Moriarty (“No Reason”), House chooses to undergo a risky procedure that may compromise his intellectual gifts for a chance to physically heal and be pain-free for the first time in years.
The decision that House ponders in the last moments of “Recession Proof” is perhaps even more important to his long-term happiness. He finally has what he’s been seeking for the past several years: he’s in love with Cuddy, they are involved in a stable, secure and committed relationship. They’ve withstood squabbles, disagreements—and House’s personality issues; things are good. And I think they’re both happy. Not that they don’t both have their worries about the future, of course.
But now House wonders whether the addition of Cuddy into his life equation—thinking of more than himself and his patient—has impaired his ability to save lives. “How many lives will be lost,” he wonders, because he’s focused on Cuddy—or their relationship (in even the most benign ways, I’d have to think).
So instead of going to the gala, House gets drunk in his local pub, not answering his phone—and seeking clarity. He tells a worried Wilson that he’s going to go to Cuddy’s and talk to her. When Wilson, terrified that House will break up with her in his distraught (and inebriated) state of mind, takes his car keys away (House should not be driving anyway), House is determined enough to walk—in the rain—to Cuddy’s home. My thinking is that he wanted to get it over with—and had the bourbon-soaked courage to do it. I believe that when he walked out of the pub, he intended to end it.
But the real clarity, in my opinion, came not from his hours of rumination, but in the walk to her home—in the rain. He arrives at her house soaked to the bone—still drunk, but perhaps more sober than he’d been earlier. Admitting that she makes him a worse doctor, he tells her “you should be sitting down for this.” Surprising her, House tells her that although his involvement with her may make him less effective as a diagnostician, he’s willing to forego saving a few more lives to be with her.
This is an enormous step for House. It is probably the most important sacrifice House can make for her, and for his own happiness. We know that for many, many years, House has defined himself by his medical chops. “What do I have?” he screams at Cuddy from within a hallucination in “No Reason,” furious that a procedure she’s done has potentially damaged his intellect—while healing his leg. “I have nothing else,” he rails at her—and Wilson. Medicine is all House has been for so long, that his decision to risk it for who he wants to be at this point is pretty stunning.
Maybe it’s the “hopeful romantic” in me that sees how important this moment is in the canon of the series. And as House lies, his head in her lap, Cuddy can do little but stare ahead, stunned and a bit perplexed. Whatever anger she might have had at his non-appearance at the gala can only dissipate in what she realizes was–for him—a night of considering the possibilities and risks ahead. (Although I’m sure she was, like Wilson, probably more worried than angry, considering that he’d lost a patient—and knowing how powerfully and internally House tends to grieve when a case ends badly.)
Everyone ready for next week’s “Bombshells?” Episode 7×15 is one of the season’s most highly anticipated of the year. It will be poignant and surreal, infused with alternate realities, hallucinations and surreal dreams. I will have more to say about the episode later in the week, with clips and interviews provided by FOX—and maybe a surprise or two.
In the mean time, for those interested, I’m embarking on a virtual book tour across the vast Internet during the months of March and April. So check out the tour’s official page for more information. For those of you in the Chicago area on March 10, I will be participating in a panel at the University of Illinois at Chicago on how television affects us as health care consumers. I’ll be talking about House (the doctor and the show), and debating the merit of TV docs with a medical professor and a communications lecturer from the university!