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House and his team deal with Kutner's death while treating an environmental activist with a Messiah complex in "Saviors."

TV Review: House, M.D. – “Saviors”

After the sucker punch of last week of Kutner’s (Kal Penn) shocking suicide last week’s House, M.D., almost any episode that immediately follows is going to pale by comparison. But after viewing the episode a second time, there is much to savor in this week’s “Saviors,” episode 21 of House’s fifth season. Appropriately for the forthcoming Earth Day, House and the team treat Doug Swenson (Tim Rock), a Greenpeace-like environmental activist who collapses at a coal mine sit-in. Equally appropriate to the episode’s proximity to Easter, Swenson has a Messiah complex that eclipses even his marriage and family.

The case is brought to House (Hugh Laurie) by his former fellow Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), who postpones a vacation with Chase (Jesse Spencer) to do so. Although she tells both Chase and House that she is simply returning a favor for a colleague in Philadelphia, Cameron’s motives are immediately suspect. Chase wonders why this case, at this particular moment in time, essentially blowing off a much-needed holiday that he has planned for a week. Does she want to get back on House’s team after Kutner’s death has provided an opportunity? Worse, is she interested in getting close to House on a more personal level? It’s a completely understandable question, one I am sure has lingered in Chase’s mind since they first got together in season three (not counting the one-shot in season two’s “Hunting”).

But Chase isn’t the only one curious about Cameron’s renewed interest in diagnostics. House and Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) also consider that Cameron once again is interested in being back on the team—and close to House. Cuddy asks her directly whether she’s still in love with him; so does House (in his own way).

At first, House believes that Cameron either wants back on the team because she misses the hunt, or still is interested in him—or even to provide some “pre-emptive grief counseling” to him and the team after Kutner’s death. House dismisses it as being a week too late. Although it may not be Cameron’s real reason for hanging on to House’s diagnostic group, it makes sense, even if it’s a week past Kutner’s death. During an LP (lumbar puncture) procedure, Cameron asks Foreman how House is doing (and not how he, or any of the rest of the team are faring). She is clearly worried about House, who internalizes everything and expresses very little. She never says that, of course, but it’s there. And it provides her with a solid excuse for hanging on to the team.

But Cameron’s real reason is much more realistic and interesting. And like so much of the episode’s internal story, it has much to do with Kutner’s ghost, which hangs heavily in the air. We don’t see the team agonizing and grieving. But a week has passed, and like most people, they have long since tried to start putting back the pieces, still affected by and keenly feeling the loss, but trying to move on and find solace where they can.  Everyone reacts differently to the tragic and senseless Kutner. And everyone seeks to make peace with it; find some sense of closure. Foreman (Omar Epps) shuts down, ignoring the suicide best he can; finding his “normal” in the case—and in disagreeing with House. Foreman’s need to deal with it alone, shuts out the one person who probably most needs him to be open: Hadley (13, Olivia Wilde). She hurts and can find no comfort in a lover who refuses to share his. Taub’s views on suicide would lead him to be angry with Kutner; grieve silently as he did at the end of “Simple Explanation” and move on, and leaning on his wife for comfort.

Chase and Cameron, though not as close to Kutner as the others, also need comfort. The tragic loss of a colleague and part of the extended diagnostics department family affects them as well. Although Cameron only wants to come home to know that “everything’s going to be alright again,” Kutner’s suicide has fueled Chase’s desire for more permanence with Cameron, intending to propose during the now-postponed vacation. Cameron discovers Chase’s plans accidentally and  is afraid of both the commitment and the timing of it, so soon after Kutner’s death. Of course she doesn’t express her concerns to Chase, but, instead, avoids talking about it at all.  

Interestingly, House is the one who helps Cameron understand her fears about Chase, commitment and his imminent proposal . When he wants to be, House can actually be a pretty good listener—and an give honest advice. It’s usually couched in innuendo, sarcasm and an a healthy coating of indifference. But twice House talks—actually talks—to Cameron, suggesting that she is trying to drive Chase into dumping her. “Either you’re leaving him emotionally or physically. Only one is good for your heart.” As House tells her, that first experience with husband number one makes her gun-shy with her next important relationship.  House speaks from experience, and in their second conversation, you almost get the impression that he’s reflecting on his own situation—with Stacy, and possibly with Cuddy.

“You’re wrong,” she tells House when he confronts her after the case, accusing her of using him to break up with Chase. House suggests that she is actually trying to drive Chase to break up with her. House’s words resonate strongly with Cameron, and she confesses her fears to Chase, who then romantically gets down on one knee and proposes to her. Sweet.

Along with the puzzle of the patient and the puzzle of Cameron, House has a third puzzle to baffle him: Wilson’s odd new dietary habits. Confronted by three mysteries that seem to confound him, House feels he’s losing his edge, his “mojo.” Although I think this is connected to Kutner’s death, maybe even intensified because of it, I think this is something that’s been plaguing House for much of the year, particularly in the last several episodes. House confides to Wilson “I think I’m losing my mind.” But Wilson reassures House that what he’s feeling is normal; that his mojo is “right where you left it; to keep playing with it” and it will return to him.

Like little cookie crumbs left help him find it, Wilson piques House’s curiosity with his suddenly healthy eating: egg-white omelets, kale salads and carrots. Confounded, House finally puts it together, but only when Wilson puts the final piece of the puzzle in place. House’s concentration Wilson, focuses him enough to also figure out the patient. And Cameron.

I completely loved the fact that Wilson put his own experience with Amber to work on House to subtlety help guide House back to some semblance of “normal.” Wilson would knows better than anyone, that no matter what House is feeling about Kutner, he would never verbalize it, but bury it deep inside where it would fester. Distracting House and getting him to play the game is Wilson’s way of helping House cope. This is Wilson at his best: friend, protector, but not destructive; not trying to get House “to change” but simply to make it a little better.

It’s interesting to note that House acknowledged that both Wilson and Cameron are trying to help him cope with Kutner’s death. And he doesn’t reject them—as he did not reject Cuddy’s concern last week.

There is something going on, clearly, that is unnerving House. I think it goes beyond Kutner’s suicide, although I think Kutner’s death has left a deep wound, and the latest blow to House’s damaged psyche. And it’s not until the final scene that we get the full impact of how badly he’s dealing with things. Despite House’s outward calm: enjoying a meal and laughter with Wilson (reminiscent of the final scene of season one’s “Damned if you Do”) and sitting at his piano and losing himself in playing “Georgia on My Mind” (in a beautifully rendered Hugh Laurie arrangement ), House is in deep emotional turmoil. And as House plays in the final scene he is visited by Amber! Amber, who died at the end of last season. She is a delusion, whispering into House’s ear, taunting about his mojo and his mind. House looks terrorized as if haunted by a ghost, which, in fact, he has been. Ann Dudek’s reappearance as Amber continues at least into the next episode.

And then there are the flowers. Flowers in the patient rooms, in the ER (which House takes the time to smell). The symbol of romance (or House would put it “cheap marital aid”); the source of pesticide pollution and the disease suffered by this week’s patient. Swenson’s compromise with his principles by buying his wife roses, led to a dire illness. Lesson: never compromise your principles or it might kill you. Lesson number two: romance comes with thorns, some of which may be deadly. So, caveat emptor.

Romance is beautiful, but a thorny path. And Cameron, Chase, 13, and Foreman all try to navigate through rosebushes of romance. Even Cuddy, insecure with her feelings about House, seeks reassurance that Cameron is not going to be a roadblock. Her concern about Cameron’s intentions to be back on the team unnerves her, and although she and House are not in a relationship, they are certainly headed in that direction. When she interrupts House’s clinic appointment, asking, “what’s up with Cameron?” House understands that all she really want is assurance that Cameron is not on his horizon. This is of great interest to House, but Cuddy disappears while distracted by the patient, before House can pursue the issue further.

As usual, the episode’s title gives us insight into themes. “Saviors,” airing the day after Easter gives us several. The patient with a Messiah complex whose drive to save the world is more important to him than his wife or child is certainly the obvious “title” savior. Wilson, intent on helping House through this difficult time, points out that it is normal for House to be off his game, to feel the loss of his “mojo,” that it would be strange if he had no reaction at all. “You knew him for two years, mentored him—even cared for him…,” he tells House reassuring him that his mojo is still there and ready for him, when he is ready for it. Even House in his own way, helping Cameron understand her own feelings and motivations is a savior of sorts. Lots of saviors in “Saviors.” Saviors, however are not necessarily altruistic do-gooders who sacrifice themselves to a greater cause. Swenson, out to save the world, neglects his wife and refuses to value even his own child as more important than the stranger down the street. Like House, who is a healer, and often risks himself for the benefit of a patients or even for the greater good is not "nice" and is far from altruistic. Like Swenson, House causes collateral damage to those who care about him.

I would be remiss if I didn’t make note of several things. Jennifer Morrison and Jesse Spencer could not have been better as Cameron and Chase muddling their way through a very difficult moment in their wonderful relationship. Fantastic acting, especially by Spencer, but just perfect.

Hugh Laurie never ceases to amaze. We have been treated to two episodes of late featuring Hugh’s musical artistry. In “Unfaithful,” he allowed House’s feelings about Cuddy to pour forth from his fingers and his heart in his original composition “Cuddy’s Serenade.” In “Saviors,” we are privy to House’s true solace—his music. Pouring his soul in to a lush rendition of “Georgia on My Mind,” Laurie lets us in once again—this time into House’s false belief that he would, indeed be OK. It is clear that House is thoroughly enjoying this moment of solitary relief—House’s signature whiskey glass and Vicodin bottle are missing. House believes that he has gotten through the worst of it—regained his bearings (and his mojo) and saved another life. But Amber’s sudden appearance tells him—and us—that all is far from well.

So, with two weeks before we get another episode (and from the preview clip at the end of “Saviors,” it looks to be a wild and slightly scary ride) where do you all think this is heading? Is Amber a hallucination? A delusion? A fantasy? Is House as OK as he would like to appear, or is he headed off the deep end? Thoughts?

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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