“You couldn’t kill her dream.” Dr. Gregory House, well-known curmudgeon couldn’t kill the dream of one lone astronaut? Was willing to keep her secret? Run tests “off the books?” (Well, that, at least sounds like House.) Cameron explains House’s own motivations to him at the end of the hour, showing us (and him) that she knows his heart better than we might suspect.
In the strike-shortened fourth season, House episode two–“The Right Stuff”—still stands as one of my favorite episodes of the season, if not the series. Why? Thanks for asking. “The Right Stuff” reveals something about House that I’d always suspected, but had never been spelled out so clearly (and twice) in one episode. House does have a genuine (albeit quirky) humanity, and despite his crazy-sounding game to hire a team of new fellows, we see it in evidence—with both a fellowship candidate and with the patient.
When I'd heard that House was going to weed out the candidates for his coveted fellowships ala Survivor, I was, to say the least, highly skeptical. I envisioned comedy and silliness (which the show House is certainly capable doing) overshadowing the serious (and occasionally dark) drama coming week after week for several episodes. My husband told me how dubious it all sounded, but after "The Right Stuff," my fears had been much allayed. (Although a couple of the story arc's episodes were somewhat over the top.) But the process of vetting the fellowship candidates more often resembled The Right Stuff (the film about the early days of the astronaut program based on Tom Wolfe’s novel) than Survivor. And thankfully so, as this aptly-named episode sets House’s fellowship selection process into high gear.
The patient, an ambitious pilot named Greta, with “the right stuff” pages House to his office, plopping $50,000 onto his desk to figure out why she “sees” sounds. “You’re the best,” she explains, and, she adds, “you don’t care about anyone but yourself.” (And, hence, open to a $50,000 bribe.)
She needs the diagnosis and treatment to be done “off the books” and behind the hospital’s back. She is adamant that NASA not find out that she may be sick, lest it disqualify her from pursuing her dream of joining the astronaut program. So, intrigued by Greta’s symptoms (and her challenge), House takes the case to a group of forty waiting and eager fellowship candidates.
Despite my pre-season misgivings about it, I actually like the way in which House tests the fellowship candidates. It’s completely in-character and has its own (Housian) logic. Set to work on the case (and subsequent cases), House observes how well they do their jobs. How creative they are; how observant they are; how skillful they are. As he asks Cuddy: why have them sit in his office and schmooze about surfing movies? I thought his assigning some of the fellows to wash his car was equally a test. How much would they take that was not “diagnosis-related?” One of the things that House most appreciates is the backbone to stand-up to him. He doesn’t bat an eye when cut-throat pixie steals his keys.
Wilson chides House that he will hire new fellows, not on the basis of skill, but because he doesn’t like them. “Hiring people you like,” he tells his friend, “that’s just stressful.” He views House’s reluctance to hire at all (as we saw in "Alone"), and then setting up an elaborate hiring game as ways to put off the inevitability of growing close to, and then losing, team members.
House continues testing and treating the patient until an incident in the treadmill room tells him that the game has to end. Doing a very cool and low-tech percussion thing, thumping Greta’s chest, House goes into full-on doctor mode (one of my favorite House states). He’s looking for masses, using his ear and sensitivity to great effect. It’s a beautiful teaching moment as the fellows get to observe House not as the consulting physician, not as the snarky, sarcastic lecturer, but as a serious and working physician. “If you have a good ear…” he begins. We know that House has a great ear, being a musician, etc. He gets serious with the patient (again something colleagues rarely get to see). The game is over, he tells her sadly. They have no choice but to do an invasive procedure. But as she pleads with him to find another way, House is clearly moved by her earnestness. She has gotten to him.
One of the candidates, a plastic surgeon named Taub, comes up with a creative way to perform the necessary procedure, yet hide it from prying NASA eyes–a "boob job!" Questioning House on this dubious procedure, Cuddy backs off when House assures her that it is in the "best interest of the patient."
In the end, after she is finally diagnosed and treated, Greta expresses her anxiety that the fellows who have been treating her may rat her out to NASA. But House intervenes, coldly telling her and the fellows it's too late; that he’s already done the ratting out and they needn’t bother. He stalks off, leaving Greta’s dreams of outer space destroyed.
But, it turns out, that far from ratting her out, House has actually protected her secret, running interference, trying to stop a “couple of leaky faucets,” who might spill the beans to NASA. Why do this, other than to protect the dream of a young lady who aspires to something so intensely, she risks much for her pursuit? House respects that sort of dedication; respects her and her devotion to her “one thing.” By so coldly destroying her dream in front of his two fellowship candidates, House has accomplished the dual tasks of shutting them up (he neither knows nor trusts any of them at this point); and he has furthered his reputation as a cold and heartless bastard—something that will be useful to him in distancing himself from them all.
Paring down his bloated team, House keeps “Scooter” a late-middle aged candidate, also known as “26.” Asking him to stick around for a minute, House reveals that he knows Scooter isn’t a doctor. But rather than doing this in front of the young and ambitious candidates (as we might suspect of him), House takes Scooter aside, not embarrassing him, confronting him gently. As with Greta, House respect Scooter’s willingness to risk much for a dream. Unable to keep him on as a doctor, House offers him the job he desires (if not the title), as he firmly (somewhat snarkily) and compassionately tells him that 30 years of auditing classes cannot make him a doctor. While some may view House’s interactions with Greta and Scooter as uncharacteristically kind, I would disagree. House has time and again (and usually away from the eyes of his colleagues) shown his compassion (and true kindness) for patients—and even colleagues.
At the same time he is trying to diagnose Greta and “manage” 20 fellowship candidates, House sees his old fellows Chase, Cameron and Foreman randomly around the hospital. Have they returned to work there? Are they visiting? Or is House having visions? In any event, the slightly unnerved Dr. House consults best friend James Wilson, who suggests they are visions brought on by House’s feelings of grief and guilt. As Wilson unabashedly plays with House’s mind, (enjoying it entirely too much), he tells him that Chase and Cameron are thousands of miles away in Arizona.
House eventually calls Wilson on his mind games after Chase shows up in the surgical gallery during a procedure. And Wilson fesses up to the mind games. House asks about Foreman, but when both Wilson and Cuddy confirm that he is working at a New York hospital, House is unnerved enough not to admit seeing him as well. Does House (as Wilson suggests) have residual feelings for his old team? Clearly he does, but, like everything else about House’s emotions, this is suppressed.
Season five of House debuts September 16 (not September 2, as was previously announced by FOX). The season four DVD hits the streets on August 19.