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House, M.D. takes us inside the House-Wilson dynamic through a unique point of view: Wilson's.

TV Review: House, M.D. – “Wilson”

First and foremost: apologies for not filing a review last week. I was a bit overwhelmed finishing a large project and dealing with Thanksgiving. I promise to catch up with it during the House hiatus (no more new episodes until January).

I watch House because it’s about House (the ever-amazing Hugh Laurie). I like the other characters; I enjoy them on screen and in their interactions with House—and with each other. But I don’t watch the show for them. They aren’t written as central characters, and although they all have interesting lives away from the House-universe, they are never as interesting to watch as House. I also love Robert Sean Leonard (who plays Wilson). He has a fantastic deadpan comedic timing, and he and Hugh Laurie have great chemistry.

So, I wasn’t sure how I would like a House episode focused on someone other than House.

After finding myself too easily distracted during the first half hour of “Wilson” (to me, that’s never a good sign), I realize in retrospect how much I really loved the episode. No, I wasn’t riveted—breathless with anticipation during the commercial breaks as I’ve been with some episodes–at least not until halfway through it.

But I realized that "Wilson" not so much furthers Wilson’s narrative, although it does that, as it provides us insight into House’s current state of mind nearly halfway into season six. In seasons past, when life-altering events occur to House, they have been long-since forgotten within several episodes. They don't affect him long term because "people don't change," and House always reverts to type.

We also, since “Known Unknowns,” haven't really had access to House’s inner life. Having been rejected by Cuddy—and humiliated by Lucas, House reverted to a more destructive sort of meddling mode. As Wilson noted in “Teamwork,” what happened had to have devastating to House, but House has insisted he’s OK. We, like Wilson, knew that was impossible. But we got no clues—no access to House’s inner thoughts or his emotions. And after "Teamwork" and "Ignorance is Bliss,"  I began to wonder if House was slipping back into a more defensive and destructive posture.

It is early morning at the episode’s start, and House has clearly been up for hours. Overnight, he has moved several musical instruments and many of his trinkets and books to Wilson’s apartment. What is late-sleeper House doing up so industriously at the crack of dawn? Is he not sleeping? Is that a clue? Or is there some greater purpose in annoying the Felix Unger-esque Wilson with his mess? (And the Felix-Oscar motif reflects nicely in House's reference to the "Pigeon sisters," Oscar and Felix' upstairs neighbors.) Or is House simply being annoying? 

Wilson is going hunting with another friend, Tucker, who is also his cancer patient. It’s obvious that House and Wilson have argued about this annual event before, and House doesn’t approve. He dislikes Tucker, calling him a self-important jerk—kettle, meet pot. OK, so maybe House isn’t so much self-important as self-absorbed, but still…

Tucker collapses in the forest, unable to move his arm. And as Wilson diagnoses and treats him, we have the opportunity to observe Wilson in his own practice.

Like House, Wilson has fellows—only more of them! He also has an assistant (love to see more of her). I had always believed that Wilson’s office next to House’s is not in the oncology department so he can keep an eye on House. And that he had an entire staff somewhere else in the hospital. Cool.

Wilson tries to apply Housian reasoning to Tucker’s case. He’s learned enough from House over the years that he tries to find an innocuous zebra in Tucker’s illness (transverse myelitis), which is more appealing than considering the possibility that Tucker’s leukemia has recurred.

We learn that House has been monitoring Wilson’s cases in the aftermath of his euthanasia paper in “Known Unknowns.” He’s not being so much intrusive as worried that Wilson’s guilt will propel him into more career-tanking behavior. 

House believes that  Wilson is wrong, and that Tucker has cancer, betting him $100—a bet Wilson takes. But House is right, of course, and Tucker has a treatable leukemia. But it’s resistant to the chemotherapy drugs, and Wilson wants to pull a “House” and double the dosage. House thinks this is a bad idea. Doubling the dose of what is essentially a poison could destroy Tucker’s liver. “It’s exactly what you would do,” Wilson points out.

But House insists that there's a difference in temperament between them. I actually don’t know that House would have taken this particular risk. He’ll take lots of risks with patients, but understanding the likelihood of liver damage, I would suspect that House would have done the math and realized the risk was too high. But Wilson insists and doubles the dose against House’s advice, and Tucker’s liver predictably fails.

House continues to intervene into the case, as he has from the start. He comes running (OK, running is too strong a word) into Tucker’s room dripping wet, having identified a potential liver donor. The dripping wet part is important. House explains (rather lamely) that he had been in the ER doing some sort of test on a patient. It’s obvious that he’s lying. Clearly, House has been stalking the ER, hiding in the shower, awaiting a potential liver donor. I have to wonder if House remembered that Wilson had provided a transfusion for Tucker during his initial treatment. And, knowing that Wilson might do something insane like volunteering his own liver, sought an alternative. But there's a problem. The potential donor never signed a donor card and the sister refuses to allow her brother's body to be defiled on religious grounds.

With the liver's shelf-life running out, House drags Wilson to persuade the sister. Why together? Why not just tell Wilson that the potential donor’s sister refuses to release the organ? Of course, House realizes that Wilson would be reluctant to do what has to be done to, especially if that means browbeating the potential donor’s sister. Then Tucker would die—and Wilson would be devastated. And that's what House really fears here.

It’s interesting to watch House and Wilson appeal each in their own style to the sister of the potential organ donor. Wilson appeals to her on helping his patient, but House understands that it's not the donation per se–it's the that her beliefs won't allow it. So House appeals to that, giving her a legal fiction that enables her to OK do it without compromising her beliefs. It’s persuasive—and effective. We’ve seen House persuade family members and patients this way before. It’s not “browbeating” so much as giving them an "out"–a rational way for them to agree to something they don’t want to do. It’s subtle—and something House does well. But they’re too late and the liver is no longer viable.

So then we get to see a real jerk in action–and I don't mean House. House can be a jerk; we all know that. But House isn’t anywhere in Tucker's league. Exploiting his ex-wife and daughter’s love, he hits Wilson with a guilt trip blaming Wilson for killing him before his time. He wants Wilson to donate a lobe of his liver. Neither House nor Cuddy think this is right, but Wilson is undeterred.

This sets up an enormously important reveal about House. For five seasons, House has claimed ultra-self-sufficiency: he doesn’t need anyone. He can’t need anyone—because he knows love is conditional and he has to close himself off to ultimate disappointment. But something has changed fundamentally in House. And when Wilson asks House to be with him for the surgery to remove a piece of his liver, House refuses. And Wilson is stunned.

But House explains in a raw emotional disclosure: “If you die, I’m alone.” And he can't bear to watch Wilson die–if the surgery goes wrong. It’s honest, sincere, and raw. Wow. No deflection—just simple honesty.

But House ultimately confronts this fear because he knows Wilson needs him. He makes it into the surgical gallery just in time for Wilson to see him there. And post-op, he sits at Wilson’s bedside worried as he comes out of anesthesia. He’s not playing his game or texting–or even reading a book. He’s just sitting there sitting vigil and never taking his eyes off his friend. And as Wilson recovers, House stays with him, keeping him company or working at his bedside while he sleeps. Wilson can have no better friend here.

House wonders if Wilson is angry when he finds out Tucker has exploited their friendship–not to keep his family intact for a little longer, but so that he can run off with his (very) young girlfriend. “Disappointed,” Wilson replies. When House call him a wimp for not getting angry, Wilson reminds him that “a table is a table.” People can’t change who they are any more than a table can be something other than a table. And then House stuns us. Dr. “People Don’t Change” turns around and tells Wilson all you need is a “can of paint and the guts to use it.”

Any suggestion that House’s experience at Mayfield has been forgotten is now out the window. He has internalized much of what he learned there, and has come far. Wow.

And then there is the Cuddy-Lucas situation. House’s immediate reaction after rejection was to interfere and break them up. But at the end of the last episode, House told Wilson that he was accepting the relationship. But neither Wilson, nor we, believed him. And we were wrong.

Cuddy and Lucas are moving in together and House is hurting—but accepting. When Wilson asks him if he’s “OK,” House brushes him off, but only initially. He eventually confesses, “No, I’m not OK, not even close.” But again, internalizing his experience at Mayfield, House is trying to accept what he can’t change and move on. Again, wow!

And what of Wilson taking a coat of paint to his table by buying the Condo that Cuddy wants to purchase for her and Lucas? Is it unfair of him? He hasn't really outbid her, since her offer was refused by the owner. But Cuddy won't see it that way.

It’s an interesting place to leave us at the season’s midpoint and before a the long winter hiatus. House is learning—and changing. Or trying to. But what’s driving him? There are three things we now know House must be afraid of: pain, loneliness—and the return of the delusions. Until season six, House’s biggest fear has been the pain. But something’s changed. We see House in this episode favoring his bad leg as he walks; he’s rubbing at it more; he’s sitting more. He’s obviously having pain issues. But what’s the one thing House fears more than pain? It has to be the loss of his mind. And he came awfully close at the end of season five. And I’m sure he doesn’t want to go there again. Ever. Has House really changed—at least in some ways? What do you think? Tell me in the comments below!

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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