“Okay, so here’s what you do — wait three minutes and then call security. By the time they get here, and lock me up, I’ll be done. He gets to live; your ass gets to be covered.”
House Classic. In a nutshell, this is why we (or at least I) love House — the show and the character. This is my buy into the series; not the snark, not the over-the-top behavior; not the snotty, spoiled brat man-child. Not the bad boy. This is House (really) at his most heroic. Save everyone but himself. Played to perfection with the just the right amount of pathos injected into Hugh Laurie’s flawless performance.
Cuddy: You’re not going to cut your own throat.
House: Yeah that sounds like me.
With no inclination for self-preservation, and nothing but an ethical streak that screams at him to do the “right” thing and not the “correct” or “good” thing, House has no intrinsic choice in the matter. House is a healer; he cannot help himself. It’s a familiar pattern for House, beginning all the way back in season one as he, over and over again, risked his career for the sake of doing what is “right.” What is best for a patient, protocol be damned. It’s only his own throat he’s willing to risk, however, never really wanting to threaten anyone else’s throat. It was subtler this time, more than in season one’s “Control,” or “Role Model,” or season three’s “Son of Coma Guy,” but it said more for it. At least to me.
“Living the Dream” was a terrific episode. It had its humor, but it also had its moments of introspection. House was being House, sure. But House was also being the House that I love, and that I fell in love with.
The episode played with this season’s exploration of change and fear of it, as well as the season’s other major theme of illusion vs. reality; reflections and mirror images. “Living the Dream” refers (among other things) to taking hope beyond fantasy and taking that leap out of House’s metaphorical airplane. Hope is useless, according to House. It’s the here and now that matters; if you don’t like your situation, change it or stop moaning about it.
For the patient, the star of House’s favorite soap opera, it means changing his own situation, despite the fact that it’s “complicated.” House contends that “wanting” to change leaves hope that change can be had; as long as you don’t try, you have hope and you can continue to imagine life on the metaphorical “other side.” He’s not saying, however, that anyone can change. Change of circumstance does not equal change of one’s fundamental stripes. You are who you are. Throughout the episode, there are references to situational misery versus elemental misery.
The patient wants “meaning” in his life; wants to do something “meaningful,” now that he’s got a second chance at life. House has been there, done that. He knows from his experience that meaning is fleeting. In season two, he told Foreman that “everything changes for about two months,” before you revert to type.
“Nothing matters,” House tells the patient. Nothing has lasting meaning. “We’re all on airplanes.” Life is dangerous and complicated and it’s a long way down if you decide to jump — to stop hoping and start doing. It’s easier to “give up a chance at doing something real to hang onto hope.“ House sought meaning, and in the end all he found was disappointment. He sought change and all it brought was the realization that change (i.e. healing) is beyond his grasp. House’s bleak view is paralleled by the patient, who, in turn plays a television character with whom House connects — an idealized mirror image of himself in many ways. “Living the Dream,” indeed.
I loved the way the story drew parallels between Wilson’s relationships with both House and Amber. This is the first episode in which I saw Amber and House cast in the same light, despite the fact the series has been trying to explain it to me all season. Shopping for a new bed, Amber is disappointed after Wilson chooses a bed to please her rather than please himself. She is upset and angry at his attitude, explaining that this is why his marriages have failed: he does what pleases his partners until he resents, and then rejects, them. He asks what’s wrong with wanting to take care of her. She reminds him that she can very well take care of herself. She needs him to take care of his own needs. “You can take care of me. You need you to take care of you,” she rightly admonishes. It could as well be House saying Amber’s words both to Wilson and to his team. He needs to be surrounded by people who stand up to him — who don’t “care about him.” Don’t want to “fix” or “change” him. Who look out for themselves, who value their own medical opinions and are willing to stand up for them.
Amber wants to be challenged; to not get her own way, just because she’s more aggressive about it. As does Amber, House practically begs to be challenged throughout the episode, even so far as blaming Cuddy for failing to stop him from performing a dangerous procedure. “You should have stopped me,” he criticizes her.
House grows frustrated and angry with Foreman when he manipulates an end run around House’s decision rather than confronting him with it. “If I’m wrong, tell me I’m wrong.” House sees Foreman’s actions as not only a wimping out, but a betrayal. He doesn’t want threats; they don’t help him — he wants debate; needs it for process.
House tries to barter playing nicely in front of the company (a hospital accreditation inspector) for a new television for his office. But even when he pushes Cuddy to let him have the television, I think House secretly hopes that Cuddy won’t give in to him; that she will say no. I do not think that in the morgue, confronted with the inspector, he would ultimately compromise Cuddy or hurt her professionally. If she had pushed him, she would have won (I think) — just like Amber won her battle over Wilson in the end.
I loved the idea of their “safe” word, by the way (suggestive as it is of rough, but loving sexual play). This game that Cuddy and House play is practically some sort of dominant/submissive seduction. Ah, but who is the dominant? Who is submissive? “Sweet Sauce?” Irony, indeed! In House’s dreams! “Living the Dream?” Maybe their sensual power play-laced dance is a vicarious way of making their own desires real. It would, after all, be quite a long leap off the metaphorical airplane for either other them to take a chance on upping their game to something more real. So they dance. And spar. And flirt. Sweet (sauce).
So, in the end there are House and Cuddy for the second episode in a row. I so loved the idea that it ultimately came down, not to protocol, not to looking good in front of the inspector, but to trust between them: why she hired him and why she protects him.
“Your job is on the line; my job is on the line,” she pleads with him, asking for him to proceed cautiously, if only while the inspector is there. But it’s the wrong argument. “If you think I’m wrong tell me I’m wrong, don’t tell me about protocol.” But it is House’s total commitment to the patient and his diagnosis, risking only himself in the process (and the patient, for whom he thinks it’s a calculated and necessary risk), that convinces her.
But , alas, House appears initially to have gotten the diagnosis wrong. “You should have stopped me,” he tells Cuddy, realizing that his impulsiveness may have killed the patient. In House’s mind, that’s her job. He doesn’t want sycophants or manipulative, passive aggressive antagonists. He needs someone to stand up to his genius when it leads him astray. Even as they protect him from bureaucrats.
When ultimately the patient is cured with House’s diagnosis (which he still believes is wrong at that point), House can’t stop processing the “why.” He needs to know, as he always does, why, even though the patient should by all rights be dead, his treatment worked. Curiosity, as Foreman might accuse? Or that he needs to understand so that it won’t happen again? No loose ends means fewer mistakes in the long run.
In the end, House is proven right: a severe allergic reaction, which (reasonably) responded well to his treatment plan. Ultimately vindicated, he phones Cuddy in the middle of the night — to share, to admonish, to flirt — and most importantly to connect. It’s a great way to end a terrific episode. “Good night, House.” A wan, resigned, but affectionate good-bye. “Good night, Cuddy,” as he knows all is well between them.
Two-part finale coming up! Part one airs Monday, May 12; the season finale airs May 19. Next week, be sure to watch for my interview with finale writers/executive producers Garrett Lerner and Russel Friend!