Originally published this morning on Blogcritics
Have you ever known someone who was too nice to be true? They annoy you when you realize that you haven’t a prayer to ever be quite that good, until you discover that their niceness makes you a better person. At least that’s what the wife of this week’s “nice” patient believes. Is this a key to why House seems almost desperate to hang onto his friendship with Wilson? Wilson is House’s tie to humanity and if he’s lost then so is House’s humanity — completely. Or maybe I’m reaching for something not there in this played-for-fun episode of House, “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”
“No More Mr. Nice Guy” was a lot of fun, but slightly disappointing (to me anyway) after such a long, long dry spell — and with only three more episodes to go for the season. I’m not blaming the writers or the other powers that be. Maybe my expectations were way too high after a season already peppered with fun and hi-jinks, and without one episode to provide a real emotional punch in the gut. As a friend pointed out to me this morning after watching the House marathon on USA Network yesterday, there is a stark contrast between the ethical questions and emotional explorations of the marathon episodes (“Detox,” “Control,” “Role Model,” and “Babies and Bathwater,” for example) and the lighter, more humorous tone of this season. She asked me whether had I not already been so invested in the series and in the character of House the series would have taken such a hold on me. And I’m not sure. Then again, I’m all about the angst and torment. (Sick, huh?)
Maybe the lightness is intentional; maybe House torn from his usual symbiotic relationship with Wilson is a House of ennui; of just simply being an ass. The House of “No More Mr. Nice Guy” really doesn’t care. Not about the patient, or really even about the diagnosis. He really only cares about playing mind games with his team and playing territorial games with Amber and Wilson. He’s not the troubled intellectual (who was apparent even in the hilarious season two episode “Distractions”), nor the reluctant healer (despite being in withdrawal and desperately in pain) of season three’s “Merry Little Christmas.” Nor the deeply compassionate (despite himself) man who wants to help a patient live a “normal” life (season three’s “Half-Wit”).
On the other hand, maybe House’s territorial games are his desperate bid to hold onto his only human tie, and the prospect of losing it frightens him a bit. His territorial games weren’t nasty, and his willingness to compromise regarding Wilson was interesting in a guy who (almost) never does. Is House really trying to be “nice” about Amber?
I have to admit that I was momentarily taken in by House’s devastated expression when his team told him that he had neurosyphilis. I thought he really had it — and that he was stunned by the news of it. (Although I knew it couldn’t be that straightforward.) That’s an expression that we had only (as viewers) witnessed at moments of anguish or great pain — when House is really hurting or worried. And here it was simply a manipulation; an act.
I felt a bit cheated because of that. House’s humanity is so hidden, so concealed, that we need those to find clues of it within House’s (and Hugh Laurie’s) expressive eyes. If they are not telling the truth (or not reliably so), House’s humanity is then even more suspect. (Again, on the other hand, as another friend pointed out, maybe there was truth in his reaction to the “news” of his syphilis. Was House, indeed, hurt that his team would invade his privacy, picking him apart like a lab rat? Have to think about that one.)
The other thing that bothered me about this episode is that a year ago, we learned that House doesn’t have syphilis. In “Half-Wit,” he switched blood vials to qualify for a drug trial. The team, in trying to help House, analyzed what they thought was his blood only to discover that it tested positive for syphilis. So, at the very least, Cameron, Chase, and Foreman should have known that he does not have syphilis. I’m not usually one to nitpick, but (to me) it was an unnecessary re-tread.
If I sound like I didn’t like the episode, that’s not really true. There was much to enjoy in “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” I liked seeing House try to reach out to others to compensate for Wilson. That he grabbed onto that socialization through a bowling date with Chase was quite delightful. (And watching Chase try to have a “normal” guy conversation with House was very, very funny and well done.) And despite the fact that I miss the quieter, more reflective House, he has come a long way since “Half-Wit,” when he so tentatively put his hand on the pub’s door handle, contemplating the mere act of entering.
I also very much liked the way they handled the House-Wilson-Amber triangle; Wilson seems pleased at all the fuss being made over his affections. In his own way, Wilson is far from being “nice,” letting House and Amber fight like divorced parents over visitation rights.
House is clearly trying to work out and to accept Wilson’s relationship with Amber. He may not be successful, but at least he’s trying. That he has brought Cuddy in as an arbitrator was a stroke of genius — and that he allows her to make the rulings and try (sort of ) to adhere to them is a testament to House’s respect for Cuddy’s skills. Nice touch, too, with House getting Wilson drunk while he drinks only coffee to cause trouble with Amber. Wilson is such a cheap drunk!
There is a moment in the episode when House is playing some blues on his piano, waiting anxiously for Wilson. He is clearly on edge and when there is a knock on his door, House fairly jumps out of his seat and lunges (as much as he can) to the door, only to find the Jehovah’s Witness guy there — much to House’s disappointment. That, more than any other moment in the episode, signaled just how much, despite the snark and silliness, House misses his old relationship with Wilson. And maybe how much he needs it. It’s a brief moment, but it’s telling.
And what is House telling Cuddy in his performance review? I think we need to listen closely to House’s performance review of his boss — beyond the snark — to what he actually said. “You want to have someone jump you and tell you ‘I love you;’ you run away from what you need, you have no idea of what you want. Your accomplishments make you proud; but you are still miserable.” What do we take away from that? What clues? In my humble opinion, House is baring his own feelings to Cuddy; telling her that she needs him, and doesn’t (yet) realize that she wants him. House made two suggestions in casual conversation that Cuddy is in his thoughts. Has Wilson’s new-found relationship spurred something in House? Time will tell. (Okay, fine. I confess to being a bit of a Cuddy-House “shipper.” There. I’ve said it.)
I am really looking forward to next week and then the big two-part finale (which looks awesome!). And remember coming up mid-May, just before the season finale — my interview with House executive producers/writers Garrett Lerner and Russel Friend. I suppose if any two writers will plow the depths of House’s emotional life, it is those two writers, who have given us “Skin Deep,” “Cane and Able,” and “Fetal Position.” So, feel free to contribute questions for them in the comment section!