Tag Archives: television reviews

House, MD–“Living the Dream”

“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!

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House’s new team

And Then There Were Three: House Has His New Team!

Originally Published November 29, 2007

on BlogCritics.org

Part of Welcome to the End of the Thought Process: House MD

See also:

From 40 candidates down to three. Dr. Gregory House (the fabulous Hugh Laurie) finally has his new team of diagnostics fellows on House, MD. The ninth episode of season four called simply (and appropriately) “Games,” found Dr. House giving the candidates a final case to solve, as the hyper-observant diagnostician made his final choices. Look for my more comprehensive commentary on “Games” in the next day or two. But for now, let’s take a look at the new team as it will stand for the balance of the (hopefully not strike-shortened) season.

House’s purpose is two-fold at Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. His first is to take on the most difficult diagnostic cases (obviously); the second is to train young (or not so young) doctors under his supervision, teach them to become better doctors by altering their way of looking at illness and disease. Using a unique take on the Socratic method of teaching, and showing them, by example, to search beyond the façade of the patient, to eschew their own biases, as well as conventional wisdom, House hopes to make each fellow under his direction into a much, much better doctor.

The entire eight weeks of games, competitions and discovery were so much more than folly. Each candidate who lasted beyond the first week came away with something new to place into his or her medical arsenal. At the very least, they learned (if they were smart) to look around the edges of a problem, ask impertinent questions, and even question their own assumptions.

So here they are: the House, MD class of 2007:

Kutner (Kal Penn) — His specialty is sports and rehabilitative medicine according to the FOX site. According to Cuddy, Kutner shares House’s medical philosophy; but his radicalism is coupled with a recklessness with patients that House reserves for himself alone. House is a medical radical, but his years of experience, encyclopedic knowledge, intuition, and empathy filter his recklessness and temper his radicalism. During the eight-week tryout, Kutner burned a patient’s chest (but saved her life); electrocuted himself (but again saved the patient’s life), and suggested that they test liver function by getting the patient drunk. We discovered that Kutner likes to be cutting edge and edgy, both qualities that he shares with his department head. Kutner is a natural ally for House. And with both Foreman and Taub on his team, House will need an ally with a bit of derring-do.

I am excited about the possibility, too, that House might help channel some of Kutner’s natural enthusiasm and curiosity and make him House’s genuine protégé. (Yeah, I know what you’re thinking — House will have a new playmate, he’s not going to temper anyone’s curiosity — but we all know that House’s projected image is far from the meticulous, careful scientist that House is at his core). I wonder, too, if Kutner’s specialty of rehabilitative and sports medicine will lead to Kutner suggesting some radical therapy for House’s leg at some point in the future. House would, by now, be pretty gun-shy about trying something new with his leg, so it could lead to some interesting drama down the line.

Taub (Peter Jacobsen, son of legendary Chicago political newscaster Walter) — Taub is a near-contemporary of House, like Cuddy and Wilson. Experienced as a physician and clearly an expert at hospital and medical politics, he is reluctantly seeking a new career after he signed a non-compete with his former plastic surgery partners in order to keep his philandering a secret from his wife. Taub is unafraid of House, and unlike Kutner, Taub has the self-confidence to stand up to the boss, to challenge him — and to undercut him. He is a more adept and self-assured politician than Foreman, too, and has the potential to do House a lot of damage along the way. The fact that House knows his secret may mitigate the threat that Taub might pose.

During the survivor game (or probably more accurately, Apprentice knock-off), Taub stood up to House regarding the facially deformed patient, trying to undercut him on the case (which didn’t work). More importantly, he earned House’s respect by telling the doc straight on that he signed the non-compete to save his marriage, then risked his job because he thought he was right. He was not afraid to give his honest opinion to House, although he’s not above a little bit of sycophancy, as he has begun prescribing for House. Hmmm.

13 (Olivia Wilde) — “Drugs are always a mask for something else,” 13 tells House straight on in this week’s episode “Games.” House responds by telling her that her statement was “the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Yet, he turns around after she leaves his office, enigmatic smile on his lips, and gives her an extra two points on his tote board. Like House, 13 has the ability to slice through someone’s façade and perhaps see the real person beneath. She has been right with the medicine quite often, from the first diagnosis of worms (even though the patient died because of her mistake) to the idea in “Games” that there was an underlying cause to Quidd’s illness — beyond drug use. And that the drug use was masking “something else:” in this case, measles.

House, MD fan forums have been awash with the notion that 13 is simply Cameron 2.0. I don’t think so. I think 13 has a maturity that Cameron has always lacked (and still does); she is straightforward and honest with patients, but doesn’t seem to have the need to be needed or liked. House is intrigued by her on several levels, not the least of which is the fact that she refuses to be tested for Huntington’s chorea, a fatal genetic disease. She has a 50% chance of inheriting the condition, yet doesn’t want to know. She says that not knowing allows her to more “live in the moment” and try risky things (like working for the eccentric House), for example. She is bright and that will appeal to House as well; she will probably be wise enough to learn the best of him while leaving his baggage behind.

So where does that leave the rest of the troops? Foreman is still around on House’s service (or is it Cuddy’s?), having been humbled (although not really) by losing his job at Mercy Hospital. For this, he blames House, whom he did not leave “soon enough.” Foreman’s an ass. The fact that House has accepted Foreman as being there — Cuddy’s eyes and ears and House’s keeper — tells me a lot about House and his own self-image. I only hope that Foreman continues to learn some humility and gets rid of the arrogant attitude sometime soon. Or find another job.

Cameron is in the ER. She can’t quite let go of House, so there she is. And Chase followed her. Chase, at least, has developed a backbone. As an intensivist with post-doc training in diagnostics, Chase would be a good addition to the surgical staff. Whether he is doing a fellowship in surgical critical care, or is simply on the surgery staff, I think he’ll do well.

House will be on hiatus until January 29 (I know, I’m bummed too); but despair not! Reruns of the series will air on FOX Monday and Tuesday nights, and continue to air on USA Network Friday nights. And, of course, there are DVDs of the first three seasons, the House soundtrack, and a couple of “unauthorized” books on the shelves as well. So, plenty of House to keep us all occupied. With any luck the strike will be settled by the new year, and House (and all other series) will go back into production post haste!