Article first published as A Chat With House, M.D. Writer/Producer Doris Egan on “Baggage” and More on Blogcritics.
Doris Egan took time out of a day-long season seven story meetings (she’s writing next season’s premiere) to talk to me about this week’s penultimate episode “Baggage” and on writing House. Many in the House fan community were sad to learn on Egan’s blog that she is cutting back next year on her involvement in the series to concentrate on other things. As a consulting producer next season, she will only write one episode. “We’ll see how many of my projects work out. I want at least to make the attempt to (among other things) write a new book. My editor has stopped asking when the new book will be written.” The good news is that we won’t have to wait long for that one episode; she’s writing the season seven premiere!
With the series since season two, Egan has penned some of the series best episodes, including “Don’t Ever Change” (with Leonard Dick, for which they recieved a Writers Guild nomination). She has become known to fans of the House-Wilson relationship as St. Doris for her take on their friendship, but has also become the House road trip maven.
Chasing Zebras: THE Unofficial Guide to House, M.D.
Coming September 2010 from ECW Press–and now available for preorder on Amazon.com
A new book about the series House, M.D.!
Also, please visit my author site for updates on the book, excerpts, etc. in the weeks to come.
Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D. is the essential companion to one of television’s most popular and fascinating series. Using her unique perspective and insight into the show, writer Barbara Barnett, noted as “one of the industry’s leading experts on the series,” immerses fans new and old into the heart and soul television’s most compelling series. It will be a dog-eared resource for seasoned fans, an indispensable atlas to anyone new to the show, and valuable guide to students of television, film and pop culture.
House, MD is a study in contradictions: straightforward medical procedural on the outside; intricate character drama within. No wonder the acclaimed series is the most watched television show in the world.
Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D takes readers deep within the series’ rich layers—into the heart of its central character and his world:
Who is this medical Sherlock Holmes? Is he simply a misanthropic jerk with a brutal sense of humor–or a tormented romantic hero in the tradition of Byron?
- How do House’s colleagues and patient relate to and reflect him and each other?
- How do the music, settings, even the humor enhance our understanding of the series narrative?
- What does the series say about modern medicine? Ethics? Religion?
Writing about House for Blogcritics magazine, I thought it would be nice to develop a book to serve as a guide for the intelligent fans of the show. Rather than a straight-on episode guide, I wanted to do a book about the series’ character and story narratives and the themes, it would provide intelligent and thoughtful analysis of the complex series.
I’m not really a television watcher, but when I started watching House, I was immediately drawn to the writing and the indelible performance of Hugh Laurie as the central character. Always fascinated by romantic anti-heroes, especially “Byronic Heroes,” I felt that there was much lurking beneath the surface of this “medical procedural drama.”
Like my Blogcritics.com blog “Welcome to the End of the Thought Process,” Chasing Zebras takes readers between the lines and action and takes an introspective look at House and his world.
House demands deeper thinking and analysis than most TV shows. Sure it’s fun to laugh at House’s antics; cringe at his anti-social behavior and grin the interplay between the characters. But the show is much more than that. House is meant to provoke discussion and thought. House offers commentary on everything from ethics to mental illness, race, relationships, family dysfunction, sex. The scripts are fragile and intricate Faberge Eggs and half the fun is getting inside them to poke around and find the inner depths within the writing and performances.
New feature in this space, not found on my Blogcritics pages. Best of…House, M.D.
I’m putting something big together right now, and I would love to know what you think are the best. . .
Answer any or all…
Best Musical moments
Best Chase moments
Best Cameron Moments
Best Foreman Moments
Best TAub moments
Best Kutner Moments
Best 13 Moments
Best Wilson moments
Best House moments
Best Cuddy moments
Best clinic patients
Best Guest stars
Best Patients of the week
Please respond below. . . Have fun!
The fifth season of House, M.D concludes as Dr. Gregory House (the always-extraordinary Hugh Laurie in a heart breaking performance) sees his world come crashing down around him, his sense of reality shattered as he comes out of a delusional fantasy. It’s a somber way to end the season, as the camera pulls back to reveal the lone figure of Wilson, watching sadly from afar as House enters Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital.
House co-executive producer and the finale’s writer Doris Egan explained the significance of the final sequence during a one-on-one interview the day after the finale aired. We also discussed the episode’s themes and series’ relationship—and a very tiny morsel for what may be ahead for the beleaguered Dr. House next season (emphasis on the “very tiny”). Egan has written for House for several seasons, penning some of the best and most-beloved episodes of the entire series, including season three’s “Son of Coma Guy,” her Writer’s Guild-nominated “Don’t Ever Change” (co-written with Leonard Dick) from season four and season two’s “House vs. God,” for which she received a Humanitas Award nomination.
The scene of “Both Sides Now” intercut joy and sadness: the sunny spring setting of Chase and Cameron’s wedding ceremony and House’s shell-shocked expression as he journeys to Mayfield. The montage, set flawlessly to the Rolling Stones’ classic “As Tears Go By was choreographed by the series’ Emmy Award winning director Greg Yaitanes (he won for last season’s penultimate episode “House’s Head”). “Yaitanes pretty much laid out the choreography of the entire final sequence, except for House handing his belongings to Wilson, which was scripted,” Egan explained.
The difference in atmosphere, she said, was intended for visual contrast. “In my original version,” noted Egan, “we went inside the place and saw House hand himself over to strangers there, recite his symptoms flatly to a doctor as his personal possessions were taken and Wilson added unhappy amplifications — all without sound, under music, as you saw it — and then Wilson watched as House went through a locked door.”
Moving the final scene outside, she said powerfully demarcates the different worlds that House and Wilson now occupy. Obviously, if you go that way, you still want to see House divest himself of his ordinary possessions and all they imply; so as House hands Wilson his wallet, pager and cell phone and watch, Wilson became the Keeper Of House Past.”
Egan told me that there were a couple of main challenges to writing the script, which had to be written so the big reveal of House’s delusion wasn’t given away too early. During the entire episode, she said, House and Cuddy were on different pages: “House was going to be thinking one thing and Cuddy something else.”
Neither the characters nor the audience were supposed to put it together until the last few minutes of the episode. “Of course we couldn’t keep them totally separate throughout the episode. They were going to have to have conversations that worked on two different levels and make sense to each character as well as the audience.” We knew what House believed: Cuddy was having second thoughts about starting a relationship with him.
But it wasn’t actually until the end that we understood their ongoing argument from Cuddy’s point of view as well. Egan pointed out that it’s also a challenge for the actors because the dialogue is written on two different levels. “They have to be true to what their character is thinking and can’t give too much away.”
The other challenge in writing the episode is that from the audience’s perspective, House and Cuddy slept together in the previous episode (“Under My Skin”). “Ordinarily when that happens,” said Egan “the next thing you want to give the audience is the morning-after fun and games, and perhaps some morning-after more serious things. You want to get to the romantic comedy of it.”
She suggested that as a viewer, she would expect some sort of banter between them the morning after. “It would be great to see how they deal with it. But we couldn’t do a full-blown episode like that—because the lovemaking never happened. I could imagine an entire episode full of this House-Cuddy banter.” But not this particular episode. She liked the idea of House shouting form the balcony and Egan said she would have liked that idea even if they had actually gotten together. “Cause man, it had been so long!”
Although the nature of the story precluded any sort of post-coital romantic comedy, it is clear as House limps around his apartment the next morning searching for Cuddy, he has fond recollections of their passionate lovemaking, especially after he finds her lipstick on the sink (and smeared on his face). The scene is dialogue-free, But, said Egan, “the script directions describe it as a ‘sort of Christmas morning happiness.’” That is exactly the sense you get from House’s quiet delight, played impeccably by Laurie: a faint smile, a gleam in his eye—afterglow. “That is one great thing about these shows,” noted Egan. “You put something like that into a script and Hugh or someone else…it’s so perfect. It’s wonderful to watch. It’s like being God (seeing your creation come alive).”
The densely packed season finale timed out overtime, causing the show to run an extra minute. But there was even more that never made it the screen, including a story thread in which House insists to Wilson that the nature of the friendship had changed. “House would go into Wilson and say ‘Clearly I don’t need you to get my life together because I have just become incredibly efficient at that, and I’m about to have intimacy with another human being! And you’ll just have to acknowledge that and be alright with it!’ I was going to have a whole thread of that, and actually did in one version, but there was no room!”
(I can just picture the smug look on House’s face, turning the tables on Wilson, who had changed the parameters of their friendship late last season when Amber came into his life, and again after her death.).
Another short scene also had to be cut in which the patient, Scott, tries to take Wilson’s advice and communicate with his other half. “I thought it was a great scene and it was short, but we couldn’t even fit that in. Stuffed to the gills.”
A real hallmark of the series is its rich, multi-layered scripts, which weave several threads around the episode’s themes and ideas. Hugh Laurie once likened the series’ scripts to Faberge Eggs because of their intricacy. Egan discussed a couple of the themes that threaded through “Both Sides Now,” and how they threaded through the episode’s several storylines.
“One theme obviously was romance or what people want in finding their significant others.” For the patient, his girlfriend’s love saved him eventually, willing even to do battle with his very assertive right brain (and left hand). Carl Reiner’s Eugene Schwartz sought out medical attention to appease his wife’s annoyance with his “squawking.”
Cameron and Chase worked out the “glitch” in their marriage plans, as Chase refused to accept Cameron’s need to keep her dead husband’s sperm “as insurance” against their marriage not working out. Cameron needed Chase to understand, and eventually he did.
House, too, in the morning after (albeit delusional) glow of his new affair with Cuddy. In House’s mind, Cuddy helped him, healed him and loved him, even in the aftermath of detox. “One thing that kind of is cool about that … is that it’s a sort of romantic trope,” explained Egan. “That someone can be saved through the love of a good woman. Usually the idea that her strength and her mothering and her understanding, which is like unto no one else’s, will pull a man back from the edge and he will become a better person. It’s a romantic idea, and in real life, most of us would say you can’t really change people that way.”
Egan feels the fact that it is House thinking that way is almost subversive, because this is usually a female romantic notion. “But this is actually House’s fantasy. That he really wanted that so much. I love that it was the man thinking this way.” Of course, noted Egan, “in his right mind House would mock anyone” even suggesting such a thing.
“Both Sides Now” also deeply explores in the patient and in House (and to some extent Chase) “how we are each our own storyteller.” Egan explained that this idea was “something that really struck me when I was doing my original research into split brain issues. I’d always been interested in it and had done a paper on it in college.” She had always hoped to one day write an episode about it—and the opportunity finally arose.
Scott has had a corpus callosotomy for a seizure disorder, which severed the communication bridge between his right and left brains. But the procedure has left him with split brain phenomenon and alien hand syndrome, which brings him to House’s attention.
Egan told me about two split-brain researchers, Michael Gazzaniga and Roger Sperry (who won a Nobel prize for his work). Like their subjects, Scott’s right brain can perceive things the left cannot. That’s why he was able to draw a candle when his left brain couldn’t see the word on the screen; and why when he reacted to seeing the words “stand up” even though he could not see them. His right brain made up a story to fill in the gaps. “Gazzaniga believed the left brain is the narrator of our lives,” Egan explained. “The part that makes it all make sense. The storyteller. I loved that. We basically take the weirdness of the universe an make it make sense to us. There’s always a story you tell when you hear about something to make your own life make sense of it.”
“I loved the idea that House’s left brain was making up a story—a story he would most want,” she said, shifting the focus from the episode’s medical story to its more personal story of House’s issues. Egan sees House’s split from reality; his left brain confabulating the fantasy as “a way of not having to give up Vicodin as it started happening right after House realized that he would have to enter rehab. He knew he had to give up the Vicodin somehow.”
Already beginning to break with reality, suffering hallucinations, “House’s brain handed him this gorgeous rationalization all glittery and shiny.” She explained that throughout the episode, House’s right brain, “which is associated with insight taking in all the details that the left brain isn’t even paying attention to and making connections that the left brain can’t make” is trying to signal House as he deals with Mr. Schwartz. With House’s brain not working properly, he isn’t able to make the sorts of connections he usually does, but , Egan said, “gradually he starts picking up on things.”
It’s is clear during House’s final scene with Mr. Schwartz, House is clearly shaken that he hadn’t picked up the clues correctly, missing entirely the possibility that the 87-year old man had pancreatic cancer. The clues had been there, but House had wrongly attributed them to Scott’s condition. After that things begin to unravel completely.
“House realizes that what happened with Cuddy probably never happened. And it’s probably to him—the biggest shock of his life. That he cannot trust his own intellect,” noted Egan. One of House’s most important gifts is his insight. Although House mocks the value of the right brain, Foreman rightly reminds him that House owes much of his diagnostic gift to his right brain. “And now,” Egan explained, “It’s actively working against him.”
Cameron and Chase’s wedding glitchy wedding plans also weave through this theme. Egan explained, “Cameron’s self-deception was pretty obvious. Believing that she wanted to hang onto the sperm as an insurance policy fit her image of herself as a reasonable person; it’s reasonable, as she points out, to prepare for the worst, even if you don’t expect it. Hanging onto the only thing left of your husband because you simply can’t bear to let go is far less reasonable, though perhaps more understandable.”
Egan added, “This is entirely my own take, but I also think Chase’s initial feelings about Cameron wanting to keep the sperm were colored by his internal narration. We’ve seen Chase grow into a confident doctor and a confident person, at ease with himself and his relationships. He graduated from ‘House’ school, he wooed and won the woman of his choice. But internally, he still has some old storytelling about himself that he hasn’t entirely shaken off. Chase fears he’s Cameron’s second choice. He knows she had a thing for House; he knows she was married before; where does he come into this? The guy who’s available because the other two aren’t? And now she chooses to keep the sperm of a dead guy, over choosing marriage with him? What does that say?” Until Chase could step back and look at the problem from “right-brain insight,” she said, “took her story at face value, and assumed she lacked confidence in their marriage.”
I noted the fact that House has admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital rather than a rehab facility like the one at Princeton Plainsboro he went to in season three’s “Words and Deeds.” I asked Egan why House, the doctor and House the series made this choice, despite the fact that his problems seem to be connected to his Vicodin use. “I think House is definitely worried about mental illness. He’s obviously gone on beyond occasional hallucinations; and now his brain is presenting him a complete alternative delusional reality. One he didn’t know was false,” she ventured. “I absolutely think that’s his fear and that’s why he’s going to a psychiatric hospital. But beyond that, you will learn next season.”
When Kutner committed suicide in “A Simple Explanation,” House agonized over his inability to pick up on the clues in time to save his life. But as 13 put it, there often aren’t clues. No notes, no cues, no clues. I wondered whether the very guarded House, who buries everything beneath that snarky exterior, had himself left any clues for his colleagues before he went down the “rabbit hole.” Should his closest associates Cuddy, and particularly Wilson, have noticed his behavior before he melted down at the finale?
“The clues were more for the audience than for Wilson,” Egan said. “For instance in ‘Under My Skin,’ many in the audience might have noticed that House’s Vicodin withdrawal was sort of fast—certainly faster than we’ve seen on the show.” (Actually that “rapid detox” was a hot topic throughout the House fandom after the episode aired!)
“Also,” continued Egan, “House and Cuddy got romantic pretty quickly after that, which might have been another clue that all is not quite right with this picture. The thing that makes it harder with House is that he does have issues. He does use too many drugs for one thing, and that’s probably his biggest issue.” But it’s not the only thing that might have caused his hallucinations: factor in sleeplessness (at least at first), depression, guilt over Amber, guilt over Kutner; the list goes on.
“But clearly there was something wrong and he was trying to diagnose it,” said Egan. “And after all, House is an expert diagnostician.” As House went about trying to figure out why he was suffering hallucinations, Egan thinks “Wilson was hoping House was getting to the root of the matter. Of course, Vicodin was the last thing on House’s list as a possible cause. That’s the one thing House didn’t want it to be.” Wilson assumes that drugs are the problem, and eventually, after eliminating everything from Multiple Sclerosis to schizophrenia in “Under My Skin,” House had to face real possibility that the drugs were causing his problem.
House tells Wilson at the beginning of “Both Sides Now” that Cuddy helped him detox (and more, of course!) House is looking pretty good for someone going through opiod withdrawal and not in a lot of pain. “House assumes the detox is going better than expected, never questioning his lack of pain. After all, Cuddy had told him that opiod dependency can make you think you’re in more pain than you actually are.”
But, Egan added, Wilson was still “a little worried that House’s is in denial about his pain level.” House’s actual level of pain could be masked “because House is now focusing on Cuddy and on the little mysteries he’s apparently creating about her second thoughts.” As Wilson puts it, House is being affected by “romantic endorphins” because of his feelings for her.
“But Wilson wonders how long that can last? And, what’s going to happen when the pain comes back?” Of course, noted Egan, “then House goes nuts. The end. “I think Wilson does his best, but he never has the complete facts. For that matter, neither does House, with his brain actively working against him.”
Earlier in season five, Wilson reconnects with his schizophrenic brother, many years after he had disappeared. We learned in “The Social Contract” that Wilson feels considerable guilt about his brother, who vanished shortly after Wilson refuses to take his call, back when he was in Medical School. I wondered how Wilson’s experience with his brother would inform his interactions with House.
“Personally I can’t think of how he can’t think of the parallel,” Egan said. “And that’s why Wilson had to be the one to take care of House at that point. I don’t think Wilson would allow anyone else to do it, but that’s just my personal take,” she added. But an expert one, as she seems to have a particular feel for the dynamic between the two friends.
Of course, within some parts of the House fandom, Egan is revered as St. Doris, the patron saint of House/Wilson shippers. “I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love writing Wilson as a character. I like the kind of ambiguity Wilson has. The man has levels. He’s a good character that way.”
She said she has now become known as the official House “road trip” writer, having penned several episodes over the year involving House, Wilson and a car. Going somewhere. “Birthmarks,” “Son of Coma Guy,” and now “Both Sides Now,” all feature House/Wilson road trips. “I do like people going in cars somewhere,“ Egan said. “I don’t know what it is…”
Egan said she likes writing the other House characters as well, beyond House and Wilson. “I think Chase can be fun to write, particularly since he took a turn a couple of seasons back, and grew up and into the person he is now.” She also enjoys writing Cuddy, although she feels she hasn’t had as much opportunity to write her. “I sort have to find the spots where they come into things. Of course,” she teased, “we write a lot of things here you never hear about.”
Egan confessed to writing a detailed outline for a prequel to House and Cuddy having sex “for real. And man, it was hot. That’s all I’ll say. It was only an outline, but I put a lot of detail into my outlines.” She hoped her House/Wilson shipper fans would not be too upset that she had ventured into a bit of “Huddy.”
With the season starting its sixth year in September, I wondered how long Ms. Egan thinks the show will go on? “I don’t know,” she replied.” I’m a little surprised we’re still fairly an interesting show this far along. And I don’t know how long that can be kept up. It’s like juggling oranges. I’m not sure how long it can be sustained. On the other hand, we really do have great people, which makes all sorts of things possible. That’s all I know.”
Although Egan wouldn’t tell me anything about what’s in store for next season (“Starfleet command has not given me permission to go there,” she quipped), she did say “there would be fallout” from House’s issues. I tried. Honest I did. All I do know is there will be tomes of fanfiction written about it over the long, hot hiatus.
I apologize to all who have tried unscuccessfuly to get into the Blogcritics site the last couple of days. There are some outstanding issues with re-design that are being fixed, but still not perfect. For that reason, I’ve decided to reprint my review of the House season finale here and will do the same with the Doris Egan interview to appear later this week.
Tears and fears and feeling proud
to say I love you
Right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way
But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day
Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides Now”
Dr. Gregory House wakes up in bed after making love to Dr. Lisa Cuddy after the “cut” in last week’s House episode “Under My Skin.” Cuddy is gone, but not the memory, as House finds her lipstick sitting on his bathroom sink. He smiles, noting the lipstick smear on his face, the happy recollection of their ardent lovemaking. He pockets the lipstick, noting its color, with clearly a fondness for it: a talisman and a symbol of what lies ahead for the clean and sober House and love finally kindled after seasons of sparring and sparking.
House’s cruel mocking of Cuddy’s motherhood last week transformed into a cry a cry for help, stopping her in her tracks as she stalks angry from his presence. His tearful confession that he is hallucinating stuns her as much as his plea that desperate plea that he needs her. Ever House’s guardian angel, Cuddy ignores House’s hurtful words, and, anger forgotten, she takes him home, sits with him as he goes through the unrelenting agony of Vicodin detox, holds his hand, caresses his sweaty brow and calms his nerves and stomach with ginger tea. And in the morning she gives him an even greater gift. A 20-year old secret; an inkling that she’s loved him for all these years; that he’s not simply the Buraku of Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. Not just a hospital asset. She has always liked that “interesting lunatic—for who he is; not for what he does for the hospital. And then asks him: do you want to kiss me? And in his heart of hearts, he is honest: “I always want to kiss you.” A gentle brushing of the lips deepens into passion for them.
Singing as he enters his office the next day, still holding onto Cuddy’s lipstick, House is in a spectacular mood. Not just for having sex, but for having won Cuddy. “Zing, zing, zing went my heart strings…the moment I saw her, I fell,” the sappy lyrics of a 1940s Irving Berlin tune tells us that he’s in love, much as in season two, House’s night with Stacy in “Need to Know,” inspired him to sing a sappily romantic aria from the Romberg operetta The Student Prince.
It’s a nice story, filled with the promise of love and redemption. Hope and happiness. “This is the story you made up about who you are. It’s a nice story,” House hears Amber say in his ear. But as Kutner’s grave image tells House at the end of last night’s season finale “Both Sides Now,” “too bad it isn’t real.”
What will stay with me the entire summer will House’s horrified and then shell-shocked face with the dawning recognition that the entire experience with Cuddy has been a delusion. Everybody lies, goes House’s mantra. But the lie his own brain constructed is the cruelest of all.
No longer able to distinguish reality from illusion, House has confabulated a fantasy that did not leave him isolated and alone in his apartment, his life falling apart. What line was crossed in House’s mind that caused it to snap? Had he reached the same level of despair that Kutner had weeks before? That moment where the line between living and dying in misery blur? House’s mind made a choice, and he could just as easily have committed suicide, as Kutner had in “Simple Explanation.” But, instead, his mind chose the comfort of Cuddy’s healing sensuality; the warmth of her body and the belief that he could be happy.
The heartbreaking revelation that it was all a delusional fantasy is as heartbreaking as it gets. No, Cuddy never went home with him, instead leaving, angry at his cruelty. He never tells her he’s hallucinating; she never looks back.
Instead he goes home, spending the night alone, in despair knowing he’s hallucinating but unable to stop himself from the continued downward spiral. His support systems gone, House sinks further, his mind creating the fantasy that he is loved and is redeemable, two things that have always been beyond his belief. The final scene between House and Cuddy parallels his fantasy night of detox as Cuddy forgets her anger, replacing it with concern and love as House begins to realize that he is no longer simply suffering hallucinations, but full-blown delusions.
House’s halting “No, I’m not alright,” finally realizing the cruel trick played on him by his own mind, has been months coming. House has been headed for emotional collapse since the end of last season. As guarded as House is, neither Cuddy nor Wilson saw it coming. Were there clues they might have picked up on? Things they might have done to mitigate House’s deteriorating mental state? Was it drugs, or something else? What did they miss?
What a way to end the season. The man who has stood on a ledge for five years has suddenly, tragically (and metaphorically) finally jumped and right down into the rabbit hole. “Both Sides Now,” takes the year of unrelenting emotional and physical trauma endured by its central character to its logical conclusion. A very, very bleak ending to an intense, downbeat season. Hugh Laurie gave yet another raw, brave and gut-wrenching performance. If he does not win the Emmy this year (and I mean it!) there is no justice. At all. Really.
Doris Egan’s complex script plays with the concept of self-perception. Who we are? What makes us, us? How much of it is wishful thinking, a slightly deluded perception of who we might be; and how much is the reality. Our emotional well-being relies on us being able to tell the difference between the two.
This week’s patient, Scott has undergone surgery on his corpus collosum that stopped his seizures, but destroyed communication between the left (rational) and right (aesthetic) parts of his brain. In his case his left brain doesn’t like what his right brain is doing. And the miscommunication between them leads to something called alien hand syndrome, causing his left hand to do what it wants, when it wants, consequences be damned.
House calls the right brain the brain irrelevant, yet (as Foreman points out) House’s insights and intuition likely stem from that half of his brain (not to mention at least half of his musical gift). The left brain does the math, analyzes the parts. It’s the logician: rational, analytical. It is the most obvious part of House’s personality. The right brain is intuitive, holistic, random and subjective. And without it, House would never be able to synthesize or imagine. He dismisses it because it’s his most fragile part: his creativity, his romanticism, his love of music and art. It reveals him, therefore it must be suppressed.
And in the midst of all this sadness, Cameron and Chase marry in a beautiful ceremony intercut with House’s journey toward his own uncertain future. It’s poignantly ironic that House, understanding Cameron’s fears and advising her to take a chance on happiness, saves her relationship with Chase, as his own possibility for happiness evaporates like a mirage in the desert. The beautiful and haunting melody of the Rolling Stones “As Tears Go By” (and probably my favorite Stones song ever) gives the illusion of a love song. But the lyrics are starkly evocative of where House’s life now stands as he travels the long road to the Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital. “It is the evening of the day/I sit and watch the children play/smiling faces I can see/but not for me/I sit and watch as tears go by.” No wonder I wept at the end of this stunning finale to a great season.
What does the future hold for House? We’ll have to wait till September to find out.
And I cannot finish this review without saying something about Carl Reiner. He’s 86 years old and still brilliant and funny as hell.
Thanks David Shore, Katie Jacobs, all the writers and directors, cast, and especially the magnificent Hugh Laurie for making this season as powerful as it gets. Thank you to all my loyal readers who have made this column such an enjoyable experience and a great success. I will continue writing through the summer and as promised, later in the week, please look for my exlcusive one-on-one interview with the finale’s writer, House co-executive producer Doris Egan. I’ll be speaking with her later today about the finale and the future. Look for my interview with her later this week, with much more on the finale. So please stay tuned.
I know some of you have had trouble accessing the new Blogcritics site to read and comment. While they’re getting the bugs out, I’ve decided to re-run the review in full here. BC should be working much better in the next several hours to a day from now, but here ’tis…..
Be sure to visit the FOX official site (if you’re not a spoilerphobe) for a very excititng video.
SpoilerTV.com has three clips from Monday’s episode! Wow’s all I can say!
I will be participating in a conference call with Lisa Edelstein on Friday. As some of you know, I did a one-on-one with her earlier in the year, and a CC with her last spring. She’s always a great interview, either one-on-one or in a (virtual) room full of writers. So stay tuned.
Also–I’ll be having a conversation with Doris Egan after the finale airs. Since she is the writer of the episode, it should be very, very interesting.
That’s all for now!
“I haven’t slept through the night since Kutner died.” House’s (the ever-amazing Hugh Laurie) grave admission to Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) towards the end of “House Divided” tells us how worried House is about his own sanity. In that confession, the normally very guarded House finally articulates the depth to which he has been affected by Kutner’s death.
What a fantastic episode. The best House, M.D. episodes combine humor, drama, tension and fun; darkness and light. This one had all of that and more. A pivotal episode in this very dark character arc for House (perhaps the darkest yet – and that’s saying something).
As this week’s wild ride of an episode, “House Divided” progresses, Amber’s (Anne Dudek in a phenomenal performance) constant and increasingly aggressive presence becomes more and more difficult for House to cover, as all around him begin to wonder what’s wrong. Sleep deprived and exhausted, House knows she is simply a hallucination, his overworked and sleepless brain playing visual and auditory tricks on him. Taunting him, she asks why she is the one to plague him; why she has become the avatar for his subconscious mind.
With strong resonances to last season’s finale episodes “House’s Head” and “Wilson’s Heart,” Amber reveals what many of us have known all along. House carries with him an awful lot of guilt—the weight of the world, in some ways. Deny and deflect as he does and has, He still feels responsibility for Amber, and more recently for Kutner. “Maybe your guilt over Kutner’s suicide reminds you of how guilty you felt about me,” she needles.
Refusing to engage with a figment of his imagination, House insists to her that she is “the product of my exhausted brain.” But whatever has brought her to House, she sticks to him like “white on rice.” But in an almost creepy progression, Amber morphs from simple annoyance to constant muse to something more sinister.By the episode’s end, House sees her for what she is: his worst inclinations unbound and at play in his conscious, troubled mind. “House Divided” indeed.
We often see House struggling alone in the dark of his office or apartment with his thoughts about a patient, an ethical decision—or even his own life. What are the thoughts that float through that “rat maze of a brain” (as Wilson has put it) that provide House his genius and his biggest problems? With Amber the external embodiment of House’s thoughts, we see how his thought process works. But he’s playing with fire. (So what else is new?)
Amber represents the far reaches: the “glimmers” and glimpses of memory. The fleeting stuff that whooshes by barely considered; barely acknowledged. Those thoughts are always there, but expressed aloud, they have more prominence, and House has easier access. In his current state, Amber may represent a gift, not a curse or irritant.
Properly channeled, maybe Amber’s insights can help restore House’s diagnostic super powers, which he believes he’s losing (as he expressed last episode).
It’s a seductive idea, especially because House thinks he’s losing his medical mojo. No longer is an annoyance, Amber has become his muse and his ally in solving the current case. Plenty of time to sleep after the patient is diagnosed. Never mind the sleeping pills Wilson has provided; Amber has given House a new lease on his mojo.
But why is she really there? Is she the manifestation of House’s guilt? People who watch the series carefully know that House’s refusal to acknowledge his indirect responsibility for Amber’s death is simply a “river in Egypt.”
Amber’s death hit House very hard, harder than he would have had his colleagues believe. And the subsequent loss of Wilson’s friendship; of his father’s death and Cuddy’s new baby all have taken their toll on House fragile psyche. I have always said that House’s problem is not that he feels nothing or too little, but that he feels too much. And he’s faced an awful lot in the past year.
And then Kutner’s suicide, seemingly random and with no note, no hint, no sign. That was the proverbial last straw. As Wilson told House in “Saviors,” it would be insane if he wasn’t a little out of whack. But House has been sleepless for weeks, haunted by Kutner, probably unable to turn off his mind as it processes every bit of information about him: his life, his work, his family and his death. Long after everyone else has begun to move on, House cannot let go of it. Remember how long he held on to Esther’s death (“All In,” season two). House is not a “little” out of whack.
And so House acquires Amber as an increasingly dominant presence in his thoughts. But Amber loses her muse’s luster as she dominates House’s process. She becomes more and more real to him, as the story progresses. And as Amber becomes a more and more dominant element to House’s thought process, House begins to accept Amber’s thoughts and ideas to the exclusion of all else—even his own conscious thought.
Has House really lost that much confidence in his own medical judgment and second guess himself (literally)? Those little glimmers and flashes are in the back reaches of memory for a reason. They’re great to access in small bits: a memory there; an idea here. But as House retreats more and more into himself, he begins conflate those flickers of ideas for something more substantial. Although Amber holds the key to some correct diagnostic turns and some that are very wrong. House loses his ability to distinguish between them, relying on Amber rather than his conscious and filtered thought processes.
Eventually even House’s team fades into a surreal vision, seeming far less tangible than Amber, as House retreats further and becomes more isolated from reality. House’s mind wanders through memories of medical school (which may be helpful to the diagnosis) to strippers, as Amber helps him remember the stripper used at one of Wilson’s bachelor parties as he prepares to hold one for Chase.
When House’s Amber-inspired diagnosis turns out to be wrong—and he forgets that Chase is allergic to strawberries—House begins to realize that his insomnia-induced hallucination may not be the gift it appears to be. When called back into the unfinished case, House tells Cuddy that he can’t do it, no longer trusting either his instincts or his skills. Locking himself away in his apartment, where he can do no more damage to the patient, he turns the case over to his team. Despite Amber’s urging, House begins to understand the terrible trouble he’s in. And that Amber must go.
Finally going to Cuddy to get a new prescription for sleep meds, Cuddy asks him what’s wrong. “Talk to me,” she pleads. Seeing Amber standing there as real as Cuddy, and looking deep into his own heart, the seriously freaked-out House is able to admit to not having slept since Kutner died. But not even a good night’s sleep can rid House of his hallucination.
Impaired as he is, House treats Seth, a deaf 14-year old wrestler. Suddenly when in a meet, he “hears” explosions. Exploding head syndrome in kid who lost his hearing at the age of four. Wondering why he hasn’t had cochlear implants, which would allow him to regain his hearing, House learns that Seth is unwilling to leave the comfort of the disability and culture to which he’s adapted. His mother is being his prime enabler.
House has had such dilemma with patients before, where questions of quality of life lead House to propose dangerous procedures or to mock family members who would prevent him from taking a risk that could bring the patient back to “normal.” “Merry Little Christmas,” “Half-Wit” and this season’s “Painless,” (although that patient simply wants to die) all get to that very sensitive spot in House.
House can never understand why people would choose to be disabled when they can be normal. He can’t process why anyone could be comfortable in their disability to the point that they refuse to undergo even a simple procedure to become “normal.” House convinces Chase to insert cochlear implants without the family’s consent. He, with Amber’s urging, is convinced that once the kid has the implants, he’ll adjust and be fine with it; as will the mom.
But how different is Seth than House? Is House too comfortable, wearing his disability (and the drug use) like a badge, afraid to try to “fit.” Does he need someone to push him off the edge to get him to save himself? Yes, House has tried (and has been at least half-heartedly trying) all sorts of things to end his pain. But he’ll try (like the methadone) and stop when the risk of losing his gift becomes too great for him to continue to risk it. But is Amber’s real role to be a genuine scare in House’s life? A dramatic enough scare to cause him to change?
The only thing House values in himself is his intellect and his medical gift. If he can’t trust his own skills (as he could not by the end of the episode) what does he have left? What would be the one thing to drive House to seek help? It would be the loss of his skill—or the loss of his rational thought. I don’t think he’s at that point yet, but there are still two episodes to go.
Lightening up the very dark journey into House’s subconscious is the planning of Chase’s bachelor party. House planning the Caligula-esque fete is hysterically funny–he’s like a kid in a candy store. Sending Foreman and 13 out to scout strippers is an inspired move, and the fiery cocktails are pretty amazing. Not to mention the alcohol drenched ice cream. Inspired. That Gregory House sure can plan a party when he wants to. And kidnapping Chase: priceless. Is he just into parties, or is doing something nice for Chase? Is he trying to ruin Chase’s happiness with Cameron, or simply wishing Chase well in the best “guy”-way he can?
It’s not the party, but the planning that seems to make House happy. House has never really shown himself to be a party person. (Although he talks a good game.)
Having seen a couple of the party clips before the episode aired, I could not quite understand how House, the reclusive, guarded, private man he is could be partying like that. Turns out that he didn’t. He set it up, he got it going and then distances himself completely. Very, very House-like.
I am growing to like “Foreteen.” I loved the fact that Foreman paid money to see 13 have fun with the stripper. And Wilson? What a cheap drunk he is, isn’t he? Chase was adorable, and Cameron was resigned by willing to go along with the whole thing—sort of.
But the party, a delirious, dizzy affair, turns dark when Chase licks the strawberry butter from the stripper’s stomach and goes into anaphylactic shock. House blames himself, cursing his subconscious (in the guise of Amber) for possibly killing Chase. Obviously, either House forgot or didn’t know, or was too tired to remember. Hit hard with the notion that he could have caused another death of someone close to him. More guilt. “I knew about the body butter; I knew about Chase’s allergy: I tried to kill Chase. Why would I do that?” That one line, House taking the blame on himself for Chase’s allergic reaction is almost the scariest moment of the evening. What would make him take on yet more guilt? Undeserved guilt.
And then this week’s sucker punch. House looking much better after a good night’s sleep and not seeing Amber is also feeling better thinking he’s rid of her. Until there she is. Right with him. Major freak out for House. Whew!
And next week. All I can say is take the “Huddy” poll (if you haven’t already). More than 1100 people have already voted. “Under My Skin” airs Monday night at 8:00 p.m. (ET) and the season finale, “Both Sides Now,” will air on May 11. Just as a note, I will be interviewing “Both Sides Now” writer (and House co-executive producer) Doris Egan the day after the finale airs.
Poor House. Sheesh. He’s in a very bad way and not even a good night’s sleep can cure him of his hallucinations. Don’t know what’s coming next, but here’s my review of this week’s episode.
And some great news: I’ll be chatting with Doris Egan (who is the writer of this season’s finale) the morning after her episode airs to talk about the finale, the episode and season six!
Also–Blogcritics magazine, the official home of my House musings (and where I’m a TV editor) has just undergone a major redesign. The new site is here. The newly designed TV/Film Page, which features my House Divided review is here.
And remember–it’s not too late to take the “Huddy Poll.” More than 1100 people have weighed in. Have you?????
New article for all you House and Hugh Laurie lovers—