House – “Living the Dream”

“Living the Dream”

May 5th, 2008

On the list of storylines that I could have imagined for House, kidnapping his favourite soap star in order to diagnose the condition that he didn’t even know he had was not on the list. In a nice bit of foreshadowing, we saw the soap star last week, so we’re able to jump right into the story. And, well, it is an intriguing story.

Admittedly, House is a show that I never find myself excited to blog about (I’d be blogging about HIMYM right now if not for having to appeal to the masses), but I figure the idea of House managing to (of all things) diagnose a tumour through a television screen is perhaps worth a look. That it is a soap star works that much better, as House’s best possible persona is a hilarious, overbearing, and fanboyish doctor who is willing to go way, way too far.

After last week was definitely a study in character, this time it’s a study in humour – before we reach the end of the first act, he’s kidnapped, sedated, lied to and dragged future storyline details out of his favourite soap star, and in the process much laughter from the viewer. But with the end of the season looming, there’s the issue of ensuring that the storyline featuring our new diagnosticians is resolved – did it do enough to move forward that storyline even with this comic structure?

The answer is yes, even if it didn’t seem it at first.

With the Hospital Accreditation up, suddenly there is reason to be concerned with House’s behaviour – as a result, Cuddy enlists our original three (Foreman, Chase and Cameron) to keep an eye out on his behaviour and his plans. The result is Cameron organizing House’s files, offering quips as they go through their diagnostics, which I guess is one way to re-integrate these characters. For Cameron, in particular, it works well: she reconnects with both the parts of the job she misses (Everything but House) and the parts of the job she doesn’t like (You know, House).

However, it’s all a little thinly veiled: it’s better than their total absence, but is there anything in the series’ trajectory that could send us into an interesting or worthwhile payoff to the series’ conceit? Other than shaking up a procedural and (on occasion) dulling structure, was this just an entertaining diversion as opposed to an organic development?

I was unconvinced until the episode started to really broadly introduce the episode’s important conceit: are you living the dream? Our soap star’s lack of pride in his job is a point of reflection for everyone else: Cameron’s reacquaintance with House is about whether she is happy, and whether the audience (by reflection) is happy with these developments. We have 13’s lack of happiness, Kutner’s wide-eyed happiness,and Taub’s fond memories of plastic surgery amongst our new cast members…leaving the door open for their departures should the show need it.

I don’t know how I’d feel if they all abandoned the series, to be honest – I think that’s a bit cheap, as if the season hadn’t mattered (Especially if Cameron, Chase and Foreman were asked to fit back into their old roles). However, I like the idea of changed characters returning into House’s team – it creates an illusion of similarity with slight differences, even if I am certainly not convinced that any of them have (to this point) actually changed beyond an extremist version of their previous emotions (Skeptical yet loyal Foreman, bitchy yet loyal Cameron, aloof yet loyal Chase).

And I don’t think House has changed – although the episode pushed the question of whether or not House likes change, whether he has hope or other such things, I don’t really buy that this character can ever fundamentally change. However, considering the potential spoilers I’ve read for the finale, his is the character we’ll be focusing on, so maybe I’ll be eating my words after a finale to the levels of the “House Gets Shot” of Season Two. And, perhaps the “wrong” “victory” of the patient might be the area wherein he begins to change – except that he figured it out in the end, so that’s unlikely.

What also makes the episode worthwhile, though, is certainly that it was one of the funniest and twisty in a while. The episode had no bones about making fun of the various situations, with some great one-liners from pretty much everyone. When juxtaposed with the small pieces of philosophical discussion or theory, these little soap opera quips were a weird change of pace that worked, oddly enough. With so much heavy philosophical discussion flying around on a character level, we needed a little break.

And it even went into our other storyline, the strangely simple yet intriguing process of Wilson and Amber buying a mattress together. It’s all about how Wilson lives his life, allowing his ex-wives to run all over him to the point where he isn’t happy and they can sense it. Amber is, magically, perceptive enough to know this, so she throws him a bone and is pissed when he refuses to do something for himself. It’s really all about, you guessed it, living his dream: even when it’s a water bed, there’s something to be said about doing what makes him happy.

For me, this episode started off a little obtuse but certainly signifies that there is a vision moving forward for the series – they are setting things up for all of these characters (in their own way) defining a new path or an old path on their own terms. Hopefully, with this subtle character build continuing, we get the payoff that was worth a season of upheaval.

Cultural Observations

  • Let’s not ignore the moment where Hugh Laurie was finally able to hold an Emmy of his own, even if it was the one in his case’s living space. He really deserves an Emmy, we needed James Gandolfini to whack James Spader to make it happen.
  • “Most people have – it’s also a noun” was the best response to “I’ve heard your name” I’ve ever heard – like I said, very funny episode.
  • Cuddy doesn’t really get a storyline, but she certainly makes a decision of faith in House that we’ve seen many times before – I get that she has faith, but at the same bloody time she needs to crack down on him at some point in time. The case was mostly luck, after all, and House was right – she should have stopped him.

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