House – “House’s Head”

“House’s Head”

May 12th, 2008

When spoilers emerged regarding the setup for this season’s finale of House, I must admit to being somewhat skeptical – it sounded a lot like the House finale from two years previous, wherein we spent an entire episode unknowingly inside House’s head after he was shot. It was a mind-bending episode, to be certain, and was certainly an intriguing glimpse into how his mind works. Here, it seems a bit predictable: faced with a pending finale, we find ourselves delving back into his mind for an extra special House extravaganza.

This time, the subconscious is aware, so it’s a bit trippier, and that House is actively attempting to solve a mystery where the answers are in his own mind proves dramatically interesting. The problem is that the previous finale was a personal crisis for House, and eventually evoked ideas and concepts that would help to focus on his concerns with his leg. Here, we lack that personal connection: the episode tries to draw out feelings between House and Amber, which doesn’t seem as eventful for him as a character.

It’s also now far more detrimental to focus so heavily on only one character: with three new fellows, three old fellows, Wilson and Amber all floating around searching for a point of identity, to spend an episode so clearly wrapped up in House’s own mind. While it has some vague reflections on the other characters (And promises for further complications in the episode’s second part), his physical, emotional and psychological trial is really his own…and I don’t know if a show of this breadth is in a position to be so centered on its titular character at this point.

The episode has had most of its buzz for a rather odd scene, a fantasy sequence wherein Lisa Edlestein’s Dr. Cuddy performs an honestly really sexy striptease for House. It goes much further, with many more gyrations, than I would have figured; the end result is a small footnote, however, in the episode’s overall function. Said fantasy was only one of a number of techniques House used to attempt to solve the mystery of what symptom he saw before the bus crash.

For an episode chock full of hypnosis, hallucinations, drug-popping and one-liners, I just don’t know if it actually did anything for these characters. While it was intriguing to return to the idea of solving a mystery in House’s head, the end of episode revelation was not worth forty minutes that could have been spent elsewhere. That it was Amber who was hurt in the bus crash, and who House saw symptoms in ahead of time, was something that didn’t need all of this psychological drama to establish. It was a gimmick for the same of gimmickry, and not one that seems to particularly fit either House’s behaviour all season or where the finale seems to be heading.

In order to wrap up the season, we needed to spend more time with our characters other than House, but here they were either incidental players or (more dangerously) barely even present. Amber’s peril will certainly affect a lot of the staff on the show, but was an episode like this necessary to get us to that point? I liked its various gimmicks well enough to say I enjoyed it, but from a storytelling standpoint it felt unnecessary and indulgent to a fault.

It also didn’t make anything particularly clear: is Jane Doe 2 dead, or is she just unidentified since she was at a different hospital and her purse flew out of her hands on the bus? Outside of the ability to indulge in a little fantasy, and for Fred Durst to make a random guest appearance, did this episode actually accomplish anything even close to the finale two years ago?

I guess it just wasn’t my thing, so hopefully the second half proves redemptive.

Cultural Observations

  • I noted it above, but to highlight away from the general negativity the final scene really was quite powerful. The show doesn’t usually do scenes like that one, so it was a strong scene.
  • While it might not work as a culmination of the series’ strengths, this is a likely candidate for the series’ Emmy contention: between the final scene and the various hallucinations/elements, it is certainly the kind of gimmick that could catch a panel’s attention.
  • And, just to clarify, everyone else was reminded of the Simpsons episode where Homer goes on a mystical journey in the water pod when House got into his fantasy bath, correct? Good.

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