“Dying Changes Everything”
September 16th, 2008
Well, thanks for the obviousness lesson, House. Or, more appropriately, everyone other than House.
After perhaps the most emotionally powerful episodes in the show’s history ending the show’s fourth season, it was easy to romanticize the world of House: we’re supposed to be paying attention to Wilson’s grief process and 13’s reaction to news that her lifespan has been cut in half by Huntington’s disease, but nothing about the season finale really dealt with the show’s other problems. “House’s Head” and “Wilson’s Heart” were two episodes that stand alone as an emotional highpoint, but their fallout is somewhat less groundbreaking.
Don’t get me wrong: I like the show’s choice to investigate reactions to mortality, and there is nothing wrong with House working hard to keep Wilson from leaving the hospital after Amber’s death, but the rest of the episode kind of struggles dealing with the rest of the series. Whereas the finale demonstrated an intense connection between case and character, here the case is quite literally just a pawn in House’s game and, at worst, just a bland cliche to the same degree as Wilson’s desire for a clean start. And the show does nothing to help deal with the imbalance between characters, spending so much time with mortality that it’s continuing to let some of them die off, figuratively speaking.
So while dying is supposed to change everything, it doesn’t appear to change House much at all; while this means that the show is still entertaining, it’s taking its time to get to the point where it can improve on last season’s problems.
On the surface, the decision to spend so much time with 13 (Whose real name we learned last season, but she’s always 13 in my heart) makes sense: she just found out last season that her Huntington’s test was positive, so her impending mortality gives her a nice counterpoint to House’s ignorance to the concepts of grief. She is someone who is suddenly an advocate for life, for people respecting but not ignoring the inevitiability of death, and there is no question that her mortality is playing a role in the treatment and diagnosis.
The only role that 13 really plays here, though, is that she sees herself in the patient – she sees as someone works as an assistant, overshadowed by her boss, who isn’t living for herself but for someone else. In other words, she sees someone else throwing away their life when hers is so short. Olivia Wilde is playing the role well (especially in her two pivotal scenes with the Patient of the Week), but the biggest problem here is that it feels like a very isolated incident. 13 doesn’t have a history, she doesn’t have a real place on the show in her own way, and as a result I feel like time in the premiere offered an opportunity to return to House’s former female fellow.
That person is Cameron, who does finally get to play a role here but one that could have been much more pronounced had they played up the angle of her own similar situation. She uses her husband as a way to try to convince Wilson to stay, but if her own reaction could have been a more prominent part of the episode I feel like we might have struck a new balance. The show had serious issues balancing Chase and Cameron with the new crew last year, and this episode did little to move us in that direction when it could have done a few little things to make some advances.
This isn’t to say that the new crew is poorly drawn: although not as effective as Cameron, 13 did draw out some important ideas of mortality, and I enjoyed both Taub and Kutner turning into House in his absence. This group is still fun to watch, and they don’t ruin the show by any means: instead, it just hurts in an episode like this to have to spend time with them when they lack the connection to Wilson that we as the audience, and Cameron/Chase/Foreman/House/Cuddy as people who have been around since the beginning, have.
And the latter relationships work well in this episode: Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard each do some great work on the subtle machinations of guilt and frustration here, and Lisa Edelstein gets one great scene where she spouts a lot of truth at House at his apartment. The problem is that the two of them never get those pivotal scenes outside of the final one: 13 gets four of them (Three with the patient, one with House), but somehow the central relationship gets only House endangering his patient’s life in order to try to make him stay throughout the episode.
The final scene is a powerful one (As Wilson tells House that they’re not friends, and that they might have never been friends considering the nature of their relationship), but at the same time it felt like the episode wasn’t spending nearly enough time on their relationship to build to that scene. I understand that their dynamic is usually one of more playful banter or childish antics, but something about their interactions in this episode just didn’t build to the final scene like it could have for me.
What we end up with, though, is an episode of House that feels like all other episodes of House, which is something that doesn’t feel like an event in the way House premieres and finales usually do. Coming off of a death as powerful as Amber’s, we spent more time with a case that went nowhere than we did with actually seeing any of Wilson’s emotions following that pivotal moment. Two months went by here, and while I understand that time heals some wounds it felt like we needed more time to grieve with him.
So consider it a bit of an off start for House – and considering that we’re about to get a visit from a new private investigator character, it’s an uncertain future for the series.
- One of my favourite lines was easily Kutner’s complete and total House line, using a rhetorical question as opposed to actually suggesting any sort of linear action. In an episode where House’s interaction with the team was fairly limited, it was interesting to see the dynamics changing.
- Say what I will about focusing so heavily on 13, but Olivia Wilde can still act – I spent a lot of time watching her on The O.C. recently, and she is still a very strong actress even when her role hasn’t fully developed here.