House – “The Itch”

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“The Itch”

November 11th, 2008

When David Shore and Co. decided to make the rather odd decision to “fire” the three fellows who worked for Dr. Gregory House at the end of the show’s third season while still employing them as cast regulars, I think we all asked ourselves a question: how, precisely, do they plan on balancing new fellows with the old ones who are off in various corners of the hospital.

And while they pushed Foreman back into the diagnosis group fairly quickly, this has remained a problem, especially as it relates to developing the characters of Chase and Cameron, and the new fellows for that matter. There have been some rumblings about House beginning to fall into the medical procedural trap, designing cases which are “on the nose” for individual cast members as a shorthand version of character development. And for Chase and Cameron, who have had almost zero “showcases” since leaving House’s team, this episode has been a long time coming.

“The Itch,” at the end of the day, is an episode that walked a fine line between organic investigation into the lives of these characters and a convenient episode that dealt with how we scratch that itch, whether through imaginary mosquitoes, coveting every single drawer in your apartment, or giving in to your agoraphobia. What we learn most of all is that some things never change: House will always be manipulative but emotionally stunted, Cameron will always be woefully incapable of self-rationalizing, and Chase will always be a character without, well, a character.

But even if it wasn’t a life-changing return to our former cottages, I’d say it was enjoyable enough.

Jennifer Morrison is a good actress, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Cameron, but this episode demonstrates that the character was the one most unchanged by her experience with House. She was the one, first and foremost, who liked doing what she was doing: yes, she doesn’t miss the politics and the drama on one hand, but on the other she thrived on feeling morally superior to House. She lets him force himself into her personal life because it makes her out to be above it, not willing to let House just bully her into silence, but in many ways it is actually the only time she ever questions herself. The realization at episode’s end that she was the one who was freezing out Chase, unwilling to let him into her life out of some residual guilt or suffering from her late husband’s memory, was a diagnosis that House made: she was always kind of a patient when she was around him, and that was exemplified here in an episode where Cameron was on the wrong side of medicine.

I think that her time in the Emergency Room has changed her, but in ways that are mostly superficial; on the surface she seems more dismissive of House, but in reality she still contains that part of her that hangs on his every word, that questions him mainly out of routine, and that wishes she could be back diagnosis illnessess. I think that, while having Cameron play the role of a more kind House might not work every week, there is opportunity with their community outreach program conceit to bring her into the fold more often.

The show is at the point now, though, where that can’t really work: they tried to sneak some focus on Taub into this one, but for the most part the Cottages are just being sequestered off into storylines that relate to their personal lives. There isn’t enough time for six characters to be developed, and I have to wonder how long it is before the three new recruits get into a car accident and only one of them survives (I’d expect it to be ironically the one who is actually eventually going to die). It just feels like this isn’t sustainable, something that could prove damaging to the show’s longevity.

As for the other side of the episode, I thought that the discussion of House and Cuddy’s relationship was nicely played, and subtly played as well. A lot of this has to do with Robert Sean Leonard, who got to do a lot of fun stuff in this episode. As the sort of go-between between House and Cuddy, Wilson was a welcome comic influence with his too obvious attempts at manipulating Cuddy and the fact that he was the only one to actually see through House’s attempt to make the sensationalist truth out to be a joke (“I kind of hit that”). I’m glad that the House/Wilson demeanor is back in fine form, because while their interlude made a lot of sense in terms of the end of the fourth season it wasn’t something the show could sustain.

This relationship, too, is something the show can’t sustain, but it’s something that I hope they dig into a bit more. I really like Lisa Edelstein, and House hasn’t had a storyline unrelated to him torturing the fellows since the third season. There is occasionally need for them to dig into House as a character more heavily, but so much time has been spent on picking new fellows and giving some face time to the old ones that we don’t really get anything substantial for our lead. Hugh Laurie has been great these past few seasons, but I do think that we need to spend a bit more time on House being House.

But in the process, we’re reminded that the show barely has enough time for its current structure, one that has the chance of wearing thin: in my morning class, my professor noted that she tuned into House for the first time in a few years last night, and she was bored, and felt it was contrived. I don’t blame her, to be honest – this week’s procedural case was barely given any real attention, and the conclusion (that it was lead that was a physical reminder of his girlfriend’s tragic death) was way too on-the-nose as it relates to Cameron’s troubles and House’s general damaged self. The final moment, Stuart being able to walk out of his home and stop being a coward, should have been emotional, and instead it felt like a manipulation.

Although reduced to shorthand, though, I felt that this was a fine enough episode: Chase got his drawer, House is still a chicken, and we’ll see if Cameron and Chase make it out of the ER/OR more in the future. My bet’s on no – the show can’t scratch that itch too often.

Cultural Observations

  • Okay, I forget: did Chase EVER have a character? He was always the quipster of the group, who outside of some generic daddy issues never really manifested as a real person, but now he’s even more one-dimensional. I actually empathized with his concern with the drawer, which was more surprising than “in character”: the rest of the episode it felt like Jesse Spencer was doing what he’s done for the past two seasons, quip about the hospital without any real sense of something deeper. That’s fine, but now it feels like Chase has been defined by Cameron to a degree of dependency, in terms of character hierarchies.
  • One thing I did like about the Stuart case, albeit itself a bit of a forced machination, was the nice callback to the roses that started out the episode in the seizure sequence. It was a neat little “clue,” something that House doesn’t do very often.
  • Ratings for House are down considerably this year, albeit the show is still dominant in key demographics – any readers who have given up on the show this year? If there’s a particular reason, I’d be really curious to hear what it is.

1 Comment

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One response to “House – “The Itch”

  1. Bob

    I lost interest in House because it’s too formulaic, even more so than say CSI or the various courtroom drama shows.

    House gets a new case, some gibberish around differential, which is really everyone throwing around ideas that get dismissed, House cracks a few jokes, they run some tests, House does an initial “solve” of the problem via drugs/treatment, the initial treatment invariably fails, more tests, House has a revelation thanks to a parallel storyline, case is solved a la Sherlock Holmes.

    I understand following a format, but they could mix things up, e.g. having someone other than House come up with the final cure, have cases where the patient dies and he can’t solve it, etc. What happened to him having to do clinic time, that was fun too.

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