House – “Emancipation”

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“Emancipation”

November 18th, 2008

A week after throwing the show’s structure for a loop by reintroducing Chase and Cameron to the central narrative, House is at the kind of place where the show never really was last season. It’s a sort of unstable normalcy, where everything on the surface is the same but underneath there is clearly unrest amongst the team. There’s drama building everywhere, and it’s the kind of drama that will eventually explode in some fashion.

It’s a lot of moving parts, so I wonder how long they can make it last. “Emancipation” largely only works because of Omar Epps giving Foreman a very real sense of tarnished pride, a character who tried making it on his own last season only to find that he’s too much like House for his own good but now finds himself unable to get himself out from his shadow. While the fragmented nature of the episode was problematic in a few ways, the dual cases gave Foreman his biggest showcase of the season to date, more Chase and Cameron than we’ve received on average, some Wilson and House interaction, and even some new ripples appearing in the world of the three newer cast members.

No individual part of the episode really got to stand out beyond Foreman, but it all felt like positive momentum at this stage in the game.

There is something inherently problematic about a medical procedural patient who is a compulsive liar, who stole someone else’s identity, and who has no parents to assist in gaining that type of information. As an actual case, last night’s “A Story” featuring the young girl felt more manipulative than usual. It felt like each shift was designed to conveniently relate to something else: her first lie tests Kutner’s gullibility in relation to his own past, her choice not to contact her parents tests 13’s will to live Re: Huntington’s (I’ll get to Taub’s lie in a second), and her final reveal that her neglect had killer her little brother was a bit of a hackneyed way of tying this case in with Foreman’s.

This being said, I thought that the end scene with her parents was emotionally powerful even if not really earned within the structure of the storyline, and I did like how the storyline tested the relationship between the three newer fellows. Taub’s decision to lie about having Huntington’s, essentially playing 13 for the purpose of trying to manipulate the girl (whose name I never quite followed, fitting considering House never bothered to learn it), was one of those things that remind you that these three are capable of clashing with one another on more than simple idealistic grounds. Hadley (Who used her own name, I think, for the first time in her introduction to the girl’s fake parents) and Taub’s fight was a point of real contention, as it logically raised the issue of her own unwillingness to bring her own life into the proceedings in Taub’s perspective; while a bit forced by the manipulative nature of the storyline as a whole, this was a far more interesting way to challenge and investigate her psychological state than the simplistic “Have the Patient Reflect Your Life” that we saw employed in both this storyline (with foster care-raised Kutner, who disappeared from the episode once she wasn’t parentless) and the episode’s other case.

The existence of the other case, in and of itself, works because Omar Epps does some good work as Foreman, and we buy that he would probably be a bit stir crazy in his current situation. His decision to try another case, a young boy who is inexplicably ill despite having a highly supportive brother, results in some good character work for Foreman even if the case itself is paper thin: it reminds Foreman of his own relationship with his brother, and once solved the earlier pieces of foreshadowing were pretty darn simple. While the question of sibling neglect (or in this case, too much attention) was not the worst topic in the show’s history by any means, the case never really got off the ground and felt like a driving mystery.

Instead, the storyline was about Foreman having to turn to Chase and Cameron to prove that he can balance time working on medical trials while also working on House’s team. I don’t know if the show’s writers were similarly testing whether they would be able to balance us meeting these clinical trial patients (if so, the show is moving into Grey’s Anatomy territory), but it was kind of nice to have Chase and Cameron back in a diagnostic role even for an episode. Their banter, especially when Foreman first approached them concerned that they were in a bad place relationship wise, was the kind of thing that made me nostalgic for the good ol’ days, and while we didn’t get much of them it was a nice return. I don’t know if the plan would be for all of them to have some role in the clinical trials if they get off the ground, but it could be an interesting direction for the series to take.

All of this going on meant that House himself took a bit of a backseat, but Laurie was still given plenty to do in terms of playing with Foreman’s head about his clinical trial, getting that final emotional scene with the young girl, and most importantly getting in a few scenes with Wilson in regards to his failed attempt at going to see Cuddy at the end of “The Itch.” There was nothing big about them: none of the drama of the early season episodes, none of Wilson’s desperate (and hilarious) attempts to manipulate them both, and a very small dose of Cuddy that actually worked well for the slow burn of House’s realization that he’s kind of sad about it all. Some subtle stuff between the two of them, and proof that putting Robert Sean Leonard and Hugh Laurie in the same room would probably be a watchable series without a plot at all.

For the most part, the episode’s individual parts worked: yes, the two cases were more than a bit forced, but as long as the manipulation that takes place is as wide-ranging as the impacts of these cases I think it’s forgivable. I don’t think they can do it every week, but this one felt like enough of an impact to justify (in some capacity) sidelining medicine in favour of contrivance on a few occasions. Just don’t over-do it, David Shore and Co.

Cultural Observations

  • Next week sees a guest spot from Zjelko Ivanek, who just won an Emmy for his supporting turn on Damages and who will appear in a lengthy arc on Heroes in the new year. The man has become the go-to for these kinds of guest gigs, and if the episode delivers he’s going to be looking at a potential Emmy nod considering the hype surrounding him.
  • Some good child acting in Foreman’s case, from the big brother especially – their bond felt very real, and while the hand holding was a bit saccharine him admitting that he had overdosed his brother on children’s vitamins felt consistent with the performance he gave throughout the episode.
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