House – “Simple Explanation”

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“Simple Explanation”

April 6th, 2009

There’s really no point in discussing this without spoilers, so read on below for some quick analysis of what is perhaps the most blatantly “shocking” episode of House in a long time – there’s also spoilers in the tags, so don’t read those either.

When Amber died in House’s fourth season finale, I was quite moved: here was a person who we had come to enjoy, who didn’t deserve to die in any way, falling victim to an illness that takes her from her lover. In Wilson we had someone who similarly didn’t deserve this to happen, a decent sort of man who has had trouble with love and who seemed happy enough that this felt like a tragedy.

The way that Kutner’s suicide was handled on tonight’s episode of House lacked almost all of these elements: I will admit that being spoiled kept me from being moved, but even the way it was plotted was designed as a shock more than a realization, the emphasis placed on the aftershock more than the event itself. And that aftershock felt woefully underdeveloped: House’s unwillingness to show emotion, turning Kutner’s death into an episode of CSI, fit his character but not quite the perspective the episode needed, and Foreman’s solitude felt bland and pointless (like most of the material with him and Thirteen all season). The only part which really “worked” was Taub, whose emotional breakdown at episode’s end was the one moment where I felt like this meant something, that it wasn’t just Kal Penn going off to join Obama’s administration (no, seriously).

I liked Kutner, but he was the most expendable out of a group of already expendable new fellows; Taub felt like he had the most professional complication in the position, Thirteen feels necessary in the role of the emotional optimist, but Kutner has always just been there, his pleasantness his only real defining characteristic. At the same time, though, he was nonetheless part of this group, and I felt the show had trouble balancing that sense of loss with a regular “case of the week,” with Meat Loaf and his wife. I understand that there were some valuable parallels there, but part of me wished the episode could have just dealt with Kutner’s death and not felt obligated to create the balance between the two cases.

It just seemed like the episode was drawing attention to its biggest problems: by killing Kutner, and then really not having the show feel at all different, it points out how extraneous he was to the show’s dynamic; by having Cameron be the one to solve the case through her observation that it wasn’t lung cancer, it points out how she is a far more enjoyable and well-developed fellow than the current group; by having House and Thirteen make numerous CSI references draws attention to the fact that this episode partly struggled because House’s CSI-like investigation was done entirely off-camera and without any follow-through.

The episode wasn’t without merit: the final montage set over Pete Yorn’s “Lose You” was effective, and Greg Yataines’ direction (especially in the scene as Foreman and Thirteen try to save Kutner entirely out of frame) properly put forward the message. And, as usual, the cast was in fine form, everyone stepping up their game just a little bit for the occasion. It just seemed that the show, in turning Kutner’s death into an event and a mystery at the same time, seemed oddly impersonal: it created an expectation, as well, that this is going to actually change House in some way, and I just don’t know if the show is willing to do that at this stage in its development. I don’t know to what degree the episode was forced due to Kal Penn’s political appointment, but it definitely didn’t feel like an organic development, and since I had no reason to really care about Kutner’s safety I think that it hurt the overall impact of the episode.

Cultural Observations

  • There are some really interesting questions about spoiler policy to be found in this episode: it hadn’t really been spoiled ahead of time (heck, even Ausiello held back on reporting this one until it aired), but as soon as it happened it spread like wildfire. For FOX, this was necessary: Penn’s White House announcement was going to be made today, and they were organizing a conference call, but in a DVR-driven nation chances are quite a few people haven’t gotten to the episode. Twitter ruined it for me long before I got a chance to view the episode, and I think it affected my viewing in a way that can’t really be undone.
  • It was an interesting, but effective choice, to have the patient die: that was a note of tragedy, and it really helped give Taub that final emotional moment, the only one in the episode that really worked for me.
  • The one scene that just felt wrong was House attacking his adoptive parents: why would Foreman or Thirteen think that was a good idea? There are moments like that where it feels the producers use “Oh, it’s House!” as a reason for him being a jerk, but part of me felt that House abandoning rationality for irrational accusations would be something that would happen in private rather than public – calling friends felt entirely within reason and logic, while attacking the parents seemed like more of a last ditch desperation move. And yes, I’m applying principles of morality and ethics to House, I guess I think he’s more capable of change than the writers give him credit for.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “House – “Simple Explanation”

  1. On the other hand, I’ve stopped actively following House, and I appreciated knowing this was a big episode so I could check it out on Hulu.

    • This is a fair point, if the episode had truly felt like a “big” episode within the show’s storyline, and not just a big episode within the world of entertainment journalism.

  2. I watched it live and it was SHOCKING! Doubly shocking because they left the door open after the (very well shot) scene where Thirteen and Foreman found the body for it to be someone else other than Kutner who had died. It wasn’t until they came back from commercial that we knew for certain.

    Everything kind of meandered after that, though. The show still feels like it’s directionless and that they’re struggling to come up with things to do with House’s character. The only real achievement this season has been with Taub, who’s become fully realized.

    All that crap out of the way, did you check out Kutner’s memorial page at http://www.fox.com/kutner ? Each character gets their own letterhead. It’s the best.

  3. FrankL

    Very meaningless esp. when you compare it to Dee’s suicide in BSG

  4. Sam

    This is what’s so frustrating about House. On the one hand, there’s that procedural element and structural formula to every show: we get an opening sickness scene (totally cribbed from the 6′ Under playbook, btw), two or three mis-diagnoses, House and Cuddy (Cutty? Never actually checked the credits..) Roadrunner/Wile E. Cayote-ing a bit, and a genius diagnosis at the last minute. On the other hand, from season 2 on, the show has made a habit of coloring outside of the lines by firing fellows (seriously, relegating 1/2 of your primaries to supporting roles is pretty ballsy), killing off characters, introducing a P.I. sidekick for a few episodes, etc.

    Sometimes it feels genuinely subversive, like the show is toying with the audience’s (and maybe FOX’s) expectations of a familiar formula. But sometimes it just seems like the writers are sick of writing the same paint by numbers stories every week/scared the audience is tired of it, and is shaking things up just for the heck of it (Or to develop a spin off…).

    I’m not sure what side of the line Kutner’s suicide falls on, I think that will be revealed in subsequent episodes as we see if the dynamic actually changes, or if Kutner’s absence doesn’t really make much of a difference and the show just keeps on solving the same cases the same way each week. If House goes off in a new direction, I could see myself looking back at this episode as a bold move for a network drama. If not, I’m pretty sure it’ll go down in the books as a lame stunt.

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