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.
- 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.