Season Finale: House – “Both Sides Now”

housetitle

“Both Sides Now”

May 11th, 2009

You will notice that this is only one of a handful of times that I’ve blogged about House all season. The reasons for that are really quite simple: the show has done very little to compel me to watch it, yet alone write about it, and the longer the season wears on the more weary I become of some of its formula. I wrote about the biggest moment of the season, Kutner’s suicide, but even then it was in an admittedly negative tone: the show is so averse to change, House always being House and the formula always being the same, that any chance to fundamentally change the series always feels like a missed opportunity once you’re a few episodes out.

But the show loves doing season finales, as demonstrated in “Both Sides Now” where we make a ‘shocking’ discovery about the events in last week’s penultimate episode, which featured the long-anticipated (by some) House/Cuddy hookup and more of the return of Anne Dudek as Amber. I love Anne Dudek, and I enjoy the tension between House and Cuddy, but the episode didn’t really do much for me in the end, outside of providing Hugh Laurie with his Emmy reel.

Hopefully, the Emmy voters don’t see the finale which, although containing perhaps the most interesting “case” of the season, felt like more manipulation for the sake of manipulation.

There were three storylines in this episode, all of which I thought were individually quite interesting. The problem was that one of them deserved more time, one of them probably had just the right amount of time for a finale but failed due to a lack of earlier development, and the other was a problem not so much in its executiont than in its role in reversing the course of last week’s episode.

I absolutely loved the basic idea of the case we were dealing with in the episode, and as noted it was both fundamentally creepy (the hand acting as its own person, and responding to cues differently than the host body, so to speak) and quite interesting in terms of interpersonal dynamics (throwing rolls at the fellow patron at the restaurant, or slapping his girlfriend when she arrived with the very deodorant that the right brain somehow knew was killing it). This is a case that, ignoring the show’s tendency to use cases as just an excuse for discussing the doctors and their drama, was actually interesting from a medical perspective, and felt like it could have held an entire episode on its own.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t really allowed to do that: outside of the one really fun scene where they discovered that the only way to complete any kind of operation was to allow the hand to do air guitar, the storyline was not so much used as part of the other storylines but was just not given enough time to really develop. While I understand that House was otherwise focused in the episode, and that his inability to solve the case was actually a symptom in its own right, the fact that his girlfriend was the one who solved the case kind of robbed it of any sort of resolution. Plus, although I might get stoned for it, I actually kind of wanted them to more clearly map out the ways in which the left brain/right brain applies to the doctor’s various dramas: sure, we can all make the comparisons, but it might have actually been helpful shorthand for some of them.

This is especially true for Chase and Cameron, who were so absent in the first three quarters of the season that their return here just hasn’t rung true. I like these two characters on some level, but that seems so far ago that their storyline in the finale here didn’t work. It would have worked if their issues had been more longstanding, or if their decision to get married had felt more organic as a long term storyline. I know it’s a cliche for a wedding scene to be emotional or feel like a big deal, and perhaps it’s refreshing that this one didn’t, but I felt like the final contrast created in editing between House’s conclusion and the happiness of Chase and Cameron’s marriage didn’t really work because I didn’t care enough about their happiness when I know that, come the start of next season, they’re just going to disappear again.

And, while the dreamers might say that this might be the time, the same thing is going to happen with House’s stint at a Psychiatric hospital. The entire episode unfolded as something approximating a dream state, as House went through the day presuming that one set of events had happened but then realizing after the fact that his mind was playing more tricks than he realized. In this instance, however, the brain was more destructive: without Amber as the voice of his subconscious, the hallucinations were taking a form that his brain was reading normally. The result was the reveal, at episode’s end, that everything from the night before (his detox, his sex with Cuddy, the lipstick on his face) had all been an elaborate hallucination representative of his subconscious: it was no longer just speaking to him, but bleeding into his own reality.

It’s all a bit ridiculous on some level, even if the explanation is more or less that it’s a side effect, albeit an extreme one, of the Vicodin. It’s frustrating because what was presented in the hallucination would have been actual change: it would mean real differences in House and Cuddy’s dynamic, and a real future for House off of the Vicodin, and a natural transition into a different period for the character…in theory. In reality, that surely would have gone wrong some other way, since this show won’t change: House is going into a psychiatric hospital, but how this is any different from when he had his leg operated on, or when Wilson left and Amber died, no one can really tell. Part of House’s character is that he doesn’t feel things, and that he is staunchly against any sort of change in his condition: while being institutionalized is certainly the furthest the show has gone, I have no faith in it lasting for more than a few episodes of next season.

Sure, the show could surprise me: they could have House truly change his behaviour, or spend the first few episodes of next season allowing Kal Penn, whose Kutner along with Amber appeared at the end of the episode once House clued into his hallucinations, to return and help House sort out his issues. However, I don’t think Penn will be leaving the White House to shoot extended cameos, and while the show is still likely to sort through the deeper issues of whether Amber and Kutner’s deaths are what is causing these hallucinations it seems more like an excuse to sweep them under the rug and allow House to go back to normal once this extra special period has come to an end.

But whereas last season’s finale, where Amber died tragically and House and Wilson ended their relationship, actually felt like we were leaving on an emotional note, the pytotechnics having been saved for the penultimate “House’s Head,” this year it is reversed and to the series’ detriment. The show feels like it’s toying with reality too much, and it didn’t have time to ground its characters: while we certainly saw a more human side of House once he realized his problems, we never got to spend time with that House, and the episode kind of feels like a manipulation as a result. Combine with the human side of the case getting the shaft and us not connecting with Chase and Cameron, I guess both sides weren’t quite in sync.

Cultural Learnings

  • I’m intrigued by the idea that, from the very beginning, Chase REALLY never clued in to the fact that Cameron was only holding onto that Sperm because it was her last connection to him. Two things about this: first get a picture, it lasts shorter but isn’t the dude’s sperm; second, I shouldn’t actually be surprised at this, since Chase has more or less been known to be an idiot, although one who apparently does every surgery in existence despite only recently transferring into the discipline.
  • The storyline with the old guy who squawks was an odd waste of time in some ways, showing House and Cuddy’s attempts at getting back at each other, and really only mattered when House realized that the pancreatic diagnosis he should have given him for the acid reflux was being applied to the other case instead. Other than proving the most direct parallel between the two cases (House’s hallucinations screwing over his real world scenario like they’re his left hand), it didn’t really have a purpose, and I thought it could have been cut down a bit (and perhaps made less jovial) to give some more time elsewhere.
  • I joked above about Emmy voters: last week was a great Emmy tape for Laurie, but if they watched the finale and learned that it was all a hallucination they might not think it was quite real. Yes, in my mind, Emmy voters think this way.
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24 Comments

Filed under House

24 responses to “Season Finale: House – “Both Sides Now”

  1. joe h (speedinuptostop)

    I think you missed how House was no longer on Vicodin, but he was Methadone (the heavier stuff he randomly took for one episode in this scattershot season) since he was scorned by Cuddy.

    Also, I liked the squawker story. House’s clinic patients bring great levity to the show and they should be welcome more often. Lord knows this season could’ve used a few more simple stories to balance out the convoluted randomness.

  2. I think the main problem with this show as it gets older is that its creators are operating under the belief that people don’t change. Not only is this not interesting dramatically, I don’t believe it’s true. People do change, slowly, yes, but they do change. I am firmly convinced the real reason behind not wanting House to change is because they’re worried — like House himself is worried — that they will lose the magic, the brain behind the asshole doctor that makes him who he is. I think they’re just afraid to take the chance, and in my opinion, it’s to their detriment.

    • catldy99

      ummm, I don’t agree, you sound like you are a M.D. or something. Over- analysis kind of kills any kind of entertainment. If House did get cured the show is dead, not sure how they are going to handle that. A lot of the appeal to the average audience is the humor in the face of horrible events. Hugh Laurie’s character is quite unique in the entertainment world. Yet, I’ve been to enough rude M.D.’s to know some of that stuff does exist. It’s all a little over the top, but then that’s theatre or tv or whatever. Things don’t have to be ridiculously realistic to entertain. Actually my fave episode was Chase’s bachelor party. I really enjoyed that one. After all it is about enjoyment and humor in the face of the horrors of life sometimes. The creators of House cannot please everyone all of the time.

      • I’m not overanalyzing, and I certainly never said anything about being a doctor. But I do know about television. In fact, I usually agree with you about taking things with a grain of salt and just enjoying, and I’m not necessarily saying that any of the individual storylines have been bad; I’ve quite enjoyed this season. The Bachelor Party episode was fantastic. What I take issue with is that after all these things happen to House, HE NEVER CHANGES. If House were a real person — which he’s not — he would have been affected in the long term by all the things that have happened to him. But the creators don’t want him to change, because then they wouldn’t have a show.

      • Ashley kind of said this for me, but my problem with the show isn’t that House doesn’t change – I understand that’s a necessary proponent to his character being entertaining and enjoyable to watch, and it makes the show what it is.

        The problem is that they keep presenting scenarios where he SHOULD change: if they were willing to avoid episodes like this one, then it wouldn’t be a problem when he remains the same, but there’s a point where we need to see some of this truly land with him on a daily basis, and it just hasn’t happened yet. Until it does, they’ve earned my skepticism and critical perspective.

        • Angela

          Every show needs to have some unique aspect that separates it from other TV shows (otherwise, what’s the point?) and I believe that the show’s creators made House a static character intentionally to this purpose. (For those of you who aren’t into literary terminology, a static character is one who doesn’t change, or changes so little that it’s insignificant.) There are very very few static main characters in TV nowadays. I applaud the writers for constantly overcoming the challenges of this type of writing. I’m not saying it’s perfect; it is what it is. The creators set a unique set of boundaries to set the show apart from other shows (especially other medical shows). The question is: when the last season of House comes out, do we want them to change this or not?

          If they do make House a more dynamic character and cater to our entertainment desires, this could make the show better, or undermine all that it previously was. I honestly hope that when the next season starts it brings a new era for House, and we see him struggling with making some fundamental changes, with some stumbling along the way. But then, this route might make House into a clique character who is struggling to redeem himself, and I don’t think any of us started watching the show to see that.

  3. Jai-Bone

    i wont hear another bad word against house. this is the best show ever. every season his been just as good as the last. i never want it to end.

  4. oomu

    no.

    the series told you years after years people don’t change

    people, grown up people don’t change.

    they REACT to change

    the show tells that years after years.

    and you still discover that ?

    All the events, House reacts, people reacted, but changed ? of course not, they are still the same people.

    Amber dies, father dies, the leg is operated, someone fires on, and so on ? and what ? House was not suddenly magically transformed , he is always who he is

    “life changing event” are overrated. people learn to cope with change in their own specific way.


    in the show, you see House changing, in the end, even smiling : it’s because the sickness is changing him. it’s not normal. it’s a defect.

    at first he can still see it’s not real, so we have Amber and nice hallucinations. all is fine, House can cope. He’s strong.

    but, the show progress, now he cannot make the differences.

    the “dream/hallucination” never erased the previous episode. It complements it.

    step one : okay he hallucinates, but he knows it, all is still fine, no worry (eps 22 and 23)
    step two : huu.. maybe now I can’t know what is real anymore.. I’m not okay. (eps 24)

    you cannot tell the ep 24 without the 23. you cannot erase the 23th. You need it to realize the progress of the madness.

    It’s no more cute dead people speaking, it’s whole phantasm on live !


    House was affected in the course of the show.

    He listened Cameron. He managed to express his friendship to Wilson. He joked about the one guy who fired on him.

    and of course, you learned it in the very first season : he learned to cope with his painful leg.

    but yeah, it was a miserable guy for maybe ever, even before the leg, before all, sometimes it’s just that.

    The show is about “people don’t change, they lie.”

    And yeah, I always was that pedantic.

  5. oomu

    “I think the main problem with this show as it gets older is that its creators are operating under the belief that people don’t change.”

    they just spend five years to tell it, prove it and force it.

    maybe in the 6th we will see THAT ONE person who CHANGED ! (a heinous killer becoming a saint after a terrible crisis ? )

    and it may be the whole twist of the 6th season. who knows?

    I don’t believe it. OF course the show is a manipulative bitch (in a friendly way), but to force you to see what the show want to tell and entertain you with that.

    • I understand very well the point of the show and that the creators believe, or say they believe, that people don’t change. They do a credible job showing us what they mean on the show. House has had plenty of opportunity to evolve as a character, but he hasn’t. Every time something happens to him, there are a few episodes that deal with it, and then Poof! Everything goes back to normal. I understand that you like the show, and I do, too. But I don’t believe that it is impossible for people to change.

      I’m not really sure what your point is in mentioning the whole killer saint thing is. It’s not really relevant. Change for House could be as simple as forming a real relationship with someone other than Wilson.

      If you really don’t like hearing criticism about your favorite shows then I would suggest not reading a TV critic’s website. You’re certainly free to have your own opinions, but so are we.

      • oomu

        sigh.

        no. it’s not about criticism.

        it’s about wanting a show to be an other show.

        “Change for House could be as simple as forming a real relationship with someone other than Wilson”

        no. that’s impossible. House is a grown up, he will not change, he can’t change and in fact he does not need to change. His friend Wilson is the only one friend he needs.

        The character react to problems, try to improve and to stay healthy, just that.

        Most important : House realized for the first time he needs help and he asks.

        It’s a very signifiant new step for the character.


        about the saint ? I wanted to explain we think there are some experiences who can change a person : death near experience, epiphany, a loved one’s death and so on.

        These are defining moment in a life, moment so important you see the real person, but not, he/she is the still same person. Just adjusting.


        in the show, in fact, the authors shows new and new and new (and again) layers of the characters until Every spectators are bored to death.

        for now, the show is still fun and Hugh Laurie is really interesting and great. The others one are a mixed bag. But the Wilson-House dynamic is truly the marvel of the show.


        my point : you did not criticize the show. You just want an other show. No, you can’t expect “change” in House, a show about NOT changing and NOT needing to change.

        you will see in 6th season House will succeed to beat his sickness and STILL being the loveable bastard helping people.

        wilson : no change ?
        house : yup.

      • Angela

        Ashley:
        Do you have any quotes/sources saying that the creators believe that people don’t change, or is this an assumption you formed based on watching the show? I am curious, because if there are quotes to that effect it might change my viewing of the show.

        I think it is important to differentiate between “the show’s message” and characterization. Just because one character in the show does not change does not mean that the creators are advertising a message about humanity. Other characters in the show have undergone changes. Just because the one character who is stagnant is the main character doesn’t mean that this is the creators’ view on life. It just makes him an excellent foil for everything else going on around him.

        • I don’t remember where I read/heard it, but I definitely heard — verbatim — from David Shore’s mouth that he doesn’t believe people can change, and that people shouldn’t expect any type of “happy ending” for House because of that belief. It might have been in a special feature on one of the DVDs or it might have been in an interview with Ausiello (or both). I can’t remember, but they take it is one of the foundations of the show.

      • Chuck

        House is supposed to be a static character; meaning if he does change, it’s only for a short while to prove to himself that he can change… but simply doesn’t want to yet. Also, House in a way is like a lot of us; we don’t change unless we are forced, after we are forced we do so only for a long enough period of time for people to think we’re back to the way we “should” be… then we simply snap back to what we are most familar with. Now, no one said that change is impossible for House, hell, everyone knows he can if he really puts his mind to it… but the fact is he really doesn’t want to unless he is severely threatened.

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  7. Thaddeus

    I have to agree to some degree about the show’s arc/formula. Example:

    Everybody on the show talks about what a rebel House is and ignores the rules, but House assesses the symptoms and makes a diagnosis to fit them. The moment he gets more information, he is forced to change his mind.

    I respect that given how stubborn House is – his ironclad personal rule is, always treat to fit the symptoms.

    His character is strong enough though to survive the admittedly predictable formula:

    1.) Patient arrives with seemingly simple symptoms. Through his minions, House rules out lupus or sarcoidosis, and then depending on the vitals, treats with antibiotics or steroids. Then he announces he’s off to play guitar.

    2.) House and Wilson initiate the episode’s subplot. Something about Cuddy, Cutthroat B, Foreman, or anybody else.

    3.) 30 minutes in, and the patient has a setback. Back to differentials, and House cracks a few jokes and orders new treatment.

    4.) Subplot progresses. House makes a joke about Cuddy’s boobs. Embarrasses Wilson. Hits on a hot girl.

    5.) 45 minutes in, and the patient is near death. House finally decides, hey – maybe I should actually have a look at the patient. He says something rude to the family, risking a punch in the face, and orders his penultimate treatment.

    6.) Scene cuts to House bragging about his manhood to Wilson, resolving the subplot, and then House has his epiphany, staring off into space as he stops playing with his cane/ball/guitar/genitals. “You’re right…I DO like pickles…”

    7.) House bursts into the room a second before the patient dies and yanks out the IV as Foreman yells, “We JUST started the interferon!” and House says, “That’s great, if you want her to EXPLODE ON THIS TABLE!” Then House jabs a needle full of Coca-Cola into the patient, who miraculously recovers.

    “How…how did you know that?” trembles the family.

    “Because I rock SO HARD!” yells House. Foreman rolls his eyes and stalks out, angry once again that House cured a patient.

    8.) Scene cut to the darkened hospital, as House slaps Cuddy on the ass. “I heard there’s a Shannon Tweed marathon on TV! Let’s get naked!” Cuddy swats House, while House strolls out, knowing Cuddy wants him.

    And while I find that all very entertaining, I must confess that all of the characters outside of Wilson, House and Cuddy bore me. Cameron and Chase’s relationship means nothing to me, Foreman always looks like he could go postal at any second, 13 is certainly a hottie, but she brings nothing to the table. Oh, and what ever happened to the old guy who wasn’t really a doctor? I found him extremely interesting and would have loved for him to stay on as a regular character.

    Back on point: It took me 3 seasons to “get” House’s dichotomy. Unlike the J.R. Ewing types, House *really* does care… he just doesn’t want to. I’m really hoping they pull a rabbit out of a hat with this next season. Even if House resolves his love/hate issues, he’ll still be House. He’ll still be brilliant, he’ll still be an egomaniac, he’ll still enjoy being a protagonist and he’ll still enjoy all those wonderful, little petty tortures.

    Oh, on a sidenote, I want more clinic hours scenes! C’mon! The show is called “House, M.D.” not “House’s patients.” 🙂

  8. First – I would have loved to have known more about the left brain/right brain dynamics. This was by far the coolest patient that I’ve seen on House from a medical standpoint.

    Second – I agree that Chase and Cameron were a waste of time.

    Third – I was soooo disappointed that the entire episode had been one big hallucination, because I think that a relationship with Cuddy would have added another layer to House’s personality.

    Finally – Do we really want House to change? Isn’t the fun of the show that in spite of it all, he’s a jerk? What I would like to see is for him to get off the Vicodin, process Kutner (and Amber’s?) death and still be a jerk.

  9. Joe

    Hmmm.

    Maybe I’m just a simpleton, but I really liked the season finale. I have a thing for mind-benders like that, and because I like to take TV shows at face value, I ultimatly get drawn in like one is supposed. To then find out that it’s all been a lie, and watch it destroy house completly was quite fascinating.

    Although I too was dissapointed that House and Cuddy didn’t actually get together, but I forgave them for it.

    I think the fact that House willingly submitted himself into a psychatric ward shows that he is at least willing to change. He can’t afford not too anymore.

    Also, despite the fact that the House/Cuddy plot was a hallucination, his reaction to it i think was real. He really did want Cuddy, and to suddenly realise that not only did he not get her, and that he may have burned that bridge for all time… you could see it crushing his soul.

    I think push has now come to shove, and House will change. His hallucination showed that he could cope with change after all.

  10. Talia

    I just watched the episode like an hour ago….omg, that confused the hell out of me. I don’t know if I can sleep until I see what happens next…

    okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, either way, I’ve become too emotionally involved in this show…if it doesn’t stay interesting and awesome…I don’t know….

    hahaha.

    I am wondering though… why did he originally go to medical school?

    I’ve heard before that sometimes psychologists become psychologists because they want to figure out what’s actually wrong with, well, themselves(grammer?).

    What if something like that was the case for house? we see all the time on the show, hallucinations are often a pretty significant symptom. what if it isn’t the drugs? and (i haven’t seen the older episodes in a while, so maybe this doesn’t make sense) but what if that has something to do with the leg? oh man….i’m brainstorming like crazy now…the leg…which is obviously only on one side of the body….yet another case of both sides of the brain not quite functioning so well together. okay, I’m probably going way too far with this blabbing.

    But, what if there is something really big that we’re missing….maybe all these things add up to something…that explain his every move, who he is as a person…

    ahhh! … we know his dad was kind of a jerk…. not nice to those ‘under’ him. which would make him a miserable child, feeling degraded, probably has self esteem issues.

    oh jeeze….could the leg have been intentional somehow? I’m sure he could induce anything.

    maybe he wanted an excuse not to feel. the munchausen patients, or suspected ones always get the shoo out, and the aggrivation from the doctors….what if the brilliant doctor had the same issue?

    I kind of think his mother should show up more, maybe reveal some clues.

    seriously though….there are so many ways this can turn…I guess the ending point when the show is totally over will probably what really makes it. will it all end up being a hallucination? this is a little out of wack…what if he really sees dead people? it doesn’t really fit, but who the hell knows? Lets just hope the show changes, but in the right format. We already know what would be pretty lame. This whole show seems to be about his mental struggles, what’ll be the result? HOW will the episodes assist us in figuring that out?

    I’m sure you get my point. I’ll stop writing a ten page paper now. hahaha.

    • Thaddeus

      One of vicodin’s side effects is hallucinations. Obviously, for the show, they have been building up to this finale, observed by several past episodes where House experienced hallucinations.

      Relax, find a hobby and come September, find out what happens next just like the rest of us.

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