“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.
- 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.