House – “Wilson”


November 30th, 2009

You might be wondering why I stopped reviewing House after the season premiere. And, well, the answer is quite simple: I stopped watching House after the season premiere.

It wasn’t an intentional decision: a few episodes piled up on the DVR, which proceeded to crash and lose all of its files, and then more episodes piled up alongside some frustrated critics who were growing tired of the show’s ignorance of the rather great premiere, “Broken.” And so my desire to catch up with House was limited, and until tonight I was kind of convinced that I may never return to the show again.

However, on the advice of those same critics, I returned to “Wilson” and discovered what role House will play in my television criticism future. It is a show where the only episodes that truly engage me, truly suck me in, are those which feel uniquely possible within the show’s universe. Alan Sepinwall quite rightly observes in his review of the episode that the focus on Wilson in the episode would never work if not for the inherent juxtaposition of his methods to House’s methods.

It’s an episode that puts someone else in the driver’s seat, and rather than feeling like an overly complicated, soap operatic version of the show’s basic premise (which, based on what I’ve read of the season so far and parts of last season, is effectively what the show has boiled down to) the episode felt like a rumination on character, themes, and the inherent humanity or lack thereof at the show’s core.

The result was a very compelling hour of television, one which is uniquely housed (I made a funny!) within this particular series but will do little to change its overall downward trajectory.

I don’t entirely know the circumstances surrounding Cameron’s departure, nor do I particularly care about Cuddy’s relationship with Lucas or their future real estate plans. But I do care about people being inherently human, having faults and responding in ways that feel informed by past mistakes and cautious (or reckless in spite) of future concerns. And what makes “Wilson” work is that scene where House very clearly tells Wilson that what separates them is that our cold-hearted diagnostician is capable of handling when things go horribly wrong, and Wilson isn’t. The show never explicitly mentions Amber, but the implication is there, and more importantly the implication is played out throughout the episode. It isn’t that Wilson is as much of a pushover as House goads him into believing he is, but rather that he is a different kind of doctor in a way that makes him ill-suited to play House (you can tell that I haven’t written about the show in a long time considering the volume of punnage taking place inadvertantly).

The episode never goes so far as to suggest that his sentimentality is his undoing, that he cares too much about Tucker (an excellent Joshua Molina) and as a result makes a reckless medical decision that risks his own life for a man who lives separately whether he is living or dying. What the episode suggests, instead, is that James Wilson is the kind of doctor who knows his patients well enough to be on a first-name basis with them, to know that something is wrong when they don’t immediately brag about their grandsons upon their departure. And that what he learns from being trapped in this diagnostic spiral is that there are times when the emotional connection can go the opposite way, moving from a caring and compassionate ear to a cold shoulder. The goal is to avoid those emotions, on either end of the spectrum, from inherently informing your medical diagnosis, and while Wilson will never be House he realizes that there are some points where he should defend the people he cares about (which unfortunately tied in with the real estate plot, but what are you going to do?). It is not the point of the episode to suggest that Wilson should change who he is, but rather to demonstrate how finding that sense of identity can both restrict and free him.

I liked that Tucker turned out to be a bit of a cad, reuniting with his family only long enough to realize that he still has a whole life ahead of him, and his young hot girlfriend was what he really wanted. It worked because it demonstrated in some part why House stopped paying attention to who his patients are, and why Wilson can’t so easily become House (both because he can’t stop caring and, more importantly, his best work comes from his attention to relationships and detail). When dealing with diagnosis beyond the realm of medical mystery, where he is able to craft a relationship built less on life and death and more on the quality of life of those people who come through Oncology, he is attentive and compassionate in a way that House could never imagine, and in a way that House depends on in. Hugh Laurie may have been playing a supportive role here, but his admission that without Wilson he would be entirely alone was the sort of scene that sells how Wilson being Wilson is what really matters here.

It’s an episode that resists black and white in a way that Robert Sean Leonard nails throughout, taking risks and making moves to simultaneously save a life, prove a point, and protect a friend. Punctuated by the fun glimpses into House’s ongoing cases, and limited in its interpersonal drama, the episode kept a brisk pace and yet felt slow enough to allow us to really soak in how different the show is with Wilson at the helm.

As such, I await the upcoming “Cuddy” and “Taub” episodes, and will likely be ignoring the show otherwise – these episodes are intriguing because I watched the show long enough to have an attachment to these characters that makes me intrigued by episodes that delve into them further. When the show is House and the Foreteen show, my interest just isn’t there.

Cultural Observations

  • I think having only seen the premiere and this episode is about as skewed a perspective on a television season as you can get.
  • I thought they should have gotten Sabrina Lloyd to play Tucker’s wife, but I realized at a certain point that this would have made Tucker’s descent into cadness unbelievable: Jeremy would never do that to Natalie, cancer or no cancer.
  • If you really want me to cover House more in the future, tweet me when there’s a good episode and I’ll take it under advisement.


Filed under House

3 responses to “House – “Wilson”

  1. Great review. I’m so glad I stopped writing about the show before its decline, but this one was both a departure and had the element that made me want to discuss the show in the first place: the philosophical underpinnings of House’s world-view. (Wow, that came out more pretentious than I meant.)

    I miss House-centric House episodes, though. All stories used to be linked to him, and for me part of the decline is that the show has become more of an ensemble without succeeding in making most of the secondary characters very interesting. (I rarely thought even the original team were interesting on their own, but it rarely mattered much because their stories illuminated something about House or his philosophy.)

  2. The “know[ing] that something is wrong when they don’t immediately brag about their grandsons upon their departure” wasn’t uniquely Wilson… didn’t he call that a “House” moment?

  3. thedemonhog

    If you have already missed this much, don’t bother going back to review the whole season (unless you really want to), but I recommend the second episode after the premiere, titled “The Tyrant” and guest starring James Earl Jones.

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