House – “Office Politics”

“Office Politics”

November 8th, 2010

To check in on a show you haven’t watched for a while is always a bit disarming, but being as media saturated as I am sort of softens the blow. I think the last time I watched House regularly was early in its fifth season, since then tuning in for special episodes (like “Broken” and “Wilson”) where the internet suggested it would be worth my time.  However, because I spent so much of my time surrounded by people who do keep watching the show, I get bits and pieces: I wasn’t shocked to see Thirteen missing, for example, and I was thankfully prepared for the alarming sight of Cuddy pressing her lips against House’s lips (I think they call it kissing? It was icky).

And yet, the whole point of House is that we’re supposed to be able to jump right in, especially in an instance like “Office Politics” where a new character (and subsequently a slightly new dynamic) is being introduced. Amber Tamblyn’s arrival as Masters, who effectively replaces Thirteen since Olivia Wilde is off becoming a movie star, is not the seismic shift that perhaps the show needs to enter back onto my radar full time, but the episode has just enough dynamism to feel like an event for those of us who appreciate Tamblyn and like to imagine a world where House remains a relevant television program.

Of course, at the same time, the sheer similarity of the formula means that stepping back out is just as easy as one might imagine.

In all fairness, if I had more time I’d probably keep watching to see how long it takes for Tamblyn’s presence to be entirely overwhelmed by the formula, but there just are not enough hours in the day. There are things to like about Masters’ character, things that could make her dynamic with House particularly interesting, but it’s nothing revolutionary, and thus nothing that I can spend time investigating.

Realistically, Masters is the same as the two female team members who preceded her: they become the voice of reason, the figures who flummox House with their empathy, their logic, or in this case their inability to adhere to his highly ambiguous moral relativism. In all cases, they have qualities which would make them good doctors (Cameron’s care for patients, Thirteen’s perspective gained from knowing she could die at any time, Masters’ morality) which simultaneously make them terrible matches for House. In truth he needs a person who has a different perspective to offer a balance, but he doesn’t want to admit this. Admittedly, Thirteen’s recklessness in some ways places her directly in line with House, but even in hewing close to her boss’ perspective she proves to be a contrarian in his eyes.

I think this formula goes more problematic with each coming turn, as we fit these women into a “type,” but Tamblyn is perhaps the best actress to inhabit the role (even if she, unlike Wilde, is unlikely to become a movie star). She’s youthful without seeming young, and enthusiastic and overwhelmed without becoming annoying. She also stands up to House in ways that we haven’t seen in a while, and with an attitude of morality as opposed to any attempt to subvert authority or maintain her independence. She’s also equal opportunity: I loved the mediator role she played between House and Cuddy, demanding that the former ask the permission of the latter and then immediately siding with House due to his focus on giving the patient a chance to live. The story even allows her reliance on honesty, a liability earlier in the episode, to actually quite successfully ensure the patient that his doctors are doing everything they can to save him. It’s a nice little arc which successfully brings these two polar opposites together: sure, they had to throw the other doctors in jail to get them alone, but I’ll accept that bit of contrivance for Tamblyn and Laurie butting heads.

This doesn’t seem to change anything: ongoing stories of House and Cuddy’s relationship seem unaffected, and since it seems like there are no other storylines of note this one seems to be an introduction which is unlikely to resonate too far beyond this point as related to Masters’ entrance. The show is as it always was, outside of Masters: we get some insecurity with Taub (both through Masters not recognizing him and in his basketball battle with Foreman), a pretty weak standalone case, and some slow movement on the more serial elements. I don’t think the show will ever have another “Three Stories” or “Wilson’s Heart,” an episode which manages to use a gimmick to tell stories which successfully merge procedural/serial/character elements without narrowing perspective or indulging in two-hour mini-movies.

Or, at the very least, I won’t notice when they will – there’s something to be had here, but just not enough to keep me around.

Cultural Observations

  • I never watched The Unusuals, but most agreed that it was pretty good, and that ABC was silly to let an Oscar-nominated actor out of contract by not giving it a second season. I’d be curious to see Tamblyn’s work there, and I’m interested to see if she sticks around House or if the increased notoriety might lead to a new lead role in the near future.
  • A real waste of Jack Coleman, so good in Heroes’ “Company Man” just a few years ago, here – sure, these bit parts are never particularly substantial, but he just sort of sat there a lot.
  • Peter Jacobson has skills, no?
  • I always presume that you know that comments are always welcome and appreciated, but I’m particularly curious what people who kept watching the show thought of this hour, so do chime in.

1 Comment

Filed under House

One response to “House – “Office Politics”

  1. James

    Whenever I see Amber Tamblyn in a guest role, I like to think of whatever character she’s playing as a grown up version of Joan. I have a feeling they’re going to have at least one religious episode while she’s on House.

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