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House: Season 5

It’s a strange world. It’s startling that last year’s writers’ strike produced one the most stunning years of television that I can recall. In particular the fourth seasons of both House and Lost managed to inject a new sense of life into premises that had been wearing more than a little thin. Both series finales were fantastic, and promised wonderful things for the coming year. And both series subsequently failed to live up to the promise offered by those finales. In fairness, Lost was pretty awesome this year, just not with the same concentration of awesome which defined its earlier season. House, on the other hand, faltered coming out of the date by giving us a whole myriad of poorly-handled interesting storylines and just blain terrible subplots. Just when it looked like it was going to limp past the finish line, the last handful of episodes managed to turn it around, but I’m still not sure what to make of the season as a whole.

The show had its problems this year, let's see if we can make a diagnosis...

The show had its problems this year, let's see if we can make a diagnosis...

Last year’s closing episodes were earth-shattering. They were probably the best episodes on television last year. House had effectively killed the woman who his best friend loved, through his own selfishness and indifference. There was an absolutely stunning moment where the character confessed that he wanted to die not for some rational or logical reason, but because he didn’t want Wilson to hate him. It was amazing. It was as if House had had some sort of epiphany. It also alienated the only other person on the planet who could stand him and perhaps offered the clearest sign that he needed to change.

And yet, nothing happened.

Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. The events subtly echoed through the season, lost in a desire to focus on a million and one different things, none of which were really that interesting. Wilson didn’t hate House – and, to be honest, the audience can accept that, he’s too good a guy – but he did try to push him away. For about an episode and a half. Within three weeks of the premiere, he’s back to screwing with House, demonstrating that their bromantic dynamic hasn’t really changed despite the death of Amber.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing – the House/Wilson dynamic is the best bromance on the small screen. Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard have amazing chemistry. Still, it betrays one of the lasting problems on the show: little ever changes. What was fantastic about last year is that things did change. House’s staff left him and he had to hire new, fresh replacements. I don’t have a problem with the fact that House and Wilson are back in flying form – I enjoy it – but it means that last year’s finale had little impact at all. That said – ignoring the fallout from last year’s finale – The Social Contract might be the best example of their functioning and dysfunctional relationship I’ve seen.

The biggest impact it had was a theme (because I don’t think it was large enough to be a subplot) about the necessity of House repairing himself. To cease being the broken figure. The acknowledgement that his pain and dependency are what drive him to be a perfect doctor in The Softer Side, leading House to face a dilemma – could he sacrifice his brilliance (and all the pain that comes with it) for a chance to be happy? It’s a nice move which sets up the final episodes of the season better than any of the intervening events.

Unfortunately none of the other arcs leading through the season are half as effective. Thriteen’s ever-approaching mortallity was a ncie stinger at the end of last year, but it’s fed into a boring and distracting subplot involving a drug trial and a forced romantic subplot with Foreman. I like Omar Epps (it’s nice to see him enjoying every chance he gets to play Foreman cutting lose, like at Chase’s bachelor party in House Divided), and it’s disappointing that the only way he gets more screentime is by being attached to this plot. The hostages-in-the-hospital episode Last Resort was never really going to work, but saddling it as the moment of Thirteen’s “I want to live” epiphany was forced and contrived. And, unlike most of the contrivances this show has thrown at us, it was contrived in a bad way.

I never thought I’d end up liking Taub best of the three new members of the team. His developement throughout the season was slow and steady, rather than forced and rushed, and elements – his bankrupcy in Here Kitty and the suggestion of his own failed suicide attempt – successfully helped make him the more grounded of the team members. He isn’t afraid to rush to judge patients, but he’s usually acting out of his own insecurity – it’s a very human trait. I was sad to see Kutner go – and his suicide seemed more of a shock tactic than anything – but you don’t get offered a job in the White House every day. Still, some of the creepier tie-ins (the Laurence Kutner Memorial site – complete with video!) seemed a little tasteless, although the reactions to it were in-character for most of the cast.

The one benefit of the Cuddy’s baby plotline was that it gave us an opportunity to see how good an actress Lisa Edelstein can be – even with crappy material. The smart and confident (and independent) Cuddy of yesteryear has been replaced by a needy, insecure, biological-clock-is-ticking crazy lady. The wonderful thing about the earlier seasons was that – despite the tension between herself and House – she could handle it with composure and dignity. Yes, some of his actions this year did cross a line, but Cuddy should be a tougher cookie than that – particularly if she has known him for twenty years (as the hallucination claims).

Jennifer Morrison’s Cameron got more screentime this year, which means she’s more annoying – which is a shame, because her involvement in mid-season episodes like The Itch and Big Baby showed the character has potential outside being a big bundle of issues. The dead-husband’s-sperm subplot was the one element in a stronger strand of end-of-season episodes that didn’t really work – there was enough melodrama already without adding an ultimately pointless subplot on top of it all.

Still, all said, there were elements of the year which worked. The recurring motif of people being trapped perfectly underscored House’s own personal dialemma – we had the housebound patient in The Itch, the patient trapped inside his own head in Locked In, the irrational right-brain of the patient in Both Sides Now and even the captive staff of the hospital in Last Resort. House himself was just as trapped this year – clearly wanting Cuddy, but unable to take the risks necessary to follow through (or make the sacrifices). The hints that House was losing his own mind – what he values most – were also cleverly scattered throughout the season – from his argument over the shower in Painless through to his visit to a therapist in Locked In and his own inability to understand Kutner’s suicide in Simple Explanation and culminating in the appearance of Amber in Savior. There was also the suggestion that to be happy, one must learn to bend or violate one’s principles (as the environmentalist did in Savior or as Wilson urges House to do throughout the season), which House can’t reconcile with his own world view.

The problem is that most of the episodes which underscored these points weren’t especially unique or brilliant or well-executed. There were a few exceptions – like Locked In which was a standout episode, or Unfaithful, or the patient in Both Sides Now – but they were the exception rather than the rule this year. Hugh Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard and Lisa Edelstein managed to just about hold the rest of the yar together, preventing it from venturing into solidly bad territory, just sorely disappointing. Still, it does have one of the best leading actors on television and its episodic nature means that it can just as easily be amazing as below average.

Still, I’ll be checking out the show next year.

One Response

  1. I am a longtime fan of the show, but I admit I’ve reached my limit now. We started with a perfectly fine team of doctors, and then House fired one and lost two just so he could hire a whole slew of doctors — none of whom I really cared for EXCEPT the two that kicked the bucket — only to fire/lose them all and end up with his original team. Since House loves to jerk people around, I should have expected as much, but I’m still miffed.

    However, if the focus comes back on Wilson and House, some of the anger might evaporate…

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