I was set to hate this episode. The previews made it look like the worst of what the new House has to offer us: shiny distractions, hollow heart. The tricks have gotten more and more obvious over the past couple years, and "Bombshells" looked to be digging past the bottom set by "Two Stories" from a couple weeks back. This time, instead of random movie riffs and precocious children, we were going to have fantasy segments riffing on sitcoms, movies (again), and, god save us all, a weird Glee-ish musical number. (Yes, other shows have done musical numbers. But the high stylized, campy vibe those few seconds of trailer displayed were Glee through and through, and the last thing House, or any show, needs is to be more like Glee.) And for most of the episode, I was, if not pleasantly surprised, then at least not entirely dismayed. These were largely the same motions we've been seeing for a while, but the dream sequences weren't all substantial. They were silly and mostly unnecessary, but they were fun in their way. I was more troubled by the sudden revelation that Cuddy might have kidney cancer. That's the worst kind of trick a medical show can pull, and it's not like our heroes haven't had to face the loss of one of their own multiple times before.
But then Cuddy didn't have cancer, and somehow, that seemed to make it worse. "Here we go," I'm thinking. "Here's another 40-odd minutes of chest-beating and angst with no real consequence or purpose, designed primarily to distract us from the fact that the show has no real new stories to tell, just echoes." (Yes, I think in oddly wordy sentences. Don't judge.) It was better than "Two Stories," but it still had all the hallmarks that have to come to disappoint me so routinely.
Then something happened. And when it did, House got interesting again.
Let's get the Patient of the Week out of the way first. Ryan is a teenager who has depression. He's coughing up blood, and when Taub looks him over, he discovers marks that seem to indicate that Ryan is a cutter. Taub bonds with the kid, because Taub was depressed once too ("I hurt myself. It was the stupidest thing I've ever done." Now, that's no way to talk about your marriage, sir!), and at first, that's how we think this is going to play out: some tears and so forth, and then we move on. Except when Taub and Foreman go to search Ryan's room, they find a yearbook full of vicious doodles and videos of the kid making pipe bombs and ranting about how people deserve to die. Taub has a crisis of conscience. He tells the boy's parents, and they refuse to take it seriously. So after a lot of discussion, Taub mails the videos to the police.
It's not the best PotW the show's done, and Taub's moral dilemma isn't that difficult. The fact that he can send the videos anonymously takes any real fear of personal or professional repercussions off the table, and, as is often the case on House, the conversations Taub had with everyone about the problem were less conversations than people talking in position points. Yeah, teenagers can be crazy, and it'd be damaging for everyone if we over-analyzed every creepy, weird, or anti-social bit of behavior generated by the Stridex set. There's a difference, though, between fantasizing about getting revenge on the people who torment you and building pipe bombs. The PotW case only becomes relevant here when you realize it's really the story of how no matter how much you want to reach out and connect with someone, there's only so much you can do to help. Taub talks to Ryan about depression, shares something of himself, even gives the kid money to help him out of a jam. But eventually, he cuts ties. He sends the police the video, and he moves on. That's the only way to get through this world.
Which brings us to Cuddy, and House. The relationship has never made sense, for a number of reasons, and "Bombshells" did a good job at drawing attention to that. Sure, it doesn't do much to solve the problem of Cuddy as a character-free-zone; most of the dream sequences here refer to cultural touchstones that could've occurred to anyone. A (inadvertently timely) Two And A Half Men sketch, with House as Charlie Sheen? A generic '50s sitcom, with House as the loving stay-at-home husband? Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid? Any PotW could've had these dreams using this kind of source material. The segments themselves weren't bad. Well, the sitcom sketch was iffy, and the black and white show wasn't much, but I dug Butch Cassidy almost in spite of myself. (They did a very good job of matching the footage, at least on my non-high-def TV.) They didn't really add much, though, at least not on the surface. Cuddy's fears were as cliched as they come. House is irresponsible! House can never be her perfect man! House will desert her when they're surrounded by the Bolivian cavalry!
None of this told us anything about Cuddy, or her and House, that we didn't know, and none of this helped us understand the stress her potential kidney cancer was causing. Wilson complains that House was trying to make her problem about him, and worse, it seemed like the show was taking the tack, without giving us any real reason to do so. Yes, House dreaming of his team turning into zombies and killing Cuddy was cool. (Ax cane!) Sure, Cuddy's final, anesthesia-tinged hallucination of an all-singing, all-dancing, all-trippy-as-hell surgery was ridiculous and weird. Yet when we learned Cuddy was fine after all, and House had come to her bedside in the nick of time and proved himself worthy of her love by doing the least he could possibly do, it all seemed like so much wasted space. Not the worst thing ever, but certainly not worthy of all that fuss.
Ah, but "Bombshells," in the end, lived up to its name. Cuddy has her own epiphany moment (a rarity for the series) and realizes that House had to go back on Vicodin to be with her when she needed him. In order to deal with the pain and stress of someone else's pain, he had to retreat back to the drug that, by the show's current logic, kept him insulated from the world for so long. She'd suspected this the whole episode, as each of her dreams had House eating candy or a burrito, right up till that final dance number, so ecstatically, orgiastically absurd, so blissfully unconcerned about death or despair. Hell, even House's dream was more telling than I initially realized: Everyone else in it is dead or dying, and House has to wade through the wreckage, fighting back anyone who might come close enough to cause him pain.
The final reveal here; House's admittance of guilt; Cuddy's decision to end their relationship; House choosing to go back on the Vicodin... I'm not going to say this fixes everything. There's a lot of tedium in this season that isn't going to suddenly become fascinating because something actually happened. But this is pretty major. It's that rare bold twist that not only turns "Bombshells" from passable to good but also manages to put everything else in a slightly better light. For the first time in a while, the writers actually appear to have a plan in mind that's more compelling than "Awww, wuv is so wonderful." It only took 15 episodes, but we're finally dealing with one of my major concerns with last year's season finale: Cuddy as deus ex machina. In "Help Me," House, bowing under the weight of a lost patient and a lost love, nearly succumbed to his addiction and probably would have if Cuddy hadn't shown up in the nick of time to save him. While this was obviously nice for him, it was the sort of victory that wasn't really a victory at all. Dealing with your problems isn't a sunny-day-only activity.
Here we are then, with the show finally acknowledging what most of us in the audience have known for months (or years): House and Cuddy don't make any sense at all together. We're constantly reminded how childish House is, how selfish and difficult, and yet Cuddy stayed with him, because that was the story we were being told. But here she is, finally drawing her line. For the first time in a long time, I'm not sure what's going to happen next. Yes, this could all be reversed in a week or two; Cuddy could turn into a character who doesn't mind hooking up with a drug addict, or House could make some gesture to show he's changed, right before going back to being an asshole again. But I have hope that maybe, just maybe, we'll get something better than that. Maybe House will stop being a crappy romance drama about a dude being a brat, and his girlfriend acting like his mom. Maybe we'll get a show that's finally worthy of its leading man again, at least for a little while.
We'll see. I'm not holding my breath, but I am crossing my fingers.
- Much thanks to Phil again for picking up the slack last week.
- Why would anyone date House? I get that the character has a certain masochistic attraction (and he's one of my all-time favorite TV characters), but as a long-term romantic partner? It can't be that hard for Cuddy to find dates.
- I don't know what the hell was up with Wilson and Cuddy during that ultrasound. "You have nice skin." Who is he, Jame Gumb? I'm also horrified that Cuddy was sucking in her stomach during the procedure.
- Hey, Paula Marshall again! And this time she gets a couple of scenes.
- Short title sequence this week. I can't remember the last time that happened.
- Even Masters was tolerable this week: "I didn't want to kill anybody. I just wanted to torture them slowly in my basement. Preferably with acid."
- I don't know if this helps, but without the ending, I would've given this a C+/B-. With the ending, I'm almost tempted to go with an A-, but decided to be conservative.