This week, House shook things up a bit, with a rare, not-directly-patient-related cold open. Sure, the first scene (which was a such a change of pace that I briefly wondered if my DVR had started recording late) had our heroes discussing both cases of the week, but neither patient was in attendance. There was no weird, “Wait, what show am I watching?” moment, as a completely new set of actors tried to establish a world and back-story in about three minutes and change. Instead, we got House’s office, and a conversation that, in any other episode, would’ve taken place post-credits. Even stranger, there’s no reason I can see as to why this was done. We’ve had off-brand cold opens on the show before, but in the past, those shifts were indicating a different kind of episode than usual, with slightly different goals. I don’t have a problem with the change, as those cold opens can be fun, but they’ve gotten pretty rote over the years, and it fits, in a way, with the current season’s more low-key aesthetic. One of the show’s more irritating tendencies of late has been its increased reliance on shock value as a substitute for good story-telling, and starting on a low-key note seems like a step in the right direction.
Too bad the rest of the episode didn’t follow suit. I found “Dead & Buried” somewhat frustrating, and the big reason why it’s so frustrating is a certain flailing tendency to try and hit every button at once. So we don’t have one case this week; we have two. The main case centers on a teenage girl named Iris, who watched her father die in a car crash when she was 2, and a 4-year-old named Drew who’s been dead five years. This alone isn’t a bad premise. House has been gradually splitting away from his main team for a while now, despite his obvious dependency on having them around. In a very real way, this has become two series in one, the former a fitfully interesting/infuriating character study of a misanthrope struggling to deal with reality, and the latter a bland but intermittently ridiculous hospital drama where the lives of a group of quirky young-ish doctors are punctuated by cameos from their snark-slinging boss. The split isn’t total yet, but it’s easy to see the dividing lines between the two concepts. House was barely involved with Iris’ case until he solved it (twice!), and none of the other doctors knew much of anything about poor Drew. And while this split does make the actual patient of the week storyline even less interesting than it already was, I’d argue that it’s not a horrible idea. At the very least, we get to see House getting invested in a case again, even if he’s flying solo.
It’s just that this episode was blatantly manipulative, pulling out all the stops on House’s pursuit of the truth in regards to Drew, while at the same time worsening Iris’ lot until she was few steps away from pulling a guest spot on American Horror Story. Not only was she apparently pregnant, despite repeated assurances that she’d never had sex, but Chase and Taub also found a stack of letters and violent porn in her bedroom, which led to the confession that she had an abusive boyfriend her mother had never heard about. If that wasn’t bad enough, House soon deduced that there was no boyfriend, and that Iris’ experiences as a 2-year-old were sufficient psychological trauma to induce multiple personalities. So Chase decides its time for some hyponsis, because hey, what else would you do? Iris works through her problems, revealing enough of her real, non-crazy-caused symptoms to allow House to diagnose cancer. As seriously as everyone took all of this, it’s hard to treat it as some great drama, especially once the hypnosis comes out. Mostly, it plays like writers using a dartboard to plot their next move.
Contrast that against Drew’s case. House meets Drew’s father at anger management class, gets obsessed with solving the case, and starts pushing boundaries. So we get to watch him pushing the father for more information, before breaking into the mom’s house to look for clues, all against Foreman’s express wishes. It’s unpleasant, to say the least, and despite Wilson’s repeated assertions that House is addicted to puzzle solving, it never makes all that much sense why he’s so fixated on the kid’s cause of death. (He even takes a trip to the cemetery to check the body.) There are ways this could have worked, but “Dead” doesn’t really bother getting into them beyond the surface, so we have a lot of the same old talk about how House is who he is, between scenes of him confronting an increasingly (and rightfully) pissed off family. Besides, Foreman’s objections to this case are bizarre. He doesn’t say that he’s worried about hospital PR, or that he thinks its a bad idea to re-open old wounds. Instead, he tells Wilson he’s worried about some sort of bizarre domino effect, that once House starts taking on multiple cases, he’ll never be able to stop. Really? How is this a problem? And why should Foreman care?
Foreman cares because it creates conflict, and as always, that conflict collapses when it comes time to deal with it head on. House solves his case (of course), and he does so in such a way that shows Drew’s mom’s second kid (by a new dad) is also at risk, thus making everyone that much less likely to punch him in the face again. And Foreman threatens to send House to jail because he’s worried if he doesn’t, House won’t respect his authority? This is baffling. I didn’t mind the idea of Foreman becoming head of Plainsboro, but he can’t really be House’s antagonist simply to be an antagonist. Insisting that he needs to send House back to prison to prove some sort of disciplinary point is goofy, and hollow, since I doubt House is going to back to the slammer any time soon. Everything ends up fine in the end, like it almost always does, and that’s fine. But there was too much wincing in this episode, and too much silliness balanced against what should be painful, wrenching drama. I don’t mind if House gets goofy; I do mind if it also expects me to take it seriously at the same time I can’t stop laughing.
- Drew’s mom was played by Julie McNiven, aka “Bug Lady” from Fringe, aka Anna from Supernatural.
- What kind of anger management class meets in a coffee shop?
- What the hell did Wilson do while House was in jail? Psychoanalyze his cat? (Well, first he’d have to buy a cat, but that seems like a Wilson thing to do.)
- “So there’s something wrong with you in addition to the multiple personalities?” Surely, whoever wrote that realized it was hilarious.
- Chase's TV spot may be the best use the show's ever gotten out of Jesse Spencer's accent.
- I was kind of hoping one of the multiple personalities caused the pregnancy.