Sherlock Holmes needs John Watson, but Watson has never needed Holmes. Of course Sherlock's the flashier of the pair: a crime-solving genius whose intellect and instinct allow him to elevate deduction to a kind of magic. Watson's just the nobody who writes it all down. Who cares about him?
Thing is, Watson has a life. He's happily married, he's got a solid medical practice, and so far as we know, he doesn't have a drug addiction or a crippling depression that surfaces whenever there's no new puzzle to solve. Holmes may get all the accolades, but without Watson, he's lost–a genius at the mercy of his brilliance. He needs the support of a friend, someone who can provide him with the one thing he can never have on his own: common humanity.
House's relationship with Wilson is in some ways a riff on the Holmes/Watson duo, although it's not a perfect match. Holmes could be arrogant and dismissive, but he never tried to sabotage his friendship or himself with House's dogged intensity; and Wilson has never had a particularly stable home life. Still, there's no question that House needs their relationship. If anything, that need for a human connection is even stronger–unlike Holmes, our hero has an obsession with pushing away everything he needs in order to protect himself from needing it. Wilson has remained the one constant in his life, the guy who sticks around no matter how bad it gets.
But things change. "Dying Changes Everything," the first episode of House's fifth season, starts two months after the death of Amber, former hospital employee and the possible love of Wilson's life. In the interim, House and Wilson haven't spoken, and Wilson's been away; now he's back, and everyone wants to know what happens next. Nobody more than House, of course, because for all his smarts, he still doesn't know the answer to the big question: House needs Wilson, but does Wilson need House? And what does it mean if he doesn't?
We spend most of "Dying" waiting to find out. In the meantime, there's the usual patient-of-the-week shenanigans, this time surrounding a high-powered feminist's assistant who hallucinates an ant attack during a business meeting. The team tries out a variety of theories, there's sarcasm, a lesson is learned, etc. After her positive Huntington's diagnosis last season, Thirteen is looking to make a difference, and she takes the patient's flunky status and sickness as a kind of personal insult. Things are made trickier when House learns that Wilson is quitting his job; in a seriously misguided attempt to blackmail his friend, House refuses to treat Ant Woman until Wilson agrees to stay.
This lets Thirteen's need to prove herself take center stage. As Taub tut-tuts every new theory and Kutner plays along, Thirteen drives the treatment, all the while arguing with the Ant Woman about her career and willingness to let the others around her shine. It's good to see that the Huntington's positive has some fall-out, but this is all a little too neat, like reading a short story from an overly-didactic creative writing student. Grief hits people in different ways, but while I have no conceptual problems with Thirteen driving herself to make the rest of her life count, her concerns don't seem to be connecting with her character so much as fulfilling story requirements. Plus, it would've been easier to invest in her struggles if it wasn't so clear they would fail–of course the patient is going to go back to being who she always was. And of course it's House who figures out the correct diagnosis. (It's the nice kind of leprosy.) When it comes to medicine, he gets to be right. That's about all he gets, really.
Grief also plays a part in the Wilson storyline, and it's here where "Dying" really clicks, because that grief doesn't come out in the way you'd expect. Everyone assumes Wilson is leaving the hospital because he's upset about Amber, and that he's letting his pain cloud his decisions; Cameron gives him a heart-to-heart, Foreman tells him to do what he needs to do, and even Cuddy makes him sit down with House for a pretty hilarious bit of "couples counseling."
But we learn at the end of the episode that grief isn't the motivating factor for the move, or at least not the primary one. When House finally gets up the nerve to apologize for Amber's death–a death that he knows logically wasn't his fault, but one he still can't help feeling guilt over–Wilson says he never blamed House for what happened, but he's leaving his job and moving because he can't take their friendship anymore. House, Wilson says, "spreads misery." And after all the abuse and humiliation, he's had enough.
It's a devastating scene. For most of the episode, House avoided an honest confrontation with Wilson, convinced that Wilson hadn't forgiven him for what happened to Amber. To have House finally admit to being vulnerable, only to find that his best friend doesn't want him around not for any misplaced anger but simply because he is who he is That's as harsh as it gets. House is bastard, no question, but I'm not sure even he deserved this sort of takedown.
So the question remains: does Wilson need House? Hopefully Robert Sean Leonard won't be relegated to the background like the rest of the original cast, as his and Laurie's chemistry has always been excellent. But we'll just have to wait and see.
--So, I'm stepping in for Noel this season. Cool? Cool.
--These normally won't be up so quick; hooray for screeners.