There are few pleasures left to the long-term House watcher who isn't a firm believer in the Church of Chuddy. (Yes, yes, I know. It's "Huddy." I just really liked the alliteration there.) There's Wilson, who's one of the few characters who's managed to stay interesting for the entire run of the show. There's House's team, whose members sometimes have their moments, although whenever anyone gets a long term plotline, it's usually dreadful. There are the structural gimmicks the series has grown to rely on more and more in recent years, generally as a way to distract from a lack of compelling stories to tell—still, shiny is shiny, and "Wilson," which spent the hour focusing on Robert Sean Leonard's cancer doc and left House on the sidelines, was pretty solid. And then, of course, there's House himself. The writing has grown increasingly inconsistent over the years, but Hugh Laurie still turns in compelling work every week, and out of all of these, he's really the only reason I stick around.
"Last Temptation" only really tries for one of these pleasures, giving us a secondary character perspective episode a la "Wilson." Only this time, it's Masters who takes center stage. 13 is back, and hey, we can only have one lady-person on the team, so Masters has to go. Although that's not how the show officially presents the issue. Instead, we're told she has to make a decision between becoming a surgical intern and staying with House. So we get to spend a couple of days following her around, watching her be nerdy in a way that, once upon a time, I'm pretty sure I thought was adorable, but now, I definitely no longer do. Ha-ha, she recites medical jargon when she wakes up in the morning to drill herself! What a nutty over-achiever. At least in this episode, somebody has the decency to make fun of her clothes.
Generally, I've liked the show's attempts to push outside the box, procedural-wise. Like I said, I dug "Wilson," and I liked some of the ideas of "5 to 9," although Cuddy's hopelessly compromised character made it significantly less fun to watch. But the novelty has worn off, and, much as I hate to admit it, Masters just isn't interesting enough on her own to support this kind of attention. She was at first. The idea of House meeting up with a relentlessly honest, idealistic young doctor had some potential, and it was nice having a female regular on the show whose attractiveness wasn't one of the main focuses of her character. But Masters quickly became the definition of one note, and her nervous, twitchy neediness went from idiosyncratic to irritating fairly quickly. In "Temptation," she's given more to do than normal, and Amber Tamblyn does her best to rise to the occasion, but something about her was just... off. I needed a little more spine. Having her and House square off against each other was a little too much like, well, a dog going after a chicken.
My main issue with the episode, then, is that for all its Daring! Medical! Decisions!, it was kind of boring. Or maybe not boring, exactly; just not all that much fun to watch. Masters' going back and forth about where she wanted to work was never all that suspenseful, because ultimately, it didn't matter. Sure, she decides to leave in the end, which means she won't ever be on the show again (well, apart from the inevitable cameo in the series finale), but she's been disposable since roughly her second or third appearance. Her struggle with House for her integrity never lived up to its potential, and I found myself unable to care whether she stayed or went. Beyond her tics and winces, there wasn't quite enough of a personality there to be invested in, and the conflict between her and House was never clear enough to really be a conflict, beyond House just saying the opposite of whatever she thought he was going to say when she talked to him.
That's it right there: Was House the wise mentor figure, trying to lead his naive young charge down the path to wisdom? Or was he the corrupt devil, trying to damn her soul through compromise and lies? Or, hell, even some mix of the two. Too often, the writers simply write House as "the guy who says the worst thing every time" and leave it at that. I left this episode without any clear idea of whether he gave a damn if she was around or not, and while I understand that he approved of her, quite frankly, bizarrely immoral "I'll fake a cardiac arrest in the patient, so I can force her parents to allow me to cut off her arm" ploy, I don't really know why. I guess he wanted to convince her that being an exceptional doctor means putting the good of the patient above your ethical standards, but what it really came across as was apathy. He was too busy chasing chickens with Wilson. Masters was, at best, a minor distraction.
I suppose there's some satisfaction in the fact that Masters left on her own terms in the end, despite having chosen to go against seemingly everything she stood for. (Speaking of, that whole case was bizarre. Not only are the odds of a teenager planning to break a world sailing record developing cancer that required an arm amputation fairly astronomical, but her parents equivocation over whether or not they should force their daughter to get treated seemed designed specifically to place Masters in a moral quandary. I understand not wanting to alienate your daughter, especially if she's strong-willed, but if she'd left the cancer untreated, she was almost certainly going to die. Emancipation can be mended. Death is, well, death.) I'm glad she seemed a little happier in the end. But this show is called House, and ultimately, that's who I'm invested in. He didn't seem to care much what was happening, so why should I? I'd have much rather watched a whole episode focused on that chicken bet.
- Second patientless cold open in a row. They got my letters!
- Aw, House covered for 13 by pretending she was in drug rehab. Such a softie.
- Almost forgot: Wilson does attempt to give all this foolishness some resonance by explaining to Masters that the PotW's situation is a little like House's situation when his girlfriend at the time signed a waiver and he lost some of his leg. Only, House doesn't seem all that interested in the connection himself, and the situations are different enough that the resonance is mostly empty echoes.