House: “Post Mortem”
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House: “Post Mortem”

Until tonight, I hadn’t watched an episode of House in about three years. I don’t want to make a big deal about this. Most of you, I assume, are regular House viewers, and didn’t come here to read about someone who quit on the show. Trust me, I know how annoying that can be. There are long-running shows I still love (in particular Fringe and How I Met Your Mother) that friends of mine have dropped for one reason or another, and whenever they broadcast their indifference on Twitter or what-have-you, I bristle. I take it personally. So I’m not going to dwell on why I stopped watching House, because it’s not all that important.It’s only important for you know that I did quit, so you can credit or discredit this review accordingly. As for why I’m covering House this week, it’s because it used to be part of my original TV Club beat, way back in the fourth season; and with the show about to end, we thought a return visit was in order. But I have to be honest: I stopped watching House regularly about halfway through season five. I watched maybe two or three episodes at the start of season six, and haven’t kept up in any way since, outside of reading about the occasional plot development in the entertainment media. It’s nothing personal; I never thought the show started to suck, necessarily. I just grew tired of the formula, and the constant shuffling of the pieces as a way of suggesting forward motion.

What’s interesting about dropping in here at the end of House’s run is that it’s obvious that there actually has been some forward motion since I watched last. Cuddy is gone, along with Cameron, and 13. The episode helpfully fills us in on where some of these folks have landed, reminding Chase—now back on the team after spending some time in another department—that some of his past teammates have either quit, died, or moved into positions of responsibility. (Foreman, for instance, is now in Cuddy’s old position.) Meanwhile, there’s some sense that the remaining characters may be moving toward a real epiphanic moment in their lives. Wilson, for example, is dealing with a cancer diagnosis. We’re not exactly running in place here.

In fact, one of the big plot-drivers of “Post Mortem” involves Chase’s relative stasis. This week’s patient is the hospital’s intensely analytical coroner Peter Treiber (played by Jamie Elman), who applied many years ago to work with House, and is irritated that Chase has effectively squandered his time on House’s team. Treiber thinks Chase is the best surgeon at Princeton-Plainsboro, and that he should be a medical super-stud right now, not continuing to carry water.

With House away—for reasons I’ll get to in a moment—Chase steps into a leadership position, testing out various reasons why Dr. Treiber might’ve suddenly decided to take a scalpel to his own head while in the middle of an autopsy. Is the culprit the energy drinks that Treiber guzzles down? Has he been exposed to a psychosis-causing virus while cutting up brains in the morgue? With Treiber and Foreman both goading and insulting Chase—playing the House role in their own way—Chase is able to figure out that Treiber’s super-strong antibiotic soap has been provoking a hyperthyroid condition. “House taught us to look for irony,” Chase jokes, but both Treiber and Foreman know that Chase deserves the credit. That’s apparently the push that Chase needs to decide to strike out on his own at last. (Foreman even gives his old-friend-turned-underling an awkward hug, to celebrate.)

The other character trying to embrace change in “Post Mortem” is Wilson, who reacts to an impending CT scan by “embracing the shallow.” He buys a $75,000 sportscar, declares his new persona to be “Kyle Calloway”—not “Rusty Packard,” which House thinks is Wilson’s porn name—and tells House that he’s going to drug him and force him to come with him on a road trip to see his boyhood crush Julie Christie. (“I am indifferent,” he insists.) So even though Wilson can’t really drive a stick-shift, soon he’s lurching his way through the countryside, top down, with House at his side.

I confess to some small disappointment that my return visit to House didn’t include much of House himself, working a case. (Before he leaves, House makes a couple of suggested diagnoses, and then grumbles, “How many times do I have to solve this?”) Then again, House’s extreme methods were getting a little perfunctory by the time I stopped watching the show, so maybe that’s for the best. Plus I’ve always been a fan of the Wilson-House relationship, even when—as is the case for much of “Post Mortem”—it consists of Wilson doing the work while House passively comes along for the ride.

So I did enjoy this “seize the day” version of Wilson, as he eats an 80 oz. steak in an hour—for free!—and puts on a bald cap so that he can trick two women into having a threesome with a dying man. (Of course House actually pays one of the women. But she does give him “a cancer rate.”)

The best part of the whole Wilson storyline is the way he looks the morning after his threesome, with his bald cap ripped and his hair popping out of the holes. It’s not just a funny image; it’s also an indicator that the real Wilson is still lurking beneath his new “Kyle Calloway” façade. While Chase is being forced to acknowledge that it’s time for him change, Wilson feigns a change that he’s not really ready to make. He doesn’t shave his head; he puts on a cap. He crashes his fancy car. He stays with a lonely old woman at a bus stop rather than catching a cab with the last of House’s money to go see Julie Christie. (Also, he admits to House that he was never interested in Christie in the first place; he was actually thinking about a girl he used to like, who went to prom with a guy named, yep, Kyle Calloway.)

Coming back to House after such a long break, I found some signs of what used to exhaust me: namely the persistent problem of how to build a show around such a prickly character without dulling his sharp points too much. House in this episode is actually the least compelling part of it. He does, however, get off one of the key lines in “Post Mortem,” and it’s one of his old standbys. House tells the suspiciously manic Wilson that, “People don’t change. You are a person. Ergo… ” But what does it mean when a person doesn’t change? How does it distinguish them from a dead person—or a person who has what House initially diagnoses Treiber with, “Walking Corpse Syndrome?”

I was glad to see that House is still asking those kinds of questions, by making connections between its cases and the people trying to solve them. At one point, Wilson openly defies death by zooming past a funeral procession, blasting Motörhead. But this episode opens with a dead woman on a table, and it closes with Wilson in the same position, while House sits in stunned silence, looking at Wilson’s CT results. Maybe nothing ever really changes on House. But people do die. Even the walking corpses.

Stray observations:

  • To prep for this review, I looked back at some of my old House pieces. We wrote so very little back then; each review about 800 words, more or less. As I recall, I was done with each in roughly an hour. Times change.
  • This week’s episode was directed by Peter Weller, who gives himself a cameo at the start as the doctor who sends another corpse to Treiber.
  • How long has the color looked so faded on this show? Or is that a problem with my cable? (Or with Peter Weller?)
  • So Charlyne Yi is on the show now, huh? Never been a fan of her shtick, but she seems okay here. (Of course, she doesn’t do that much in this episode.)
  • I laughed at the exchange between Chase and Foreman, when the former says, “We did everything House would’ve done if he’d been here,” and the latter says, “You lied to a patient,” to which Chase gives an affirmative shrug. Exactly.
  • What is the future tense of interesting?
  • Zack will be back next week to start bringing House home. Thank you for indulging me; hope having me on the case again wasn’t too much of a distraction. Enjoy the last two episodes.  

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