This could’ve been a great episode. The cold open was solid—a chef-in-training passes out during a lecture, and for an added bonus, diagnoses her symptoms while they happen. And the ending, with Wilson finding the courage to finally wash the last cup on the counter, was a moving reminder of the heights House can achieve when it finds the right focus. It’s too bad that so much of the stuff in between those highpoints had to be so irritatingly flat. “The Greater Good” is supposedly about the way the choices we make affect our lives, but too often, it was just another entry in the on-going adventures of Foreman, 13, and their increasingly boring romance.
Essentially, there are two episodes going on here. One is classic House; there’s a patient whose decisions force the staff to reconsider their own lives, and there’s some House and Cuddy in-fighting. “Classic” doesn’t mean “perfect,” but at least it was generally engaging and thematically consistent, and even occasionally achieving moments of depth. The other episode is a bunch of whacked out bullshit with 13 having horrible apparent side-effects from the trial drug, developing a tumor, forcing Foreman to admit he made a mistake, curing the tumor with radiation, and resetting back to ground zero before the end credits. This ep wasn’t particularly engaging; while House himself remains fun to watch, Olivia Wilde just isn’t a good enough actress to pull off the hoops required of her here. In her defense, it’s about three months worth of events crammed into one week—I don’t know if anybody could’ve done that and made it work.
Dana Miller is a former cancer researcher who, after a life-threatening illness, decided to leave her job to do the things she really wants. This does not including bleeding profusely from every orifice, or scratching her head right down to the brain, which is unfortunate, since those are the things she’s doing now. Unsurprisingly, some of the staff gets pissy with Dana for leaving research when she was apparently very close to a cure; operating off the “Great Man” theory that gave us John Connor in the Terminator movies (ie, things are accomplished by lone individuals, and are not simply the result of developing social pressures), Taub, Kutner, 13, and even Wilson all seem to think that by turning her back on her former work, Dana basically murdered a whole bunch of people suffering from the cancer she could’ve cured. As always with House, common sense takes a back seat in favor of expressing points in the most aggressive manner possible. The woman appears to be dying; maybe this isn’t the best time for riot act recitations.
This wouldn't be season five if we didn’t have some Chuddy shenanigans going down. Tonight’s were decent; Cuddy decides to open a prank war against House for, in her mind, forcing her to stick with her job instead of staying at home with her baby. As Wilson points out, the logic here is a trifle forced. House is the same person he always is—there was no indication that he acted out in an attempt to get Cameron to quit, and he didn’t seem particularly despondent that Cuddy had gone part time. She seems to be being pissy for pissy’s sake, and what’s worse, she’s actually really vicious about it. House’s pranks generally stuck to the “plastic wrap on the toilet seat” level; annoying, and potentially uncomfortable, but never actually physically debilitating. In “Greater Good,” Cuddy screws with the elevator, steals House’s cane, puts a trip-wire into his office, and even has the utilities at his house shut down for the night.
That’s some nasty stuff, and for the first time in a while, I found myself actively disliking Cuddy. I do appreciate the implication that she’s just not any good at playing House’s games; sure, her “pranks” are successful, but they violate the basic rules of prankdom, as they’re more mean than annoying. Cuddy’s eventual apology was passable, but not all that sincere even before we got into the PMS bit. Cuddy has always been sort of a blank slate for the writers, as apart from the basic, “career woman who puts up with House” template, her character rarely stays consistent very long. If I’d had more of a sense of why she felt she had to screw around, the arc would’ve worked better.
But at least it was better than the Foreman/13 plot. Last week he swapped out her meds; this week, she’s losing peripheral vision, and getting a tumor that blocks her vision. The Lord’s judgement cometh right quick, apparently. Did anybody else find this patently absurd? ‘Cause I sure did. House subplots work best when they at least flirt in the general direction of realism; in the “Euphoria” two-parter, Foreman getting sick at the pothead cop’s apartment was over-dramatized, but it developed in a sensible way. Here, we’re ignoring sense in favor of unaffecting melodrama, and the results are thoroughly lame. We’re we actually supposed to care when 13 lost her sight? I was even hoping she’d die by the end; instead, she’s back to “normal,” and Foreman gets to keep his license. 13’s still got Huntington’s, and Foreman can’t do any more clinical trials, so I’m sure we’re all glad we went on that particular journey.
The best parts of “Greater Good” were also the shortest ones. After confronting Dana about her decision to leave research, Taub starts having his own doubts; we see him and his wife talking over having kids in two separate scenes, and it’s low-key, but convincing. Taub is fast becoming my favorite member of New Coke—he’s a grown-up, for one. I especially like the little we’ve seen of his home life. We get enough to give us a sense of him outside the hospital, but not so much that he gets boring.
Then there’s Wilson. We haven’t heard much about Amber’s death lately, and it’s easy to assume that he’s made his peace with things. He hasn’t, of course; it’s just that we only ever seem to see him when he’s dealing with House and/or Cuddy, and House in particular isn’t someone who invites a lot of personal disclosure. But after blowing up at the PotW, and then meekly apologizing to her later on, he realizes there has to be some kind of change in his life. He’s still living in Amber’s apartment, and he hasn’t moved anything since she died. That’s why the cup moment is so nice; it’s never explicitly referenced (Wilson just tells Dana that he hasn’t moved anything since Amber passed way), but we know how much it means when he washes it. That’s the kind of show this used to be—one that managed to compromise between the nature of life (which is change) and the nature of ongoing drama (which is to promise change but never deliver) by giving us the small developments that we all can recognize from our own existence.
I keep hoping we’ll get back to more of that, but I’m not holding my breath.
--Man, Cuddy must have elves working for her to pull of some of those tricks.
--Is it just me, or is Olivia Wilde creepy when she acts happy?
--House to Cuddy: “Rationalization Man needs a faithful sidekick.”
--The PotW had Ectopic endometriosis. Almost forgot—but then, so did the episode.