Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

House: “Better Half”

Illustration for article titled House: “Better Half”

Halfway through this week’s episode of House, I realized something that impressed the hell out of me. I wasn’t really digging “Runaways”; the main plot was too shrill, and the subplots seemed kind of half-assed and silly in an un-entertaining way. (It all picked up by the end, but that’s beside the point I’m trying make right now.) And yet, whatever my concerns, I wasn’t dreading watching the rest of the episode, and I wasn’t questioning my decision to keep writing about it. This may not sound particularly relevant to the review at hand, because, really, who cares, but when I put these facts together, I discovered that House has accomplished what I no longer thought possible: it has a center again. Watchable TV shows (and by which I mean a whole gamut of stuff, but basically everything that’s decent to great) are watchable for a variety of reasons, but one of the big ones is that they have core world you want to keep coming back to. That world may not be clearly defined, it may not be realistic, it may not be likable, but it’s solid enough that there’s something to see even in the weaker episodes. It feels like we’re watching a long story, as opposed to a lot of random crap thrown out by desperate writers and enacted by bored actors who are just waiting out the rest of the contracts before they can go pretend to be movie stars.

I’d assumed House had destroyed what little remained of its world by the end of last season, but it turns out, I was wrong; or if I was right, everyone in the show has put in a lot of work to build something new. Sure, Dr. Adams is annoying, sure, Hugh Laurie has to do a lot of work to make sure House’s erratic behavior comes across as consistent, and sure, if you honestly care about Taub and his social life, I envy you and want to know what you call “boredom” on your planet. But gone is the sense that has haunted this show for two or three seasons now that all of this was scrabbled together five minutes before filming, or that each new plot twist was some desperate attempt to drum up drama and interest without any real justification. (Although going by the preview, I guess all bets are off next week.) When stuff didn’t work tonight, I didn’t roll my eyes and consider grabbing a beer from the ‘fridge; I got annoyed because I actually knew they could do better. That really is impressive.

Even better, “Runaways” managed to surprise me with how well it stuck the landing. Both subplots were, for most of the running time, not all that exciting. Foreman struggles with the nature of his current relationship, and Taub struggles with the fact that he finds babies boring as hell. Both of these are passable at the start, but basically pointless, in a way that a lot of the non-House stuff on the show is pointless. But Taub’s story actually got us a couple of funny moments, first with Chase proving he’s capable of charming just about anyone, and then with Taub actually going to Wilson to advice. And Foreman’s story turned out to be less about House blackmailing Foreman for power-struggle purposes, and more about Foreman realizing once more that he’s nowhere near as sane as he likes to think he is. That’s a road the show has traveled down many times, but I liked his attempts to restore his affair to affair-status after his lover told her husband what was going on. (House read this as wanting the adrenaline rush of cheating back, which is probably true, but it also would be sort of humiliating to keep hooking up with a woman when she’s not so much having an affair with you as she is using your penis as a therapy tool to improve her marriage.) And while I could be reading too much into it, I also liked the subtle possibility that House is trying to rile Foreman up for his (Foreman’s) benefit. I dunno, maybe House is poking him to make him realize he needs to get his stuff together, or risk spending the rest of his life alone and limping.

Then there was the patient of the week storyline. This one was problematic for me for most of the episode, because it turned into the Dr. Adams Do-Gooding Hour, and that didn’t do much for her character or the audience. A teenage runaway goes to clinic hours for shortness of breath, and House catches her bleeding out of her ear. He checks her into the hospital, the usual barrage of incorrect diagnoses ensue, and Adams gets it into her head that it’s absolutely vital to track down Callie’s birth mother. Which, eventually, she does, and then there’s a lot drama over it; Mom is an ex-drug addict, Callie doesn’t trust her despite her promises, and when it comes to a question of treatment, Mom ignores House, listens to Adams’ diagnosis (which requires a presumption of heavy drinking on Callie’s part), and overrides her daughter.

This was frustrating to watch. Adams self-righteousness was unpleasant, and worse, there was every indication that she’d be proven right. Only, she wasn’t right, and it was deeply unpleasant to watch Callie’s mother attempt to exert her parental authority in a situation which she knew next to nothing about. In the end, Callie runs away again, and House gives Adams a little lecture about how maybe she should ease off the whole “absolution” thing. Generally, when House threatens his team with firing, the odds are, he’s joking. He’d do it, sure, but it would be to make the joke land, and not because he had serious issues with the employee in question. Here, though, his comments were straightforward enough to have actual moral authority, and whether you agreed with him or not, it was refreshing that the episode allowed both sides some room to speak. “Runaways” wasn’t as strong as last week’s episode, but it was better than I was expecting, and more importantly, it’s decent proof that this new stability isn’t a fluke. This doesn’t make up for the seasons we spent wandering through the horrors of Huddy, nor does it make House great, but at least it’s a show you don’t have to hate yourself for watching anymore. That’s gotta be some kind of a win.

Stray observations:

  • Talkin’ ‘Bout The Preview For Next Week’s Episode: I’m torn. On the one hand, it’s got all the signs of being another stunt episode, where Something Incredibly Serious Happens, but doesn’t really happen at all. On the other hand, Geoffrey Wright is the man. Here’s hoping.
  • I completely forgot to mention the subplot with the Civil War re-enactors. It was enjoyably silly, and I dig this season’s renewed focus on the clinic. (Serious question: are progressive re-enactors actually a thing?)
  • Realizing the risks inherent in the request, I hope Chase gets another focus episode. He’s the only character outside of House to have been with the show from the beginning and stayed mostly intact, give or take the occasional murdered African dictator.
  • Turtle races?
  • “Your patients love you because you are empathetic.” “I also have kind eyes.”