I had this opening all planned out. Whenever I watch a show, I try and find something I can latch onto in the introduction, some kind of hook, and lemme tell you, when you've been writing about a series for a couple years, those hooks become harder and harder to come up with. So I'll cheat and do something personal (I think this isn't a terrible approach, honestly, but I also think I overuse it to a certain extent because I always like talking about myself), or I'll just throw some muddled concepts in a pile and hope everybody's already skipped to Stray Observations and commenting. Tonight, though, I had a really super intro ready, about how House's unwillingness to deal directly with his patients has always set this series apart from other medical shows, and how that detachment is part of general unwillingness to get close to anyone. It wouldn't've been Shakespeare, but it would've done the job.
And then Cuddy showed up in the bathroom, and I think I died a little inside, and that intro just vanished.
"Help Me" is strong, no question. I cared about the Patient Of The Week for the first time in a very long while (I'm talking about Hanna, not the crane operator, who was only there to give Coke Zero something to do), and while it was easy to predict at the outset she wasn't going to make it, I was still upset when she died. Partly that's because, once she was rescued from under the building, I assumed she was going to be okay—it's an obvious fake out, but an effective one. Plus, as familiar as so much of this was (how many medical dramas have had an episode with a patient trapped under rubble?), it was done well, and Hugh Laurie was so strong, that it really made Hanna's fate matter.
That it all revolved around a leg didn't hurt. I can see arguing that too much of "Help Me" was on the nose, and there were times when that bothered me. House's last scene with Foreman was just a regurgitation of themes, and Hanna herself wasn't always in focus, but since the episode wasn't really about Hanna, that wasn't a huge problem. She was a symbol, and we were given enough information about her so that she wasn't a complete cipher, and that's all we really needed. It made sense, too, that we didn't really know her. House kept leaving her, and he was focused so much of the time on Cuddy, and there was so much going on, well, it wasn't really a "Getting to know you" scene.
So what does all this tragedy say about House? He was in rare form tonight. The episode opened with him giving Cuddy the book he worked so hard to track down last week, acting like an adult, accepting Cuddy and Lucas's relationship, but of course that wasn't the end of things. A crane disaster forces Cuddy out of the building to help the emergency teams, and House follows, because he thinks there's something off with her. This is probably the most dickish we've seen the good doctor in some time. He helps sort through the injured, decides the crane operator's problems go beyond his immediate injuries, but he also goes off to snack and call Wilson in the middle of everything going to hell. He obsesses over Cuddy's behavior, until he finds out that Cuddy and Lucas are engaged, and then he becomes a complete asshole for a while, instead of just a phony misanthrope.
What interests me here is how "Help" aims to be a culmination of this season's main question: can House be a better man? And if he is, will that improve his life? The first part looks to be a yes. There've been rough patches, but he's opened out more, tried to handle Wilson's situation better, and, most importantly (at least according to the current perspective of the series), he's stayed off the Vicodin. The real tricky part is in whether or not that will make him "happy," and here's where I feel the show really let us down. Cuddy's admission that she's in love with House has both been a long time coming and completely unbelievable, and to have it come tonight, after he was especially cruel to her, is more about wanting to end the season on an up note than it is about a natural character progression. I can buy Cuddy having feelings for House, but the timing here is just strange. I guess because he watched someone die, he finally convinced her to the cause?
Sarcasm aside, though, that aspect of the situation sort of works. It's clunky, and I still don't really buy this flowering of love between the two (I never have), but both actors played it the right way, with Edelstein's resigned affection allowing her to maintain a level of dignity that earlier romantic encounters between the two had omitted. And yeah, I can even believe that this might've been the time when she finally realized she couldn't stay with Lucas, no matter how sensible it was. It changes things when the people you care about are in trouble, and clearly, House needed assistance.
My problem is that it's a cheat. Really, it's my fault for expecting more, as others have pointed out, but it seemed like we came so close to keeping honest. The real reason it's so hard to be a better person, and to engage with the world and risk friendships and all that comes with them, is that the rewards are never as immediate as we need them to be. House was frustrated that his good behavior hadn't changed anything for the better, and that's a reasonable frustration. There's nothing he could've done to save Hanna, even though he swallowed his own rage and shame and made the hard call, even though he sawed off her leg (between this and 24, Fox is really trying to make me earn my Monday night meals), she still died. The truth is, that's how it works. The benefit we get from decency isn't something that can be demonstrated by flat algebra. It isn't a barter system. Having Cuddy show up at the end is too easy, because it's what we all want when we're alone and afraid and miserable. We want the person we love but can't have to show up at our door and change everything, and that's not how life works, and we deserve better than to be lied to by shows like this that pretend to dig deeper.
A better show would've had House getting over his wounded pride and depression some other way, some way that didn't require sudden wish fulfillment, and it would've felt cleaner. But I guess we have to accept this isn't a better show. So next season, Chuddy returns. We'll see how that goes.
- I guess 13's Huntington's is acting up? They must be setting her up for a big dramatic collapse next year, or else they'll write her out of the show. Too bad, because I actually thought she'd be come tolerable. I especially liked her and Taub as buddies.
- Oh, right, the crane operator. Something with his spine. You don't really care, right?
- I've changed the grade here, because of some cowardice on my part, and because I wouldn't really feel comfortable keeping it so high.