Apparently, the House gods have been reading my reviews, because after my comment last week that I hoped we’d get a Chase-centric episode soon, this week we get, “Nobody’s Fault,” an event episode that kinda sorta hinges on everybody’s favorite dictator murdering Australian. Not that you’d know it at the start. “Nobody’s Fault” hits us with a series of big ticket gimmicks in the first twenty minutes, starting with a teaser opening full of shots of a patient’s room where some bad stuff went down; then introducing us to the investigator, Dr. Walter Cofield (Jeffrey Wright), who will be interrogating various members of the cast to try and establish just why the stuff went down the way it did. So we’ve got a violent event, a big guest star, and a Rashomon-style structure (although everyone basically tells the same story), on a show which routinely busts out the distractions when it wants us to ignore the hollow heart at its center. With all this going on, it’s easy to miss the fact that Cofield questions House, Park, Adams, Taub, Foreman—but not Chase. In an episode full of melodrama and sarcasm, it’s a nicely subtle bit of misdirection; first you’re wondering about that patient, a poor chemistry teacher who collapses while jogging. Then suddenly, you’re wondering what happened to Chase.
Despite the splashy ads, the presence of Wright, and the fact that this episode was available pre-airing for critics (which only ever happens when Fox is trying to drum up interest for a big deal ep), “Nobody’s Fault” never feels all that shocking or dangerous. We’ve tread on this ground before. Chase gets critically injured attempting treatment of a new patient, and House and his team are called on the carpet to determine if House’s behavior was in any way responsible for the stabbing. Since a verdict of fault would result in House getting sent back to prison, we can be reasonably certain there’s no way in Hell that’s going to happen. The tension then comes from watching the show try and balance House’s abrasive attitude and general misanthropy against the need to find some way to keep him on staff. (In a way, House is as much about the battle between its protagonist and the status quo as it is about medical mysteries.) But, again, because all of this is old news—House’s casual racism, the prank war against Chase, his willingness to push experimental treatments if he thinks they could be useful, his supposed callousness about human life—there’s not a lot of tension to be found. Jeffrey Wright is a terrific actor, and, like Andre Braugher, manages to bring some dynamism to a character who is, given the needs of the series, basically superfluous. It’s just that nothing Cofield decides here is going to have much impact, and watching yet another person be shocked at House’s behavior is predictable to the point of tedium. We know he’s an ass, and learning that strangers also think he’s an ass doesn’t change our understanding of the character, or the world he lives in, in any way.
What’s really odd is that the episode’s biggest dramatic twist, Chase’s chest wound and subsequent temporary paralysis, fees about as familiar as Cofield’s shock, even though, as far as I can remember, Chase hasn’t ever been stabbed before. Occasionally doctors on House get injured or sick, and it’s never really been a plotline that’s yielded great returns. (I vaguely liked the two-parter in the first season when Foreman got infected, but even that seemed a little more ridiculous than effective.) Here, it’s such a blatant plea for the audience’s horror and sympathy that it’s almost embarrassing. Jesse Spencer does what he can, looking suitably distraught and strained, but instead of being concerned for the fate of a regular character, I found myself annoyed at how thoroughly the episode’s structure overplayed its hand. The actual stabbing was a decent shock, but everything afterwards felt diminished by the fact that we’d spent an entire episode waiting for this to happen. A more traditional patient-of-the-week structure might have helped to insulate the sequence; if we weren’t expecting something incredibly important, maybe all of this would’ve seemed actually important. As it is, I was kinda sad that nobody exploded.
Were there good points? Sure, it was watchable, and as mentioned, Wright was very strong. I especially liked the way the episode ended, as for once, House was faced with the possibility of getting off the hook completely and refused to accept it. He figured out what was wrong with the initial patient of the week during one of his interviews with Cofield, and managed to get that information to the patient’s less than amused wife just in time, and of course he’s right, and of course that patient’s wife busts in during the sentencing phase of the hearing (which is apparently entirely done by one man?), to tell everyone that House, though a bastard, gets results. Cofield caves, and the status quo returns, except House actually calls him on caving. On the surface, it’s self-destructive behavior, because he risks upsetting a man who could easily send him back to prison, but below that, it’s actually a somewhat promising development, especially considering what happens next: he goes and apologizes to Chase.
It’s a small moment, and the show has given House these minor acts of grace before, but it’s a better ending than simply leaving things at “Well, you’re crazy, but you get results,” so credit where it’s due. I’m not sure how much time the show will invest in Chase’s rehabilitation, but I’m hoping it won’t be too long, as watching a guy learn how to walk again isn’t really all that fun. The major fault of “Nobody’s Fault” isn’t the story, but the way the strained attempts at intensity keep drawing attention to the show’s inherent flaws. House is not in real danger, because House doesn’t exist world of real consequences (even his trip to jail had no real lasting effect; the show uses it as a potential threat, but it’s never a plausible one), and the series has become so much about its leading man that it’s secondary characters generally feel like cardboard cutouts, attractive in their way but rarely all that worth of our passion. House works best now when it keeps stakes low, acknowledges its foolishness, and just goes about having some fun and letting us enjoy Hugh Laurie. The big drama is gone; best to go out with some dignity.
- Very odd not having Wilson around this week. Maybe he was at a conference.