Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"House, not the season finale!": House

At the end of its second season, House left us with the suggestion that its titular character would be losing his limp, and lose it he did – for a grand total of two episodes. It was a ridiculous cop-out and one of the several reasons why I disliked House’s third season, to the point of giving up on it halfway through. Despite being repeatedly told my brother David to give it another chance, I never bothered until I was given the task of recapping its fourth season for SDD. It did indeed improve in later episodes, particularly the concluding three. It’s true that last season’s finale (which ended with all three of House’s team either quitting or being fired) suffered from shoddy handling. Nonetheless, I liked it because it was an attempt at resetting the status quo and taking the show in a genuinely new direction. Even though House’s old team members will apparently be back next week, I don’t see this as a disappointment simply because I like them. Before that though, we have a clever and unique season opener to enjoy!

Appropriately titled ‘Alone’, the episode is all about House working on a case without a team behind him for the first time (that we’ve seen, anyway). It’s a jarring and slightly depressing shift – the moment where House writes out the symptoms on the board and then calls out “Go!” to an empty room has a surprising sense of tragedy to it. The whole episode is very pessimistic about House as a character. Shore and co. don’t so much suggest as say outright that without a team to bounce off and abuse, House is just a lonely asshole. The writer’s portrayal of House has rarely pulled punches, but ‘Alone’ is a step up. In one scene, having run out of people to talk to House resorts to shouting out symptoms in the middle of the E.R. After solving the case, he thinks Cuddy has come into his office and says “I did it all by myself, mommy!” only to find that it wasn’t her, and when a second later she does come in, he repeats it again in the same babyish voice. It’s the kind of moment that you really don’t want to think about too much.

At least he’s as funny as ever. In fact, ‘Alone’ is one of the funniest episodes of House in recent memory. This is primarily because it pairs up House and Wilson for a good portion of the screen time. I have always maintained that Wilson is the best (and most underused) of the supporting characters; this week he gets loads to do, such as kidnapping House’s guitar and using it to blackmail House into hiring a new team. The two have been locked in a battle of wills before, but somehow it never gets old. Robert Sean Leonard is fantastic as Wilson, but his chemistry with Laurie brings to mind Laurie’s past partnerships with Stephen Fry – which is a pretty big compliment. House and Cuddy become more tiresome after a while, but it’s still nice to see Edelstein getting plenty to do. And lets not forget Dr Buffer, an obvious but still very funny idea. (The moment where the patient actually addresses him as Dr Buffer had me in hysterics.)

The case this week slightly lets the rest of the proceedings down. House has done the ‘did you really know your partner’ idea before, as has every hospital drama out there. The final shocker at least put a twist on this, revealing that the patient had in fact been wrongly identified and wasn’t related to the people who had been with her. A bit melodramatic maybe, but at least it’s something different. It’s also one of the saddest endings House has ever done - while House succeeded in saving his own patient, the husband’s actual wife turned out to have already died. ‘Alone’ also suffered from some structural problems: without the interactions between House’s team to serve as padding, the pacing felt off and the procession of scenes was occasionally jarring.

Niggles aside, this is still a great premiere and a good indication for what’s to come. A part of me wishes we could have had one or two more episodes before Cameron, Foreman and Chase show up, but another part of me is really excited for their return. And the promise of House putting new team candidates through a torturous application process is positively titillating. Barring any sudden downturns in quality, I think House is back on strong form.

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