Welcome to Dissecting House: a blog dedicated to the television show House MD, where analytical reviews of season 8 episodes are posted weekly.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

A Reflection on The Final Problem: 'Everybody Dies'

'Everybody Dies' breaks the prescription mould of the procedural episode at PPTH. The episode begins with House in the dark, lying on a cold, dirty floor. From the dusty, dark quality of the opening scene there is a sense that the episode will take place, for the most part, in the shadows. House wakes up to find Kutner standing over him, a suicidal reference to his state of mind. In a TVLine Interview Shore describes how the hallucinations interact with reality, most amusingly when Kutner sticks a piece of gum on the sole of the dead patient's shoe. The patient, a heroin addict, works as a parallel for House himself. He pushes everyone in his life away and is openly an addict. However, he offers to take the fall for House's flooding prank when House tells him he's dying. He was prepared to sacrifice himself, as House does for Wilson. In true Housian fashion, the medicine appears to be more important than the patient, and House is compelled to tell him that he will live, only to continue uncovering the mystery, or so he says. So onto plan B.

As a reflection of the Holmsian detective style, there is no straightforward search for the truth. The episode is fragmented and does not happen in chronological order. In great part, the episode takes place in House's mind. Wilson dying of cancer forces House to reassess his own life, and when forced to go back to jail, he must either accept his fate or fight against it. As we all know 'dying changes everything', so in a true homage to Conan Doyle's 'Reichenbach Falls' and in a similar way to Moffat's modern day Sherlock, House decides to create a scenario in which his 'death' allows for a new life and time spent with Wilson. House sacrifices his chances of ever practicing medicine again, of living his past life, for Wilson. In the end, what makes life worth living for many of us, are the human connections we have (we need the eggs). 

I watched the episode in a more or less paralysed mental state. I was terrified of what the end would mean, not only for House, but for myself and so many others. Now comes the time when I admit that I initially interpreted the episode in a completely different way from the way it was intended. For me, House was hallucinating and seeing all those who had meant something to him in his past, and who represented a part of his subconscious, after tripping for the last time on heroin (a tribute to Holmes, no doubt). I believed that ironically, the moment he decided to live, to go on, despite knowing he would lose his friend, was the moment it was too late. I thought the plan to run away, continuing with the Thelma and Louise analogy from 'The C Word', was a plan that could never happen, created by House in hope. I wasn't under the impression House died when the building collapsed, (especially as a friend suggested a Holmsian ending), I believed it at the end, almost like a triple bluff or inception. I believed that what were supposed to be misleading clues, ie Dr. Nolan at Mayfield, were in the end real ones. What also led me to believe this was the song used at the end, what I like to call 'Amber's Song', 'Enjoy Yourself' (It's later than you think): the song she sang repeatedly to House while he was hallucinating in season 5. It has a melancholic tone which really tugs at the heart strings. The 'Dead Poets Society' reference, although more aptly applicable to Wilson, also made me question House's end.  But House survived the fire, and the torments of his mind and what's to come. This way the end is more open, fans can write endings for themselves, for the fates of House and Wilson. After all, Kutner does say: 'Death's not interesting. You exist for what's interesting.'

What I really enjoyed was the embedding of stories and the metaphors throughout the episode. House crashing through the weak floorboards becomes a metaphor for two stories: when House crashes through one floor to the other it suggests that it was a facade, a fake floor. The real floor lies beneath, representing the escape plan. The constant images of fire appear to signify an all encompassing destruction or end, the hell House is currently living in. The truth, that House is alive, becomes buried under piles of wood and burnt debris. When the building collapses two crosses can be seen in the framework of the wood, side by side, seemingly to mark House and Wilson. In addition, the repetition of House: 'He's happy', Amber: 'He's dead' points to House's plan to 'kill himself'. Only after the fake death can he be free and potentially happy with Wilson. House's understanding that their fates lie in his hands appears to come just after the moment in which Wilson tells him there is only one person he can count on. The axiom 'Everybody Lies' is present throughout, indicating the fake story.

I have to say, I did miss seeing Cuddy, she was such an important person to House. So it was fitting that she was at least referenced as one someone who really impacted House's life. Stacy's scenario was surreal. Seeing House hold his would-be child demonstrated just how much that life was not for him. House's mind can't help but think of a parallel life he could have lived, a life in which Wilson would not be dying. In 'The C Word' Wilson breaks down in a sort of existential crisis about how the universe is unfair and the pointlessness of life. In 'Holding On' House goes as far as to present fake patients Wilson saved, at the cafeteria, to show Wilson just how much his life has meant. House constantly asks Wilson (and others) to sacrifice for him throughout the series, Vicodin prescriptions, lying, alibis, covers... But in the final episode House makes the ultimate sacrifice for Wilson. As Foreman says in 'Holding On': 'Enduring pain to do some good for someone you care about...isn't that what life is?'

I loved seeing Amber again, she was one of my favourite characters, especially as I am absolutely fascinated by House's mind and how it works. In 'Blowing the Whistle' I was convinced House's MRI prank was a way to check whether he was ok, as he showed real fear that his mental capacity and ability to practice medicine was declining. In clever Housian style, while House was worried for himself, and our focus was on him, Wilson was silently suffering with cancer, and the news came like a knife to the heart. So in 'Everybody Dies' we see a focus again on House's mind, on his ability to fabricate a fake death and get out of the back door of a burning building, magician style.

It was interesting to see Cameron again, playing with reverse psychology, telling House to give up like Wilson did. As it would be the last thing Cameron would say it was a suggestion that House couldn't possibly die, things would be the opposite of how they seemed. The funeral scene was touching, especially as the last thing House says before his fake death is that he can change, something he has fought against throughout the entire series. There is a bitterness that House is so selfish to end his own life, which is disproven when he survives. It was also odd, again surreal. It somehow showed that this scenario was a mask for what was really happening. The text Wilson receives from House was truly Housian: 'shut up you idiot'. Basically code for 'I love you'.

I really liked the scene where Foreman finds House's name tag and understands what he had seen: the crashing down of burning planks crushing House, when Wilson and himself stood before the building was an illusion created by perspective. Regardless of all their arguments, they were friends, and it's great to see him happy for House.

Seeing Wilson ride off into the distance with House was a bittersweet moment. House has always been weary of happiness, how short lived it can be, but this is a reminder of how much Wilson has represented happiness for House throughout their friendship. We also see that life goes on, Taub works things out with his daughters' mothers, Chase becomes the head of diagnostics, the wheel keeps turning. What a fantastic and complex ending to the show.

The Warren Zevon song is so incredibly fitting: 'Keep Me In Your Heart (For A While)', and there is no doubt that we will. Thank you to David Shore for creating such a profound and complex character, an antihero unlike any other. Thank you to all the writers, actors, directors and crew who have worked so hard on this global phenomenon of a show. Thank you to the fans, and now friends, who have made this experience even more special for me. Thank you to Hugh Laurie for being absolutely brilliant and for making me laugh, cry and most importantly, think.

Goodbye House MD.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

'Holding On' Episode Review

Holding On begins with Wilson waking up, rather than a dramatic POTW opening scene. Wilson's case is the dramatic focus of the episode and we see this constantly through House's refusal to take on another case. At the beginning of the episode Wilson tells House that he will not have any more chemotherapy, because five months living is better than a year in excruciating pain at the hospital.

This week's patient, a nineteen year old cheerleader, is admitted with a massive nosebleed and dizziness. Initially he will represent a parallel to Wilson. House refuses to take his case, telling the team that 'my best friend is trying to kill himself'. House counters Adams' thoughts about dying with dignity with 'there's no such thing', a shout out to the pilot episode, in which he says the same thing to Rebecca Adler (purposeful Holmes re-reference?), the school teacher. The POTW in this episode is shown to hear voices because of activity in the audio section of his brain. Bear with me when I say that the patient appears to simultaneously parallel both House and Wilson. These audio 'hallucinations' led me to think of how House would feel if Wilson died, which was compounded by the fact that the patient tries to kill himself because he will no longer hear his brother inside his head after surgery. Although the connection was fabricated, it was still incredibly meaningful. With the connection broken forever he no longer wants to live. Throughout the episode House begs Wilson to accept treatment because he needs him. House is fully aware and open to admit his dependence on Wilson. Similarly, Wilson needs House to accept that he's dying and to be there for him until the end. Therefore, when the patient tries to kill himself, this reminds House of Wilson and he explodes in a rage of uncontrollable emotion and begins to strangle the patient to force him to fight for his life, to want to survive. On the other hand, the fact that the patient does survive may represent the fact that despite an excruciating struggle, House could survive (although I'm still not convinced he could) without the presence of the voice of conscience that makes his life worth living. He tells Wilson at the end that he's the only one he listens to. In a moving scene at the end we also see the patient's mother accept to talk about the death of his brother, to face reality, just as House must do with Wilson.

In a Known Unknowns fashion House drugs Wilson for what he believes is his own good. Wilson's expression is priceless just before he's knocked out and House hooks him up to what appears to be chemo but turns out to be a sedative. He wanted to show Wilson what it would be like to be dead, no dreams no thoughts, nothing forever more...without the waking up part. Of course, House being House, it's not a completely selfless act because he wants Wilson to be there for him five months on, rather than dead. It was the cafeteria scene that really reinforced the fact that Wilson is dying. The point is not whether the patients were fake or not, but the fact that House went to the trouble to show Wilson just how much he matters, how many lives he's saved. I felt utterly choked by that moment, tears and all. 

Thirteen makes an appearance and convinces House that the most important thing is to be loyal to Wilson, just as he supported her by forcing her to live life as she wanted to. Just before she walks in House is watching a cancer patient enduring chemotherapy, which demonstrates a further awareness of how much his friend would suffer. Before she meets House, Thirteen tells Wilson that he should start the chemo, two weeks on two weeks off and then reassess, but Wilson is sure he wants to just live his life, with his friend, so Thirteen passes the message onto House.

House pretends to admit defeat and organises a nostalgic dinner to celebrate their friendship, toasting 'to climbing the hill'. Wilson realises his ulterior motive and breaks down. House's outburst about the chronic pain he feels and the fact that he's considered ending it many times emphasises just how much Wilson means to him, because he never gave up. House plays a beautiful melancholic piece on the piano which preempts his acceptance of Wilson's decision to live his life without chemo.

A clever man once said that in an excellent plot the end is implicit in the beginning, in cyclical form. Yet the thread only becomes apparent when you reach the end. At the beginning Foreman gives House tickets for a game which is 'one month after Wilson's expiration date', to show him that others care for him besides Wilson. At the absolutely ground shattering end, the mischief House causes with the tickets results in a catastrophic destruction of hospital property. Just as House had begun to accept Wilson's fate he is confronted with his own. This criminal destruction of property is a violation of parole and he faces six month in prison, as many months as Wilson is likely to survive... I can honestly say that I did not see that coming. What an absolutely fantastic and moving episode.

Incredibly excited, sad, curious, nervous, emotions ad infinitum to see Everybody Dies. The end is nigh, and it's a hard pill to swallow.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

'Post Mortem' Episode Review

At the beginning of the episode, attached to the very open demonstration of death and loss, was a mixed feeling of horror and realism. Death staring at you in the face. Dr. Treiber begins the autopsy of a woman whose time of death has just been called. We explicitly see her heart being excised from her chest. The image of her heart being ripped out of her body makes me think of how House feels about Wilson dying of cancer. Dr. Treiber slices open his face during what seems to be a psychotic break, which House dismissively diagnoses as 'walking corpse syndrome'; another dark parallel to Wilson's current situation. Treiber won't trust anyone but House to take his case as he is obsessed with medical conduct and malpractice. Treiber is absolutely meticulous in his work, to the point where the final diagnosis comes in part from the soap with which he obsessively washes his hands. The soap, combined with the energy drink he consumes to stay sharp, causes hypothyroidism.

Wilson decides he will be 'indifferent', a term he uses throughout the episode to prove that he is letting go of any concerns, any feelings towards other people, in order to live a selfish and careless life. His overuse of the word indicates just how impossible it is for him to stop caring. Wilson buys, or more likely hires, a convertible red corvette to go on a road trip. He forces House to join him. Usually House would be raring to go, but from the moment Wilson adopts this 'new' attitude House's concern for him grows. Wilson says he wants to go and see Julie Christie, who he's had a crush on since he was young. He later admits that this is just an excuse to stay away from the hospital, as he's supposed to have an MRI of his thymoma in three days. Everything at the hospital reminds him of how real his cancer is, so he creates a false persona, Kyle, as a form of escapism. This was the guy who got the girl in high school. So, 'Kyle' eats the biggest steak anyone has ever seen, has a threesome, drives his car recklessly until it crashes. From the moment the car crashes everything becomes real again, the anger and frustration have been expelled (see 'Moving On'). On a side note, I thought it was interesting that House was knocked unconscious by the car crash. This might later be relevant.

Wilson can no longer show indifference and instead of abandoning an old lady with Alzheimer to get a taxi back, he stays, because that's who he is, and as the House axiom suggests, people don't change. Just as the lady would remember nothing and Wilson's kindness would have no lasting impact on her life, his friendship, and his acts of persistence and kindness have also rescued House many times, and in his case are life changing. Wilson doesn't abandon the lady just as he could never really abandon House. House pretends to be angry about missing the taxi, but on the bus he talks about how Kyle would probably have abandoned him (but Wilson hasn't). Throughout this Thelma and Louise-like adventure House looks at Wilson with expressions of deep fear and apprehension. Wilson is, in part, acting like House, and the reflection is disconcerting. Wilson goes overboard when he overtakes a very serious, solemn funeral procession to feel free, to let go of everything and just live for the moment.

Throughout the episode the team are looking for the cause of Dr. Treiber's condition, and Chase believes that the answer most likely lies with the corpses in the morgue. This would suggest that the dead not only emotionally but physically affect the living. Dying changes everything. This of course makes me think of House and Wilson. However, just as the corpses are not responsible for Dr. Treiber's symptoms perhaps what is happening to Wilson won't develop quite how we might believe. The House writers have this fantastic ability to create scenarios that we could never see coming, or at least not their full impact or extent. Chase heads up the diagnostic team and proceeds with treating Treiber as though he were representing House's orders. Treiber makes him consider his life as a doctor and how, by now, he should have progressed to running his own diagnostics team. The Chase arc in season 8 has been fantastic in my opinion, his relationship with House after the stabbing and in 'Blowing the Whistle' show the extent of how much Chase has grown and learnt. At the end when Chase is saying goodbye to House it was hard not to feel a pang in the chest, to see him thanking House, and seeing House recognise how much the experiences they've had have meant, with a Housian quip, a look and a handshake. It was even more poignant considering this is nearly goodbye for us as well.

By the end of the episode I thought I might go into tachycardia. The tension was overwhelming as I watched House cut his sentence short and stare at the monitor and then at Wilson. His solemn face of shock virtually unreadable. Has the tumour grown despite the drastic measures? Has it shrunk to virtual insignificance? Are there more tumours? It's hard to say. As I've said previously I don't think House can live without Wilson. For me, one of the most poignant moments of the episode was on the bus, when House says he could live without Kyle, implying he couldn't live without Wilson.

The writing and acting in this episode were phenomenal. The expressions House gives Wilson have ingrained themselves in my memory. The attempt to have fun and be carefree is tinged with the bitterness of a reality that awaits them, and us. Only two episodes left...

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

'The C Word' Episode Review

The patient this week is a six year old girl Emily who has a rare genetic disease (AT). As she is a double carrier of the gene marker it means she doesn't present with the usual symptoms. Emily convinces her dad to let her ride the carousel at the park. After spells of dizziness she begins to have a nosebleed and collapses. Emily's parents are separated, and following the Season 8 theme of  'parents', hers argue constantly about her health and well being. In simplistic terms, it could be argued that the father represents the 'heart', taking an interest in his daughter's emotions, while the mother is the 'head', taking interest in her daughter's medical condition. The constant back and forth demonstrates the necessary interplay of the two. Her mother is a doctor who specialises in Emily's genetic condition. She joins the team. Although she tries to distance herself by referring to Emily as 'the patient' we see the impossibility of objectivity in the case. This parallels Wilson's cancer treatment. He refuses to follow medical advice and believes that he can be his own doctor. House highlights the insanity of his plan to endure a double treatment of chemotherapy and radiation because of the extreme side effects and a much higher risk that it might kill him. Wilson can't be objective despite being an oncologist. In a moving scene he picks up mementos of patients with high survival rates who passed away.

The mother takes matters into her own hands and treats Emily with a drug that is not FDA approved in her own home, which is a mirror to House accepting to treat Wilson at his apartment. It demonstrates the inevitability of loving someone so much that your heart overrides your head. In both cases these drastic treatments momentarily appear life saving (the Lex-2 was keeping Emily's lime disease at bay and Wilson appears stronger at the end), but Emily still has AT and Wilson still has cancer.

The team works with the help of Emily's mom Elizabeth, but we see a striking moment of House's empty chair. Chase takes over the diagnostics and ends up solving the case by finding a benign tumour in Emily's heart. The ducklings have proven that they can handle even an incredibly intricate case on their own. Strikes a chord about the end...

The scenes in House's apartment were incredibly moving. To see House give Wilson his Vicodin was heartbreaking in the best possible way; putting Wilson first, suffering alongside him and doing everything he can, truly demonstrated the depth of their friendship. In his Housian way he even tries to dissuade Wilson from taking the drastic route by bluntly stating all the agonising pain he will suffer. When Wilson begins to talk about dying and the implications this will mean for House legally (as Wilson is taking  lethal chemicals in his apartment) House replies that 'that's not going to be an issue'. Now, in my opinion, there are several ways of interpreting this. House jokes about dumping the body, but I think either he refuses to believe Wilson will die, or, and it gets darker here, if Wilson dies he would kill himself (as his life would no longer be worth living)... Back to the humour, in the wonderful Housian fashion, House manages to joke about how if Wilson's confessing his gay love for him, everybody already knows.

Wilson always imagined he would have wife and kids to support him during his old age or infirmity. Again, House comes out with 'you have everything you need right here. We both do.' Touching moment followed by 'industrial strength pain killer' just shows brilliance in writing. Wilson hallucinates about his eight year old patient who dies of cancer, who he told that things would get better and he would be ok. Wilson's fears are infiltrating his unconscious and manifesting themselves as hallucinations because of the drugs. He feels helpless, like a child. At the peak of his suffering he implicitly tells House that he should be the one with cancer, that if he (Wilson) had been an ass all his life who made people suffer and pushed them away, then he would deserve cancer. Another part of  the human condition, the fear of death. Wilson takes out his anger on House because of the apparent absurdity of it all; including the dark irony (as I mentioned after last week's episode) of an oncologist getting cancer. He suffers an existential crisis about the meaning of life and why the universe would do this to him, and realises the hypocrisy of telling his patients not to think about why. Wilson is dying, his white blood cell count is dangerously low but he makes House promise he won't take him to the hospital. In what he believes could be his dying moment, all he wants is to be there and have House by his side. As the sun rises bright in the sky the next morning it tells us that Wilson has lived through the night, and that House has sacrificed a lot for his best friend. But he'd rather 'tone down the bromance' so we'll leave it at that.

I loved the ending because it was so wonderfully inappropriate and funny. I laughed and almost cried simultaneously. Housian dark humour at its best. House takes pictures of Wilson unconscious, hooked up to the drugs with lots of bikini clad girls and alcohol. Absolutely fantastic episode! It was so well written and I really enjoyed Hugh's direction, especially the close ups and the moments when House and Wilson are looking beyond the camera addressing one another. I have to say the music was great in this episode, really complemented the mood and narrative.

Speculation- This is just a scenario that played in my head, that I thought I'd share. It will sound farfetched and maybe 'denial-y' but once an idea blossoms it sticks no matter how improbable or impossible it sounds. Not saying this is what will happen. Emily talks about how her parents only fight about her, and that maybe when she dies, they will get back together. I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach that it won't be Wilson who dies, it will be House. In my mind, daddy is Wilson and mommy is Cuddy (not in the romantic sense). I think that if there is any chance she is coming back, it would be in the sense that it's 'too late'. Again, I'm not saying this is what will happen and it's based on absolutely NO fact (I'm spoiler free). It's just a scenario. That is all.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

'Body and Soul' Episode Review

A young boy suffers from respiratory trouble after dreaming about a spirit who walks into his room and strangles him. House believes it is Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome which kills males who are of Hmong heritage. It is soon noted that medicine is failing him as none of the treatments work. The grandfather believes that, similarly to his son who murdered his boss with a sledgehammer, his grandson is possessed. When science appears to provide no answer and thus no cure, the boy's mother gives up her reluctance to believe in alternative spiritual treatments. House is extremely distressed that religion could provide a cure science (he) was unable to give. The boy dreams that his grandfather is the one strangling him and when he awakes we see he has red imprints around his neck. We see the effects but not the cause.

The theme of dreams runs throughout the episode and provides scenarios in which Park fantasises about Chase and he fantasises about her, both claiming that dreams don't mean anything. Taub convinces Park that it means trust, security and friendship and so she tries to prove her theory by farting in the elevator. I love Chase's reactions to the things she says. Again we see the effects (sex dreams) but not necessarily the true cause (reason behind) the dream. It leads us perhaps to understand that not everything can be explained and that the 'obvious' explanation doesn't necessarily prove to be the correct one.

We see a further development in House's relationship with Dominika as he feels the bond between them is perhaps stronger than he had previously believed. She likes guns, she reads physics books about one of his favourite subjects, dark matter, and shows true interest and understanding. Notably, Dominika compares the understanding of dark matter, of which we can see only the effect and not the cause to spiritualism and occultism. In a true Housian way, as soon as happiness begins to materialise the ceiling drops. They are about to have sex when Dominika takes a call telling her that her citizenship was approved and that they had sent notifications by post several times. Whether Dominika leaves through feeling betrayed and angry or whether she leaves because that is what she would have done anyway, we never know. House is obviously affected by this and the expression on his face shows that he truly doesn't want her to leave. Once again House sabotages (unconsciously most likely) his relationship with the woman he cares about. He knew that she would find out eventually and that what he had done would upset her. He pushed her away because he's so terrified of happiness. That's not to say he doesn't want to be happy, and he doesn't want to be with her, he just doesn't expect it to last. Cue: Cuddy. The green card thus seems to represent the Vicodin he took when Cuddy was thought to have cancer. It's self preservation, a coping mechanism which is extraordinarily ironic. He precipitates pain only to feel the brute force of its impact.

Following the 'multiple possibilities' theme of the episode, we can't say whether it was the Ibuprofen or the grandfather's exorcism which heals Luke's heart. Adams says it's hard to believe that aspirin could heal him, the mother then says that it's hard for Adams to believe that the spiritual intervention worked. As Taub says 'there were two things we thought were impossible, one of them wasn't, that's all we know.' One of things that I have always loved about House is that when it comes to debates of this genre they never tell us what to think, they present the facts and let us decide. We fill in the blanks in our own ways, according to what makes sense for us.

So we see the beginning of the end. "I have cancer House". Wilson's expression and then House's disbelief. All this time I've been focusing on House being the one who could be ill, who fears that he will become incapable of practising medicine, losing his mind. When in fact he could lose a large part of his heart. Wilson. House has lost a lot of people throughout the years, but I honestly think Wilson's death could kill him. I'm a fan of dark and dramatic as I think its an essential part of Housian nature but it really does hit you hard when you imagine a possible scenario where Wilson is gone and House is alone. It was an incredible scene. I know this arc will be spectacular, one step closer to the end.