Season Premiere — House, “Now What”

The season seven premiere of House is faced with a high degree of difficulty for success. “Now What” needs to somehow convince us that the House-Cuddy hook-up at the end of season six wasn’t random or rash, but also attempt to present a honest and real representation of a relationship that many of the series fans have been waiting to happen for a very long time. And despite some forced writing and the general skepticism we should all have towards the House and Cuddy romance, “Now What” is actually a very effective resolution to last season’s cliffhanger and table-setter for the season to come.

I know there are a lot of critics out there who are out on House because of its transition from medical mystery to a less obnoxious Grey’s Anatomy, but I guess because I resigned myself to this fact back in season four (not that I was some profit who could see this coming, but you know) and in reality, the medical mysteries are mostly boring at this point so the series had to do something to keep things fresh. There are issues with House and Cuddy getting together, mostly the fact that Cuddy is oftentimes not well-written (but always well-played) and that her feelings for House feels a little hollow.

However, it’s been apparent since the end of season four that the series was heading in this direction with the two characters, and despite the occasional mis-characterization of Cuddy, I think the writers have done a nice job slow-playing it. And again, we all knew it was headed this way and with that in mind, the analysis of their relationship is handled very well in “Now What,” definitely better than I thought it would be. House has always been bad at paying off the emotional cliffhangers from finales in subsequent premieres (last year being the notable exception, the openers in S4 and S5 being the obvious rules), so I suspect there to be some re-thinking and perhaps even admissions of error between House and Cuddy within the first 10 minutes of the episode. Thankfully, I was wrong.

The episode smartly traps the two characters in House’s apartment for the entirety of the episode, forcing them to quickly deal with the aftermath of their choices. After the emotional highs of the sex (and the really, really creepy leg-kissing), these two over-analyzers are left to really think about what they’re getting themselves into. While this episode compresses a week’s worth of discussions and arguments into a 12-hour period, I’m almost glad that it does so because at least I know those issues are being addressed. If it would have been all kissing, smiling and nudity in “Now What,” I would have been afraid that the following episodes would quickly move past the real issues and get into the workplace drama that we all know is coming.

Despite that time compression, the conversations that Cuddy and House have are fairly honest and real, for House standards. They both recognize that it’s going to be an upward battle, and even though they pretend the past isn’t going to matter (Cuddy’s “most incredible man” line? Also awkward.), it will. This is not going to be easy for either one of them.

The most obvious reason to keep watching this series is Hugh Laurie and “Now What” confirms that even more. We’ve seen House open up before, but somehow Laurie makes sure this feels different. He plays House with the normal play-fullness, but there’s an honesty in his eyes and a lighter tone to his voice that is at first a little jarring, but ultimately makes sense for the character. Though we may not buy it, this is something House has apparently wanted at least since his hallucination, and to finally get it puts him in a state of bliss — before reality sets in that is. Lisa Edelstein is forced to deliver some awkwardly cheesy lines throughout the episode, but she stands toe-to-toe with Laurie in every scene with a similar combination of excitement and concern.

Both these two characters and us should be concerned about where House is as a person. Is he getting better? Is he the same exact person that had the hallucination 18 months ago? I found his season-long arc to be slightly improved when watching S6 on DVD, and I think it feels like House has changed just enough that he could have a fruitful relationship with Cuddy. He is more honest and attempts to be more caring (in his own House-ian ways), so it’s not as if Cuddy’s jumping into bed with season one House.

The B-story is exceptionally light and frivolous here, but effective in its frivolous-ness. I had completely forgotten about the Chase and Thirteen relationship despite just watching on DVD a few weeks ago, but I actually like them together, romantically or not. Jesse Spencer and Olivia Wilde have much better chemistry than Wilde does with Omar Epps, and (don’t shoot me) perhaps even better than Spencer has with Jennifer Morrison. Anytime Chase pulls his “Will you have sex with me?” line on a female co-worker, it’s a good time. Frankly, Chase driving the hospital narrative is a welcome story in general.

I do think the series is trying way too hard to create a mystery around Thirteen’s departure (Olivia Wilde will be gone a good portion of the season to do movies), just as they did with her personality and medical issues up-front. It was annoying then, it’s annoying now and it drags down a character who has finally come into her own as a feisty, fun presence. While I appreciated the emotional moments she shared with all three of the team members, I don’t need to know why she’s gone until she’s back.

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