Even at its lowest point (which was definitely season five, by the way), House has never been a bad series. It has turned in some really tepid episodes – and even those are relatively rare – and for the last three seasons, the series has been generally coasting, but there’s still something about House and the namesake character that I can’t help but enjoy and really, love. Every time I think the series is out of gas creatively, David Shore and his team find a way to inject just enough fuel back into the tank to last another twenty episodes. Refreshing the team isn’t the novel, innovative idea it was back in season four, but the writing staff has done a nice job of making each new team-member different and compelling enough. House arguing with Wilson never goes far, Foreman having power over House interests even less, but watching House/Hugh Laurie bounce off new characters/actors never stops being compelling. Basically, House is so lucky they found this man to be their lead.
And so after a fairly middling, “fine” premiere episode that didn’t do anything novel with an obvious gimmick, House’s last two episodes have been rock-solid outings. This week’s “Charity Case” is definitely my favorite of this young season. Things are more or less “back to normal,” in a way that only House could do two episodes after the lead character just spent 13 months in a legit prison: Wilson and House are BFFs again and the former is just as big of a punching bag as ever; House is undermining his boss’ authority (this time without the sexual tension); he’s analyzing new doctors while pitting them against one another and he’s genuinely interested in medical mysteries again (which is nice, by the way). Somehow, House gets away, no excuse me, revels, in scenes that cry out “EVERYTHING IS BACK TO NORMAL GUYS.” Last week, it was House getting his office back, this week, it is House cutting his hair and throwing on a swag blazer. And dammit, it more or less works.
The point here is that House works best when it’s telling the kind of straightforward, somewhat interesting medical mystery stories that it did in the early seasons. I’ve talked at length about why the middle seasons of the series failed due to their over-reliance on a more heightened form of storytelling and while I quite enjoyed last season’s lighter, somewhat soapier tone, losing Cuddy and going forward in time separates House and House from all those things. It’s borderline ridiculous to say that a series in its eighth season has something of a clean slate, but there’s a sense to the last two episodes that is exactly what is going on with House right now. And I would argue that the (very unfortunate) departure of Olivia Wilde and Thirteen in “Charity Case” only emphasizes that transition/evolution much more.
I’m on record as a strong supporter of all things Olivia Wilde/Thirteen, hopefully you know this. I thought her returning episode last season was one of the stronger efforts in a solid enough season and if you go back and read my review of that episode, I pitched the perfect way to save House: A spin-off with House and Thirteen road-tripping across the country. Thanks to Wilde’s growing fame and her agent’s ability to wiggle her out of a contract on a sinking television series where she’d be the third or fourth lead, Thirteen said goodbye in “Charity Case.” I will miss Wilde/Thirteen, but it was time, for the actress, for the character and for the series.
Although she’s been saddled with the melodramatic Huntington’s nonsense, Thirteen has always been my favorite of all House’s underlings because she had no problem standing up to him, but did so without coming off entirely pompous (sup, Foreman?). She had more of an edge than Cameron and never seemed to back down, despite how she felt about the patient or House himself. Cameron wanted to fix House, but Thirteen completely understood him (mostly because she was a lot like him) and was smart enough to just let House be House. House volunteering to kill Thirteen when she became too sick last season was one of the more moving moments in the series’ latter years, primarily due to the fact it made sense for both of them.
More than a year after that event, Thirteen has apparently realized that she doesn’t want to waste her obviously precious time (perhaps spurred on by the kind of insanity House pulled with Cuddy?). She’s no longer practicing medicine and instead has found love (with a woman, not that it matters) and is planning to move/vacation in Greece. However, as soon as House comes a-callin’ (and it’s telling, but not surprising that House would call her first; shows his admiration for her), Thirteen can’t help herself.
She’s intrigued by the mystery just like House and she’s obviously very guilty about running away from all the people that she could help. But even House plays up the guilt card, it’s clear that he doesn’t actually disagree with Thirteen’s decision on a person level. House himself doesn’t necessarily care about “saving people” as much as he does solving mysteries, so he could probably care less about Thirteen helping innocents. He’s more invested in keeping her around for his team and his needs. Ultimately though, House understands and respects Thirteen’s decision. He convinces her to stay just so he can fire her, which is a House-ian way of showing some semblance of respect, appreciation and care. He usually drives away employees, letting them go isn’t really his bag.
For a departure of your most famous cast member not named Hugh Laurie, this was a quiet goodbye, but House needs that right now and I think Thirteen deserved it. The series tortured her early, often and intensely during the character’s run on the series and even though she has such a grim conclusion awaiting her out there sometime soon, I really liked how the writers avoided going there in this episode. We didn’t need a sweeping, overwrought episode where Thirteen’s Huntington’s got out of control and we watched while she suffered alone while House refused to sympathize. That wasn’t their relationship and it’s just kind of nice for a character to “get out” without much hoopla or suffering (sorry, Cameron, Kutner).
And although as I said, I’ll miss Wilde/Thirteen, this is for the best and it feels like the series is going to be OK without her. I mentioned that House seems more intrigued by the medicine and the mystery again, which is a welcome return. Moreover, it feels like the series is done trying to really force dramatic change onto the lead character, something that didn’t always work over the last few seasons. I understand the desire to avoid stagnation and I liked many of the slight changes House tried to bring into his life recently, but the writing staff could never figure out how to tell “House is changing!” stories without completely shifting the focus of the series. Stripping all that away and let the character move on from Cuddy and that temporary feeling of actually wanting a normal life brings House back to the medicine, which also brings House back to the medicine. It’s sort of a makeshift full-circle character arc, but it is working well enough. And eight years and 150+ episodes in, that is probably as good as we’re going to get.
- Odette Annable works just fine in her role as the new pretty doctor, but I have to tell you, Charlyne Yi is dramatically better as Chi than I would have ever guessed. She brings an awkward, uncomfortable energy to the series that might not be entirely intentional, but works nonetheless.
- Weird, random observation #1: Robert Sean Leonard looks like he de-aged six years this season. They’re really trying to hammer home the “back to basics” stuff, huh?
- Weird, random observation #2: I appreciate Omar Epps’ decision to go with “only mustache” in the facial hair department this year. I feel like I know so many different things about Foreman now.
- Was there any question that Thirteen would end up with a girl? This series would never, ever stray away from that conclusion.
- So no opening titles for the first three weeks. I’m aimlessly positing that it was a budget casualty. Massive Attack gotta eat!