I’ve said this a few times this season, but House has few good ideas left. Don’t get me wrong, I still like the series quite a bit, and I think this season has been mostly solid because the writers finally realized that the few remaining strengths of House are twofold: Hugh Laurie and moderately amusing workplace stories. That’s pretty much it. As a longtime die-hard fan of the series, that’s enough for me. Your mileage may vary and I’ve seen a number of folks online discuss their disappointment of the series’ presumed lack of “arc” this season. I can understand that frustration, but I also believe that House is better off without trying to shoe-horn in a substantial, long story at this point.
With all those things in mind, you can imagine that I was very skeptical coming into “Nobody’s Fault.” House has always had an overreliance on big gimmick episodes, not only in that the series has used them too often, but also because the heightened drama almost always feels forced and manufactured for little reason. This is gotten worse as the series has gotten older, wherein I basically dread every sweeps period because I know House is coming at me with a bad stunt. House screwing around with remains earlier this season immediately comes to mind.
Oddly though, “Nobody’s Fault” only moderately misleads the audience and constructs false drama, which I guess we could call an improvement. The episode starts by leading us to believe A HORRIBLE EVENT HAPPENED and to make matters worse employs a Usual Suspects–Rashomon mash-up framework that suggests House could be fired and likely then sent back to prison. There’s even a dramatic title card, which is House semiology for sweeps stunt.
And, of course, these gimmick narrative devices don’t inject much life into what I think the episode wants to believe is a major mystery. There’s an indication that something horrible happened and Jeffrey Wright’s Dr. Coefield is there to see if House is directly responsible or at worst, caused this horrible event through laziness, hostility, pure evil or a combination of all three.
But while Wright is a fine performer and he and Hugh Laurie have a number of solid scenes together, the series has been down this road time and time again. Outside force or quasi-authority figure comes in, questions House’s practices and suggests that, hey, maybe he has issues. Plus, Coefield’s interviews with Taub, Park and Adams only points out how lifeless and flat they are as characters. They’re doormats. They have no real gall of their own. Their dissent with House is a false reality and even when Coefield pokes and prods, they best they can muster up is shrugging animosity.
Mid-way through the episode, however, “Nobody’s Fault” gives those Taub, Park and Adams a bit of an out by showing us why they are so detached: The patient, in the midst of a psychotic break, stabbed Chase in the heart, causing him to nearly die, only to survive with temporarily paralysis. The shock is real, but it doesn’t negate my problems with the three other team members. And unfortunately, the episode limits the lasting impact of Chase’s injuries in so many ways. Not only did it use gimmicky conceits as a way to create a minor misdirect away from an event the audience might actually care about (in fact, I think the stabbing would have had much greater impact had it just come out of nowhere in the middle of a typical House episode), but then Chase goes from basically dead to barely alive and paralyzed to promising rehab in the span of 15 minutes.
I’m not saying that House should have spent the rest of the season on his injuries, but it’s sort of dizzying when Coefield is telling House (and us) he should more because he’s known Chase for so long just as the character whose recovery we’re supposed to care about happens over an act-and-a-half. There’s no distance between the initial shock and the “miraculous” recovery, which only serves to reinforce that House writers love to simply do crazy things because they’re crazy (and it is sweeps).
Somehow things then get worse. After all this mess and after all his threats, Coefield folds in the end, finding that no one is at fault for Chase’s injuries. This decision is so dumb that House himself snaps and tries to bully Coefield into standing up for himself and all the talking he did in the first 40 minutes of the episode. When the lead character is overtly pointing out stupid and pointless the exercise you built your episode around is, there’s likely a problem. Again, Coefield, the interviews, most all of it lacks much purpose.
Nevertheless, amid the dumb, gimmicky-nature of the proceedings, the character work here intrigues me. Although the series goes to the well too often (with Foreman especially), I’ve always been interested in how House portrays his impact on his team. Clearly, he’s a terror to work for, his decision-making is suspect and by the end of it all, you quit (Cameron, Foreman, like three times), kill yourself (Kutner), kill someone else (Chase), become completely miserable (Taub) or get famous and flee the sinking ship (Thirteen). House is, without a doubt, toxic and there is often a sense that characters stick around PPT because it’s a television program and well, they are characters on that TV program so they have to be here.
And yet, when the series actually makes an effort to discuss what working for House does to people and how he responds to seeing the changes in his team, good things can happen. Although the series likes to paint the parallels with House and Foreman with big brushes, Chase has always been the most loyal and the most willing to shrug off any of the insanity House has brought into his life. Foreman, perhaps because he’s like House, resists and rebels, Cameron and Thirteen put up false fronts and the rest were door-mats, but Chase has this odd acceptance with everything that’s happened to him over the last eight years. I don’t think Chase particularly likes House, but he’s gone from being desperate for positive reinforcement to amiable calm (you know, despite the fact he killed a guy).
Because of this, House and Chase have an interesting relationship. House knows he can screw with Chase because Chase will make an effort to screw with House right back. He probably admire Chase as a doctor, but House knows he is competent and he likes having him around. That’s all unspoken, though. Therefore, when Chase gets stabbed and everyone’s looking to pass the buck onto House, mostly without saying so (except for Adams, who apparently blames herself because she sucks), Chase defends House and defends House’s workplace culture of insanity, fear and distrust.
Weirdly then, House messes it all up when he goes to apologize to Chase at the end of the episode. Their unspoken bond, one that you can’t really call friendship but is certainly more than workplace connection, becomes spoken and I’m not sure Chase knows how to deal with it. He’s been trained to appreciate House’s methods and to see beyond the madness no matter what. But when House apologizes, it serves as an admission of failure and I think Chase realized that maybe he shouldn’t just accept everything House-related. Being amiable and calm doesn’t work once you’ve been stabbed in the heart. I wish the series would have gone down this route more when Chase MURDERED A GUY, but I’m very intrigued to see how the writers (mis)handle this story moving forward. Jesse Spencer and Chase deserve more time in the supporting character limelight and I think House would be well-served by having its lead character to face the influence he’s had on his long-time employees.
But who knows, by next week, Chase could be walking again (maybe with a cane, or something) and nothing here will have mattered. But that’s House.