Now well into its post-Huddy phase, House's philosophy for the rest of the season seems to be, if you can't make it good, you can at least go big. Where else are you going to see a pre-credits sequence in which a couple of little kids who you will never hear about again set off an impressive-looking rocket in the woods for the express purpose of inadvertently setting fire to a homeless man, thus introducing us to our principal guest star and case of the week? Those of us who loved the House of old can't help mourning the show that it used to be, but the airwaves are cluttered with smoking hulks that used to be good shows, just sitting there, taking up space. Showmanship ought to be count for something.
Showmanship was much in evidence tonight, as House, the old rascal, set about torturing Cuddy for dumping him by parading around the hospital with a delectable-looking young lady of Slavic provenance on his arm and brazenly involving his former squeeze in the preparations for their green card marriage. It was actually a lot like the pre-Huddy House, except for two things: The aggressive cuteness of it all cut off the flow of blood to the medical plot line, so that it never seemed all that important or involving, and despite the evidence of your eyes and ears, you were meant to understand that House and Cuddy were in agony because of all the things they couldn't say to each other.
What with House tooling around the hospital on a Segway (had the Fox props department been keeping it in storage since the cancellation of Arrested Development?) with his new sweetie-of-convenience hanging on behind and the two of them assaulting Cuddy with remote-control helicopters, much of the episode seemed intended to be mordantly, painfully funny, slapstick tragedy, cry because their hearts are breaking. (Fed up with these monkeyshines, Robert Sean Leonard, in keeping with the show's recent redefinition of Wilson as a groggy-looking pain-in-the-ass scold whose every appearance is met with depressed sighs from the viewers at home, complained, "You're a lot of things, House, but you've never been a sadist." He must have been watching some other show all this time.)
Most of it was just stare-at-the-screen-in-silence theoretical-funny, though it did occasionally sink to the groan-worthy, as when the green-card bride broke out the malapropisms. ("This is America, land of the home and the free of the braves.") Also, at one point, House had a consultation session while piloting a monster truck. This scene made a very important dramatic point, which is that House still does well enough in the ratings that whoever is in charge of the budget will sign off on a request for a monster truck. (Between the hookers and the monster trucks and the other props, not to mention the fact that he's once again throwing back Vicodin by the fistful, am I the only one who's frequently distracted from what's going on in the show because I can't stop wondering just how much House makes? Especially since he must get sued or fined sometimes.)
At this point, the most moving experience connected to the show is probably just watching Lisa Edelstein working like a saint, as she tries to navigate the currents of her character as they've been shaped by the writers' self-contradicting whims without making a fool of herself. Her hard shell of indifference to House's cruel prankishness, her mask of bureaucratic reasonableness when (working on Wilson's advice, of course) she told House that he couldn't use the hospital chapel for the wedding, and her stoic unhappiness as she stalked out of the wedding before she could break down were all believable in context, even if they were a little hard to knit together, let alone connect to the woman she used to play, whose emotions were tingling and confused in a hundred different ways but who was still smart enough to not get too close to this asshole.
As for Hugh Laurie, he's still a commanding presence who's fun to watch, though I'll repeat that sticking him behind the wheel of a monster truck is pushing it. As a sop to the old fans, there were even a couple of shots of him sitting at his desk looking obsessed and haunted, as if he were actually thinking about ways to save somebody's life. But the pain has drained out of his performance; House is no longer the guy who greets a call girl at his door with, "I need a distraction. You don't need to talk to be that, do you?" Now, he's the guy who, in his darkest hour, is seen with a different Maxim cover girl in every scene and even teams up with them to play practical jokes. And without pain, House is, well, just another asshole. He's a charismatic asshole, but all that means is that you can't take your eyes off him even when you're past the point where you wish you could.
- This was the second time that, watching House, I've been treated to a good look at Omar Epps's bare feet. (The first time was way back when he was deathly ill and the episode ended with House probing his toes and not getting a physical response, which seemed like a cliffhanger at the time, except as near as I can remember, it was just never mentioned again. They never have gotten too bent out of shape about dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's on House.) I didn't realize that I found the sight of Epps' feet so unsettling that I was keeping count, but clearly, I was.
- Was there anything on the show that I did find actually, laugh-out-loud funny? Yes: Chase's description of House and the fiancee on the Segway together as "some kind of prostitute chariot" and, especially, the final twist involving the identity of the mystery patient, which, when you think about it, is only the most obvious conclusion you might come to about the identity of a homeless man who refuses to give his right name or family history, even after it's been explained to him that this information could save his life. The ending made me laugh hard enough to annoy the dog, but after watching the scene a couple of times, I'm not 100 percent certain that it's supposed to be funny. I spit my Coke through my nose at the end of The Mist, too.