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House: "House Divided"

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The best episodes of House are often the ones that have House pitted against himself. Partly it's because the structure of the series is so consistent that any change catches our interest (even if that change is ultimately shallow, ala "Locked In"); but mostly it's because House has always been the most compelling character on the show, and any chance to see him struggling with his choices and persona means a chance to see Hugh Laurie be all awesome. That's especially true this season, when one of the biggest problems has been Doctor Savage's apparent detachment from every case he works on. Last week's episode ended with the return of the faux-Amber, a particularly persistent hallucination that we haven't seen since season four; the promise was, this week, we'd be getting some soul-searching, so, goofy promos aside, I was relatively excited.

And for once, I don't feel completely cheated. As usual, the PotW, a deaf teenager named Seth, came off as somewhat obligatory, but at least his predicament, and his feeling that his handicap gives him his identity, were interesting enough so that when he was on screen, it wasn't boring. I guess it's in the contract for a show like this that we can't ever really break free from the PotW crutch, but I wish the writers would do more to make the concept more vital. Remember how the flashbacks on Lost started getting tedious in the third season? And remember how the ending of that season (no spoilers) used that familiarity to blow our minds? I'm not suggesting House has the kind of mythology capable of generating that level of surprise, but as of now, it feels like there's potential being squandered every week that we spend on the same old routine.

Seth collapses at a wrestling meet—he's hearing explosions, for some reason. The team is assigned the case, but House has other things on his mind. For one, Amber; House hasn't slept a full night since Kutner killed himself, and Amber's been hanging around him that whole time, snarking it up and showing off her legs. (Leering aside, it's nice to have Anne Dudek back on the show. She has a certain edge to her that none of the regular cast apart from House can really match.) In the first team meeting, we get the start of a dynamic that lasts nearly the whole episode—as Amber is just a piece of House's subconscious, she has access to all his intuitions, hunches, and every piece of information he's ever learned in his entire life. As Foreman, Taub, and 13 throw out theories, Amber gives clues that House becomes increasingly dependent on.

The Amber/House chats were easily the high point of "Divided," giving us a rare chance to see just how House's mind works, as well as putting him in a position where he actually has to rely on someone else to give him the answers. Admittedly, that someone else is himself, so it's a little complicated, but I enjoyed watching characters interact in a new, engaging way. Another big problem this season has had for me is that everything has become too old hat; at this point in the game, even with the new blood brought in during season four, there aren't a whole lot of surprises available in the backrooms. House will snark, Cuddy will look vaguely concerned, Wilson will be frustrated and concerned, etc. Having House try and second guess himself was a lot of fun, and the dark turn thoses guesses took by the end of the ep were very satisfying.

The other big thread this week was planning for Chase's bachelor party. It's yet another TV-staple, and the comments from Wilson and everyone about how insanely decadent House's parties tend to be ("Have you seen Caligula?") were more than a little ridiculous in relation to how the party actually turned out. Maybe it's just that my expectations are settling at this point, though, because I had fun with this. The fact that House managed to set everything up inside Wilson's apartment was a cute twist, and the jokes about 13's bisexuality (from her and Foreman's stripper studies, to her doing body shots with a young woman named Karamel) were the most entertainment I've had from her and Foreman in ages.

And hey, it wasn't all fun and games. Chase had an allergic reaction to Karamel's body butter, which put him in the hospital, and House realizes that, given what he knew about Chase's allergy to strawberries and Karamel's proclivities, he had to have seen that coming. So does he want Chase dead? And why? And what does this mean about his decisions regarding Seth? In a development that, honestly, I would've loved to've seen stretched out for the entire ep, House realizes that he can't trust his instincts—which, in this case, means he can't trust Amber. Too bad Amber doesn't take the hint.

The only problem here is that the revelation doesn't go anywhere. Not yet, at least. House has to recuse himself from helping with Seth's treatment, forcing Foreman and 13 to eventually discover the problem on their own (sarcoidosis, brought on by Seth's withdrawal from chewing tobacco). He finally gets a good night's sleep, but of course Amber is still around the next morning; once again, House's insistence that psychological conditions can be explained away by physical factors shows him to be curiously naive. Amber is there because some part of him thinks that something is wrong; Kutner's death pushed him towards it, but it's going to take more than sleeping pills to find his way to the end.

I'm curious to see where this goes, but to be honest, I'd be a lot more curious if I didn't suspect sucking face with Cuddy wouldn't be somewhere around the end line. More than anything else, that single plotline has been dragging the series down ever since it was first introduced, and it's hard for me to get caught up in House's mental problems with I wasn't so sure that they'd lead to such a potentially disastrous (and really boring) outcome. "Divided" is the best the show's been in a while. It had it's problems—the deaf kid's resistence to a Cochlear implant that would give him his hearing could've been interesting, but it seemed too underdeveloped. (Although I did like his mom deciding he was getting the damn implant at the end; it wasn't a decision I immediately agreed with, but the more I thought about it, the more I respected it.) But at least there was good stuff there. Now I just have to wait a week to get my hopes re-crushed.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations:

  • Anybody else see the "proud to be deaf" episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent?
  • 13, on why she should get to go to the bachelor party: "If I get drunk enough, there's a chance I might make out with one of the strippers. Or become one."
  • This has nothing to do with anything, but—I knew that the Night At The Museum sequel was coming. Still didn't prepare me for the trailer.

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