Let's pretend, just for a moment, that everything's okay. Let's pretend that the last few seasons of House haven't been uneven at best; that the show's initial promise hasn't been slowly buried under increasingly gimmicky distractions and a push towards a romantic relationship that seems more based on geographic proximity than anything approaching a real connection. Let's further pretend that Dr. Lisa Cuddy has been a vital, consistent character through the show's run; that she didn't start off as a straight man to House's antics, before evolving into a bland stereotype of a working mom with a love life dictated by plot necessity. Let's pretend that last season, House and Cuddy spent a lot of time together bonding, developing a mutual respect that finally pushed their friendship into something more physical by the season's end. And let's pretend that the final scene of last May's finale, "Help Me," wasn't a horrible, horrible cheat.
Got all that? Don't worry if it takes a second, and ignore the headache, we won't keep this up for long. If you can manage all this, if you can, in a sense, start the seventh season of House a clean as possible while still retaining basic memory of who's who and how they feel about each other, "Now What" is not so bad. It's not good enough to excuse everything in the above paragraph; while this may surprise you, I honestly wish that were so. I came into this premiere with low expectations, but with a hope that somehow, the series could find its groove again. They'd finally paid off on the House/Cuddy romance they'd been teasing for years, and while that romance was never as affecting or believable as anyone involved with the show seemed to think, once it finally reached fruition, well, it seems churlish to keep complaining. It's a whole new paradigm, people, which is good excuse as any to readjust our standards.
And really, whatever problems the process of putting these two together had, the actual idea of resolving an on-again/off-again affair with a definitive "Yes" isn't a bad one. I reviewed Castle's season premiere earlier today, and one of the most infuriating aspects of that show is how it constantly teases you with the possibility of a hook-up between the leads, before throwing out another random complication to plotblock the couple. It's lazy writing, and it gets old fast. If House and Cuddy were inevitably going to get together—and it was pretty obvious they were—better to have that out in the open than to torment us with the idea until the series finale. One of House's biggest problems is that it doesn't know how to handle its lead character. Is he getting better? Is he incorrigible? Is the world just so bleak that his is the only sane response? The one undeniably positive aspect of putting him together with the woman of his hallucinations is that it provides an opportunity for actual, legitimate growth.
Overall, "Now" plays better than I thought it would, because it makes every effort to address the problems of a House/Cuddy relationship. Cramming all of these discussions into a single day gets a little strained at times, but it's refreshing to see them actually addressed. The episode picks up right after the end of "Help Me," with Cuddy first bathing House's shoulder wound, then kissing the scar tissue on this leg; it's melodramatic as hell, but both Laurie and Edelstein give it their best, and it mostly works. (The constant violin music doesn't help.) Plus, the opening scene hits a balance between the two characters that's going to be crucial for their interactions to be at all tolerable—maybe Cuddy's a little too maternal, maybe not, but Laurie's barely concealed awe at her presence is perfect. We've seen that awe in him before. For all his misanthropy and cynicism, there's something tremendously vulnerable at the character's core, and Laurie has always done a great job of letting that vulnerability peek out at the right moments. To see it here gives us the stakes—however implausible this relationship seems to an outsider, for him, it's completely and utterly serious, and that makes it easier for us to care.
So we get that flush of infatuation, we get the awkward mixing of job responsibilities and romance, we get House over-thinking everything (although it's nice that Cuddy isn't exactly a slouch in the over-thinking department herself), and we also get a silly scene where Cuddy hides from Wilson because she's afraid she's pushing House too hard to go "public." The timing on some of this doesn't work. We're seeing a week's worth of neuroses crammed into an eight hour period, and while I can buy a certain heightened intensity given the circumstances, the cramming lacks finesse. Plus, it's some kind of law that in these situations where one character has to say "I love you," and the other one has to hold back, and that's terribly cliched and silly. But I did like House's final, desperate attempt to protect himself, when he points out he's done horrible things to Cuddy, and that sooner or later she's going to realize he's a horrible person to have around while trying to raise a kid. This acknowledgement is a sort of compromise for the show, because at this point, we can't go back in time and make it look like Cuddy really does have a legitimate reason for loving House (I'm not saying that no one could love him; I'm saying that, from what we've seen of both characters, there's nothing there to make her sudden revelation the kind of cathartic confession it should've been). But we can, at least, admit that there's some things here that need to be worked on. Cuddy assures him she loves him for who he is (did anybody else cringe at "the most incredible man I have ever known" line?), but we still get a nice moment of uncertainty at the end.
There were other things going on in this episode with the Coke Zero team—Plainsboro was scrambling because it's only neurosurgeon was sick, and if anybody found out, they'd have to shut down half the hospital. (I wish we'd gotten an explanation as to why it would be such a problem if half the hospital was shut down. I understand it's a nightmare of paperwork, but we got an awful lot of farce here without a clear reason to drive it.) 13 leaves at the end, probably because Olivia Wilde has a movie career she wants to get back to, and it's supposed to be very shocking, but really, who cares. I don't even have a huge problem with the character anymore, but the only real point to watch all this was to see House and Cuddy hang out and play Boggle and stuff. Having a PotW shoe-horned in for no reason at all just points out how tired the series has become with its own structure. I suppose there will be some consequences next week, when Cuddy realizes House basically cut her out of the loop while playing games with her hospital, but after seeing that House is still capable of some emotional honesty, rushed and clunky though it may be, makes it that much more difficult to tolerate the filler.
- I'm not sure how it works as a moment, but seeing Cuddy kiss House's scars made me flashback to Cronenberg's Crash.
- Holy cats is there a lot of Lisa Edelstein skin on display here.
- Chase's "Will you have sex with me?" was probably the best moment in the B-storyline.
- Hey, it's Wilson, stuck in a window. House has the most intrusive friends in the whole world—not just the character, but the show in general. Maybe it's a function of all the leads being doctors, but I can't imagine assaulting the people I care about with quite this much concern.