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House: "Selfish"

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One of House's major themes has always been whether or not House's misanthropy is a necessary component of his work; could a House who doesn't see the worst in everyone, a House who was actually happy, still make the same tough calls? The show has managed to dodge the issue by never giving House what he wants for very long, but here we are, day 2 of the House/Cuddy Situation, and the world hasn't ended. The two of them are still committed to making it work, which means that House is actually, surprisingly, winning. The "What next?" of the previous episode isn't a question that you only have to answer once, it turns out. However much these two may want to make this work, however smart House and Cuddy are, there's no guarantee they'll be able to balance their jobs, personal responsibilities, and emotional turmoil for the long haul. Just wanting something to fit doesn't make it so. So how long can this last? And, even more important for the show, just what does this mean for House the doctor?

"Selfish" addresses these problems in the same straightforward manner of the premiere, and once again, that directness helps to make an implausible situation partially bearable. We're back on familiar ground with PotW craziness: this time, it's a girl who collapses during a skateboarding event. Her brother has Muscular Dystrophy, and won't make it to his mid-twenties. He's been in a wheelchair most of his life, and his sister has been doing his living for him. Which means now that he's sick, we get a whole lot of angst about him not being able to help her, and her not wanting to stress him out. This is all very boilerplate House—characters who are less characters than ideological symbols arranged in such a way as to present us with a living example of a moral question. In this case, "When does selflessness go too far?" We've gotten used to the patients being the least compelling part of the show, so points here for coming up with a dilemma that has some dramatic umph to it. It's just too bad that umph is nearly undone by some bad performances; the girl is fine, but her brother, and her parents, aren't. The brother's big speech at the end is laughable, as are the parents handwringing over their children. It's hard to blame them completely, since the script doesn't give them a whole lot to do, but still… ugh.


Still, thematically, there's a point here: the PotW would've had a better chance at survival if she hadn't hidden her symptoms from her parents because of her brother's illness. As the line goes, maybe the world would be better off if everyone were just a little more selfish. While I'm not sure how effective that advice would be on a grand scheme (most people are just as selfish as they need to be, seems like), it's certainly true of many of the patients on the show, and it's also true of the two old men House meets while doing clinic hours. A father and son duo who both desperately want the other one out their hair, each in turn comes to House privately and bribes him to encourage the other one to let him leave. (Sorry if the pronouns get a little thick here.) It's a cutesy sequence that plays out like a dozen other similar segments, although House's last minute diagnosis is a nice cap; House solving a problem where no one thought there was one to solve, is routine by now, but it's generally satisfying.

And really, all these threads lead back to Cuddy and House, and their attempts to balance an already stressful working relationship with a newfound romantic one. Both of them try to go out of their way to please the other one. House, after spilling the beans to his team that he's having an affair (here's another reason why I think House needs a team—he needs an audience), spends much of the rest of the episode giving in to Cuddy's demands. Cuddy also bends for House's sake—although it's probably important that she doesn't bend quite as much as House does. So we get a familiar relationship arc: lovers who go too far in their efforts to please their partners, and are forced to realize that the only way a relationship can really work is if they act a little, what's that word again? It's right there on the tip of my tongue, I could swear it's come up before…

It's weird; after spending two seasons worth of reviews dreading this coupling, I found I was most interested in "Selfish" when it continued to deal with House and Cuddy, because at least that was something new. Taub's needling is too much, too soon, as he's complaining about House's behavior almost before House has a chance to, um, behave, but I could let that slide. This is a show about smart people who often overthink their situation, so I could see as how Taub would be a few steps ahead in his concern. And in a way he's right, because House does compromise himself, and it is for Cuddy. But interested or not, I don't really see where this goes. If we're going to be honest here, then House and Cuddy can't really last long as a couple. The only reason they've gotten this far is that Cuddy's personality is so fluid to the demands of the show; she's turned from whatever she was last season (devoted career mom with a younger lover?) into "the perfect girlfriend/mother figure." House is idealizing her as much as House is, if that follows—it's all shots of her half-naked, her being perfectly understanding (so I guess she never found out about the whole "hospital nearly shut down, and House hid the whole thing from her" thing?), her soothing House's tortured soul. So far, it feels like House's is being rewarded for good behavior, and that's kind of creepy; a girlfriend isn't a gold star.

But forget that, we've had this argument before, and maybe I'm just being weird. What's more important here is that, well, relationships don't just work because we want them too. And they don't just work because two good people are involved. House and Cuddy may have the best of intentions, but even under ideal circumstances, their connection would be difficult to maintain, given their past, and given House's social problems. These aren't ideal circumstances: Cuddy has a kid, and they work together in an extremely difficult, high-pressure environment. It may be ass-grabbing and hand-holding now, but quite honestly, I don't see it could last.


Stray Observations:

  • It was pretty sweet when House finally went nuclear at the end. I'm not sure I like his contrition afterwards; I don't need another show about a responsible doctor who's tortured with concern for his patients' emotional well-being. If we start pretending House's work attitude is something that needed changing, it'll be a sad step for the show.
  • Another great moment: Wilson's assumption that House was eating salad for Cuddy's sake. It was one of the few moments in the episode that suggested the real House might not be completely gone, so here's hoping for more of that.
  • I understand the reasoning, but it still feels like a dick move for the parents to spend that long talking about whether or not they want to sacrifice their son for their daughter without ever consulting their son. Obviously he'd say yes, and obviously given his age and the circumstances, he may not be capable of making the best decision; but it's still his life they're talking about.
  • I've been able to get these reviews up quickly because I had access to the episodes before they aired. This is probably not going to continue after this week, so you'll be stuck waiting while I type really, really fast.
  • "Are you sure it's a good idea to be yanking on the chain of command?"

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