"After Hours" is a lumpy, ill-conceived, and irritatingly manipulative hour of television. The plotting is ridiculous, and the structure expends a baffling amount of its time in attempting to find new ways to drain dramatic energy and tension from its various storylines. And despite the seemingly hopeful ending, it veers often and pointlessly into misery porn, giving us money shots of betrayal and grief without bothering to provide the context that would make them meaningful. House screws up again, and Cuddy tiredly comes to his rescue. 13 is kind of messed up about killing her brother, and becomes inordinately obsessed with keeping her word to the dying woman on her couch. Taub doesn't know if he wants to be a dad, so he plays mind games with a stripper. Sure, all of this leads to supposed cathartic revelations for each character. Taub decides he wants to have a baby with the cute nurse. (Lucky her!) 13 shares her grief with Chase, who (off-screen, thank goodness) confesses that he's also a killer. And House admits to Wilson that, yes, it is time for a change. Which will presumably lead us into the season finale next week, when, I'm guessing, House will quit his job. (Really, what else can he do at this point?) But none of these moments, despite being delivered by actors who are trying their damnedest, feel much more than arbitrary.
This could have worked. I realize that playing Monday morning quarterback is a tricky game when it comes to criticism—my job is to critique what actually made it to the screen, not list all the ways I think it should've been done—but bear with me for a second. As ridiculous and melodramatic as it is, I don't think the idea of House operating on himself is inherently terrible. In a way, it's a natural endpoint for some of his worst character traits: his arrogance, his stubbornness, his impatience with traditional medical procedure. While I'm not a fan of medical shows that create drama by constantly making the doctors as sick as their patients (I'd say one of the sign's of House's deterioration over the last three seasons has been its increased willingness to do just this; Amber's death at the end of season 4 worked in part because it was a singular event), having House use an experimental drug on himself, then having that drug turn out to have unexpected, extremely adverse side effects, would've been a decent way to get around suspension of disbelief. He's a doctor, so he'd pay attention to drug trials; and he's crazy, so he'd jump ahead in line.
Even then, though, this is really an arc that should've played out longer than just two episodes. Admittedly, we don't know how long House has been using the experimental drug, and I doubt new muscle develops that quickly so maybe he's been hiding it for longer than we know, but out here on the other side of the TV screen, we've had, what, an episode to get a handle on this before it all goes south? It would've been more effective if he'd been doing this in the background for a month or two at least. We wouldn't need a scene every week, but just an occasional reminder that he's drugging himself would've been nice, and would've made the reveal that the meds caused tumors in lab rats more than just a "Huh, that sucks" moment. No one expects House to die at this point (especially after season 8 has been confirmed—I could see him dying at the end of the series, but not now, obviously), but this quick reveal and even quicker turn-around lays bare the machinations even worse than usual. Oh, he has magical leg muscles again! No, wait, they have tumors, and now they're gone. They should've just had House operate on himself with surgical tools made out of coconuts.
Also bad: House's story wasn't the episode's only story, and at times, it barely felt like the main focus of the episode. (Which it should've been, because as forced and absurd as it was, it was easily the best of the three.) The ep is technically off format; as the title suggests, we're seeing the Plainsboro staff off the clock, to get an idea of what they do when they aren't bickering and saving lives. Which, it turns out, is just bickering and saving lives only without the paycheck. An old prison buddy of 13's shows up at her door with a knife wound in her stomach, and makes 13 promise not to take her to the hospital since she's sure to be arrested there. The problem turns out to be too big for 13 to solve on her own, so she calls Chase in, and he eventually decides that, promise or now, the stabbed ex-cop junkie really should be in the ER. And while all this is going on, Taub and Foreman head to a strip club, so Taub can whine and get fixated on a stripper's mole.
Individually, these two plot-lines are not very good. 13's story is the sort of ridiculous over-the-top melodrama the show has come to use in place of actual solid character work and drama, replacing believable interactions with cliches, only the cliches are performed VERY LOUDLY so we're not supposed to notice they're cliches. On the plus side, Chase got to be right about taking Stab Girl (Amy Landecker) to the hospital, but it's pretty hard to give a rat's ass about 13 mourning her dead brother, given how we never saw the brother, or even knew she had one, till after the guy was dead. (The more I think about it, the more irritating this particular contrivance becomes. I'm assuming this is a late addition to the show, intended as a dramatic explanation for why Wilde was absent for most of the season. But it's asking us to believe that in all the time 13 was struggling with her Huntington's diagnosis, she never once mentioned she had a sibling with the disease.) So we're left with a lot of angst, and none of it matters. Taub's storyline is even worse, as it revolves around a major life change, and yet seems so inconsequential as to be barely there at all.
Really, if "Hours" had just kept focus on House himself for the full run time, it might've been something. Although it still would've been rushed. In the space of, oh let's be charitable and say three hours, House embarrasses himself in front of a prostitute, drives to doctor's lab to try and steal more magic drug, learns from the doctor that the magic drug causes tumors in rats, scans himself to see if he has tumors himself (he has three), and then scrubs down and sterilizes his bathroom to prep for surgery. Again, ideally, this should've taken longer. Like, last week should've ended with House realizing he had three tumors, and this whole episode could've been devoted to him going through the steps of trying to remove them himself. Instead, we keep cutting to other storylines, which kills whatever claustrophobic tension the ep had managed to work up; the gore here is remarkable and cringe-worthy, and the most intense I've ever seen on network TV, but the emotional intensity is gone. It turns what should be a powerful, terrifying sequence into a lot of shuddering, and "Ew, gross."
Eventually House realizes he can't manage the complete surgery by himself, so he calls everyone, and Cuddy's the only person who answers. Which is… whatever. The ep doesn't try and pretend House and Cuddy are getting back together, which is nice, and Hugh Laurie acts his heart out throughout. But the more the show amps up the hysterics, the more obvious it becomes that it really has nothing worth saying left. There don't appear to be any consequences for House stealing the drugs and operating on himself. I suppose no one will ever know about the theft, and I have no idea if there are legal ramifications for self-surgery, but that's not my concern. Mostly, I'm just tired of being jerked around. There were effective moments in "Hours," moments where it was impossible not to wince in sympathy at the damage our hero did himself. But those moments were buried in charmless shrieking, until it was all nothing more than some tedious clock watching.
- "Unhappy people do reckless things." You know, I think happy people do reckless things just as often, actually. Maybe even more so. I miss when this was a show about a man who was so smart he found it difficult to have faith in people, and turned into a show about a damaged man-child brat who just needed to be normal.
- Seriously, are they even trying with Taub anymore? Why is he so crazy? Wasn't he screwing around with Rachel a little while ago? Is it that hard to remember birth control? Ugh. That said, his new love interest is… cute. That's all I got.
- What do you think the "change" will be next week? Maybe everyone will get special powers!