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House: "Unwritten"

Illustration for article titled House: "Unwritten"
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I'm starting to think that none of the characters on House, beyond House himselfever remember anything. How else to explain Wilson and Cuddy's instant objections to House's odd behavior? He's been working at the hospital for years, and he nearly always gets results; and while he can be selfish, arrogant, and immature, he never does anything without a reason. Yet everyone around him is constantly surprised at his rude behavior, and everyone treats him like he's a stubborn child who will destroy the building if left to his own devices. One of the reasons I've always liked this show, and one of my main objections to the direction the show has taken in the last few years, is that it's always played like a regular hospital drama, but with one actual, very smart, and very self-aware, character thrown in. At his best, House deflates the monotony of the procedural format by breaking the standard rules TV doctors are supposed to follow—rules that have been in effect so long that they've become stagnant. (How many med shows have been advertised as focusing on "this is a special doctor who cares about his/her patients"?) Lately, we've been moving towards reigning that House in, forcing him to become like everybody else on the series; the people who never remember that sometimes, you really do have to use an MRI to get text off a typewriter ribbon.

"Unwritten" spends more time on the PotW than the previous two episodes of the season have, which is something of a relief. I think I've reached my breaking point with the House/Cuddy blues. It's all gotten very predictable, with House being overly paranoid about all the different reasons Cuddy could leave him, and while the scenes between them at the hospital could be worse, there's just no real spark there. It's just chums hanging out, and while "chums with occasional groping" may be the desired status quo of the long term relationships, for drama, it's kind of the pits. Cuddy is too perfect, too accepting, too generically understanding, and whenever she does object to House's behavior, she turns into a mom. I mean, the go-cart thing? That was awful, in all kinds of ways. Wilson makes a fool of himself, and Cuddy starts whining about shoulder pains. (It's a frigging go-cart ride. What is she, fifty?) The speech she gives at the end, about wanting to be with him regardless of whether or not they share any interests, is bullcrap. Oh, it sounds terribly romantic, but House's point earlier in the episode, about how long-term couples need common ground, still stands. Right now, apart from how much they appreciate the idea of each other, I don't see any reason for House and Cuddy to last. But then, I never saw any damn reason for the two of them to get together in the first place, so what else is new.

Ah, but the patient: this week, it's Amy Irving as Alice Tanner, writer of the popular Jack Cannon, Boy Detective book series for young adults. Ms. Tanner completes her latest book during the cold open, and then tries to shoot herself after a quick conversation with her imaginary leading character; a seizure prevents her from completing the act, and she winds up at Plainsboro, where superfan House finds her, deduces the suicide attempt, and sentences her to a 72 hour psychiatric hold. Irving is fine here, and we don't get any repeats of the awful family histrionics of last week. Plus, there is at least some mystery to what's happening to her, what caused the seizure, and what's been making her so depressed.

It always amazes me how shows like this, which presumably were written by actual writers, can translate the act of writing into such a cheap, one-to-one translation of the author's internal woes. From the opening scene, in which Tanner types like someone has a gun to her head; to the revelation that Jack Cannon has a mentor, Aunt Helen, and that Aunt Helen, in the last book in the series, kills herself after suffering from some indeterminate ailment; and the final discovery that Alice's real name is Helen, and that she had a son named Jack who died in the car accident that's causing all her medical problems… well, it's silly. Of course, this show does silly all the time, and the various references to the Twilight books, Harry Potter, and Stephen King, were sort of cute.

What killed this for me, then, is that for all the tragic weight, there was no depth here, no real sense of loss or pain. Irving does her best, but too much of what happens, we've seen on the show before. We've had people seeing hallucinations of dead loved ones. We've had patients who really just want to kill themselves, forcing House to barter and lie and cheat as best he can to keep them from leaving the hospital. Here, it's just too easy. The best episodes of House always find some way to express the indignities and unpleasantness of serious medical care—the cost of getting better, you might say. And before, the show was never afraid to give us a leading man who was so interested in solving the problems that he didn't care about consequences. I miss that guy. As it is now, it looks like the worriers have won.

Stray Observations:

  • So how lame was the pre-commercial fake-out when House gives Alice the syringe, and she jams it into her leg? Come on, did anybody actually think he'd given her suicide meds?
  • I'm sad that I noticed this, but Alice's dead son had a serious Justin Bieber haircut going.
  • Anybody else get a "What [s]he's written will be a window into [her] madness" vibe when House was looking at the typewriter ribbon?
  • My favorite part of Cuddy's post-MRI book reading lecture: "Don't do it again." Because, yeah, I'm sure this sort of thing comes up all the time.