Of all the various couples six seasons of House have shown us, House and Wilson has always made the most sense. I don't mean romantically—there's no sexual chemistry between the two, beyond that basic TV assumption that any two characters with charm together must have sexual chemistry, and a physical hook-up would be forced, awkward, and more than a little like that time in college I, well, never mind. I don't think you can get a TV show that drunk, is all. But back on point, as best friends, I get House and Wilson. I've had relationships with that basic balance for most of my life, and I doubt I'm alone in this. As passive-aggressive as Wilson can get, as selfish and cynical and manipulative as House can be, it's never been a stretch that these two guys stick together through thick and thin. Because everybody needs somebody who will always be there.
There are a few reasons I really enjoyed "Wilson," which is the first episode of the season to make me really excited about this show again in a long time, and the way that friendship was handled is the biggest. There were no shocking revelations here, no stunning reversals, and we had some of the usual shallow archetypes standing in as plot points—if you can give me a character for Tucker beyond, "Hey, it's that guy from The West Wing," you saw more than I did. (And House's repeated, "He's a self-important jerk" doesn't count.) But for once, those were minor quibbles, because we had an episode based on a believable emotional foundation. With Lucas off-screen, and Cuddy relegated to her standard "I vaguely disapprove of that in a way that doesn't mean I'll do anything to prevent it" position, "Wilson" lacked that irritatingly hollow feeling the series has had so often lately. It had a heart, and as sentimental and soppy as that heart may have been, at least it didn't make me feel cheap for buying in.
"Wilson" also used one of my favorite meta TV tropes, in that by following Wilson around, we got to see the usual crazy antics of House and his team from the sidelines. It's the Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead approach, and my favorite example has always been "The Zeppo" from the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In "Zeppo," perpetual sidekick Xander tries to find some purpose to his place on the Scooby team, and while Wilson doesn't go through the same kind of philosophical quest, we do get gags with familiar characters rushing by shouting lines that, in any other episode, would be perfectly and contextual obvious. It may be gimmicky, but it's always good for a laugh, especially considering how ridiculous House's cases often wind up being even when you do know the background.
It also worked with one of the episode's major themes. Early on, right after Tucker (Joshua Malina, who I used to like a lot but am now strangely irritated by) first gets admitted with a non-functioning arm, Wilson has what he himself recognizes as a House moment. ("Patients really eat that crap up!") He attempts to diagnose Tucker based on someone else's cold sore, coming up with a cause for the whole dead arm problem that doesn't have "cancer" in it. But the diagnosis, clever as it may sound, is wrong. House's wild and wacky solutions operate on the Holmesian principle of first eliminating the impossible, and then going with what's left; he doesn't jump to the strange idea first, is the important thing to note, because that would be bad medicine. First you make sure the obvious causes are invalid, then you start staring at cold sores. With Tucker, that would mean making absolutely sure his cancer hasn't come back. Because Wilson is, as always, emotionally invested in Tucker, he has a vested interest in not going with the obvious, because that would mean serious problems ahead. That clouds his judgment, and also reinforces once again why House's detachment is nearly always a good thing for his patients.
Still, it's hard to imagine House being willing to give up part of his liver. Another point in "Wilson"'s favor is that it gives both Wilson and House's approaches to medicine a fair shake. House makes wild and brilliant deductive leaps; Wilson is empathic and sharp enough to realize that a change in a patient's mood could mean health problems. And then there's the liver thing. It's the sort of broad stroke, wildly improbably move that I kind of hate the show for doing, but if you can get past the ridiculousness of it, it's ramifications are worth the effort. House's declaration, "Because if you die, I'd be alone," is on-the-nose, but the way both actors play the scene, it doesn't become overtly sentimental. It's more like a flat declaration of a fact that both men already know.
Then there's Wilson's realization after the surgery that Tucker isn't as perfect as Wilson had believed. See, Tucker has a younger girlfriend, so that means he's selfish, she's childish, and he'd be much happier with his wife. And that seemed to be where things were headed, with each worsening of Tucker's condition bringing him closer to his old life. But once he's healed up, he goes back to Ashley. This upsets Wilson, which at first I didn't quite understand—just because the guy didn't go back to his wife doesn't mean he betrayed a promise. Or did it? Canceling the reconciliation casts a pall of suspicion over all of Tucker's tearful accusations and protests of love. Obviously Tucker was sick, and he was scared, and that's really all that matters. It's just that Wilson, who will always relate to his patients and always care about them and trust them, never remembers that a drowning man will reach for anything to stay afloat. Which means that no matter how much love Wilson gives his patients, they'll forever be letting him down. Tucker tells Wilson, "The person you want when you're dying isn't the same as the person you want when you're living," and I think what makes the House and Wilson friendship work so well is that, dying or living, it's always the same between them.
- I watch House (and every other show I review) with the close captioning on, and sometimes there are some real gems. Like tonight, Wilson's attempts to lure unsuspecting poultry were "[turkey call groans impotently]."
- "It wasn't the tennis!"
- "Wow, that's… very strange."
- "You're the only one who can make cancer sound like a good diagnosis."
- "Religion just killed another person."
- And finally, perhaps the most classic House line ever: "We can't stop the oozing."