Sunday, June 03, 2012
Closing on the House
"House's Head" undoubtedly stands as the most exciting and riveting hour the series ever produced, but the switch to its essential second half, "Wilson's Heart," may necessitate a move to a different pace but it more than compensates for that with its emotional impact. It provoked real sadness in having to bid farewell to the great character of Dr. Amber Volakis aka Cutthroat Bitch, so marvelously played by Anne Dudek — at least as a living, breathing role. You have to suspect that the decision-makers at House realized the mistake they made by not letting House hire her as part of his team. They did everything to keep bringing her back to the show, first as Wilson's girlfriend then as House's hallucination, even letting her reprise that role in the series finale. Dudek received more screentime in that final hour than Olivia Wilde's Thirteen did. Just imagine how much more entertaining those final three seasons could have been with Amber as a living member of the team.
The same quartet of writers who penned "House's Head" wrote "Wilson's Heart," though Katie Jacobs receives the directing reins. The second half of the story begins at a different New Jersey hospital — Princeton General — where Wilson and House find Amber hooked up to a ventilator, a heart monitor and various IVs. The attending physician, Dr. Richmond (Dan Desmond), informs them, "Her heart won't stop racing, no idea what's causing it." Ever the diplomat, House responds, "Sure it wasn't the bus that landed on her?" House wants to move Amber by ambulance immediately to Princeton-Plainsboro. Richmond, not in a mood to cooperate now, argues that House lacks the authority to make such a decision. "But her husband can," House responds, hinting at a spaced-out Wilson. "Move her!" Wilson insists. During the ambulance ride, while House works desperately to figure out what's wrong with Amber, the grief-stricken Wilson stays stuck on the question of why Amber was on the bus with House in the first place. “I’m not hiding anything, I just don’t remember,” House finally tells him in an attempt to get him to focus. As Amber starts to flatline, House prepares the defibrillators and it snaps Wilson back to the issue at hand. He urges House to stop. “Protective hypothermia,” Wilson suggests. House reminds Wilson that Amber's heart already has stopped beating, why does he want to freeze her? Wilson's theorizes that since her heart has incurred damage, if they revived her now, they'd just be killing her brain as well. If they can lower her temperature, it can buy time for House to diagnose the problem. “This is not a solution. All you’re doing in pressing pause,” House argues, but Wilson stays adamant. "House, this is Amber! Please,” Wilson pleads to his friend. House tells him to pull the saline solution as he starts grabbing the ice packs. While a mystery (actually two) lie at the center of "Wilson's Heart," it doesn't play at the same pace as it did in "House's Head" because of the undercurrent of melancholy and higher stakes. At the hospital, they get her body cooled and Chase hooks her up to a heart-lung bypass while everyone gets to work trying to figure out a solution. Taub becomes the first brave enough to ask House if he and Amber had an affair, which House denies. "You can’t really say that if you can’t remember," Taub counters. "I lost four hours, not four months," House replies. Taub asks if House might have taken any drugs with her and House again doesn't think so, but agrees to Taub's suggestion of a tox screen. As Thirteen and Kutner search Wilson and Amber's apartment for any clues, Kutner stumbles upon a sex tape, prompting Thirteen to protest that none of them should be treating Amber in the first place. Treating a friend can cloud judgments, Thirteen says. Kutner reminds Thirteen that she didn't even like Amber. As House stares at the whiteboard, we see a sign of Ambers yet to come as he experiences his first Amber hallucination. "Are you OK?” she asks as she appears in the office. House tries to ignore her and even recognizes that he's hallucinating. “What did we do last night?” She pours House a glass of sherry and continues. “Maybe she always had a thing for him…his mind, his blue eyes…” Dream Amber straddles his lap. "So maybe they decide to meet one night at an out of the way bar. Does that sound familiar? Do I feel familiar? What do you feel?” She whispers in his ear, “Electricity.” House awakens and limps to ICU. He wants to apply electrical impulses directly to the hypothalamus so he can evoke his detailed memories. Wilson and Cuddy don’t think it’s a good idea. Before House can experiment, everyone gets paged. Kutner found prescription diet pills containing amphetamines in vitamin jars. House wants to check manually if Amber's heart valves calcified and Chase prepares for open heart surgery, but Wilson stomps off, not looking pleased. As Chase puts drops in Amber's eyes, he notices that they are jaundiced. meaning liver failure. Diet pills don't do that so they return her to ICU. More diagnoses get posited, then pushed aside. Wilson just keeps pushing for cooling Amber down further, but Taub again becomes the voice of reason. He realizes he loves her, but cooling her down isn't going to save her. House gets stuck on the idea that Amber poured him a sherry in his hallucination. Kutner recalls that there's a bar near the crash site called Sherrie's. House orders them to keep Amber cool — he's taking Wilson for a drink. When they get to the bar, the bartender recognizes House and assumes he's returned for his keys, which he gives to him. He asks if the bartender saw him with a blonde and if she appeared ill. The bartender remembers her sneezing. "Did you see the color of the sputum?" House inquires. "I assume sputum means snot? Look, I see a lot of drunk chicks in here. I didn't have time to stop and analyze the color of your girlfriend's boogers," the bartender replies. “She’s not my girlfriend genius,” House responds. “She was hot, you seemed into her and she bought you drinks. Last night she was your girlfriend,” the bartender insists. House ignores him and wonders if Amber already had an infection, but Wilson gets stuck on the bartender's comment. “You seemed into her?” Wilson repeats. “If he had a brain he wouldn’t be tending a bar,” House answers. After Taub and Foreman find some infiltrates and minor inflammation on the liver biopsy, House leaps to the conclusion that Hepatitis B lies at the root of the problem. "Start her on IV interferon. I'm going to tell Wilson." House tells Foreman. Noting how obvious it is that his boss is running on fumes responds sarcastically, "Good idea and I'll go nap because I was concussed last night and had a heart attack this morning. I'll tell Wilson. You go sleep." Since when has House taken anyone's advice? He heads to the ICU where Amber opens her eyes, sits up straight and criticizes House for making such a "lame diagnosis" as Hepatitis B. She points to a red rash on her lower back. House wakes up in his office and says to himself, "I get less rest when I'm sleeping." He heads back to the ICU and gets help turning her and, sure enough, the red rash marks her back where the Dream Amber showed him. More speculating ensues. “We are not starting her heart until we’re 100 percent certain!” Wilson shouts. "We’re never 100 percent certain,” Foreman reminds him, then gets shocked when House sides with Wilson. "You know he’s wrong! You can’t change your mind just because a family member starts crying. They’re always scared!” Foreman argues. House insists on running blood cultures on the rash. Foreman goes to Cuddy and lets her in on what's going on, saying that Amber will die for sure if she doesn't step in. Wilson walks into the ICU as Foreman and Cuddy begin the process of warming Amber back up. Foreman says it's the only way to see if the antibiotics are working. Wilson spots the EEG readings. “Well done. We still don’t know what it is but you just let it spread to her brain!” He confronts Cuddy later in House's office. "This is exactly what I said would happen, it’s in her BRAIN now!" he yells at Cuddy."Brain involvement gives us a new symptom," she responds defensively. "That wouldn’t BE there if you hadn’t —" Wilson can't finish his sentence. "It’s where the disease was going, we needed to know that," Cuddy says. "This was not your decision to make!! You went behind MY back, you went behind House’s back!" Wilson chides her, halfway between anger and tears. The arguing awakens House, who stumbles his way into the middle of the mess pleading for "inside voices." Cuddy tells Wilson that House wanted to warm Amber up but that Wilson has guilted him into changing his mind. “Heart. Liver. Rash. And now her brain,” Cuddy lays it out. House can't cover up the facts for his friend anymore. Autoimmune fits best," House admits, advocating warming Amber up. Wilson won't give up yet. He fears that if something else turns out to be the culprit, steroids could make her worse. He’s the attending, you’re the family. Go spend more time with the patient.” Cuddy tells him as gently as she can before leaving Wilson and House alone. "You can't do this," Wilson says, just shaking his head. "It’s not a good argument. It’s not an argument at all. I’m sorry,” House replies regretfully. Wilson kicks a chair and leaves, but he returns, seeming as if reason has returned to him. “Cuddy’s right. I was afraid to do anything. I thought if everything just stopped it’d be OK.” House tries to reassure him that it will be and tells him that Taub has begun treatment. Wilson then says they haven't tried everything and suggests House's earlier crazy idea about zapping his brain with electricity to see if he can jog loose any other clues. “You think I should risk my life to save Amber's?” House asks. Wilson nods and House lets out a joy-free laugh before nodding himself. Once he's strapped in and Chase inserts the voltage, he's transported back to Sherrie's bar, but the images come in black and white and without sound. "As long as I'm risking my life, I might as well be watching a talkie," House tells Chase, giving him the OK to up the voltage. Chase doesn't like the idea, but Wilson turns it up. House recalls the bartender taking his keys. He called Wilson to pick him up, but Wilson was on call and Amber answered so she agreed to come fetch him. House talked Amber into one drink. He was so blotto that he forgot to take his cane or to pay the bill, but Amber went back and took care of both. House tells her to go home, he'll take the bus, but she boards the bus to return his cane. "Are you doing this for me or Wilson?" he remembers asking her. "Wilson," she answered. House salutes her. On the bus, House remembers Amber sneezing again and telling him she thought she was coming down with the flu. He then visualizes her reaching into her purse for pills — he yells in vain for her not to take them but she does and House has the answer and it isn't good news. The crash destroyed her kidneys and her body can't filter the drugs out of her system. Dialysis won't clear out the amantadine poisoning. Nothing can save Amber. House collapses, falling into a coma. Chase and a surgical team try to shock Amber's heart to no avail. Chase prepares to call the time of death, but Cuddy tells him not to do it but wake her up instead. “Wake her up? Just to tell her that she’s — that she’s — ” Wilson can’t speak the words. He places his hands over his faces. Cuddy put her hand on his shoulder. Wilson pulls Cuddy into a tear-soaked hug. “You are waking her up. So you can both say goodbye to each other. She would want it,” Cuddy tells him while still holding tight. Wilson eventually lets go and returns to ICU where Amber slowly opens her eyes. Cuddy keeps a solitary vigil by House's bedside. House's team prepares their farewells. "We should say goodbye," Thirteen suggests. "She didn't even like us," Taub says. "We liked her," Kutner declares. "Did we?" Taub asks. "We do now," Foreman responds. When Amber starts to come to, she remembers the bus crash. Wilson describes a little bit of what happened but when he mentions her liver and she sees how upset he is, Amber deduces the rest. “I’m dying,” she declares. The team comes by one at a time, not saying much, though Thirteen gives her a big hug that seems to take Amber by surprise. Amber admits she's tired and wants to sleep, but Wilson begs her to hang on a little longer. "I’m always going to watch out for you, OK," she tells him. "I don’t think I can do it," Wilson starts to break and hold her tighter. "It's OK," she whispers. "It’s not OK. Why is it OK with you? Why aren’t you angry?” he asks as he tears up. “That’s not the last feeling I want to experience,” she replies. Wilson pulls back and kisses her, then turns off the bypass machine. Amber stares at him for a second or two longer before her eyes slowly close. Wilson holds her and cries. House, meanwhile, remains in a coma with Cuddy asleep in the chair beside his bed, her hand gripping his. Inside his mind, House imagines himself on the bus again with Amber. He wears his hospital gown and they alone ride the vehicle. "You're dead," he says to her. "Everybody dies," Amber points out. "Am I dead?" he asks her. "Not yet," Amber answers. "I should be," House declares. "Why?" she inquires. "Because life shouldn’t be random. This lonely misanthropic drug addict should die in bus crashes. And young do-gooders in love who get dragged out of their apartment in the middle of the night should walk away clean," he insists. "Self pity isn’t like you," Amber notes. "Yeah well, I’m branching out from self-loathing and self-destruction. Wilson is gonna hate me," House worries. "You kind of deserve it," Amber tells him. "He’s my best friend. I know. What now? Can I stay here with you?" he asks Amber. "Get off the bus," Amber suggests. "I can't," House claims. "Why not?" Amber wants to know. "Because…because it doesn't hurt here. Because I…I don't want to be in pain, I don't want to be miserable. And I don't want him to hate me," House admits. "Well…you can't always get what you want," Amber says, quoting his favorite philosopher. House stands up and walks to the exit of the bus. In his hospital room, his eyes open. "Hey, I'm here. Blink if you can hear me," Cuddy says to him. House blinks and starts to speak, but she tells him to rest. Later, Wilson looks in and he and House exchange glances but no words. Wilson goes home. When he gets to his apartment, he finds a note on his bed from Amber telling him that she's gone to a bar to pick up a drunken House. What a triumphant two-hours of storytelling that made use of all its characters, giving us backgrounds on Kutner's past and Thirteen's future (as if we cared) and didn't even need guest stars. It also cemented more strongly the idea that perhaps there could be something romantic between Cuddy and House. In many ways, it marked the highpoint of the series. It had individual episodes that scored after that, but mostly the remaining years of the show involved a rollercoaster of quality. Still, I have one episode that ranks higher.
When I decided that the penultimate episode of House's inaugural season, the episode that won its creator David Shore an Emmy for outstanding writing in a drama series, deserved my top spot, I pondered how many great series produced their finest installments way back in the show's initial year of existence. The first example to pop into my head happened to be "Tuttle" from the first season of M*A*S*H, but with most other series I tend to think of best seasons and they usually come later, as was the case, in my opinion, with House as well. In fact, if I ranked the eight seasons of House from 1 to 8 with 1 being the best, I'd place them in this order:
I suppose the fact that my choice for my favorite of the series' 177 episodes (actually, the total should be 176, but they count the behind-the-scenes special "Swan Song" that aired before the "Everyone Dies" finale May 21) comes from my fourth-favorite of the series' seasons must speak volumes for the greatness of "Three Stories." As I've written earlier in this piece, I came to House late and didn't see the show in order, but the series didn't bother to explain from the beginning what caused the injury to Dr. Gregory House's leg and the genius of "Three Stories" stems from the fact that his "audience" of med students, literally representing the home viewer, don't realize at first that the lessons he shares with them aren't simply situations they might face when they become doctors but that he's actually describing his own traumatic past. It all comes about simply enough when Cuddy informs him that usual doctor who presents the lecture, Dr. Reilly, "is throwing up. He obviously can't lecture." House, always looking for a way out of busy work asks her, "You witness the spew? Or you just have his word for it? I think I'm coming down with a little bit of the clap. May have to go home for a few days." She makes him give the lecture anyway and we're essentially rewarded for an hour with a command performance by Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House, literally standing on a stage above his audience and holding us all in rapt attention. Before House gets to the auditorium, a face from his past stops him. His former girlfriend Stacy Warner (Sela Ward) approaches him. She knows he isn't happy to see her, but she needs his help with a case — her husband’s. He's been suffering from severe abdominal pain and fainting spells. They’ve gone to three doctors and nobody has answers. She gives House his file and begs him to think about it. "I know you're not too busy. You avoid work like the plague. Unless it actually is the plague. I'm asking you a favor," Stacy says. "I'm not too busy, but I'm not sure I want him to live. It's good seeing you again," he replies as he limps past her on the way to the auditorium. Really, choosing "Three Stories" almost counts as a no-brainer on my part since the episode earned near-universal praise from critics and fans when it originally aired (Not that I noticed at the time). It completely upended not only what had becoming the formula for House but for any medical drama in history. With the seats of the auditorium a little more than half-full of fresh young faces wearing clean white coats (though the audience's size will wax and wane throughout the day(, House takes to the stage. "Three guys walk into a clinic. Their legs hurt. What's wrong with them?" House asks the students. One of the students — given the moniker Keen Student (Josh Zuckerman) in the script — shoots his hand into the air quickly. House gives him an annoyed glance. "I'm not going to like you, am I?" Don't misunderstand the statement I'm about to make about "Three Stories" — if you just skim the comment and don't pay attention to the context, you're liable to think I'm overrating this episode beyond the realm of good reason and judgment. However, I mean it with all sincerity when I equate "Three Stories" to episodic television drama as Orson Welles' Citizen Kane is to cinema. That doesn't mean that I think "Three Stories" stands as the greatest example of an hour of TV drama ever produced (I don't even think that about Citizen Kane in terms of film). I'm referring solely to its structure. As so many point out about Kane, no matter how many times you've seen it, you're never positive what scene comes next. Other films work that same way and so does "Three Stories." To begin with, the title of this episode of House happens to be both a complete misnomer and totally accurate at the same time. When House tells the med students that "three guys" walk into the clinic, those cases will merge and bleed together, one will be a young woman, another becomes Carmen Electra and soon not only the cases don't match the genders but they add up to more than three. On the other hand, in the larger scheme of things, the episode does concern itself with three stories: 1) House's lecture to the students; 2) Stacy's return and her attempt to get House to take her husband's case; and 3) flashbacks to House's leg injury and Stacy's involvement in that. While it defies the structure of a typical House episode, "Three Stories" manages to blend most of the elements we've come to know and love, even this early in the show's run: the cynical humor, the pathos, the truth, the idiocy. "Three Stories" belongs in that rare section of television episodes that deserve the title masterpiece such as "Three Men and Adena" from the first season and "Black and Blue" from the second season of Homicide: Life on the Street. "Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency" from season three and "The Suitcase" from season four of Mad Men. Too many episodes of The Sopranos, Deadwood and Breaking Bad would qualify. The Wire plays like one long episode to me so I can't even separate it into chapters. "Three Stories" separates itself from every other House episode (even some later attempts to abandon chronological order) by defying the need for synopsis or highlights. It's not because I'd give away spoilers — it's because if you've never watched an episode of House before, watch "Three Stories." The series hooked me in that hospital bed before I ever caught up with this episode, but I find it hard to imagine anyone watching this episode of House and not coming back for more. I will share a handful of the episode's best quotes, since House as teacher makes for an interesting idea. "It is in the nature of medicine, that you are gonna screw up. You are gonna kill someone. If you can't handle that reality, pick another profession. Or, finish medical school and teach."; "I'm sure this goes against everything you've been taught, but right and wrong do exist. Just because you don't know what the right answer is — maybe there's even no way you could know what the right answer is — doesn't make your answer right or even OK. It's much simpler than that. It's just plain wrong."; "This buddy of mine, I gotta give him ten bucks every time somebody says 'Thank you.' Imagine that. This guy's so good, people thank him for telling them that they're dying.…I don't get thanked that often… It's a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies. The only variable is about what. The weird thing about telling someone they're dying is it tends to focus their priorities. You find out what matters to them. What they're willing to die for. What they're willing to lie for." Also, pertaining to his real-life situation when an aneurysm caused an infarction in his leg muscle, killing the muscle. Cuddy and Stacy advise amputating his leg to save House's life, but House refuses despite the risks. "I like my leg. I've had it for as long as I can remember," House declares. He wants a bypass to attempt to restore circulation. When that surgery doesn't completely succeed, House suffers a heart attack. He requests to be put in a temporary coma to get through the pain. Stacy, acting as his medical proxy, tells Cuddy to take the middle ground between amputation and a bypass, so they remove as much of the dead muscle tissue as possible, leaving House as the limping, pain-afflicted man we know. At last, I've finished. There were many episodes I wanted to talk about, lines I wished to quote, points I wanted to make. Oh, well. Arrivederci House and Wilson — riding those motorcycles out there somewhere. Let's hope those five months last awhile and when you two find yourselves alone, you won't be as broken as everyone who stepped into Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital seemed to be. Greg House's problems grabbed the spotlight, but the true theme of House was healing in every sense of the word and it wasn't just the patients who needed fixing. All staff members were damaged. Not just House, but Wilson, Cuddy, Foreman, Cameron, Chase, Taub, Park, etc. House always tried to get the old band together again because what would his life be likewithout his dysfunctional relatives? What will ours be like without his?