Tuesday, January 30, 2007

TV Review: House - "One Day, One Room"

If I were to win some fabulous contest and were allowed to request a made-to-order House episode, it might look something like this: Lots of snide, sarcastic House with a glimpse deep into one of those truck-sized holes in his armour. Philosophical questions raised but never answered. A reveal about House that answers some questions and raises more. Echoes of previous themes. Bending but not breaking the medical mystery formula. Cuddy flirtation. Compassionate yet spineful Cameron. Not too much Chase. Written by creator David Shore.

A lot like "One Day, One Room."

Which doesn't mean this is my favourite episode ever. I don't expect "Three Stories" to ever get knocked off that perch. Plus, between "Autopsy," "No Reason," "Son of Coma Guy," "Skin Deep," "Detox," "Lines in the Sand," etc. ... good lord, I need some complex algorithms to figure out my top 10. But "One Day, One Room" has all the elements that make me geek out on House. So caution: geeking ahead.

Another Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award later, Hugh Laurie proves how astonishingly adept he is at embodying all the contradictions of this character. House is hilarious, heartbreaking, annoying, cruel, hurt, tender, a liar, painfully truthful. Pretty much all in the same moment.

In this post-Tritter era (or as I like to call it, the "Tritter who?" era), House is back to being House, popping Vicodin in front of the boss who thought she'd successfully rehabbed him. She's found him hiding from the hospital at the jogging park where he goes to sit, watch and imagine - and hide. She finds him sprawled in a very cruciform position. After "Finding Judas," it's hard not to see it as more of the House-as-Jesus theme, which I have to assume is referenced with tongues firmly lodged in cheeks.

Realizing the rehab was a fraud, Cuddy feels betrayed. While House balks at the "do my job or go to jail" card she's got over him now, her personal appeal -- "you owe me" -- does the trick. Because as bad as he is at the personal, as much as he avoids the personal, it's the personal that reaches him. Which is why he tries to avoid it.

The job Cuddy wants House to do is to continue treating a patient he met during STD day at the clinic. She'd turned forced clinic duty into a game to keep him interested, and, as he deduces, to try to force him to deal with humanity in order to find his own humanity. Cuddy agreed to pay House $10 for every patient he could diagnose without touching, as long as he paid her $10 for every patient he has to touch (when a gorgeous woman is behind door number four, we know he's going to end up owing Cuddy for that one).

Eve (a terrific Katheryn Winnick) is the only one who does in fact have an STD. When he realizes she's been raped, House shows compassion in his own peculiar way -- he asks to be taken off the case. "Think I"m the right doctor for her?" he asks Cuddy. And there's his humanity ... and insecurity. He won't inflict himself on her.

Much to Cuddy's surprise - much to House's surprise - Eve insists on talking to House and only House. She even swallows a bottle of pills to make her point. So despite the fact that her case has no intriguing medical mystery, House is at first forced to take it on, then is compelled to talk to her when he gets drawn into the philosophical and the personal.

She wants to talk, but not about what happened to her. First she wants small talk. Just talk. As Foreman points out, she wants normalcy and to focus on the positive. As Cameron points out, she needs help to process what's happened to her. As Chase points out, the fact that Cameron romantically wants to believe House is good at helping facilitate that doesn't make it true.

Eve has her own ideas. Protesting that she doesn't have to have a reason for wanting House to talk to her, she claims she wants time, because time changes things. "No, doing things changes things. Not doing things leaves things exactly as they were," counters the master of not doing anything about his own personal issues.

The central mystery of her case is why she's latched on to House. He berates her for being irrational in trusting him.

Eve: Nothing's rational.

House: Everything's rational.

Eve: I was raped. Tell me how that makes sense to you.

Then she makes it personal. She asks him if anything terrible has ever happened to him. He likely ponders his long list of terrible things before asking, "what do you want me to say?"

"You wanted to talk about something that matters," she points out. "Talk."

Cuddy has ordered him to stay with the patient, but I've got to think that around this time, he's hooked of his own accord. Because if I'm a geek for the philosophical bent of House, House himself is the ubergeek.

But with the personal stuff, he needs help, so he goes to his entourage for guidance. First up is Wilson, who tells him to give the truth. But in this case, House isn't sure the truth matters. "There is no truth," he says to a confused Wilson, who asks "Are we role playing? Am I you? I don't want to be you."

House believes she's not looking for the truth from him, she's looking to extrapolate something from his experience in order to make some meaning out of the world as a whole, which is not the way to get to a greater truth.

Cameron tells him to tell her his life was great ("but it wasn't"), to give her hope for the world. Foreman tells him to tell her his life sucked ("but it didn't") and to pretend to be healed, to let her know that healing is possible.

Chase goes for the easy route, of course -- keep her sedated. He claims there's no wrong answer because there's no right answer. That sets House up with the opportunity to throw out one of his recurring philosophies, with shades of "Three Stories": "Wrong. We just don't know what the right answer is."

In the end, House tells Eve a story about being abused by his grandmother. He's told it with such ease, it seems obvious it's a lie. She attacks him for it on the grounds that he continued to call his grandmother "Oma." "Something would have to change," she wants to believe, still looking for meaning.

When he tells her she's irrational, she replies angrily: "What the hell can I do that you're not going to dismiss as being just because I was raped?"

For me, that's the most profound point of the episode: Our terrible events don't make us who we are, yet they tend to be what people judge us on. Maybe we need meaning to turn them into something more than terrible events, but we are more than the sum of our tragedies. House lost much of the use of his leg, House is in pain, House pushed away the love of his life, House was shot, House was abused. None and all of that makes him who he is. As he says, some people go through terrible things and do just fine, some go through terrible things and their lives suck.

I've cursed other House writers before, and I'll curse David Shore now, for making me write nearly a whole damn transcript while being completely absorbed in the show, in an attempt to catch the precision and beauty of the exact words:

House: You gonna base your whole life on who you got stuck in a room with?

Eve: I'm gonna base this moment on who I'm stuck in a room with. That's what life is. It's a series of rooms. And who we get stuck in those rooms with adds up to what our lives are.

Cuddy delivers the news that will provide next obstacle to Eve's recovery, and the next philosophical meat for Eve and House's discussion: she's pregnant.

House counsels her on abortion, but she's determined to keep the baby conceived in rape. I love that the show tackles two of the topics you're not supposed to discuss in polite society - abortion and religion - and has the main character take a firm, not-particularly-safe position on both. Eve views abortion as murder, but House sees birth as the nice, hard line between acceptable and unacceptable murder, and launches into debate club mode to expose flaws in her position.

She suddenly realizes he's enjoying the conversation. "This is the type of conversation I do well," he half smiles. He doesn't do well with the personal type, since there are no answers. "If there are no answers, why talk about it?"

Though he insists she's physically health enough to leave, he promises not to discharge her. Instead, he takes her to the park where "I sit, I watch, I imagine."

And, he could add, "I debate." This time, they get into religion as they hash out the irrationality of her trying to find God's purpose in her rape and pregnancy. "Either God doesn't exist or he's unimaginably cruel," says House. His explanation is that humans are base creatures who apply their intelligence to occasionally not being evil.

"What you believe doesn't make sense," House exclaims. "If you believe in eternity, then life is irrelevant, the same way a bug is irrelevant in comparison to the universe."

It's a nice touch in this episode, that from the cockroach in a patient's ear to House sitting in the park with a bug on his hand, the imagery actually ties in to the dialogue of the show.

"Then nothing matters if there's no ultimate consequences. I can't live like that," Eve says. "I need to know that it all means something. I need that comfort."

He points out that she doesn't seem particularly comfortable even with those beliefs. "I was raped. What's your excuse?" she zings back.

When Eve expresses annoyance at his tendency to answer her questions with a question, he replies, "I'm interested in what you're feeling."

"You are?" she asks. He is? Of course he is, but to express that seems a huge leap for the man who won't admit to personal connections.

"I'm trapped in the room with you, right?" he replies. "Why did you choose me?"

She explains vaguely that she feels that connection to him. And when he reveals that his story, his lie, was not exactly a lie -- it was his father who abused him, not his grandmother -- first his face, then hers, back and forth, alternately fades into focus, making the impact of his confession on both of them more pronounced. I rarely notice direction unless it's either really bad or really well done, but director Juan J. Campanello did well here.

And suddenly, everything House has said to Eve, everything Eve has said to House, takes on the burden of applying to his situation as well as hers. Does what he believes make sense? How does a man who believes in absolute rationality process abuse from a parent, other than to believe in our evil instincts? When he told Eve, "It doesn't mean anything about you, it's not your fault," has he really learned to believe that himself? When he explained to her that she had control taken away from her and is now trying to get control again, was he talking about himself?

He tells her he wants to hear her story, and she begins to recount it as the scene fades into a song. Because the rape story isn't important, though the connection is. Maybe he's proven that he won't dismiss her. Maybe they've each had a profound impact on each other in their one day together. Maybe they've both taken a step towards each other's position. He's certainly not as sure of himself as we're used to seeing.

There's another patient story interspersed with Eve's that touches on some of the same themes. Cameron's post-Tritter symptom is that she's not covering for House anymore. When he'd tried to hide from clinic duty by performing a slew of unnecessary tests on an already diagnosed patient, she volunteers at the clinic where she is noticeably not hiding from Cuddy, as instructed.

Her punishment for disloyalty, as Cuddy points out, is to be saddled with another dying patient. She encounters a homeless man with inoperable lung cancer (played by ubiquitous character actor Geoffrey Lewis, also known as father of Juliette), with whom she gets to practice her relatively new off-hand dismissive attitude with patients, which is not nearly at House levels but is probably a sign she's been infected with a low-grade Housian infection.

The patient is determined to not only punish himself for a wasted life, but to create meaning for his life by refusing treatment and dying in pain. "I need you to remember me. I need someone to remember me."

Boy did he pick the right doctor. Cameron, who married a dying man so he wouldn't be alone, who befriended a dying patient so she wouldn't be alone, expressed a similar philosophy in season two's "Acceptance": “When a good person dies, there should be an impact on the world. Somebody should notice. Somebody should be upset.” Though this patient may not have been a good man, and though she claims she will not watch him suffer, Cameron respects his wishes and lets herself be there in his one day, one room, that she will presumably carry with her much further.

Before the day is done, Cuddy lets House know that Eve has had the abortion and been discharged. "She's going to be OK."

House: "Yeah, it's that simple."

Cuddy: "She's talking about what happened. That's huge."

House isn't convinced. After all, if there are no answers, why talk about it? He is convinced that in their futile desire to help, they lean on the only thing they can do to tell themselves they've helped: drag her story out of her. As she did with him. "All we've done is make a girl cry."

Wilson asks the obvious question: then why? Why did House persist? And words I never would have imagined we'd hear from House's mouth come out: "Because I don't know."

As House leaves, Wilson asks if he's going to follow up with Eve. "One day, one room," he replies. I guess that's a no.

The next episode of House airs Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 9 p.m. on FOX.