Season Six of House M.D. was assuredly a step up. The season opening mini-movie and the final two episodes alone boosted the sixth season ahead of other recent offerings. Moreover, throughout the season, the show’s producers demonstrated a willingness to play around with or even completely abandon the usual format. These departures resulted in some of the most interesting episodes in recent years, if not the series as a whole. The episode “Wilson” shined a spotlight on House’s constant companion in oncologist Dr. James Wilson, giving us an entire self-contained story from his perspective. The episode not only showed additional depth in an already well-explored personality, but proved that the Wilson character might have been able to carry a series on his own. Similarly, the episode “5 to 9” gave us a day in the life of Lisa Cuddy, from her struggles to renegotiate the hospital’s insurance contract to her frustrating run-ins with House, to the difficulty of balancing her personal and professional responsibilities. Again, this opportunity to take an in-depth look at a character whose day-to-day life the audience has only seen brief glimpses of in the pastwas a welcome change of pace. Finally, the episode “Lockdown” broke the format by forgoing a medical mystery in favor of seeing the characters separated and thrown back together in random pairs. The episode gave the audience closure to what was an otherwise abrupt departure for Dr. Cameron, and the pairings showed us some interesting new dynamics between characters we had rarely seen interacting.
Still, what made year six of House a cut above other recent seasons was an even bigger departure from the norm: House’s struggle to overcome his addiction to painkillers and to become a better person. After five seasons in which such an attempt at change had been repeatedly teased and tested, the show’s writers finally pulled the trigger. Throughout season six, House tried to rid himself of addiction and the results were some of the best episodes of House in years. The good doctor certainly maintained his acerbic wit and rule-bending ways, but the changes were noticeable and added a new flavor to a procedural that has at times felt a bit stale. This story arc provided a steady current that ran through the entire season, beginning with the excellent “Broken” at the outset and culminating in both the intriguing “Baggage” and the powerful and poignant “Help Me.” Now, the writers are kicking off Season 7 by pulling the trigger on another long-teased storyline for House – a relationship between him and Cuddy.
“Now what?” explores the very question that has stirred quite a bit of debate among fans of the show. Sure, House and Cuddy can kiss, or fight, or kiss then fight, but how exactly would a relationship between the unpredictable and rebellious House and the relatively straight-laced and practical Cuddy work? The first episode of the new season attempts to offer the audience at least a glimpse of an answer.
Note: the rest of this review contains some spoilers.
As it happens, this episode was also something of a format-bender. As is appropriate for a romance that’s been budding for six years now, the writers devoted the Season Seven premiere primarily to House and Cuddy feeling out the beginnings of their relationship instead of a medical mystery. I generally enjoyed their lighthearted interactions and the playful manner in which they slowly defined the contours of their relationship. Though their part of the episode, as expected, was not without a few cheesy moments (the mini-arc about “I love you” stands out), their interactions not only felt real, but also true to the characters. House seems like the type of person who would not only have always harbored a secret desire to open a bottle of champagne with a sword, but also the type to be woefully inept at it and he and Cuddy having a laugh at the attempt was one of the smallest, truest moments of the episode. The laughter, the bits of awkwardness, those cute little moments, all felt very genuine for this new love still trying to find its sea legs.
“Why do you have to analyze things to death? Why can’t this just be nice?”
Of course there was conflict. House, very reasonably and rationally, pointed out the reasons why the relationship might fail. Cuddy, also very reasonably and rationally, was concerned about House being able to maturely return her affections. Naturally, the people in charge of the show wouldn’t wash away all of this build up in the first episode of the season, but it’s nice for the writers to acknowledge the bumps in the road that are to be expected while still giving the fans a taste of a happy ending. In that same vein, I think I could have done without what turned out to be a number of pretty gratuitous fan service shots of Cuddy and even occasionally House, but I suppose the M.O. of network television these days is upping the risqué factor. They did give us a number of moments that stayed tender without veering too far off into the sexual.
Cuddy: The only time you’re afraid is when you’re happy. You think it won’t last.
House: Because it doesn’t.
The B-Story involved House’s team attempting to treat an ailing neurosurgeon, the only one on staff, so that the emergency room did not have to shut down due to the lack of an on-call doctor capable of performing brain surgery. Technically, the neurosurgeon was the patient of the week, but it was a fairly minor illness and he didn’t even show up until about halfway through the episode. As usual, it was fun to see the ducklings coping without House for a bit. Chase maintained his House Jr. credentials by masterminding a number of hare-brained schemes to evade the problem, and another team member saved the day with the correct, longshot diagnosis. The other part story consisted of the rest of the team reacting to the other half of last season’s cliffhanger – Thirteen, the walking collection of gimmicks, deciding to take a leave of absence. The previews for upcoming episodes seem to indicate that she might really be gone, but like last season, I suspect her departure may be too good to be true.
All-in-all, I really enjoyed the season premiere. It delivered a satisfying resolution to the House-Cuddy situation, particularly after picking up right where last season left off. It gave us some fun stuff from the ducklings and even the promise of at least a few episodes without Thirteen. There was humor, drama, and even the invasions of privacy that we have come to know and love as part of House. A great start to Season 7.