Best Episode Ever # 41: ‘House’
Pretty much every episode of “House” was equally compelling, because whatever the case of the week, the drama was inherent. Do the ends of saving a life and curing a rare condition, meticulously researched by by the writing staff, justify the means of House (Hugh Laurie) breaking the rules to get there?
Of course this is a fictional world in which House always knows the answer to everything, so the answer is yes, the ends justify the means. If House is always right, then of course you do whatever he wants even if he’s condescending and breaks protocol and is on drugs. In real life, we absolutely need medical rules and procedures. But this is drama. Every episode of “House” questioned in some way how far you might be willing to go, in his professional and personal life.
So, with a pretty even slate of intense dramatic situations and moral quandaries, the only way to pick the Best Episode Ever of “House” was to think of the one with an extra added oomph of House behavior. That would have to come in Season Four when House was recruiting three new doctors to be his team in a “Survivor” style elimination, the competitions being more clever manipulations by House.
The episode would have to be further narrowed down to represent a shining example of my favorite “House” supporting character, Amber/Cutthroat Bitch (Anne Dudek), who is such a female House that he should have absolutely chosen her to explore the dramatic conundrum of two Houses on the same team. Alas, she remained a guest star, though kept coming back, but her height was as a cutthroat bitch competing for the job.
The episode within this narrow window that was the most House-y was “97 Seconds.” In this episode we see House devise a game to sick the candidates against each other and Amber is at her most cutthroat. Fittingly, this is the episode where she gets the nickname. It’s got a clinic patient, which is one of the joys of House’s interactions despite his resistant to seeing clinic patients. It’s got some bad House behavior, and even a Foreman (Omar Epps) subplot that’s a poignant juxtaposition for “House” as a whole series, let alone what House is up to this week.
The patient in “97 Seconds” is a spinal muscular atrophy patient (Brian Klugman) in a wheelchair who begins fainting. It’s funny that the best episode of “House” wouldn’t be determined by the most interesting patient. There may have been a more interesting patient than this, but only by a matter of degrees. What makes nearly every episode of “House” equally brilliant is the way House relates to the patient, regardless of what the actual medical mystery is. However, I can only marvel at the research it would take on a weekly basis to make these stories medically accurate.
House decides to split the 10 candidates into two teams, by gender. Whoever diagnoses the patient first, gets to stay. Amber Machiavellis her way into the men’s team. But they don’t take her at first so Amber also goes to Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) in the ER, and tries to get lab work out of Chase (Jesse Spencer). Meanwhile, the male team writes fake diagnoses on the dry erase board so that if the women’s team is cheating, they’ll crib the wrong answers.
The game may be irrelevant because none of the diagnoses cure this patient. Given his deteriorating condition, the patient accepts death and even embraces what may be coming next. It seems irrelevant for House to argue with him at this point. He can’t save the patient, so what does House care if he dies sooner or a little later with some hospital assistance? House is an empirical man though. This leads to one of my all time favorite “House” exchanges between House and Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard). Wilson, arguing that even if House doesn’t believe in an afterlife, there would have been no harm in lying to the patient who’s going to die anyway. House’s response is to hold out his hand and say, “Hi, Greg House.”
I always thought “House” was the funniest show on television. His retorts and reprimands were the cleverest, wittiest writing in comedy, let alone drama. This was the perfect way for House to illustrate “What do you expect? I’m Greg House.” Honestly, it’s season four. Why is anyone still wondering why House acts the way he acts? He’s got another great line early in the episode where he asks Amber to hold his metaphor, referring to his cane.
House was so irreverent, I really didn’t understand why some viewers objected to his behavior. I mean, sure, the wild west approach to medicine and the combative workplace environment, but he was so light and funny about it, I just saw it as a playful way of pushing everybody to be their best. And he had Hollywood’s A-list writing team providing the perfect tone of language for him.
Earlier in the episode, House saw a clinic patient who stuck a knife into an electric socket right in front of House. After reviving him, the patient told House he’d just been in an automobile accident and died for 97 seconds. The feeling was such a high that he wanted to experience it again. After his argument about the afterlife, House decides to put the 97 seconds theory to the test and shocks himself with the same knife. He pages Amber and waits until she’s there to revive him, but he electrocutes himself. This is pretty wild bout of House irresponsibility. I also liked when he contaminated an OR to cancel a surgery, but there are so many rule breaking incidents that again, how do you pick the best?
The wealth of Houseisms in “97 Seconds” gives it the edge for Best Episode Ever. There may be better individual moments, but if you’ve got to introduce someone to “House,” “97 Seconds” covers everything. For the longtime viewers though, a Foreman subplot is especially validating. Foreman tries to take the anti-House approach to a team of diagnosticians at his new job. He tries to encourage them instead of terrorize them, and it turns out that doesn’t work. Being nice doesn’t result in accurate diagnoses and cures. Then when he pulls a House stunt, even though it saves the patient, Foreman gets fired.
For a character as self-righteous as Foreman to finally get schooled and see that House has been right is pretty rewarding. Of course it’s self-serving to the writers of “House,” but the show is called “House,” not “Foreman.” Did you see all the other stuff that’s going on in this episode? They could only tell the Foreman story in the simplest, most concise terms, but the point is valid. A show about how you should be nice to other doctors and patients wouldn’t have much material for eight seasons. “House” is more interesting this way and this was a valid way to reinforce the point.
Of course, this is fiction. In Hollywood, Vicodin addiction = medical genius. In real life, pill popping doctors won’t have such a good track record, but we’re dealing with drama here. The question is, what if the most effective life saver did so by belittling colleagues and patients, breaking the rules and numbing his pain, but he had a 90% success rate? To me, every episode that explored that provocative dilemma with such entertaining dialogue and performance was pretty much equal, but just for the record “97 Seconds” was the Best Episode Ever.