It is Season Eight of the obviously-long-running FOX drama, House, M.D., and it hardly takes a diagnostician to see that the life signs are fading. Even before the season began, many involved were convinced it was the show’s last and House himself, Hugh Laurie, has said that he would be leaving to pursue a film career. FOX and series creator David Shore have since back-tracked slightly, tentatively wondering if indeed there will be a Season Nine. Probably impossible if Laurie does move on, but I put nothing past FOX at this point.
To be honest, Season Seven was probably the perfect ending point for the character and series House. They tried a bold experiment framed by this question: What if House were actually happy? He finally hooked-up with longtime love interest/nemesis Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), and their unorthodox relationship unfolded and self-destructed over the course of the year. It wasn’t a stellar season, marred by both Thirteen’s (Olivia Wilde) long absence, and the substitution of naive-yet-superior Martha Masters (Amber Tamblyn). It ended with House nearly killing both Cuddy and Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) when he plowed his car into Cuddy’s house as she was sitting down to dinner with her family and new boyfriend. In other words, the result of the experiment was disaster.
Season Eight starts with House – quite fittingly – in prison. In typical House fashion, he is far from remorseful over what he’s done and really only seems interested in the next puzzle, even if that means jeopardizing his upcoming parole. He meets prison doctor Jessica Adams (Odette Annable), whose limited personality hardly screams “show regular.” But once the new Dean of Medicine (and former team subordinate) Eric Foreman (Omar Epps) helps spring House, Adams eventually comes on board as well. Joining this new crew is Chi Park (Charlyne Yi) who is slightly more interesting than Adams, but hardly as charismatic as team members past. After a brief send-off for Thirteen, the rest of the band gets back together with Taub (Peter Jacobson) and Chase (Jesse Spencer) somewhat inexplicably deciding to endure more abuse at House’s hands.
But this new team has never really clicked for me. There have been some moments like a brief Adams vs. Park feud that seemed like the beginnings of actual development for the two newcomers, but the twisted joie de vivre and spirited back-and-forth of seasons past seems forced when it occurs at all. Even the legendary House-Wilson “bro-mance” has suffered, and what used to be one of the most interesting and often hilarious duos has been diminished.
Take the most recent episode, “Nobody’s Fault.” Wilson does not appear at all in a story which tries, once again, to indict the questionable methods House uses to treat his patients and motivate his team. Considering Wilson generally serves as House’s Jiminy Cricket, the absence thunders.
But this is hardly the most glaring error in “Fault,” which I’m certain was designed to be the game-changer and tone-setter for the latter half of the season. Under question from the “impartial” Dr. Cofield (Jeffrey Wright) over a case that goes horribly awry, House is as flippant as ever, even after the threat of revoking his parole is plunked onto the table. The episode launches into a full-scale inquiry that sees most of the team – in one way or another – defending House’s actions. Eventually, we learn that Chase was almost killed by a patient, hence the inquiry, and may be partially paralyzed as a result.
In the anticipated “decision” scene, it is clear Dr. Cofield is about to send House back to prison when the wife of the patient breaks in and lets everyone know that House saved her husband’s life. Cofield has a change of heart seemingly mid-sentence and lets House off the hook. It is a ridiculous television moment fraught with bad plotting, terrible cliches, and a desperate need to stay the course. It is, in fact, so abysmal that the writers have House stand up and defy his own exoneration, which just calls more attention to this all-too-pat ending. Even the critically-injured Chase is up and about by the end, throwing even that paper-thin illusion of development out the window.
Where the show goes from here is anyone’s guess, and is probably largely dependent on whether the show does actually get renewed. Chase’s recovery might be a storyline, and then again, they may just have him tap-dancing the next time we see him. House’s reluctant apology to Chase might be the start of a genuine change in his character, but the odds of that are slim. If there has been a theme at all to the series, it’s that people don’t change, especially not House.
And that is a curse. The fun of watching House is watching House be a jerk, so if he’s not a jerk…it’s just another medical show. But if he never ever grows or changes, the show stagnates, like it has already. Complicating things even further…even if he was capable of changing, what possible reason would he have for it now? House has been through and done some awful things that would have had most people reevaluating their lives almost immediately, if those events didn’t break them entirely. What catastrophic event could possibly cause such a man to question his behavior in a truly meaningful way at this late stage?
Perhaps we’ll get an answer as the increasingly-mediocre Season Eight grinds towards its conclusion.