There is a notion, popular among fans of serialized television, that the conclusion of a story is the single most significant factor in determining whether the episodes leading up that conclusion are any good. It’s a notion that I have been known to mock, as it seems to me this takes the concept of a television series as a single unit past its breaking point. No matter how serialized a show is, it’s still composed of individual episodes that can be enjoyed or not enjoyed on their own merits. While it’s true that a strong conclusion can improve a story, there’s no reason a story can’t be enjoyable even if it’s followed by a weak conclusion. Alas, House is doing its best to prove me a hypocrite.
There’s a lot to like in “Fall From Grace.” It’s a very broad episode–some would say too broad–built largely around House being a wild and crazy guy. Even the case of the week is especially absurd, featuring one of the most gloriously ridiculous twists I’ve seen in a while, in which it turns out that the patient–with whom Masters has developed a nice little patient-doctor relationship–is a serial killer. And a cannibal. A SERIAL KILLING CANNIBAL.
House, meanwhile, does not kill or eat people, but he does try hard to give the impression that he’s losing control. Last week he holed up in a hotel with a troupe of hookers and then jumped off a balcony into a swimming pool. This week he’s riding around in a monster truck, bringing a big-screen TV into his office, playing ping-pong while diagnosing a patient, getting foot massages from a Russian prostitute, and, oh yeah, marrying her in return for services rendered so that she can become a United States citizen. When Wilson expresses consternation over the marriage, House explains it will save him $30,000 a year. It’s hard to argue with math like that.
I can completely understand why some would find this too broad by half, but I found it all to be quite a lot of fun. Now we have to talk about why it’s quite a lot of fun, though, given that it’s putatively the story of someone letting go and giving in to all his worst, most self-destructive tendencies. If that reading is right, playing House’s self-destruction for laughs basically makes House the Charlie Harper/Sheen of medical dramas.* If this is the case, we can find it amusing because, as in the case of Two and a Half Men, we have the benefit of the barrier of artificiality protecting us from having to deal with the darker implications of House’s behavior. But unlike Two and Half Men, House has always mixed the wackiness with genuine, even melodramatic consequences. While House can act like an escapist hero at times, the show is ultimately very much not pure escapism. And generally when House is in full-on meltdown mode, the show goes to the melodrama more than the humor.
(*This would give that dream sequence from “Bombshells” just a little more significance.)
Additionally, House’s behavior here isn’t actually all that self-destructive. At worst, he’s risking an investigation by the INS. Riding around in a monster truck, playing ping-pong, getting a TV–these are all things that could happen in any episode. It’s just that House is doing them all at once and they’re slightly more outlandish than his usual fare. Even marrying a Russian prostitute isn’t particularly far removed from House’s usual behavior, especially given his financial calculations. The end of the episode–when House declines the opportunity to sleep with his new wife–more or less makes clear what’s really going on here. This isn’t House losing control at all; this is House being spiteful and trying to hurt Cuddy. Which is dickish, but not existentially horrifying. Despite Wilson’s concerns–he tells Cuddy House needs someone to tell him “no,” which I would argue is precisely what House wants Wilson to tell her–House is actually in complete control of his actions. So he can ride around in a monster truck, and we can laugh and not worry he’s going to drive it off a cliff.
That everything that happens in “Fall From Grace” is about House’s relationship with Cuddy is the source of my concern, however. Though House and Cuddy broke up a couple of weeks ago, thus ending the ungodly abomination that is Huddy, I can’t shake the feeling that we’re not quite out of the woods yet. I want to believe that “Bombshells” offered the definitive take on the relationship and that all that remains is fallout. But I can’t help but fear the writers have other ideas and are just setting the stage for a big reconciliation.
This is, of course, intentional on the show’s part. Huddy has been, for better or worse,* the central conceit of the season, and what happens to House and Cuddy now is likely to remain the central tension in the show until at least the season finale. Basic storytelling rules demand this be so. Indeed, if they simply dropped the story to return to the pre-Huddy status quo, it would feel abrupt and unsatisfying. So I don’t really want them to do that. And yet my disdain for the relationship is so great that the mere possibility of it reconstituting itself in the end has an adverse effect on my enjoyment of the episodes currently airing.
(*Note: It has been for the worse.)
But I still don’t think that’s an entirely fair way to evaluate an episode. While “Fall From Grace” is a part of the Huddy arc, it is not solely defined by the arc. It’s full of over-the-top humorous set pieces and sensationalistic twists and is just in general a lot of fun. And though the arc it belongs to has been badly mismanaged this season and could very well end poorly, it’s actually handled pretty well in this particular instance. Whatever dissatisfaction I have with the episode is more dissatisfaction with the season than with the episode itself. Which means that if I ever come across it in reruns, I’ll probably enjoy it a lot more than I did Monday night.
- When the team found bone fragments in the patient’s colon, I made a joke about the guy being a cannibal. I didn’t think they’d actually go there. But then they did! And it was kind of awesome!
- House’s new prostitute wife, played by Karolina Wydra, is fantastically charming. She and House should run away together.
- One of the funnier aspects of the show is the way the members of House’s team become desensitized to his behavior as time goes on. Masters is a wreck in this episode, but Taub, Foreman and Chase take it all in stride.
- Taub’s reaction to being left out of the wedding party is both sad and amusing. That he complains to House and winds up as the ring bearer is even more amusing.