Thoughts on “House MD” (Season 2)

It takes me about a week to watch one season of “House MD”, but I don’t intend for this to be a weekly thing.  But I noted some things in my comments on Season 1 that I wanted to follow up on in how they evolved in Season 2, and so figured I’d drop a post in here on the show,

Which means that I should talk about the character of Cameron.  I kinda liked her better in this season than in the first season.  The first thing is that they changed her look from the “fashionably gorgeous” look from the first season to the “smart gorgeous” look that she had in the episodes that I had watched before starting this run, which I think suits the character better.  They also mostly dropped the crush angle which reduced one of the more puzzling and annoying arcs that they had for her.  They also did manage to give her a role, pretty much directly as the conscience of the group who always brings up the moral issues.  For the most part, for me when they let Cameron be competent and stand up for herself, the character can be quite entertaining.

However, making her the conscience of the group has a problem:  it forces them to use her as a moral character and often that ends up with her coming across less as moral and more as sanctimonious.  But in pondering that it seems to me that the problem is less with the character and more with the fact that it seems that at least more modern works have a really hard time actually writing moral characters.  My exposure to modern TV and fiction is hit and miss, of course, but I found myself having a hard time thinking of any truly moral characters who didn’t come across as sanctimonious but instead as simply quietly moral who weren’t religious figures, and religious figures that are truly moral are in very short supply these days.  The moral figures who represented the moral view by simply acting morally and with quiet but devastatingly sincere arguments simply don’t exist anymore.  Outside of religious figures, I had to go back to children’s cartoons and characters like Optimus Prime to find that, and then while writing this I consider that maybe Helo Agathon from the revamped Battlestar Galactica would count, although he at times could be sanctimonious and at other times far too passive to really count.

As an example of this is that at one point they bring in a cyclist who is sick but is also a clear cheat, and the episode has Cameron be incredibly upset by this and start, at least, a process to rat him out to the press, whose only importance is that when the manager leaks it Cameron is the first person who gets blamed and has to strongly deny it.  As the episode lampshades, Cameron has no interest in sports and so no real reason to be as upset and to take those actions, but if something around morality comes up you need the moral paragon to be incredibly upset and to rant and rail against it, apparently.  But there was no reason to do that.  Someone like Chase who was interested in the sport could have been upset by it and Cameron could have done nothing more than support him with the moral argument, maintaining her status as the moral person and dealing with any kind of reply to Chase of “You only want to do this because you feel betrayed and had your illusion shattered”.  Additionally, you could even have had Cameron torn on this, feeling that cheating was wrong but noting that revealing this about this star would devastate all of this young fans, and so is it better to let them keep their illusions or else to potentially use him as a role model and strive for a career like his that they can’t achieve without cheating and risking their health.  Given that Cameron is still the incredibly nice one, that sort of empathy would be natural for her and would greatly weaken the sense that she is often incredibly sanctimonious rather than moral.

Her niceness is also an issue that seems to be dragging on from the first season into this one.  There are a number of plots that seem aimed at having Cameron take the optimistic approach to people in opposition to House’s cynicism only to prove House correct.  She thinks that a couple represents a happy marriage that House insists can never happen?  The wife is trying to kill the husband.  A lesbian couple comes in and Cameron notes that the sick one is planning on leaving her partner but is hiding it, even when her partner offers to donate part of her liver, and pushes the sick one to tell her, which is stopped by House?  It turns out that the partner already knew about it and is hoping that the donation will guilt the sick one into never leaving her.  House constantly comments that he’s trying to break her of her naivete, and the events seem targeted to do precisely that.  And yet she keeps doing it and the show still bends reality to make her be wrong to do it.

Now, it’s perfectly fine to have this sort of thing evolve over time.  But with events that are this prominent in a character’s arc need to be acknowledged, even if they are on a slow burn.  Cameron seems disappointed when these things happen, but rarely seems to even consider that her worldview might be flawed.  We don’t see her struggling with this, or even being more cynical at times and being bothered by the shift in her own ideas.  There may well be very small instances of this, but not enough for something so prominent, and whenever she gets any kind of emotional reaction to these sorts of things it always comes across as being over the top and so not an evolution.  Even if they want her to gradually become more cynical, it would be best for her to be at least not entirely incorrect at some point, but given the show what we really need is for her to prove House’s cynicism wrong more often, not the other way around.  Doing it this way makes this show a very cynical show, as they prove the cynic correct constantly and rarely if ever show the cynic as being wrong.

A prime example of this is a clash between Cameron and Foreman.   They both decide to write about one of their early cases, but Cameron tells everyone about it and Foreman doesn’t.  Both have to give it to House to sign and he decides to simply sign Foreman’s without reading it but to delay signing Cameron’s, which means that Foreman’s gets published first while hers wasn’t even submitted by then.  While House’s signing Foreman’s but not hers sounds like him being a bit of a jerk, I think what they imply is that House knew that she’d want his opinion on her paper and would ask for details, while Foreman just wanted it signed, and House is lazy and so would do that first to get it out of the way and then delay getting around to hers, which as he notes is Foreman playing them both.  Anyway, Cameron is very upset by this and calls Foreman out on that, which leads to tension between them in that episode, and at the end says that she’d apologize for her actions if he’d apologize for what he did — including writing his paper out of from under her — to preserve the friendship.  He replies that they aren’t friends and are only colleagues, and he has nothing to apologize for, which carries over into later episodes and involves him pretty much deliberately risking her getting infected with a fatal disease that he himself had in a very complicated and annoying subplot.

Anyway, the only character in the entire show that I can actually trust is Wilson, and House asks him about the papers and he says that they are both good papers and that Foreman focused on technical details while Cameron focused on ethical ones.  Now, I have some experience with academic papers, and based on what Wilson said it seems like Cameron is greatly overreacting.  The way she acts implies that he wrote on the case and now she can’t, but since the papers were so different that doesn’t seem to be the case.  At worst, she might need a few rewrites to make her focus more clear and more central to be sufficiently different to get published.  So her reaction would seem to be wrong here.  However, Foreman’s defense is not that.  He acts as if she’s right that this would have a great impact on her paper but his defense is, well, that he just doesn’t care, since they’re just “colleagues”.  But speaking as someone who has had to work on teams for over 25 years now, if someone on a team I was on caused someone else on the team to waste four months of their time just so that that person could be first my reaction — if I was in a position of authority — would be at a minimum “If you ever do anything like this again, you’re fired!”.  You do not cause colleagues to waste their time, even if it’s not a problem for someone to try to snatch was is presumably a more prestigious opportunity for someone else.  In this specific context, published papers would improve the prestige of the hospital and of House’s department, which even he would want so that he could use that as ammunition against anyone who would try to reduce or shut down his department.  Even if Foreman was the better one to write the paper, at a minimum House would want Cameron doing something else with those four months, like writing a paper on something else.  So while colleagues may not need to care about each others’ prospects, they at least have to avoid undermining them in a way that undercuts the overall prestige of the team.  Adding in that Cameron as a person is likely to be very upset by what Foreman did which would hurt the team dynamic which presumably is important to this sort of team working (given that they always have to work together on these cases, with multiple tests and eyes on test and so on), and so being a jerk to her is likely to ruin all of that, and so is something that should be discouraged.

Foreman does indeed have a tendency towards self-defeating jerkiness at times.  Due to a mistake Chase made, Foreman ends up overseeing House for a few weeks, and he starts off taking full advantage of that and rubbing House’s nose in it, but then Cuddy drops a hint that maybe it could be made permanent which Foreman likes, but of course House doesn’t care for the idea.  The thing is that the reason Cuddy preferred him in that role was a reason that House might like it:  Foreman is good at the organizational parts, including writing reports, which House hates to do and so doesn’t do.  So suggesting that Foreman handle the administrative stuff and House just focus on running the specific diagnostic events — and with Foreman being willing to not use his power to override House’s choices for treatment — would appeal to House.  But Foreman showed early on that given that power he’d stop House from doing things that Foreman considered too risky, so of course House wouldn’t go along with it.  So his own arrogance stopped him from potentially getting something that he wanted.

I also find Cuddy’s behaviour very strange in this season.  She knows that House is a great diagnostician, and constantly defends him on that basis.  And yet on a number of occasions she acts like she doesn’t trust him with that and so doesn’t actually think that, or thinks that she knows better than he does.  The worst case of this is where they had a young girl who had had a heart transplant and had been living in a sterile bubble who gets sick and is mostly dying, and Cuddy takes the case away from him and at the end he runs in diagnosing it as a tick bite and starts looking for the tick, and Cuddy orders him out and is taking over herself, requiring Wilson to arrange for him and Foreman to stop an elevator to look for the tick, which they eventually find.  Given that Cuddy didn’t have a better idea, House is usually eventually right — or at least reasonable — in his diagnoses, and the idea came from Cameron originally so it wasn’t just his own arrogance, which didn’t she at least let me do, well, what he did:  keep looking for the tick while they moved her to the ICU to try to keep her alive.  If she doesn’t trust his diagnostic ability, why does she even keep him on staff?  At least the other case where the patient was originally hers made more sense, and it would have made more sense in the case where he made a wrong diagnosis and ticked everyone off and caused the relevant people to not trust him, but it was pretty bizarre here.  It’s fine for her to have some antagonism for House — which he returns — but it must be sensible and can’t come into play only to make things more dramatic, at least not without it following from their actual conflicts (such as one case where House seemed to be trying to finally get a case right that he got wrong the last time).

At one point Wilson ends up separating from his wife, and he moves in with House for a bit, and while at first he annoys House eventually House can see the perks of the arrangement:  better food, a housekeeper for cleaning, and the implication that it stops him from being so lonely.  However, he also deliberately tries to annoy and prank Wilson while doing this, which really annoys Wilson.  I found that part really frustrating, mostly because it’s not presented as House’s personality ruining something that he did want and like (and actively works to maintain, as he costs Wilson an apartment at one point), but instead as some kind of reflection of friendship and that Wilson needs to engage in that as well (he does prank House later with that).  Again, being a jerk is at least not called out, and the problem is that we already know that House, deep down, is not really a jerk, so there’s no real reason to do that.

They do make a lot of links to Sherlock Holmes, as his place is at 221B in a direct reference.  But House is not Holmes.  Holmes worked things out with far more observation and directed experiments, while House does seem to guess a lot.  And most importantly, House’s addiction is the exact opposite of Holmes’.  Both of them don’t need to feed their addictions when their minds are engaged in the case, but Holmes turned to cocaine only to fend off the boredom that he felt when his mind is not engaged, while House has actual pain that he can ignore when his mind is engaged in a case.  Holmes uses cocaine as a distraction, but House uses his cases as a distraction.  So the parallels aren’t all that close between the two.

Still, for all its flaws, the show is still generally entertaining, although again the cases are starting to get a bit repetitive.  I really hope that they develop the characters more before they run out of medical twists they can exploit (they’ve already started to overuse the “two different conditions that hide results and that when one is cured the other takes over” line), but so far I am still enjoying it.

2 Responses to “Thoughts on “House MD” (Season 2)”

  1. malcolmthecynic Says:

    I think you’re being hindered more by the limitations of the writers than House in terms of how he compares to Holmes, if that makes sense.

    Like, Spock is perfectly logical. He isn’t, obviously, because the writers weren’t, but he was in the universe of the show.

    Similarly, you are seeing lots of guessing and checking because it’s the best the writers can do but in the universe of the show House is a genius who can diagnose people by looking them over.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      I don’t think that’s true here. First, the show often lampshades that he’s doing these things by having people call him out on it. Second, in the Spock example they have him say things based on “pure logic” that turn out to be not that logical when you examine it, but the dialogue and events just present it as being obviously logical. For House, a lot of the time he himself explicitly says “Try this and see what happens”, and he turns out to be wrong a lot and has to readjust. The most famous instance of this is the infant example that I think I mentioned in the first season, where the idea was that it could be one of two different types of infections and his advice was to give different treatments to each of the two most affected newborns and see which one got better and which one died, instead of guessing which one was more likely and risking them both dying. While House can indeed do incredible diagnoses from his observations of what he sees and at the end he always puts all the pieces together — often from an inspiration given by an unrelated event — a LOT of his methodology is explicitly “Try these things and see what happens”, which we don’t get for things like Spock’s logic.

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