Thoughts on “House M.D.” (Season 7)

Season 7 starts with House and Cuddy entering into a relationship and all of the trials and tribulations that that involves.  The idea of House entering into a relationship and being completely inexperienced and, frankly, bad at it is a good idea, as well as him being afraid that he’s going to screw it up.  However, as already noted, it’s not really a relationship that I’m at all interested in.  They don’t seem like people who should be in a relationship, as both of them seem too screwed up for that and also their personal situations don’t align very well.  Now, the show does acknowledge that and that could, in fact be used as an interesting character or plot point except that Cuddy as a character isn’t all that interesting, and a lot of her issues end up being somewhat ridiculous ones, and the only reason for them to be together is their long-time association that started with her having a crush on him.  She doesn’t really have a personality that challenges him in any way, like Amber had with Wilson.  So there’s really no where to go with the relationship except, perhaps, to a bad end.

And of course it has to have a bad end, because if House is happy then we aren’t willing to allow him to snark at and manipulate people in what are often cruel ways.  When his life sucks, we can see that as him lashing out at that as following from that, and we can also note that while he often does it for his own benefit he also does it to benefit others.  If he’s going to be happy and have a decent life, then the lashing out component has to fall away and the show needs to ramp up him doing it in even a misguided attempt to push others, either into growing or doing the right thing.  But in Season 7 the show didn’t do that all that often, even in cases where there could indeed have been a motive for that and even where there were hints that that might be the reason he was doing that that were never followed up on, which is a follow-up from the fact that they didn’t really do that in Season 6 either.  While I was willing to grant them some leeway for that in Season 6 they burned all the good will House had from the previous seasons when his life was miserable and I found myself no longer laughing at his snark but getting really, really irritated by it, especially when he unleashed it at the new character Masters who was brought in to replace Thirteen for most of the season who was portrayed as a very smart, very nice and very naive person who, well, looked like House had killed her puppy every time he snarked at her.  At the very least, someone should have pointed out how mean he was being, especially since he kept firing and re-hiring her and she was in tears most of the time when he did that.

Anyway, she’s probably the standout character of the season, and has become one of my favourite characters in the entire show.  She’s played by Amber Tamblyn of “Joan of Arcadia” fame, and is one of a number of young girls/women who became prominent enough in popular culture that I recognize their names and faces despite never actually watching the shows they were known for (Alexis Bledel is the other one that I recall).  So when I saw her name in the credits there was an instant sense of recognition and a predisposition to think that I’d like the character (they were noted for being pretty and seeming nice, which is in line with how Masters is presented here).  Thirteen leaves just as they redid the opening credits to remove Jennifer Morrison (who played Cameron) and insert Peter Jacobson (Taub) and Olivia Wilde (Thirteen), which led me to think to myself that having her leave for what was an indefinite period was a bit of a dumb move given that she was added to the credits and so had to come back at some point, and then they dragged that out so that she only comes back for something like the last five episodes, which had me thinking that they were doing a different dumb thing of putting her in the credits but then not bringing her back when they made it clear that they were doing the first dumb thing.  They really should have just left her out of the opening credits until she came back, as while it does take some effort and the showrunners hated changing the credits — they left the original credits in for the first six seasons even when the focus had shifted from his original team to the new one — it wouldn’t cost that much and, really, just looks a bit cheap.  And a bit confusing if you pay attention to them.

Anyway, Cuddy wants House to replace Thirteen with a female doctor, and when he refuses to and sabotages any attempts by the others to do it — although, to be fair, one of them was terrible, he scuttled one of them as a lesson to Foreman and the last doesn’t want to join because of how paranoid House makes Taub — ends up hiring Masters for him and makes him keep her.  So he actually does have reason to be mean and snarky to Masters, but again the “You killed my puppy!” look really should have warmed his heart in some way, and he never shows that it does.  Also, since she is so emotional someone else — like, perhaps, Wilson, who doesn’t get involved this season — should have told him to stop taking his annoyance at Cuddy out on Masters.  But then again Cuddy’s motives here seem rather odd anyway.  She says that she wants Masters to work with him because she thinks Masters will be a star and she wants to bring Masters to her hospital when she finishes med school, but it’s odd that she thinks Masters working with a House who is forced to keep her against his will is going to do that.  Masters would actually be more likely to never want to work at that hospital again because of how cruel House is and how no one really supported her in any way when she was working with him.  Yes, House has the more interesting cases and since she’s so smart that would likely intrigue her, but her emotional nature and the fact that she already had a couple of other degrees is more likely to get her thinking that she can’t take that and should go do something else.  So Cuddy’s stated reasons for putting Masters with House don’t make sense, and we don’t get any other motive that makes sense either.

It would have made much more sense and worked out better for Masters herself for Cuddy to have put Masters with Wilson, who has interesting cases and is a pretty nice guy, and then have Wilson brought in for a consult (which has happened on a number of occasions) and then have Masters chime in with something very intelligent and so get House intrigued by her intelligence, and so try to “steal” her from Wilson, and since the cases are really interesting that would intrigue Masters, and so he wouldn’t be that harsh with her in the first case but would start to become more harsh with her when her moral nature causes her to not do things he wants her to do and to do things that he doesn’t want her to do, like rat him out to Cuddy.  This would also give her time to be intrigued and so want to stay on these cases, allows him to tell her to go back to Wilson when she doesn’t do what he asks (without simply firing her, which is more devastating) and would explain why he’s impressed enough with her to keep hiring her back when she does something that is indeed impressive.  It would also give her someone to talk to about House which would explain why she isn’t simply crushed by his nastiness and would give the show a way to explain to her — and, at the same time, the audience — why House is doing what he’s doing.

This also would lead to an interesting arc for Wilson, since Masters is emotionally vulnerable and very inexperienced when it comes to relationships, and Wilson is known for making women feel special when he interacts with them.  It would be very easy for her to get a crush on Wilson and have Wilson be both interested in her and realize — even if it’s with House’s help — that it’s probably not a good idea for him to encourage it.  She reminded me a lot of Futaba from Persona 5 as someone who is just slowly coming out of a really hard shell and putting her toe in the water of relationships, and one thing that I’ve noted before about dating Futaba in that game is that it’s too much pressure to be her first relationship:  if it goes badly, she would be devastated and likely crawl back into her hole, especially since it would be with the guy who brought her out of that hole in the first place.  Masters is a bit better off than Futaba was, but it still would be utterly devastating to her to have her first real relationship not work out.  And, as we’ve already seen, Wilson’s relationships, especially the ones based on vulnerability, never work out.  So it would allow for us to explore that aspect in Wilson with a character that we get to see every episode.  Sure, it would have required breaking Wilson and his ex-wife up again, but they did that anyway and it would have given Wilson something to do in the season.

Masters is clearly their third try at the principled person who doesn’t like how House breaks the rules and sometimes treats people.  Cameron was the first and often came across as more of a nag or moralizer than as someone who was really moral and principled, but she was better than Thirteen as the second one who never really came across as someone who was all that moral or principled in the first place.  Masters, when written properly, is the best one, since for the most part she came across as someone who lived by her principles instead of nagging others about them.  She didn’t rat out her fellow doctors for breaking into the house of a patient to look for things that might be causing a problem, but she didn’t go in either.  When she ratted him out to Cuddy, it was less like her trying to stop him from doing that and more like her feeling that since she knew and the rules required her to report it she had to report it, and she was clever enough to figure out both when he was trying to hide something from her and, specifically, what it was so that she could tell Cuddy about it.  This made her much more tolerable in that role when she wasn’t written to react as a moralizer and nag them about it, which happened somewhat inconsistently.

That being said, when she did that the show actually set things up so that she herself could have had an ulterior motive for reacting that way, but the show fails to actually make things like that explicit or even just mention, lampshade or develop them in any way.  For example, at one point Chase is getting pranked by a woman offended by how he treated her at some event, and he can’t think of which of the three women he hooked up with at the party was doing that.  Masters reacts very harshly to that, calling him a “whore” on a number of occasions (okay, twice).  Her disapproving of that isn’t unreasonable, but using that sort of language to talk about it is.  And no one comments on it at all, even as that being strange.  And we know that they will, because Taub comments on her being attracted to a bull rider that he — and she — know that isn’t good for her.  So why not have someone like Taub or Foreman comment on her calling Chase a whore?  Taub, at least, might take it personally since he’s pretty promiscuous himself and so would have some reason to find out what’s driving that reaction.

And the episode itself provides a potential explanation for that, but messes it up by not doing these kind of references.  Later, she asks Chase if he even likes her at all and says that she had put friends and relationships aside to study but now that she wants to start trying to get them she finds herself unable to get them, and can’t even get a date for the ball that they all have to go to.  So we can see that if she’s struggling that hard to get friends and relationships she would envy Chase’s ability to charm people but would be enormously frustrated that he wastes it on getting things that don’t have real meaning.  In short, he has the ability to get all the things she wants and wastes it on these meaningless flings.  Her saying that explicitly would have really worked to express that and would have made it clear why she brought that up there and would be a better spur for Chase to think about those sorts of issues and so to go dateless to the ball at the end, which doesn’t make much sense as a reaction to her not being able to get a relationship and so implies that maybe he was going to be her date, which would be a setup for a crush plot instead.

However, despite the show having arcs that span over episodes and making references back to things that were mentioned in previous episodes and seasons it really doesn’t do a good job of recognizing the consequences of things that happen in an episode and having later episodes reflect that.  Here, the episode where she has that strange crush on the bull rider comes directly after this one, and while she is hinting at her interest the entire time she actually takes the direct approach to ask him if he wants to hang out, and he gives her a look that makes it absolutely clear that he has no interest in that, and she gives a lame excuse about it not being appropriate to do with his doctor before he can say that and leaves and … nothing else happens.  This episode was written with Masters as being the smart girl who likes the wrong guy and so it ends badly, but the Masters from the previous episode would not take that sort of rejection so easily, where it would be yet another failure for her to move towards getting those things she wants so badly.  They didn’t even show her crying over it in the end of episode musical sequence/summary, and she really, really would have done that … especially since her last episode shows that she is pretty much in tears at the end of the day when House is being a jerk.  So it’s a bit of an inconsistency in the character.  If it was me, I would have made it clear that the reason that she couldn’t find a date for that ball was not that she asked people and they said “No” — because she’s pretty and nice enough that at least one person would have said “Yes” out of pity — but that she couldn’t think of anyone she felt comfortable enough to ask, and then decided to be more proactive about it — as per Chase’s example — and then had that fail — because she chose the wrong person — which would have been devastating and emotional but fit really well into the previous episode and developed her character.

This is a major flaw in the show overall.  Yes, House is the focus and the show is right to focus on him, but the show also wants to try to make the medical cases interesting and emotional and also tries to build arcs for the secondary characters.  What’s frustrating about it is that the show clearly remembers these sorts of things but never mentions or develops those things, and so even though they were originally mentioned long before they seem to come out of nowhere because they haven’t been mentioned again, even when they really should have been.  Yes, there’s not a lot of free time in the episodes but there is indeed time to drop those hints in places where they are talking while doing tests, for example.  This is where Taub highlights Masters’ strange attraction to the bull rider.  Mentioning these things and even developing them more often would really help to build the character arcs, fill downtime, and make the characters seem more like real people and real characters who act consistently … even if that consistency is to be inconsistent.

Early on in the season, I thought that Masters was a bad fit for this season, since House being happy should have him treat her less badly and so causes me to lose my good will towards House when he treats her badly, and her presence doesn’t really add anything to his character here.  I first thought that it would have been better to have her from the beginning as a new character that we could follow through the years who is learning how House works, but the problem with that is that one of her main threads is that she insists on being honest and it works out — even in a way that’s more convoluted — and this would over time challenge House’s view that he needs to do what he does to save the patients, which would change the show or else make House be cruel and manipulative for the sake of doing that, which makes him more sympathetic.  But that doesn’t work that well here either because he was really supposed to have learned his lesson last time, and while the undercurrent still would work if they are going to make House unhappy again — and they do — then it would clash with that.  So, on thinking about it, I thought that she would have been a great character in Season 6, where House was trying to become better but still would feel that being honest didn’t help patients, and her approach could have made him reconsider that but still feel justified, and even be mean to her because he’s trying to make her better and make her tougher and less vulnerable with others being able to point out that he’s going to change her completely and lose all the things that he admires other than her intellect, which would give him food for thought.

And, in the end, that’s what he does to her, in her last episode “Last Temptation”, which I think is by far the best episode in the season.  It focuses on her leaving med school and getting an internship, and her choices are House or surgery and House keeps dangling the offer in front of her but only if she breaks the rules in some way.  She first is supposed to do one more test to officially pass, and House fakes one for her but Masters is uncomfortable with that and Thirteen gets her to do one on her to pass, which House finds out and withdraws the internship, which sends her to surgery.  There is an undercurrent that is not at all explored where I had to wonder why she was so obsessed with the rules in the first place.  House has a good point in that both he and she know that she can do it, and so it would be a waste of time for her to go running around trying to get that one last test in.  The show would have really benefited from House explicitly saying that her obsession with a pointless rule was taking her time away from working with the patient which is her actual job and what he needs her for.  And then someone else could have challenged her on why she was so obsessed with technically following that rule.  Is it because she really thinks that it’s better to follow that pointless rule, or because she’s afraid she’ll be punished if she gets caught?  And if it’s the latter, how come she was so willing to take being fired going against House, or annoying the surgeon to check on the patient that she has become attached to?  You don’t need to have her answer that question, and instead just make it clear that the question hits home and that she either doesn’t have an answer for that … or, perhaps, doesn’t have an answer that she likes.

The patient is a young girl who is planning to set a record with a month-long sail, who ends up getting cancer that would necessitate that her arm is amputated, which would spoil that sail, and so she insists that she won’t get treated until after, which Masters believes will mean that she will die.  Masters then pulls the same trick that Cameron pulled earlier on by giving her something that would make it look like the cancer is spreading and so getting the parents to sign the consent form to amputate while the girl is unconscious (which is similar to what happened to House), which, obviously devastates the girl.  Masters has a sleepless night and then goes to talk to House, and comments that while she didn’t do it to feel happy she thought that she’d feel better about doing the “right thing” even while breaking the rules, and there’s an excellent scene that they needed to do more of where House without words shows that he realizes that he’s broken her and feels guilty about it, with an undercurrent that he did think she did the right thing but it really looks like his attempt to get her to learn what he thought he needed her to learn had consequences that he didn’t foresee.  That’s a wonderful scene in what I think is a wonderful episode, because it gives us a different perspective for an episode with a character that is both new to us and has a different view of the world than the rest of the characters we’ve seen.  It’s a shame that it’s her last episode and I immediately missed her character in the next episode, in part because Thirteen came back to “replace” her and I didn’t find Thirteen that interesting a character and found “ex-con” Thirteen even less interesting, especially since as House explicitly states her attitude has changed to become a lot more like his.

The patient case itself brings up another issue, which is that the show seems to be going TO THE EXTREME!  What we needed in this episode was someone that Masters had to break the rules to save by treating when starting the treatment would mean that the girl would not be able to sail in time for her run.  They didn’t need to have her arm be amputated, which is obviously something that would be disturbing in and of itself and not something that Masters would take that lightly.  Masters treats the issue as being about a stupid record, but losing her arm adds a lot more complicated emotions to the issue.  Given that most of the treatments they talk about for cancer — chemo and radiation, for example — would be ones that would leave her too weak to make her sail, they could have limited it to one of those and get the same results, which would have made Masters’ views more reasonable and would have turned it into less of a “I caused someone to lose their arm!” issue and more of a “I shattered someone’s dream!” issue, which could have tied well into her simply leaving the hospital at the end since it would have potentially caused her to lose her dream as well.  All that it serves is to make the outcome more extreme and DRAMATIC! which the show really doesn’t need.

This also applies to how House and Cuddy break up.  There’s a decent episode where House is distracted by his relationship with Cuddy and so doesn’t pay attention to his case, and the patient ultimately dies.  House gets drunk, goes and talks to Cuddy, and says that he’d rather some of his patients die than lose her, which she seems rather disturbed about.  This would have been a really nice issue to break them up over, with him being comfortable with that but her not being comfortable with that and having it really bother her.  Instead, they give her rather convenient cancer that House does not handle at all well, and he stays away from her but comes back at the end, but then she finds out that started taking Vicodin again — seemingly during her issues but it isn’t clear when he started — and says that she can’t rely on him to be there for her and breaks up with him.  As noted, this is far more extreme and dramatic a plot point than they needed.  Second, it’s also nonsensical, because when he wasn’t on Vicodin he couldn’t be there for her and when he was he was there for her, so her causation seems backwards.  If she didn’t think she could keep him from his addictions that might have worked, but not as presented.  Third, that he fell apart as a reaction to a threat to her and a fear of living without her is expected for him and something that she should have expected and wanted to work with him on.  It’s not like he was ignoring her simply to do something he wanted to do (which he often kinda did already in the season) but because he couldn’t take the situation now that he cares about her and has someone to care about.  So, given that her reasoning seems flawed and the situation only shows how much he really does care, it seems both stupid and mean for her to dump him over that.  But the situation was more dramatic, and so it goes.

This sort of problem carries over to the season finale.  House previously tried an experimental drug to fix his leg that gives him tumors, so he tries to remove them himself, fails, and tries to call people to help him but he could only get Cuddy, and they somewhat reconnect over that and he finally stops ignoring her and they talk about it a bit, with a scene where he gets angry over her dismissing him but they seem to share a touching moment, and so he goes to her place to return her hairbrush clearly in the hopes of trying to get them back together … and she is having lunch with a new guy that her sister wanted to set her up with and that she turned down the first time.  So House gets angry and drives his car through her living room window and walks away, and seemingly hides out in some tropical location somewhere.  While this is definitely extreme, it’s also not nonsensical and unnecessary.  Given that connection that they might have had, why in the world would Cuddy suddenly decide to go on a date with that guy?  She could at least have waited a day, especially since she didn’t seem to be all that interested in him in the first place.  House driving the car into the window is not inconsistent with his character, but was also unnecessary and seems to only exist for him to do something so terrible that Cuddy will never want to see him again, which will obviously have to be resolved in some way in the next season.  More importantly, such a cliffhanger isn’t needed.  People will not decide to not return for the next season if there’s no dramatic cliffhanger to draw them back, and they already had a good cliffhanger:  end with the scene where Cuddy and House seem to connect and get people wanting to see next season what, if anything, comes from that.  But being overly dramatic makes things seem more contrived and ridiculous and doesn’t really add anything to the emotional content of the episodes.

As I’ve noted before, I like Peter Jacobson’s performance and some of his lines but really dislike his character arcs.  This season’s arc is no exception.  After breaking up with his wife, he takes up with a young nurse and then also starts having sex with his wife again.  The nurse gets pregnant, and it takes an overly dramatic scene to get him to realize that he wants her to keep the child, while at the same time his wife is constantly trying to call him and he is ignoring it because he doesn’t want to tell his wife that he is having a baby with another woman.  So of course the reason his wife is calling him is to tell him that she is also pregnant.  This arc is both obvious and seems contrived, and so comes across as rather stupid.  It’s also too ridiculous to be taken seriously but it’s too serious to be merely a joke/Butt Monkey plot, which doesn’t help.

In summary, this is the first season where I’d agree with malcolmthecynic that it was mostly mediocre with some good episodes and scenes, although the good episode is mainly “Last Temptation”.  I will definitely miss Masters as she brought something to the show that it didn’t really have, and I was always underwhelmed by Thirteen who is the replacement.  Still, it’s still entertaining enough that I didn’t mind watching it, so let’s see what happens in Season 8, the final season.

3 Responses to “Thoughts on “House M.D.” (Season 7)”

  1. malcolmthecynic Says:

    It’s possible – as I never did this thorough rewatch as you have – that I had the later seasons in mind anyway, which is a little unfair.

    At any rate I am curious about what you think of the series finale. I recall the AV Club giving it a D but I recall liking it a lot. The criticism of it is that House doesn’t actually change at the end, but that may be the point. I’m curious what you make of it,

    • verbosestoic Says:

      I am not quite there yet, and am actually really, really trying to avoid spoilers for this show. I’ll obviously comment on it when I get there (right now just finished episode 15).

      But even so far in Season 8 it feels an awful lot like what you said, with mostly mediocre episodes with some ones that really work or are well done even if they don’t quite work.

  2. Thoughts on “House M.D.” (Season 8) | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] culture, like the ending to “The Sopranos”.  Given that, I was a little surprised when malcolmthecynic commented on the previous post that some people really didn’t like the finale.  I’ll get into what I thought about it […]

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