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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bringing down the House

FOX's House last night delves into a case gone wrong. Dr. Walter Cofield (Jeffrey Wright, Quantum of Solace) interviews each member of House's (Hugh Laurie) team to determine who is at fault for a horrible accident. The doctors rally around House, being honest, but also trying to leave things out that they know will make their boss look bad. Cofield pushes, getting to the heart of the matter, as the case unfolds in flashback. Cofield looks like he is about to rule against House, which will send the titular doctor back to jail. But then the patient's wife (Audrey Marie Anderson, The Unit) interrupts the verdict to thank House for saving her husband, and Cofield has a change of heart. He decides that it's "Nobody's Fault." 

House is known for special episodes that are very high quality in drama, writing, and acting, and that verge from the typical formula. "Nobody's Fault" is the latest in this line, and is as fantastic as the others. Seeing things in pieces, watching how the doctors talk about House behind his back, both positively and negatively, is great. No one wants House to go away. He is not just the other characters' key to staying in a unique job, but also brilliant in the way that few people are. His team (and fans of the show) realize that, and want to protect him.

"Nobody's Fault" really examines House's process. It's messy, granted, but it is also effective, as Cofield comes to see. House pushes the boundaries of what should be done, but if he didn't, patients would never be cured. House creates a very competitive environment for his staff, and that fighting, along with his pranks, and his efforts to keep everyone on their toes, leads to the wonderful results that they get. If House were to back off, it would be safer for everyone except the person the doctors are there to help. Thus, House's techniques are justified.

The case of the week is relatively common. A science teacher (David Anders, Alias, The Vampire Diaries) collapses, and it is revealed that he is also in a chemical accident at school earlier. This combination leads to varying symptoms that have the characters guessing wildly. The team, of course, disagrees over what is wrong and how to treat him. Chase (Jesse Spencer) disobeys House's decision because he thinks that Adams (Odette Annable) might be right.

But things take a turn for the worse when Chase, who is glaringly not part of the interview process framework story up to this point, is stabbed by the patient during a mental break. The scalpel goes into Chase's heart. His life is saved, narrowly, but he comes through the surgery paralyzed. Thanks to another genius leap beyond the expected, House is able to tell the others how to fix Chase. It will take therapy, but Chase will be able to walk again.

Which means that the question of the episode is, who is at fault for Chase getting hurt? No one comes out and blames House, even though it's the negative environment that House creates, as well as the risky methods of diagnosis he uses, that lead to the circumstances that cause the patient to freak out on Chase. Cofield questions this, yet even House and Chase say that they would do the same things again. It's the way that the team works. Chase getting stabbed is unfortunate, to be sure, but it is an accident. The way things are being done is sound, in that it leads to a way to help the patient. There is no reason to change that because of one unexpected occurrence. As House says multiple times this week, "Good things usually happen; Bad things sometimes happen."

What is amazing is that Chase refuses to blame House. He has every right to, because Cofield is correct in thinking that Chase would not be hurt if another doctor led the diagnostics department. However, as Chase understands, their patient would not be cured, either. How Chase manages to hang on to logic and reason through his trauma is impressive. Until one considers that it's emotion that is really driving Chase. He is convinced that, deep down, House cares about him. This certainty is proven when House apologizes. Chase is not going to waste time being mad at House, or getting him in trouble, when the benefits of what House does helps so many people. And gives Chase himself the chance to walk again. House saves Chase as much as any other sick person. Chase is glad to benefit from that.

The fact that House apologizes does show some growth. House's signature attitude is ambivalence. He strives for objectivity by not caring about the patients, thinking it makes him a better doctor. As his fellows say, "He's not wrong." It may not be the way most people want House to be, but it's hard to argue with results. But with Chase, someone that House has worked with for nearly a decade, on the table, House does care. He can't show it, except in a private moment, which Chase responds to gruffly to allow House to save face. But he really does, genuinely, care about what happens to Chase.

Does House feel responsible? Maybe. After all, when Cofield absolves House of the blame because of how House helps his primary patient, House reacts angrily. He calls Cofield a coward and storms out. Clearly, House has guilt. House still insists that he is right, but somehow, right is wrong in this instance. Cofield doesn't understand this because he doesn't know House as well as viewers who have watched him these past eight seasons. The clues are there for one willing to look for them.

The big question going forward is, will House change? He is definitely affected deeply by the Chase incident. Now admitting, at least to himself, that he cares, he may be less willing to risk the lives of his team. This could be a disaster for House's reputation and career. He has allowed the same fellows to stay on too long, and now it could end up ruining him. If House can't act like he does, and he can't diagnose, then he has nothing. How much will the events of "Nobody's Fault" color the forthcoming episodes? The last effects will be something to highly anticipate!

Watch House Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

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