Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Video, Cogito Ergo Sum

I’m a big fan of this week’s two-part season finale of House. Many others felt it was a retread of story ideas, but I disagree. It beautifully brought together the threads of House’s dependence on both vicodin and solving cases, Huddy, and his dark, closed-off nature. But more than that, it was a poetic depiction of the power and physiological importance of storytelling. Not bad for a prime-time drama.


The season shot into high gear when Kutner committed suicide four episodes ago. It was a complete surprise, unless you had read that Kal Penn had been offered a job in the Obama White House and wanted to go.

Then, at the end of “Saviors” House is playing “Georgia on My Mind” on the piano at home, when he looks up at sees Amber—Cutthroat Bitch, aka Wilson’s dead girlfriend—leaning on his piano.

It picks up in “A House Divided” with Amber sitting in House’s bedroom, having a conversation with him. He thinks he’s hallucinating because he hasn’t slept through the night since Kutner’s death.

Amber becomes his hallucinatory shadow, following and talking to him everywhere. He knows that she’s his projected subconscious and he starts to get comfortable talking to her/himself: “How do we get Foreman to sign off on this.” She verbalizes the things that House always “sees” subconsciously. It’s a fascinating dramatization of how the brain functions: it stores fact, data, in its banks—simplified, let’s say in the left brain—and then the right brain processes the facts into thoughts, ideas, and then actions. Anne Dudek is fabulously creepy, capturing all the subtle, cloaked darkness in House’s subconscious. She positively purrs when she says “To us. For figuring out MS.”

House knows that hallucinating to this degree is dangerous and he finally admits it to Wilson. He needs to diagnose it himself: infection, sleep apnea, schizophrenia or another mental illness, or vicodin poisoning.

In “Under My Skin” he tries an insulin coma to detox, thinking that if he detoxes then Amber will be gone. When he comes out of the coma, she’s still there. He then tries a more traditional detox, asking Cuddy to help. She does, and after a long, successful night, House kisses her and then they explode into a long-pent up passion.

The twist, in “Both Sides Now,” that is slowly revealed, is that Cuddy was a hallucination too. All day he thinks he is holding her lipstick that she left the night before, but small clues start to connect in his head, and he’s finally able to see that he’s been holding a pill bottle all day. It’s an elegant, visual device. Cuddy had actually walked out on him the day before because he insulted her baby.

What I like about the story is it illustrates how important storytelling is to the human condition. The brain is this amazing entity, with at least 2 at distinct hemispheres, and various levels of perception. Our thoughts are only whole when our consciousness–—whatever that is–-constructs a story that combines all the functions and impressions into a narrative. No wonder film, novels, and tv are so important to us: we recognize in them the narrative that is part of our own brain function.

Like voluntary and involuntary muscle function, there are narratives our brains construct as part of daily functioning, and there are stories we tell ourselves from a deeper psychological level. House told a story to himself that Cuddy cares about him enough to come to his call for help, leaving her child for the night, and then have sex with him. But that is not what happen. And that significant break from reality is what finally propels him to a psychiatric facility.

I have only had one hallucination my entire life. I was a kid, maybe 6 years old. I was in my bed, and I woke up and saw spiders all over my covers, and at the foot of my bed, our Christmas tin soldier from the lawn (maybe 3 feet tall) was walking back and forth, guarding the bed. I am 100% certain that I was awake—-it was not a dream. I laid there very still, because I didn’t want the spiders to come under the covers. I closed my eyes several times, and they were all still there. Finally, when I opened them, they were gone. Clearly I was disturbed about something, manifested by my arachnophobia, and I longed to be made safe. The incident never repeated, but it remains a deeply vivid memory.

Now daydreaming—that’s a whole other ball game.


Ray said...

Kudos on a great blog. I was going to song that last episode's praises as well. Iloved it. Absolutely.

M.A.Peel said...

Thanks very much Ray. In Treatment is back tomorrow night.