There’s an elegiac tone about tonight’s broadcast, the first episode to air since it was announced that this is, indeed, the final season of House. We’re entering the final countdown, and with a suitably dark episode. It’s all about Chase as he struggles with the aftermath of his near-fatal stabbing and brush with paralysis last week. As we open, Chase is dealing with it as he’s dealt with things for most of the past couple of years – waking up next to a woman he doesn’t actually know. She’s worried because he’s bleeding through his bandage. House, who shows up at Chase’s door, is worried because Chase hasn’t responded to any of his messages for the past three weeks. He tries to interest Chase in a new case, only to have Chase say he doesn’t know if he’s ever coming back. (Side note—Chase’s name is Robert, “Robbie” to his sister, not “Rodney”, as I wrongly stated before.)
We don’t meet our patient of the week until Chase reluctantly agrees to work the twenty hours of clinic duty he owes Foreman (who says that if Chase just spends his days on physical therapy, and his nights on the other kind of physical therapy, he’ll go nuts). She’s a nun – or on her way to becoming a nun. Ex-seminary student Chase correctly identifies her blue veil as that of a postulant who has yet to take her final vows, and the rest of the habit as that of the exceptionally strict Carmelite order. While she’s older than most postulants, she’s still fairly young and, as House says a few scenes later, “Mother Inferior is a hottie.” Luckily, Chase needs to do a breast exam, to rule out cancer. He finds a mass and admits her. Later, he’s going over the x-rays with Wilson, which isn’t really a key scene but : a. It’s Wilson’s only scene tonight. If this is it for the series, can we have more Wilson, please?. b. In certain lights, from a distance, Odette Annable looks a just enough like Olivia Wilde to underscore the fact that she’s not. If this is it for the series, can we get Thirteen back for at least one more episode, please?
Later, Park awkwardly offers Chase her “companionship,” because coming back to a workplace full of scalpels and needles and contaminated blood must be very scary. He blows her off with a devastating “Just knowing you’re there for me is enough.” (That’s almost up there with Angel’s “I’ll call you” brush-off after he lost his soul on Buffy.) But he’s open to bonding with his patient, when she uses his Australian accent as an excuse to talk surfing. Before long we’ve learned that Chase saw the church as a surrogate family after his dysfunctional real family packed him off to Catholic school, and that’s how he came to enter the seminary. One interesting element of tonight’s episode is the subtle revision we get of Chase’s past. The seminary story fit more comfortably with the earnest idealism the character radiated in early seasons than with the conflicted, morally ambiguous figure he’s become (though he did always have a sneaky side…).
After the patient vomits (not blood), Chase consults with House, who’s filling balloons with soda so he can throw them at Taub. After her foot goes numb, he asks for help from the whole team. As he walks in, House is making a point by saying something is like Adams tongue-kissing Park, while preparing to shoot paintballs at Taub. Clearly the writers are underlining the normal (?), happy (?) life of the team, from which Chase has exiled himself. It’s a little obvious, but well done, and kind of sad, now that I know this is the last season.
The reason House keeps assaulting Taub is that Taub is taking Krav Maga, and House wants to illustrate the folly of thinking you can be prepared for anything. Later, while hiding out in Chase’s clinic room as patient “George Washingbaum,” Taub urges Chase to return because “House makes us all better.”
Adams pleads with Chase to join her trauma counseling, but — “Just knowing you’re there for me is enough.” I can almost feel sorry for her. Chase hurries back to his patient so they can discuss her pending commitment to a life of celibacy and spiritual reflection. She’s a former nanny wracked with guilt over the accidental death of a boy in her care, and she craves silence and structure, which the Carmelite order, with its required fourteen hours a day of silent prayer, will certainly provide. But she admits she hasn’t felt a real spiritual calling even before Chase takes her hand and asks her if she’s willing to give up all human touch.
Everyone but Chase recognizes this as Chase’s version of foreplay, and that night he comes home from a boring date to find her waiting for him in his hallway. Next day, their morning-after conversation is cut short when she develops a ringing in her ears and starts coughing (blood, this time). Chase diagnoses an impending stroke and rushes her to surgery, which he performs himself against the team’s wishes – but not House’s wishes, as he says that Chase is simply the better surgeon. I can believe that – I’m not sure if it’s the writers, or something in Jesse Spencer’s performance, or both, but Chase has always struck me as the most naturally skilled on the team. The others do well because they’re crazily driven type-As, but Chase just seems to be doing what he does best. Oh, and even Taub is kind of impressed that Chase slept with a nun.
Foreman removes Chase from the case after Adams tattles on him (because she wants to save him from himself), but this just leaves Chase more time to bond with the patient, who had a near-death vision of the boy who died in her care. Chase confesses that he left the seminary after the groundskeeper caught him with his wife and went after him with a rake. Now that fits in with the Chase we’ve come to know and love (also, I suspect that, like most actors, Jesse Spencer likes playing bastards more than he likes playing altar boys). However, her condition continues to deteriorate and it looks as if she’s dying, until a final symptom (she has trouble talking) tips House off to the correct diagnosis. It’s something I didn’t quite catch, which can be treated with steroids (no computer animation of bacteria or corpuscles or polyps or whatever this week – can we have a couple more, before the end comes, for old times’ sake? (In the background we see Taub felled by a flying tackle from one of House’s paid minions, just after Chase congratulates him on standing tall.)
Once the patient is on the road to recovery, Chase plans to sweep her off to Mexico for a luxurious convalescence. He’s in love – and while you could see it coming, Jesse Spencer is quite good in these scenes. But his nun has finally heard the call, as a consequence of her near-death vision. Chase argues the vision was just oxygen deprivation and noradrenaline, and soon House catches him printing out an article on “Noradrenaline and Near-Death Experiences”, the better to persuade her.
House argues that Chase is also on the verge of throwing his life away for an illusion, generated in this case by the oxytocin flooding his brain after his night with her. And I like the show for calling out True Love, far more of a sacred cow these days than religious ecstasy, as a neurochemical illusion. Extra points for doing it the night before Valentine’s Day.
Chase says that because House is unhappy, he won’t let anyone else be happy, either. Others, Wilson and Cuddy among them, have made this accusation in the past, but this time House turns it around. House says that if he really wanted Chase to be like him, he’d encourage Chase to make a stubborn decision that would blow his life apart and leave him isolated from everyone who cares for him. Hugh Laurie delivers these lines beautifully, with real emotion, while still keeping it convincingly House-like.
Chase gets it. He tosses the article away, offers the patient his support, and then goes to talk Park through a procedure that’s got her spooked – he’s figured out she’s the one who’s scared, as the stabbing made her aware of her own vulnerabilities. Finally, Chase, back in his white coat, walks into a diagnostic session. Foreman pushes a copy of the file towards him; House and Chase exchange glances and have what I can only call a Moment. We really haven’t seen that before.
I think I would have been impressed with this episode even if it hadn’t immediately followed the announcement that the series is ending. Seeing in that light makes it both affirming and frustrating. As I’ve said before, the show’s greatest strength, for me, is its ability to find new layers and explore new possibilities in the characters, even while they stay believably consistent, and completely themselves. Tonight’s ending was a wonderful example. I don’t care if the medical mysteries can be a little formulaic – I just want to keep hanging out with this group.
Next week, a lighter episode featuring House’s fake Russian wife.