House M.D. completed its seventh season last night with a giant crash, one that would seem to divide House from Princeton-Plainsboro forever. More details (and diagnoses in bold) below — but first:
SPOILER ALERT. If you didn’t watch “Moving On” last night, please use a scalpel to open your leg. Then gobble three or four Vicodins and rest comfortably in the soft light of your TV’s DVR before moving on.
The episode begins with a gray flashback scene in which an angry Cuddy says that House can never enter the hospital again. Then it moves forward to one of its trademark ripped-from-the-headlines Patients, a performance artist called Afsoun Hamidi played by the excellent Iranian-born actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, the one from 24.
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Hamidi is based so closely on the artist Marina Abramovic that the New Yorker story on Abramovic is referenced at least twice. Abramovic is famous for setting up various tools, weapons and other objects in a space and then allowing museum-goers to use those implements on her body however they see fit. (See a multimedia explanation here.)
Because Hamidi doesn’t care about herself — and because House doesn’t care about anyone, especially himself (but maybe Cuddy) — the artist and the doctor are perfect for each other. It turns out that Hamidi has long been planning a work of performance art in which she becomes a most curious patient for the famous diagnostician.
And so the central diagnostic question becomes whether Hamidi is faking her various symptoms for her art or actually has a disease. House cares about little except for riddles, so even after Hamidi admits her gambit, and even after The Team objects, he takes the case.
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Chase notes that Patient seems to have the symptom arrhythmia, but 13 comes out of the gate with the first real diagnosis: allergic reaction (to paint thinner, one of the items that is used to abuse her in her performance).
Foreman thinks Hamidi is simply crazy, but it’s unclear how he thinks that explains her symptoms. She’s pretending?
Taub mentions that Hamidi keeps a space heater near her during performances, which she carries out wearing only a Snuggie-like drapery. House then diagnoses carbon-monoxide poisoning and orders The Team to put Hamidi in a hyperbaric chamber.
Meantime, House is taking more Vicodins than ever — I want to say at least 10 during this episode — and he and Cuddy are trying, finally, to work through their breakup.
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Part of their ongoing conversation happens behind a hospital curtain. Foreman catches part of their talk as he approaches. As I pointed out not long ago, the “hidden” conversation behind a thin ER curtain is a hackneyed device in hospital dramas. But last night, at least, the show acknowledged the lameness of the set-up: when Foreman tears back the curtain, Cuddy yells, “It’s a privacy curtain!” To which Foreman responds, “It wasn’t working.”
The side stories last night were highly abbreviated. Short version: 13 wears a weird, ascetic headband for about half the episode. Taub’s ex, Rachel, keeps calling his iPhone, and it turns out his ringtone for her is Rupert Holmes’ “Escape,” that ’70s song with the lyric “if you like pina coladas…” You hear the pina colada song several times in the episode, and it wears thin very quickly.
Back to Patient: turns out she has had pancreatic cysts that were drained. Now they are back. They are a symptom, not a diagnosis, and there’s no explanation for them.
Cut to an MRI that shows a mass in Hamidi’s brain. It looks to House like a tumor. He then makes the following (and much appreciated) diagnosis: a “tumorish thing near her brain-a-ma-bob.”
Hamidi is still resisting treatment, though — the whole Patient thing for her still seems like an act of performance art — at which point a frustrated House tries to convince her that her art means nothing. He tells her, “You’re just a bag of cells and waste with an expiration date.” A very House line — and not the last one in this episode.
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As usual, another symptom presents itself: eczema. At this point, Chase diagnoses Wegener’s, an inflammatory disease that might explain a variety of symptoms (and, therefore, one of this show’s staple diagnoses).
Late in the episode, 13 is suddenly wearing her hair in a fetching shoulder-length ’do. (I suppose that, post-prison, she is splurging on salon visits.) The Team has recommended that Hamidi undergo radiation therapy for her Wegener’s, but she is refusing.
This infuriates House, who confronts her.
“There are more important things…” she begins to say, at which point House cuts in:
“— than what? Your brain? Your abilities? That’s where everything comes from — any meaning in your life, any happiness.”
Hamidi disagrees. Her art will trump his science.
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This puts House into a deeper funk, one intensified by all those Vicodins. He hasn’t been able to convince Cuddy or Hamidi that he’s right, and the hole in his leg isn’t feeling any better despite the pills. So he does something truly crazy: as Cuddy is serving a dinner party to a crowd that includes a new date, House drives his car into her dining room. No one is hurt — which is a bit of a cop-out on the writers’ part — but the relationship between House and Cuddy seems destroyed forever.
And so ends season seven. It was a stronger season of House M.D. than we’ve had since season three. The writing is as sharp as ever, and this season the development of the relationships between Cuddy and her mother and Cuddy and House were pitch-perfect. And of course Hugh Laurie continues to show how well laughter and death complement each other.
But I wonder how many seasons can be left in the show. House M.D. seems teetering on the edge of an X-Files problem, which might be diagnosed as beating a horse into the ground.
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