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'House': What goes on inside that good doctor's head?

May 13, 2008 | 10:14 am

House

Now that’s a bit more like it.

After limping through its first two post-writers' strike episodes like its title character deprived of Vicodin, “House” seems to be pulling it together for a two-part season finale, the first half of which aired last night. According to legend, this was supposed to be the post-Super Bowl episode until the writers' strike derailed it. Titled "House's Head," it takes us back to where the show works best -- watching the psycho-brilliant doctor's mind at work. It also starts in a strip club, so you know it's going to be one of those "artsy" episodes.

Too dazed and confused to even enjoy the lap dance in progress, Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) quickly realizes that no, he’s not drunk, he’s concussed. He has, in fact, stumbled into the club after being in a horrendous bus accident, and the only thing he can remember, of course, is that someone on the bus “is going to die.”

Apparently, he noticed some symptomatic tell just before the crash and is now obsessed with figuring out what, and who, it was. Patients are interrogated, theories are debated, extreme measures are taken (House allows himself to be hypnotized, then immerses himself in an isolation tank and finally takes dementia-fighting memory drugs), all of which allows us to poke around in House’s subconscious -- which is a pretty interesting place as we know from previous season finales, like the near-death experience he had after he got shot at the end of Season 2. We see in his mind Dr. Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), Dr. Chase (Jesse Spencer) and even Amber (Anne Dudek), which makes Wilson a little suspicious -- does House have feelings for his girlfriend? But it’s the scene in which Dr. Cuddy pole dances in a school girl’s uniform that in three minutes earns back the price of Tivo -- Lisa Edelstein, who knew?

The bus driver seems to be the mysterious Patient X; after much diagnostic huffing and puffing, House saves him from an air bubble in his chest by convincing Thirteen to violate all hospital protocol, including Cuddy’s direct orders, and to stab him in the heart with a big needle. Of course it works. Why do they even protest at this point?

Meanwhile, House continues to experience symptoms of his own, including a recurring hallucination of a sultry young woman, who puts one in mind of Jessica Lange’s death angel in “All That Jazz.” In fact, there’s a whole “All That Jazz” thing going on with the entire episode (though mercifully no musical numbers), with House pulling a Bob Fosse by working himself to death. (Me, I’d pay cash to see Hugh Laurie smoke a cigarette in the shower with as much desperate grace as the late great Roy Scheider). So determined to figure out what he has forgotten, House is willing to almost literally turn out the contents of his mind to figure out who that darn woman is and why she keeps asking him “What is my necklace made of?”

Well, it’s amber of course, and as soon as he realizes this, it all comes rushing back: Amber was on the bus with him, her leg impaled by a metal bar and though he managed to put a tourniquet on her, she is apparently the Jane Doe No. 1, the one at the other hospital with kidney damage, the one who is dying.

Oh poor Wilson, oh poor Amber, oh poor House, who really isn’t looking very well at all. When Ben Vereen shows up, or Foreman (Omar Epps) starts counting down the five stages of death, we’ll start to worry.  Meanwhile, it’s nice to have the old “House” back, though you do have to wonder: How many near-death experiences can one fairly sedentary doctor have? 

-- Mary McNamara

(Photo courtesy Fox)

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