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'House M.D.': James Earl Jones' tyrant brings the tension

October 6, 2009 |  6:41 am

House-Ep604_Sc26_1008

Like most viewers, I had my doubts as to whether a "healed" House would be as entertaining as the old House. After all, his misery was what made him so fun to watch.  Luckily, House's stint in the mental institution made him more self-aware and less self-destructive... but didn't strip him of his sarcasm -- or of his tendency to delight in making other people squirm.


Monday night's episode, "The Tyrant," brought House back to diagnostics for the first time since his mental breakdown. He's ready to work but missing one key ingredient: his medical license. Until House's license is restored, Cuddy puts him to work "unofficially." Because Taub has quit his job and Foreman fired Thirteen, the team House returns to consists of Foreman, Chase and Cameron, a familiar crowd to those who have been following the show since the beginning. As House says, "It's three years ago! Does that mean I'm still crazy?"

Without his license, House is reporting to Foreman instead of the other way around. This isn't the first time hospital politics have set House and Foreman up for a power struggle; the role reversal has been explored several times before. Predictably, House doesn't respond well to authority and spends plenty of time making Foreman's life difficult.

I did enjoy a few of House's tricks -- writing the diagnosis on the blinds before the meeting, just to reveal it later, was a pretty clever way of saying, "I'm still smarter than you." However, with a man's life on the line, House's silent game of diagnostic charades somehow seemed more childish than usual.

The patient in question was President Dibala, a tyrannical African dictator played by the iconic James Earl Jones, visiting his son at Princeton while on a trip to address the U.N. Even weakened and coughing blood, Dibala was an intimidating force (maybe it's that Darth Vader thing) and garnered no sympathy when he tried to explain away his horrific war crimes by insisting he had his country's best interests at heart.

House-Ep604_Sc15_3022 Dibala's influence on Chase and Cameron was particularly interesting, and I was pleased to see their stories explored, since they've been on the back burner for two seasons now. When Dibala revealed plans to incite genocide in his war-torn nation after his release from the hospital, Cameron all but suggested that the team let him die. Chase called her behavior borderline sociopathic, but he changed his mind after an encounter with a young guerrilla soldier whom Dibala had forced to torture an innocent woman. 

Ultimately, Chase faked Dibala's test results, which led Foreman to treat Dibala for the wrong disorder and ultimately killed the president. "All the good we've done, every life we've saved, it would've meant nothing if we'd just sent him off to kill hundreds of thousands of people," Chase said when Foreman confronted him.

"House" tackles ethical issues almost weekly, but I loved the way this particular episode pushed the limits. I think one of the reasons that medical dramas are so successful is that doctors have the ability to "play God" on a regular basis, something with which regular folks are unfamiliar. Ethically, the team was expected to save Dibala's life, without evaluating the merit of the life in their hands. But can a human being really be free of judgment when faced not only with a moral dilemma, but with the opportunity to save hundreds of thousands of innocents?

When given the opportunity, Cameron couldn't bring herself actually to kill Dibala -- but Chase could.  Foreman had the opportunity to turn Chase in for his actions, but ultimately he helped Chase out by burning the evidence. This episode really showcases how the dynamic of the "original" team enhances the show.  Since Cameron, Foreman and Chase have history together, they're more compelling than the new team ever was. I'm interested to see how working together again -- at least for now -- changes their relationships with one another and with House.

Speaking of House -- his character development took a backseat to the patient of the week in this episode. I was disappointed that House and Dibala didn't share any scenes together.  Cuddy forbade House from having any patient contact, and for once, House actually listened. It's too bad, because Hugh Laurie and James Earl Jones would've made a formidable pair.

House's side plot with Wilson's pesky neighbor wasn't particularly enthralling, but it did make for some great moments -- in particular, House's Dexter impression as he plunged a syringe into the neighbor's neck. The pop-culture references were abundant in this episode. I loved Wilson's deadpanned, "I am vampire, Sookie!" and Foreman's allusion to "Say Anything" -- though I'm less than thrilled that I've had a Peter Gabriel song stuck in my head for a good three hours now.

My favorite House-ism in this episode was when House gave Foreman a hard time for his relationship troubles with Thirteen. "My condolences. Although, it's not like she's the hottest woman in the world," he teased, a clever nod to Olivia Wilde's place at No. 1 on Maxim's "100 Hottest Women of 2009" list.

What do you think? Is House as compelling now as he was when he was "crazy"? Did you miss Taub, or, like me, did you barely notice his absence? Are you glad to have the original team back together? Do you think Foreman will ever get over his constant desire to one-up House? What do you think of House and Wilson as roommates?

Sound off in the comments below and check back after next week's episode to compare notes!

-- Carina MacKenzie (follow me on Twitter @cadlymack)

Photos: At top, House (Hugh Laurie) plays a game of charades with Foreman (Omar Epps) and Cameron (Jennifer Morrison). At bottom, Jesse Spencer, as Chase,  and James Earl Jones, as President Dibala.  Credit: Fox

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