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'House': Ice packs, brain zapping and an overdose of drama

May 20, 2008 | 11:53 am

    For the second half of their season finale, the writers of "House" pulled out all the stops, and at a certain point I found myself, if not yelling, then thinking very hard, "Put some back, put some back." 

    While Amber (Anne Dudek) lay frozen in induced hypothermia, which Drs. House (Hugh Laurie) and Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) managed to perform in an ambulance using some cold saline and what looked like a couple of reusable ice packs from the driver's lunch box, House desperately tried to remember what had happened on the fateful night leading up to the bus crash that cracked his skull and left Amber such an inexplicable mess. Wilson struggled to accept that his girlfriend might die, Thirteen (Olivia Wilde) took this opportunity to explore the possibility that she carries Hodgkin's disease and everyone else stood around doing what they increasingly do on "House," which is not much.

    OK, that's not technically true. We did learn that Dr. Kutner (Kal Penn) lost his parents in a holdup when he was 6 and that Dr. Chase (Jesse Spencer) is a man of many talents -- in this finale he has performed everything from hypnotism to electroshock. Who knew?

    So Amber died of complications I don't think the writers quite understood. I know I didn't. Something to do with her flu meds and binary proteins. All of which Wilson explained to her, in what has to have been the most technical bit of deathbed exposition ever seen on television, after he roused her from her hypothermia so he could say goodbye. The actual goodbye was fairly touching, proving once again that Leonard is one of the best actors around because anyone else would have simply collapsed under the weight of medical jargon and finale schlock. House missed it all because he was busy lying in a coma -- I don't like to be picky, but isn' t this like his third coma? -- after having electrified his already damaged brain and Risked His Life so he could dislodge the memory of the evening in the hope of saving Amber. Oh, and Thirteen found out she is positive for Hodgkin's.

    If this sounds like a soap opera, if all that is missing is Diedre Hall possessed by Satan, then I fear that is a danger "House" faces. Or maybe it's just that this strange cobbled-together season has made everything seem somehow off -- after two or three post-strike episodes were finally starting to get in the groove and, bam, here's the season finale with all near-death experiences, tragic acts of God and predictable cliffhanging sturm und drang. Without the natural progession of a full season, you can really see those hands nakedly clutching for your heartstrings.
    I don't mind that the medical stuff is so crazy (though the brain electrifying scene really did cry out for Gene Wilder, or maybe Tim Curry) because the medicine on "House" is always crazy. As one doctor I know says: "There are good medical shows and then there's 'House.'"

    "House" is a detective procedural with Laurie playing Sherlock Holmes made flesh -- a tantalizingly troubled genius whose misanthropic nature provides a natural tension with his overwhelming desire to save lives. He is surrounded by underlings who admire and loathe him and who, in a seemingly vain effort to quell his contrarian nature, illuminate various facets of human nature.
    Or at least that's what the show used to be about. And maybe it still is, or will be again, once the creators take the summer to figure out what they're going to do with all these underemployed characters. The theme of the season finale -- that life can change randomly and irrevocably in a single moment -- is an evergreen, and there were moments when it played well. "I shouldn't have gotten on the bus," Amber says, realizing she is doomed, and even the hard-hearted certainly smothered a sob. House, for his part, seems to have finally come up against a consequence for which he cannot justify his actions; Amber would not have been on the bus if she had not come to drive him home, drunk, from a bar. Though Amber's death certainly supports his bleak world view, he has finally truly hurt someone he loves. "Wilson will hate me," he says in a wierd between-worlds moments with the dead Amber. "Don't you deserve it?" she says with a smile.
    Actually not, or at least not for this. Even House can't control a bus accident, and he did electrify his brain to save the woman. So while we are left with the prospect of Wilson finally breaking with House, and perhaps even House attempting to make amends, it already feels a bit manipulative. But one can only hope Wilson is allowed his spine back, and anything that allows Leonard to strut his stuff is all right by me. After that deathbed scene, he deserves his shot at the Emmy for sure.

-- Mary McNamara