The fourth season premiere is tonight - and I still have not finished the Epic Essay of Doom for idol_reflection. So here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to post the parts of my rough draft I have finished in the hopes that encouragement from the general public will push me to complete the blasted thing before I am jossed by the new episodes. Beat me with sticks, please!
First up, Stacy Warner:
"How do you think this is gonna end? We'll be happy for what? A few weeks, few months. And then I'll say something insensitive, or I'll start ignoring you. And at first it'll be okay. It's just House being House. And then at some point, you will need something more. You'll need someone who can give you something I can't. You know I’m right. I've been there before." – House to Stacy Warner, Need to Know
(Note: Spoiler warning for the first half of the second season.)
At the end of the first season, House’s old girlfriend comes to Princeton-Plainsboro to personally ask House to look over her current husband’s medical records. House’s response? “I’m not sure I want him to live.” Whether this initial reaction stems from a long-standing desire to hurt Stacy or from jealousy – or both – is something even House himself doesn’t know for sure, as he reveals to Wilson in a bar in Honeymoon. Unambiguous, however, is just how much Stacy matters to House – and just how much Stacy has shaped House’s romantic self-image.
Stacy lived with House for several years, and there is every indication that she was – and is – a pretty good (if not perfect) match. For one thing, it’s clear she generally understands – and even likes, sometimes – how House operates; in Honeymoon, for example, Foreman and Chase are amused to discover that Stacy has baked cookies for the “House boys” to discover during their “highly illegal search” of her home. Moreover, Stacy gives as good as she gets; in Acceptance, when House snarks that Stacy met him in a strip club, she fires back gamely with: “You were the worst two dollars I ever spent.” And in Spin, when House jokingly asks Stacy why they stopped sleeping together and then blames her marriage, she replies, “Yeah! Otherwise I’d be on you like red on rice.” Stacy also admits to Cuddy in Need to Know that she did have fun with House while they were together. And, most importantly, there is evidence that at the height of their original relationship, House trusted Stacy; as is revealed in Three Stories, House asked Stacy to make medical decisions on his behalf should he ever become incapacitated (a trust Stacy ultimately betrayed, though not for wholly unsympathetic reasons). That House was willing to give that much of himself to another person – willing, indeed, to surrender some control – at one time in his life is significant. That such a genuinely loving relationship (and the tenderness in the flashback scenes between House and Stacy in Three Stories can lead us to no other classification) should collapse begs for a reflection upon the cause.
House is not a man who can tolerate shame. Given that he so often behaves as if he has nothing of the kind, such a statement may seem surprising. But for House, shame is defined as a loss of control – a loss of face. When he is wounded, his instinct is to bite. When he collapses in front of his employees, as he does in the middle of a joke in Skin Deep, for example, he clips out an irritated “I’m fine!” and aggressively steers the conversation away from what has just occurred. When Wilson attempts his trademark psychoanalysis, House usually shoos him away with a healthy dose of mockery. To wit: In most cases, House simply will not allow any probing of his vulnerability. But what if such probing becomes unavoidable? What if a loss of control cannot be deflected with a well-timed sarcastic remark? This is the position in which House found himself when he and Stacy faced the central crisis of their initial five-year relationship: the infarction.
At that juncture, Stacy found House’s decision to take the riskier course – and in the process try to preserve his leg – incomprehensible. A woman in love, she wanted the object of her affection to be alive, happy, and pain-free; whether her lover remained physically intact was a secondary concern. She tried to assure House that it was “just a damn leg,” but in House’s world, where life pulls no punches, consequences do – and did – matter, and “satisfied” is just another word for “too lazy to strive for something better.” All the choices – all the mistakes – that led to a four-day-long series of misdiagnoses could not, in House’s mind, be reversed by cutting said mistakes away. Someone had to suffer for blowing the call – and why couldn’t it be he? After all, he himself had taken days to diagnose muscle death. Moreover, as he opines years later to a room full of medical students in Three Stories, acquiescing to amputation would’ve given his doctors carte blanche to stop caring. House didn’t wish to die, but he did wish to balance the cosmic scale. He didn’t wish to lie back, defeated; he did wish to try for the best outcome.
All of this, however, was inaccessible to Stacy. And so she did a very human thing: She tried to protect someone she loved. Like parents, lovers, and friends the world over, she intervened – and shamed House in doing so. From that point forward, that shame lurked in every corner of their relationship. Understandably angry, crippled, and inescapably vulnerable, House shielded himself from further humiliation by shutting down completely. And, analytical person that he was – and is – he watched himself do it from the outside. He watched and recorded every regretful thing he ever said to Stacy. He watched and recorded every cigarette Stacy smoked to relieve her stress. And when Stacy left, he watched that, too – and drew more conclusions about his own ability to change that would ultimately squash any hope of a second chance.
But despite all of this baggage, House doesn’t quite let go, and when Stacy enters his life for the second time several years later, he pursues her relentlessly while declaring to all and sundry that Stacy’s love for him renders her incapable of doing her job. Of course, the two people closest to House both see this monumental feat of projection for what it is. When House lies to Stacy on behalf of a death row inmate in Acceptance, for example, Wilson chides House for the deceit, reminding him first that he needs sympathetic people around him to do the things he cannot do himself, then adding: “And that’s not even dealing with the greater agenda – of getting [Stacy] to dump her husband and fall in love with you all over again.” And when House urges Cuddy to fire Stacy in Spin, Cuddy’s response is quick and perceptive: “Yeah, she’s still got a thing for you, making it impossible for her to deal. Makes perfect sense – except for the pronouns!” Trapped in the center of House’s “vortex of insanity,” Cuddy and Wilson watch with jaded eyes as House harasses Stacy’s husband Mark, gossips endlessly about Stacy’s every move, then breaks into a hospital psychiatrist’s office to xerox Stacy’s patient file.
House does the last with a clear intent to manipulate, but Hunting, the episode in which House puts his ill-gotten knowledge to use, is shot through with genuine emotion. During the hunt for Steve McQueen the Rat, House takes on an air of preciousness, for lack of a better term, and, crouched beside him in her attic, Stacy can’t help but warm to it. “Admit it,” says House, talking about two things at once, “you like him.” “He’s okay,” Stacy replies, picking up on and embracing the dual meaning. “For a rat.” Then, another crack in the barrier: House confronts Stacy with the evidence of her recently renewed smoking habit, and Stacy admits that she’s been blunting her cigarettes in the vents to hide her smoking from Mark. “I always knew,” says House, who then reveals that he used Stacy’s smoking years ago to monitor her “misery level.” “I’m sorry you were miserable.” And here, House means every word – which makes it all the more wrenching when Stacy later discovers just how much House has invaded her privacy and, justifiably furious, turns him away. The episode ends with House brooding, alone, keenly aware that he has gone too far.
Stacy’s arc, however, does not end there. She continues to be drawn to House despite the lack of wisdom in it, in part because she never really stopped loving House (in Honeymoon, she concedes that House was, is, and always will be “the one”), and in part because House has made her gun shy. The latter we see in her response to Mark’s irritability as he adjusts to a life of (temporary) disability and physical therapy; the parallels between Mark and House here are obvious, and this similarity certainly influences how Stacy interprets her husband’s behavior. “He’s pushing me out of his life,” she says to House in Failure to Communicate after she describes a stupid argument she had with Mark earlier that morning. Then, when House expresses doubt, she insists, significantly, “Did I misinterpret with you? At least this time, I recognize it.”
Just as House cannot countenance shame, Stacy has trouble coping with emotional uncertainty. Thus, she (selfishly) seeks solace in someone familiar, and House, for his part, seizes the moment and (also selfishly) takes her to bed. And it is at this point that we notice something very curious: For all of his talk of being serviced by hookers and cheating on his girlfriends, House is very idealistic when it comes to romance. When the act of adultery is at last committed, he expects an immediate change of heart; he expects consequences. But Stacy – human Stacy – cannot face the fallout. Her instinct is to avoid the choice: “If I never tell [Mark],” she says to House in Need to Know, “it’ll never hurt. I want not to love Mark. I want to hate you. I want all of this to be simple, but it’s not.” House, who is constitutionally unable to accept the act of not choosing for reasons that will be discussed later, is firm in his reply: “You can either have a life with me, or you can have a life with him. It can’t be both. It’s not easy. But it is simple.”
House is obviously disturbed by Stacy’s vacillation, but the ultimate deal-breaker in Need to Know is the confrontation with Mark in the stairwell. When Mark launches himself out of his wheelchair, determined to get some sort of truth – some sort of advice – out of House, House is astonished. He calls Mark an idiot for setting back his therapy schedule and beats a hasty retreat. But later, as he watches his patient’s liver surgery, it is evident Mark’s desperation has had a devastating impact, for House expresses a strange sort of admiration for both his patient’s and Mark’s (though the admiration for the second is unspoken) willingness to change, pretend, and compromise – a willingness that rests at the heart of the grand “romantic lie” that House believes, thanks to his idealism, is a necessary component of every long-term relationship.
And so, ultimately, he urges Stacy to leave with her husband. Thanks to bitter experience, he does not believe he can live up to his own ideal.
There’s a trite old chestnut that says, “If you love someone, let her go.” House is no fan of the cliché, but here, in a sense, he lives it. In the end, we discover that there’s a streak of nobility in House after all, though it is always – always – complicated by a healthy amount of personal laziness and conceit. After all, as Wilson points out, self-awareness is only half the battle; a truly good man is willing to do the hard work of changing as well. “You don't like yourself. But you do admire yourself. It's all you've got, so you cling to it. You're so afraid if you change, you'll lose what makes you special.” And then, Wilson’s parting shot: “Being miserable doesn't make you better than anybody else, House. It just makes you miserable.”
As I said, all comments/criticisms/scoldings are welcome! Talk back below!