An End of Self Confession aka “Physician Heal Thyself”

From its debut, House M.D. has been a great show. It’s medical mystery plays as in as formulaic a way as any episode of Law & Order or C.S.I. and on that level of procedural, it’s been fine. But it has always been the character of Dr. Gregory House himself, played by Hugh Laurie (Black Adder) who makes the show remarkable. He’s been a fascinating character study, a blend of arrogance, brilliance, charm, wit, and selfishness; a man in pain, who heals others pain.

The two hour opener of season six makes for an interesting departure episode for the show. Other than a brief appearance by Robert Sean Leonard as Wilson, Laurie is the only regular cast member to appear. There isn’t a medical mystery, per se, to solve. There’s just two hours of watching one of television’s most fascinating characters at his most vulnerable and finally facing up to his brokenness.

It’s easy to play armchair psychologist as his wounds keep piling up. He has long term unresolved issues with his father. He’s in constant pain due to his leg and has been self-medicating (drugs, porn, and prostitutes) for years. He’s lost the love of his life and hasn’t figured out how to open himself up enough to love. Broken mind, broken heart, broken body, broken spirit, broken sense of self … sometimes you have to realize the level and depth of your brokenness before you can begin to heal.

At the close of season five, we see House bottoming out. It had been coming for years: the Vicodin abuse, risking jail, his license, a downward spiral of self-destructive behavior. By the time he checks into the Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital, he was suffering delusions (including a sexual encounter with his boss, Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein)). As the season opens, House is going through drug withdrawal. Once the meds have cleared his system, and the accompanying hallucinations gone, House is ready to check out. However, despite his voluntary commitment, it isn’t as easy for him to leave as he thought.

As the episode is directed by longtime “House” producer Katie Jacobs, she brings in the star of her previous medical drama Gideon’s Crossing, the great Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Streets), as Dr. Darryl Nolan, the head shrink at Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital. House needs Nolan’s support to get his medical license reinstated and Nolan wants House to get truly well. The two begin a spectacular game of cat and mouse–that much greater with two powerhouse actors going up against one another–with House plotting con after manipulation while Nolan lets him know that he can’t con a con man.

“You need to stop fighting the system. You need to let me do my job.” –Dr. Nolan

“Broken” is a journey towards redemption: the first step in a very long and non-linear path. It’s a risky gambit because part of the appeal of House has been all of the things that make him so dysfunctional, his woundedness is part of what makes him tick: his emotional unavailability, his inability to love and the denial of his own problems, all of which his colleagues put up with or gave him a pass on because he did such good work.

A lot of folks don’t know what to do with folks who are truly hurting. They are quick to label them crazy or drama queens, accuse them of self-aggrandizing behavior. To be fair, condition not always easily recognized, hidden behind walls, and people who are hurting aren’t always the most cooperative of “patients.” Often scared or indifferent and stubborn, or whatever else their posture of woundedness, they are unable to give voice or words to their state of despair or hopelessness. Burdened with the weight of guilt and shame, and self-contempt, they might pull away from people, not wanting to let others see our wounds believing them to be too ugly.

“They didn’t break me. I am broken.” –House

House needed to bottom out in order to get to a place of true, restorative healing. However, this came in stages (and throughout the series his friends often wondered “is this is? Have you finally hit rock bottom?”). When he first arrived at the Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital and even after he had kicked the drugs, he hadn’t reached his bottoming out point. He was still an open wound spewing wherever he went. An uncooperative patient more content to scheme and get out on his terms in his way, constantly alienating people with his arrogant behavior and pushing them away before they could abandon him (not trusting them to be there because that’s what his father and life had taught him).

This is where House had found himself. Narcissism and anti-social behavior were just a few of his self-destructive behaviors, often screwing up relationships as if that was the goal. That’s the thing about addicts and addictive behavior: they scheme, lie, and take others down. They take advantage of their friends, seemingly valuing failures more than his successes, not quite being able to get out of their own (self-destructive) way, and never quite being honest to those around them. And in House’s case, he trusts in his intellect and ability to read people over making actual connections with them; using his intellect as a defense as he pulls away from people.

So House keeps trying to do things his way, finding a measure of healing in dealing with his own pain by helping others … as he schemes. He develops a close relationship with his new roommate, Alvie (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and a frequent visitor, Lydia (Franka Potente). Alvie helps him uncover incriminating information about Dr. Nolan for a blackmail scheme and convinces Lydia to loan him her car to sneak out a delusional patient, Freedom Master, in an attempt to undermine Dr. Nolan’s course of treatment.

Easy to wallow in lostness, trying to fix rather than move on; or become caught up in machinations and manipulations, creating scenarios of crisis so that one can swoop in and play the hero. It’s still about trying to maintain a sense of control, to manage something in order to create the illusion that things are still okay.

to be continued …