Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Excuse the Interruption: NEW! - House 6:1 - Broken

Strictly speaking, this is a sci fi blog- but on occasion, we will be reviewing off-topic shows. Why? Because we like them!

Credit to my co-author Stephanie S. for doing the majority of the highlight transcription and writing (outside of my own ratings and comments).


Plot Synopsis:

After his detox, House is convinced he is all better and announces his intention to leave Mayfield – but Dr. Nolan refuses to write the letter recommending that House’s medical license be reinstated unless House remains to receive treatment for his depression. So House tries what has always worked for him in the past: naked manipulation. Determined to “turn the ward upside down,” House disrupts group therapy, insults his fellow patients, attempts to foment a rebellion, tries to recruit both his roommate and Wilson to gather dirt to use against Nolan, and even takes a crack at phony cooperation, all with the intention of driving Nolan to give in. Fortunately for the viewer – and for House – Nolan cleverly thwarts House’s every maneuver. House is forced to admit he is out of ideas.

Meanwhile, House has been striking up the occasional conversation with a visitor, Lydia, who plays the piano for her sister-in-law, Annie, who hasn’t spoken in ten years. At first, his remarks are typically blunt, but eventually he softens, suggesting to Lydia that she bring Annie her cello. House also becomes uncharacteristically defensive of the delusions of a patient, Steve, who calls himself the “Freedom Master.” Ultimately, House steals Lydia’s car and takes Steve “flying” at the amusement park; this ends tragically when Steve takes a flying leap from the parking garage and is critically injured. Devastated, House finally realizes he does need help and begs an angry Nolan not to transfer him to another facility. He starts taking his meds for real and going to talk therapy. He connects to the other patients, he’s there for Nolan at a tragic moment, and, most importantly of all, he opens up to Lydia and risks getting hurt. It is the last that convinces Nolan that House is ready to go home.

The Ratings from Stephanie S:

Overall: 9.7 – Could this be my new favorite episode? Why yes, I believe it could!

Writing: 10

I have been complaining for quite some time that House has never had an antagonist capable of defeating him. But now, I shall complain no longer; now, we have that longed-for antagonist, and his name is Dr. Nolan. Every scene between Nolan and House was pure gold. When Nolan revealed that he had switched House’s pills because he suspected House was shamming cooperation, I was squealing.

Every step of the way, the writers demonstrated that, whatever their faults, they understand House perfectly. During the summer, I predicted that House would try to leave as soon as the hallucinations disappeared – and voila! The writers obliged, because they know that House is deeply distrustful of psychiatry. The writers also remembered that House is a deflector and a manipulative bastard – that he is terrified of losing his genius and equally terrified of getting hurt. Even House’s identification with the “Freedom Master” made sense – after all, it was not too long ago that House himself retreated to a more comfortable delusion. Not once in this entire episode did I detect a wrong note.

In Broken, the writers made neither of the two mistakes I feared: House did not leave Mayfield an unchanged person, but he also did not leave the institution completely well. Instead, they opened him up just a little. They lived up to their promises to stay within the bounds of realism, and thereby gained a hell of a lot of credibility. Bravo!

Acting: 9

Outside of Andre Braugher and Franka Potente, I wasn’t utterly bowled over by the rest of the guest cast, but they all put in solid performances. Andre and Franka, however, were fantastic – and Hugh, of course, handled the more emotional scenes with his usual subtlety, which prevented the sweeter moments from becoming overly saccharine and thus tipping the episode into schmaltz.

Message: 10

I was afraid at first that the message was going to be “Adultery will make you sane,” but thankfully, they didn’t go down that road. Instead, the episode was about making yourself vulnerable and learning to trust – something that House has been unwilling to do for a very, very long time.

The Ratings from SABR Matt:

Overall: 9.9

I was quite literally blown away by the very real and very sensitively constructed season six opener. I mentioned to my co-author following this episode that I had no idea how badly I needed to see House take some step forward – ANY step forward – and connect with people – nay – REACH OUT TO people the way he did in this episode until I saw it. The writers deserve a lot of credit for building up such a strong emotional attachment to an emotionally DEAD person prior to this episode that any gains could be received with tears and gratitude.

Writing: 10

This was an absolute tour de force. Every character was real and compelling, every action taken by House was organic to his character, every problem encountered by his fellow inmates was dealt with in a sensitive way, every interaction between House and his caretakers perfectly executed, every emotion perfectly evoked. Stephanie S. already remarked about the long-held need on this show for someone who could get through to House by beating him at his own game. Wilson, the long-running foil for House’s psychological state, was always his inferior when it comes to mind games and his enabler (despite being “in charge” of their friendship as revealed in “Mirror, Mirror.” He was never going to get better with Wilson as his only check. Vogler was defeated by his own hubris and the writers’ lack of courage. Tritter was defeated by his inability to remain professional in his pursuit of House - he made things too personal and the justice system smacked him down. Cuddy is routinely defeated (and in fact blinded) by her own deeper feelings for House. Dr. Nolan had better return in later episodes. House still desperately needs his guiding hand on the road to recovery.

Acting: 9.5

I don’t focus too heavily on the minor guest stars in any television show when rating the acting performances. I think Lydia was portrayed very well, and I enjoyed Dr. Nolan (as did my co-reviewer) and House’s interactions with Alvie very much – perhaps because I’ve known several people with some form of manic depression and could see a lot of their behavioral eccentricities in his character acting. I am just amazed by the giant step forward in quality this episode took from an already outstanding show.

Message: 10

I worried less about the adultery than my sister did, since Dr. Nolan, very early on, revealed his concern for House in getting involved with a married woman. The real perfecto-clinching message – the real reason I will be watching this episode over and over – was that House was finally forced to admit that he can reap great rewards by trusting in people and making real connections. My co-author covered that as well, but I wanted to expand on it a tad further and make the claim that not only is House learning how to trust people…he’s learning at a fundamental level that people aren’t inherently evil and selfish – that his world view has been wrong all along and in fact there are people who want to be compassionate for no reason other than because they honestly care about others. In fact, I’ll go one step further and say that this masterful episode forced House to concede at long last that not everything can be solved rationally. “Fixing things” isn’t dealing with your problems. As someone with a great interest in cognitive psychology, it was a breath of fresh air for me to see House finally able to recognize that his poor mental health is a prison of his own making.


“You can’t go back to practicing medicine.”

“I don’t want to practice medicine. I’ve decided I want to be an astronaut.”

“Well, if you want your state astronaut’s license, you’re going to need my recommendation.”

“Is that a popular new treatment? Blackmail?”

“You need to get better.” – Nolan plays his first ace. And notice that it works: House doesn’t leave. Nolan knows exactly what’s important to his patient.

“Cut your wrists, huh?”

“Greg, there are certain topics-”

“Oh! I’m sorry – is suicide taboo? Gosh, if I’ve broken a rule on my first day, I will kill myself.”

“Group’s over!”

“That flew by.” – House earning his first time-out in the padded room.

“House! House! He’s on my team!”

“Shut up. Nobody likes you.”

(Then, to the claustrophobic:)

“Am I crowding you?”


“Can’t see the sun? Oh no! Everything’s closing in!”

(House takes the ball and says to Dr. Beasley:)

“He’s the claustrophobic one, right? I’m doing this from memory.”

(The paranoid patient:)

“You have to dribble.”

“Why? The CIA satellites aren’t watching me, they’re watching you – ‘cuz you’re wearing green.”

(The paranoid patient takes off his shirt.)

“That one was just too easy.”

(To the anorexic, “Hal”:)

“Seriously, anorexia? Aren’t you supposed to be a girl? And in answer to your implicit question, yes – those pants do make you look fat.”

(To the depressed woman:)

“How upset were you when you woke up in the ER and realized you were still alive – and a failure?”

(House takes his shot at the now completely undefended basket.)

“You’re right – it is rewarding to reach out.” – House earning another time-out.

“If you keep up this scorched earth policy, you’re going to end up living in this room.” – Dr. Beasley, who also holds her own quite well.

Seriously? Is that your strategy? Give everybody what they want except me?”

“You’re a natural leader. You could do something useful down here… for them… definitely for you. Or you could keep fighting. If you think you can break me. If you think I’m not every bit as stubborn as you.” – Nolan diffusing House’s rebellion. Fantastic!

“I need you to run a license plate.”

“Was there a hit and run on your floor? House, just… do what you’re supposed to do, listen to the doctors, and I’ll be able to visit soon.”

“Track down the owner of this car, and I’ll be able to visit you, in your office, tomorrow. My doctor is too smart, too old, and too well dressed to only be running one ward. He’s screwed up something in his life, and I think he’s doing it again. I need her name so I can blackmail the blackmailer -”

“House! He called me.”

“What did he want to know?”

“He wanted to know about you. He wanted to warn me that you’d be calling for something. And he told me if I wanted to help you get better, I had to let him do his job.”

“Well, now I’m calling you to tell you that if he calls you-”

“House – I’m so sorry. I wish I could help you.” – Nolan cleverly cuts House off from his enabler. Pure awesome - again, Nolan demonstrates how well he knows his patient.

“Just… one quick lift.”

“Why are you doing that?”

“House, it’s none of your business.”

“Just curious, as a doctor – what are you doing?”

“Either he is Freedom Master and he shouldn’t be here - or else he’s suffering from a serious and dangerous delusion that he needs to deal with.”

“So – legit medical reasons. You’re not just trying to break the guy because he’s a little different.” – Again, this scene makes a great deal of sense, and not just because it makes sense that House would want to one-up a ward doctor (and thus Nolan by proxy). House knows what it’s like to have a pleasant delusion cruelly shattered.

“These are your pills from today?”

“I’m not gonna take it. I’ll just cheek it again.”

(Nolan breaks open the pill and pours the contents into his hand.)

“Lick it.”

“You want me to lick your hand?”

“I washed.”

(House realizes he’s been out-matched.)

“It’s sugar.”

“Your test results were improving too regularly, too quickly. I was concerned you weren’t taking your pills – that it was all an act – so I switched you to a placebo… to see if your ‘improvements’ would continue. Your psych tests told me nothing – but your urine tests told me you were faking. You need to stop fighting the system. You need to let me do my job.” – SQUEEE!

“Everything in your life has been about finding the truth. But suddenly, with this guy? You decide to reinforce a sick man’s delusion. You just want to take a swing at me. You don’t care about getting out. You don’t care about him. You don’t even care about the truth. You don’t care about anything, House. I’m transferring you to Winslow Psychiatric. You’ll have better luck pulling the wool over their eyes. I’m done.”

“Don’t… I need help.” – And thus the episode takes a critical left turn – but, importantly, it was earned. House was not going to admit he needed help until he did something fantastically stupid and, to his mind, unforgivable.

“SSRI’s? That’s your genius technique?”

“I don’t think we should ignore any tools that can help. I know you don’t have a problem taking drugs.”

“For my leg. For pain.”

“Well, think of this as being for psychic pain.”

“I don’t want to change who I am.”

“Miserable? You think by taking meds, you’ll lose your edge? Stop making the insightful connections that make you a successful doctor?”

“If Van Gogh was your patient, he’d be satisfied painting houses instead of The Starry Night.”

“Van Gogh would still be making inspired paintings of the night sky. Just – not from the room of his asylum.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I know both his ears would be intact. And I know his life would be better.” – This is the first decent depiction of modern cognitive-behavioral therapy we’ve seen. Nolan draws out House’s well-know conviction that genius equals suffering, then gently challenges said conviction. GREAT scene.

“They broke you.”

“They didn’t break me. I am broken. Now stop worshipping me and go worry about your own loser life.” – Ouch.

“Did any of these people rat you out as the obnoxious womanizer – or porn producer – that they think you are? Why do you think people will treat you worse if they knew the truth?” – Good question. This highlights just how little House really thinks of himself – and of others.

“I’m sorry I pushed you away…it’s…what I do when I’m afraid.” – House to an emotional Lydia. Say what? House…admitting that his ways are screwed up? Seeing the errant pattern in his behavior and addressing it?

“Why do you value your failures more than your successes?”

“My mother caught me masturbating – to pictures of her mother.”

“Can we get past these cute deflections?”

“Successes only last until someone screws them up. Failures are forever.”

“So you accept that fact. You accept that there’s nothing you can do.”

“Okay. I accept the fact that there’s nothing I can do. Now – what can I do?”

“You acknowledge failure, and you move past it. Apologize.”

“Wow. Powerful things, these apologies. You get someone to jump off a building, you say two words, and then you move on with your life. Hardly seems fair.”

“Is that the issue? You cause him pain – if the world is just, you have to suffer equally? You’re not God, House. You’re just another screwed up human being who needs to… move on. Apologize to him. Let yourself feel better. Then you can learn to let yourself keep feeling better.” – At heart, House is a moralist who sets the bar so impossibly high that he cannot hope to reach it – which often gives him license to stop trying.

“There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re healing – all the parts work. Speak! Come on, SPEAK! SAY SOMETHING!”

“I think everyone should take a break now.”

(Then, as the group disperses:)

“You’re trying to fix instead of moving on.” – Yep. But isn’t that what makes House potentially redeemable? That he wants to fix is proof that, at base, House cares.

“You have no friends, no family. At some point, you made a mistake and lost everything – and now I’m the closest thing you’ve got to a friend.”

“Just shut up. I don’t need you here to play this game.” – Here, Nolan is trying to teach House to be content with simple compassion instead of endlessly analyzing why anyone would depend on him.

“I’m sorry. I was trying to prove a point. I was trying to be right. I ended up putting you in a dangerous situation and I was not equipped to handle it. And you got hurt and it’s my fault and – I’m sorry.” – Stephanie S. says: I haven’t seen a sorry on television this significant since Londo’s apology to G’Kar on Babylon 5. And I’m dead serious.

“I don’t want you to go.”

“I don’t want to go. But I can’t break up my family. I can’t leave my children.”

“I just don’t want it to change.” – Contrast this scene with the scene at the end of The Itch. Before, House couldn’t bring himself to tell Cuddy how he felt.

“She left… and… I’m lost.”

“… I’m going to write your letter… to the medical board, recommending they give you your license back.”

“You can’t just console me by giving me a lollipop when I skin my knee.”

“Look – two things just happened: You got hurt, which means you connected strongly enough to someone to miss them. And more important, you recognized the pain and came and talked to me, instead of hiding from it in the vicodin bottle.” – There are really no words to add to this. No words.

Final Comments:

This episode was one of the most sensitive, beautifully constructed, acted and directed pieces of media (including movies, television and the stage) that I’ve ever witnessed. It is hard…darned hard indeed…to imagine the writers ever topping this. In fact, I doubt this blog will ever have the opportunity to gush quite so reverently about even a handful of other works. Five years destroying House’s confidence in his way of life…five years building up a desperate need in the fans to see House do something…ANYTHING…to turn the corner…and they gave us THIS. Just breathtaking.

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