The Season Seven premiere of House picks up exactly where Season Six ended: Dr. House (Hugh Laurie), having just lost a patient and, he thinks, his chances with boss and perennial love interest Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), is on the verge of relapsing in his struggle with drug addiction. Cuddy arrives just in time to save him from himself and admit her feelings for him. For those familiar with the show, this is also almost exactly how Season Five ended as well, only in that case, House hallucinated the critical moment with Cuddy, landing him in a psychiatric facility and precipitating Season Six’s focus on recovery.
Thankfully, House is sober this time around, and we can be reasonably sure the Cuddy confession is the real thing. It helps that House himself addresses what we’re already worrying about, when he asks Cuddy, “I’m not hallucinating?” Still, the show can’t help but raise the question a few times: after all, House’s credibility is often questionable, and, well, we’ve been fooled before.
There is, of course, a risk in House and Cuddy finally consummating their relationship (Moonlighting, anyone?). However, the risk is minimized here in that House has never relied on the sexual tension between House and Cuddy to drive it forward. The force behind it has always been House himself, his dramatic personality, his brilliance, general cynicism, and odd moments of hope. So, the real question at the heart of this pairing is less whether or not House can sustain a grown-up relationship than it is whether he can change while remaining the same.
Season Six proved the show is up to the challenge: House finally beat his Vicodin addiction and earnestly participated in counseling to try to “be happy.” If happiness eluded him, he didn’t lose either his intellectual edge (as he feared) or his abrasive persona (as we feared). And yet, there were revelations of humanity in him, in his exploration of his feelings for Cuddy and especially in the finale when, at long last, he made an honest, personal connection with a doomed patient. Though there had been such moments before in the show, they were always fleeting, with House immediately retreating back to his misanthropic comfort zone.
The show is nothing if not self-aware. Just as House asks about his hallucinating, he also brings up a question regarding his capacity for change. Late in this season premiere, he worries whether or not it’s possible for him and Cuddy to move forward: “You think I’ve changed. But I haven’t changed. I’ve done horrible things to you in the past. And I’ll do horrible things to you again.” Certainly, he has been horrible and surely, he will be again. Strangely (or maybe not), this comes as a relief: does anyone really want a totally reformed House?
But House’s claims that he hasn’t changed aren’t completely true either, a play on his “everyone lies” philosophy, even if he doesn’t seem to realize it. Again, this is part of the balancing act the show has to play between sustaining and evolving. At first, this episode swings too far in the direction of evolution, as House and Cuddy call in sick and spend the day together. A giggling, champagne-popping, Boggle-playing House is a bit much to take in. When Cuddy affirms, “I know you’re screwed up. You’ll always be screwed up,” one has to wonder at her obvious masochism and, more importantly, her judgment as a parent (as House puts it, “I’m an insane choice for someone with a kid”).
The episode fractures the romantic House fantasy repeatedly, cutting between the events in his apartment and the mundane goings-on at the hospital, including an uninteresting medical mystery (in keeping with the show’s formula) and a new personal mystery surrounding Thirteen (Olivia Wilde). Then again, these scenes also set the stage for where and how the House/Cuddy relationship will really be challenged: in the hospital.
It’s a great episode, wish fulfillment with a reality check. We’re getting a new House, but keeping the old, too.