House Watch: Ending the Chase

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Last week, Fox announced that this season of House M.D. will be the last. The announcement wasn’t exactly a surprise—the show has aged well, but after 7 1/2 seasons, it has aged a lot. And yet the decision, which was almost certainly months in the works, has freed the show runners to do great episodes like the one last night.

Before reading on, a spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the episode, “Chase,” rip off your spoiled bandages and get to the DVR before reading on.

The episode begins with possibly the most attractive shots of Jesse Spencer ever, which is saying something. If you don’t want to read gay-porno-sounding language, don’t read the next sentence: His body is sculpted and his chest hairs are man-scaped perfectly—although he spent a bit too much time getting that orange-y tan.

Back to the story. Chase, on crutches, answers his door to find House, who tries to interest him in the case of a 45-year-old truck driver with unexplained recurrent seizures. Chase declines.

Foreman gets Chase working again—or at least doing clinic hours. Chase finds two nuns in one of the clinic rooms. The attractive one (naturally) says her shoulder hurts and that it “came out of nowhere.”

The Patient turns out to be Moira, a nun wavering on her vows, and we are reminded that Chase was a seminarian years before. Turns out Moira has a mass in her left breast, which Wilson—yes, Wilson!, who has been absent for a while—diagnoses as a benign fat deposit.

House walks in to help (?) Chase, but of course he quickly gets to the point: “You got stabbed because of me,” House says. As he swallows a couple Vicodin, he asks, “What did you learn about me that you hadn’t known for years?”

Chase replies, “I was idiot before, and I’m not one now.”And then back again with House M.D.’s spare but skillfull dialogue: “Maybe the reverse is true,” House says.

This episode doesn’t match the beautiful, restrained direction and the brilliant writing of last week’s “Nobody’s Fault,” which I would argue is the best episode of House M.D. in its long run—even including Bryan Singer‘s pilot. Last week, Jeffrey Wright and Hugh Laurie mostly performed in one room with only bleak lighting—and they did so in a subtle, moving way more expected from live theater than from TV.

Spencer can’t quite get to that level of acting, and yet “Chase” is still among the best House M.D. episodes of the past few seasons.

At the first DDX—well, there is no DDX. Chase interrupts whatever House’s case is by asking advice for his patient, who is not necessarily the Patient of this week. It’s all a little confusing at first, but again, the show runners are feeling free to depart from the show’s procedural roots.

The least convincing scene in the episode was the one between Chase and Taub in the clinic, where Taub tries to persuade the still-despondent Chase to come back to House’s team. “He’s annoying,” says Taub. “He’s maddening. But he makes us all feel better.” [Correction, thanks to perceptive commenter ipfletch: Taub says “he makes us all better.” That’s a debatable point–they are certainly better as doctors, but almost not certainly better as people. And as ipfletch says, that does make a more complicated point. My bad.]

Their moral flaws then emerge quickly. Of course, House uses insult: he calls the young nun, Moira, “Mother Inferior.” And Chase has sex with her—not just a nun but one of his patients. Perhaps that’s why, post-coitally, she coughs up blood onto Chase—and what House M.D. episode would be complete without coughed-up blood?

The symptoms lead House to think the diagnosis may be syphilis, which would explain Moira’s joint problems if the disease was contracted years before. House to Chase: “I hope you practiced immaculate contraception.” OK, extremely punny—but also funny.

The question that advances this episode is whether Chase, with his injury, will become as cynical as House, whose injury defines him. We don’t exactly get an answer, but the episode moves through the final DDX quickly—again, we are departing from procedure. The DDX is in a hallway; the possible diagnoses are exchanged so fast that I won’t even attempt to untangle them. House M.D. used to be at least 50% about medicine. But its ending episodes will be all about the characters.

Pain in Moira’s jaw and neck leads Chase to the A-Ha Moment this week: she has (Final Diagnosis) giant-cell arterisis, severe inflammation in the head and neck that may be caused by poor immune response. (Or syphilis? We don’t find out.) House says steroids can treat, and Moira gets better.

Toward the end, Chase says he’s fallen in love with Moira. When he confesses this, House calls him “an idiot,” his usual jibe.

“Because I’m in love?” Chase asks.

“No,” House replies. “Because you’re an idiot.”

In the final confrontation between Laurie and Spencer, Chase bristles at House’s advice not to see Moira again. He says House wants him to be like him—lame and broken—but House has a good response: “If I wanted you to be like me, I would be urging you to make a stupid, stubborn decision that blows up your life and makes you lonely and miserable.”

Cut to indie-pop song and scenes of Spencer hobbling on crutches and visiting Moira. I suppose this is the way the writers will begin to close Chase’s story before the finale. I liked the episode’s bitterness. It wasn’t as adroit as last week’s best-ever episode, but it was a solid follow up. My diagnosis: A-minus.

See you next week.