House: The One Where Something Important Happens
Wow, that was weird.
I watched this episode a day after it aired, and therefore was inadvertently spoiled for the Big Shocker since everyone was talking about it on Facebook and there were headlines about it even in, like, The Politico.
But it kind of didn’t matter, because… dude. This was a really strange episode.
When I heard Kutner was going to die, I expected the episode to be awesome, and I guess it kind of was. There were some amazing moments and some quality acting, even from Olivia Wilde. But overall it just felt so… random. The episode as a whole, I mean, not just the Big Shocker itself.
One-paragraph summary: Kutner’s late to work, so House sends Foreman and Thirteen to his house to find out why, since that’s what you do. They find Kutner lying on the floor with a bullet in his head – he has committed suicide. Okay. Everyone freaks out and House tries to solve the mystery of why it happened but no one ever really finds out, including House. Also, there is a patient subplot featuring a husband and wife who are both dying, or something, but it’s irrelevant, even though the husband is played by Meat Loaf and his character’s name is Eddie.
The show makes it clear that we will never know why Kutner killed himself, and this is supposed to demonstrate the randomness of life and death, or something – having a guy who seemed perfectly happy and well-adjusted, and whose only known problem was having been orphaned at a young age, shoot himself in the head precisely two weeks after orchestrating a prank involving cat pee and one week after successfully solving a case that saved a guy’s life and earned him rare props from House. Then, they tried to make this into a big emotional thing like when Buffy’s mom died or something, but come on, it’s just Kutner. I’m not sad about Kutner dying. I’m just perplexed at the show’s decision to have him leave this way.
Also, in the face of all this forced tragedy, I feel compelled to note that, um, Kal Penn isn’t dead. He’s going on to much greener pastures. (That’s a real job, by the way, not some made up thing you give to actors. It’s really kind of amazing. I mean, it’s not like he’s Sean Penn.) (And also, does this mean I’m going to start seeing Kal Penn around town now? Because that really would be awesome.)
So, okay, they had to write Kutner off, but couldn’t they have done it in some less dramatic way? Or even had him die, but have it be due to an illness or a car accident or whatever? But no, that would’ve been too similar to Amber’s death last season and I’m sure they wanted to be original and “stir the pot.” Whatever. Why not try stirring it by writing a really good episode, like they used to do?
I never thought Kutner added much to the show, and as I’ve said before I thought Kal Penn was phoning it in – maybe because politics is his true passion, who knows (and if that’s the case, then good for him for going for it). But was there seriously anyone out there watching this show for Kutner? I can see that the character was considered more likeable than most of the others, now that Cameron is gone, but still.
The best scene of the episode, by far, came at the end of the first act, when Foreman and Thirteen found Kutner’s body. It’s shot in a single take, and we can only see half the action due to a strategically placed wall. But we hear Thirteen freaking out and trying to perform CPR, and we see Foreman dialing 911 and barking out a detailed request for an ambulance the same way they usually present their initial diagnostic cases (“28-year-old male, single gunshot wound to the right temple, have a trauma unit ready”) and then we see Thirteen skitter back through a pool of blood, soaking her shoes and her pants (that really got to me, since Thirteen always seems so vain about her shoes), and then sitting back, saying “He’s cold,” with blood on her mouth from performing CPR. The scene itself was really freaky and well-done, and if I hadn’t been so absorbed in thinking “Wait, he’s dead already? In the first act? Wait, what?” it would’ve been really effective. As it was, I didn’t appreciate that scene at all until the second viewing, because I was just so confused. Also, until we were told otherwise following the commercial, I honestly assumed that someone had broken into Kutner’s apartment and murdered him – that was how out-of-left-field the suicide felt.
Yes, there was a whole discussion months ago between Kutner and Taub about suicide, but it was about Taub then. Kal Penn says he didn’t know Kutner was going to wind up committing suicide that early on, so obviously he wasn’t playing him that way (or any way – seriously, wooden line readings and forced nerd jokes do not a compelling character make), but I do wonder if the writers knew where they were going with that – or if it was just, like this entire season seems to be, random.
Which is not to knock the episode completely. It had some really cool elements, like the scene described above. And the scene where House goes to visit Kutner’s adoptive parents and tells them it’s their fault, and that Kutner committed suicide because he was conflicted about his Indian heritage and his adoption into a white family. I do find it interesting when House isn’t being a jerk – when he just genuinely doesn’t realize that, for example, social conventions forbid him from speculating on the possible motives for Kutner’s suicide in the presence of Kutner’s parents. Also, all the actors, and Peter Jacobson in particular, really were extremely good. It’s nice to see them have a chance to really show off for us, because they all can when it counts (yes, even Olivia). Also, there was a neat moment when House decided he wanted to be Sherlock Holmes for real, and decided that Kutner was murdered (he wasn’t).
But none of that eclipsed the “Wait, what?” factor, especially on first viewing. And especially during the long funeral sequence, which was so dramatic it seriously felt like we were watching, like, Leo McGarry’s funeral sequence (now there’s a moving TV death). So we had to watch Wilson and Cuddy and Cameron and everyone act really sad, even though, I mean, they barely knew Kutner and certainly didn’t seem to like him. Of the characters who did, Thirteen is the only one who shows any of the predictable grief symptoms, whereas House investigates, Foreman retreats and Taub denies (until the end, when Taub sits in a hospital hallway and cries, alone, which for me was by far the most touching moment of an episode that didn’t have a lot of touching moments).
And… I think I am now kind of over this show. If I weren’t reviewing it, I wouldn’t watch every week, because the individual episodes are almost always unsatisfying. I’d just let them accumulate in my DVR and then watch them all at once in, like, June, while cross-stitching or something. Because you reach a point where you’re listening to House describe his latest insight into what all the other characters are thinking and doing, and it feels less like a cool detectivish story about a complicated genius, and more like the writers are taking shortcuts so they don’t have to have the characters themselves make it clear what they’re thinking by, you know, writing meaningful dialogue for them. So all the secondary characters just sit around being foils for House and spitting out medical jargon, and the entire show rests on this one guy who is indeed interesting, but who has been interesting in the same ways over and over again for five seasons now and honestly can’t sustain it all by himself.
So I’m giving up on this season now. There are still four episodes to go, but unless something truly amazing happens in the final eps, or unless they come up with an actual story for Cameron and/or Chase (I love Chase), I’m checked out. Better luck next season, writers.
Season 5, Episode 20: Simple Explanation (originally aired April 6, 2009)
For another take on this episode, check out Cameron Cubbison’s review here.
For more on House, click here.
House, Tuesdays 8/7c on FOX
Photographs courtesy of FOX Broadcasting Company and IMDbPro