House, “Massage Therapy”

I’ve been saying this all season (and really for the past few seasons), but if House wants to transition into a character-centric drama that just happens to be based in a teaching hospital where crazy, mystery-based cases often occur, that’s fine by me. At a certain point, the mysteries became boring (right around season four), and so the writers had to change things up.

Unfortunately, looking back on seasons 4-6, it seems they maybe they tried to change things up too much in those seasons. Perhaps the cast turnover (which, admittedly was fun in S4), the sidelining of Chase and Cameron, Fore-Teen, House’s breakdown, Kutner’s death, etc. was really too much for three seasons of stories, particularly for a series that didn’t move at that kind of pace previously.

And now, with a number of those things out-of-the-way, the cast settled in a little bit and House and Cuddy humming along at a fairly interesting rate, House is finally succeeding at what it set out to do in season four. The melodrama has been dialed down a bit and now the series seems content to be fairly frivolous and coast on the charm of its best characters (House, Wilson, Chase most notably) and in year seven, I’m totally okay with that.

That all serves as a long introduction for what will be a short wrap-up on “Massage Therapy,” but it’s fitting because this is a finely-tuned episode that mixes all of my favorite elements of this iteration of the series. House and Cuddy’s relationship continues to be portrayed in a realistic, fun light, as here they get into a squabble over House’s continued interaction with a hooker he used to frequent that eventually turns slightly more serious. Chase continues to float back to his pre-Cameron days as an interesting, real person instead of a cipher for smart-ass dialogue (and in the case of last year, awful, awful drama). And to top it all off, the case is actually enjoyable and twisty.*

*My number one rule of watching House: If I can actually remember pieces of the patient’s illness and even bits about them as individuals, it’s a major win.

Again, not to beat a dead horse, but I’m still totally digging the execution of the House-Cuddy relationship. Having them argue and then ultimately fight over hooker masseuses is sort of like some bad sitcom plot, but it develops in a natural way, at least for these two weirdo characters.

Of course House’s prodding with the hookers is part of his attempts to keep Cuddy at arm’s length because he’s worried about taking the relationship to the next level. These are the kind of things Gregory House does. And of course Cuddy ultimately realizes that she is also keeping House at safe distance because she is scared about how House will interact with her daughter. These are legitimate concerns that people in their current states should have. And for long-time House fans, shouldn’t we just be satisfied that a serious relationship is actually being explored properly (albeit with some goofy conceits)?

Moreover, I really enjoyed this episode for its continued focus on Chase, who has slowly been given more good stuff to do since Cameron left for good in “Lockdown.” He’s been hooking up with ladies left and right all season and here, he hires a new female fellow and even though everyone thinks Chase hired her just to get laid, he swears up and down that’s not the case. It is enjoyable to watch him try to convince himself and the rest of the team that he actually sees some value in the new girl, but in the end when she sucks, he kind of realizes that yeah, he hired her because she was hot.

And most importantly, any time, and I repeat, any time, someone gets to put Foreman in his place for being a snobbish, dickish, smug jerk, it’s a good episode. Foreman is such an awful person and I fist-pumped when Chase called him on his inability to really add anything to the team except condescension.

Is House really that good anymore? Probably not. But if this is the kind of series it wants to be, fine. Give me more episodes like this one and I’m in.

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