House, “Office Politics”

I can’t remember the last time I wrote up House this season and that was mostly because I felt like the first string of episodes, while really solid, were exploring a lot of the same things in only slightly different ways, so it wasn’t really worth my time to again write “I’m totally enjoying how the series is treating Huddy” or “Chase is so much better without Cameron.”

However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy those episodes in which I didn’t review, Mondays are just kind of busy and if the series isn’t going explore anything too crazy, I have to save time somewhere. But with Chuck off for a week, House picked the perfect time to have its best episode of the season, one that felt like a throwback to the series’ earlier run when everything wasn’t so dark and melodramatic.

Mixing up the team is a gimmick, but one that the series has worked to its advantage on countless occasions. The Survivor run during the first half of season four is still probably my favorite string of episodes the series has ever done because that kind of situation is perfect for House’s antagonistic attitude and by that point, I was bored with the original team anyway. Heck, even last year when Foreman fired Thirteen and Taub quit, bringing back Chase and Cameron, it worked on some rigged nostalgia trip.

Thus, it’s no real surprise that I found “Office Politics” to be a strong effort because it successfully introduces a new member of the team, Masters, (Amber Tamblyn, once again confirming the law of possible House team-members in that you have to be relatively famous to get the job) and does so in a way that suggests she will be an interesting foil to House, at least in the short-term (I assume she’ll leave when Olivia Wilde comes back from being a movie star).

In a lot of ways, Masters is like Cameron and Thirteen: She’s the voice of reason who disrupts House’s process with logic and empathy — though I think Thirteen has gotten away from this, thankfully — but because Tamblyn plays the role of the young genius still in medical school so well, Masters seems different enough. Fans had a lot of problems with Thirteen because they felt like she was replacing Cameron, I don’t think they’ll have that problem with Masters. She’s awkward, she’s young, she’s idealistic, but not blindly so like Cameron. Oh, and she’s a genius.

Masters’ inability or desire not to lie seems like an obvious way to put her opposite House, and honestly, it is. But that doesn’t mean that “Office Politics” doesn’t make the best of it by having the two of them go back and forth about the validity of telling the truth in a situation where it might not be the best option, and the best part is that Masters never once backs down. She isn’t forceful, but stands her ground in a way that challenges House without being annoying.

Moreover, this episode continues to drive home the reading that this is a lighter, more chipper House. After the intense drama that came with Amber’s death (which was gripping, though), the House-Wilson fissure, Kutner’s suicide, Chase killing a guy for Cameron, House going nuts and the subsequent aftermath of that, there seems to be a weight lifted off the series in its seventh season that makes it much easier to watch. I’ve criticized the series in recent seasons for being trapped in this weird space between not wanting to tell great procedural stories and not being able to tell great character stories that weren’t related to House, but this season, the series has rectified that a bit by skipping over the melodrama and letting the actors’ chemistry do a lot of the work.

Thus, this episode can get by with Foreman and Chase tormenting Taub for obviously disliking Masters because these three guys know one another well enough that it makes sense they would make jokes and in Taub and Foreman’s case, play a game of 1-on-1 hoops to prove who is better shape. Chase has always existed in this goofball world of booze and smarm, but it’s nice to see Taub and Foreman escape their awful melodramatic romantic entanglements and just have fun. Foreman is a douche, so it works to have him be one in the context of making fun of Taub. It’s light, it’s weightless, but it’s at least fun to watch.

Finally, “Office Politics” continues to tread respectfully through House and Cuddy’s relationship. They share multiple honest conversations about why Cuddy hired Masters and why House should keep her around. And even though House betrays Cuddy’s trust a little bit in the end, the episode goes out of its way to show us that it’s something he’s at least upset about. Earlier episodes have tried to explore what happens when House and Cuddy have to work together now that they’re together, but I found this one to be the most effective. It might bring up some major drama in the future, but for now, their relationship and the conflicts within are well-executed.

House won’t ever be as good as it was during the first four seasons, but this new, third version of the series is better than the second version that dragged down the series’ image and quality for a few seasons.

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