Tuesday, April 7, 2009

House “Simple Explanation” Very Complex

RIP Kutner (Image from Fox)
Yesterday’s episode of House(Fox), “Simple Explanation” provided anything but a simple explanation. This episode was more about the death of one of their own, rather than the treatment of the patients. So let’ s get the patients’ story out of the way.

The patients happened to be husband and wife, Eddie (Meat Loaf, the person, not the food) and Charlotte (Colleen Camp). Eddie is dying, surrounded by what seems to be family and friends. But while he feels life slipping away, his wife becomes ill and he is temporarily re-energized as he calls for help. It turns out she has acute respiratory failure, and Eddie seems to be actually getting better. The doctors keep them together while they treat them. To make a long story short, it turns out that what Eddie seemed to be dying from is curable, but sadly Charlotte’s illness is not. The show takes a ridiculous turn when House (Hugh Laurie) and his staff actually consider taking the man’s liver to save his wife, allowing him to die on the table. Even though he was,at the time, near death, there is no way any hospital (at least one in the U.S.) would allow any such operation and transaction to take place. There are very strict rules as to when organs can be removed from a person for transplant, and Eddie’s situation didn’t fit any of those scenarios. Ultimately they cure him, but Charlotte will die.

The big story in this episode was the suicide of one of their colleagues, Dr. Lawrence Kutner (Kal Penn), There had been talk of a death on the show, and some had been speculating it would be Taub (Peter Jacobson), as he seemed to be in quite the funk lately. But the minute that it was mentioned that Kutner seemed to be MIA, I figured that they wouldn’t like what they found when they did locate him. The scene where Thirteen (Olivia Wilde) and Forman (Omar Epps) find Kutner’s dead body was very well done by both actors, conveying the horror and hopelessness of the situation. Later, Foreman, in seemingly trying to deal with the event, completely shuts out Thirteen, which seems to cause her great anguish and hurt.

House, on the other hand, seems stymied by this unexpected event, and begins to try to find an explanation for why Kutner would take such a drastic step. He even goes to the extreme of trying to place blame on Kutner’s adoptive parents as they were white and he was not, making it seem like Kutner was having a crisis of cultural identity. When this happens, Foreman tells House to get out of the Kutner home, while Kutner’s parents look stunned. This behavior causes concern with Dr. Cuddy, who is beginning to look more and more like those paintings with the girls with the big, sad eyes done by Margaret Keane – and that is not a complement. Even Cuddy seems more worried about House than she did about that fact that a member of her staff killed himself, leaving no letter and no clue as to an explanation. (I am finding less use for Cuddy with every week.) House was at least trying to wrap his head around Kutner's death, to the point that he looked at murder as a possible explanation.

Taub, on the other hand, who in the previous week’s episode ”Locked In” stole credit for a diagnosis that originally came from Kutner, is the only person who seems to be focused on the patient. In fact, he seems almost angry that Kutner didn’t respect his own life, so Taub decides to work on the people who want to live. In a way, Taub’s behavior should have been more cause for concern for Cuddy, since it seemed to show either a cold streak, or a person who is unable to cope with loss.

Dr. Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) is also concerned about House’s singular focus on Kutner’s death, especially when House begins to search Kutner’s apartment looking for clues. Wilson later realizes that House himself may fear that he can’t see the answer to everything

But at the end of the episode, we see a better picture of how this death has affected everyone. At Kutner’s funeral, Foreman and Thirteen originally stand alone, but later, he reaches for and holds her hand, clearly trying to mend the relationship. Taub later takes a seat in the hallway, and cries, his grief rising to the surface. House, still trying to solve the mystery, is not at the funeral, but is back in Kutner’s apartment, looking through photos. He finds many where Kutner appears happy and adjusted, but finds one picture where Kutner is looking off, with no smile, and a very sad, introspective look. This seems to symbolize the Kutner that no one saw or really knew.

I found myself thinking of the episode from a few weeks ago, ”Here Kitty” as a possible trigger for Kutner’s suicide. Kutner was clearly superstitious, and “Death Kitty” seemed to be staring at him very strangely when Kutner saw the cat return to House’s office. Maybe Kutner felt that this meant it was his time to end it all. If there was something bothering him, and if he was as highly superstitious as they seemed to make him, the cat could have acted as a confirmation that he would be the next one to go. I know it’s s stretch, but the way Kutner looked at that cat in that episode made me wonder when I first saw it what was going through Kutner’s mind at the time.

This was an excellent episode and I feel it accurately conveyed what happens to those who are close to a person who commits suicide. Years ago, I worked with a woman whose brother took his own life. Even though he left a note of explanation, it was still not enough to fully understand his actions. Many times there are warning signs, but sometimes there aren’t, and in those cases, trying to comprehend the death can haunt people for many, many, years. I sense in the case of House, while it may not completely change him, it may give him something to think about for a long time.

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