Thursday, 2 February 2012

Women in Da House

This article is about House and contains a huge amount of spoilers from ALL seasons up until the current one. If you haven't watched the show, why not read this, which discusses the show without spoilers, then go watch it, and come back and read this article. 

A discussion has recently risen among fellow fans and I, regarding the women of House. No doubt a result of the much loved Lisa Cuddy's (Lisa Edelstein) dramatic departure at the end of season seven. House continues to its eighth season and Lisa’s absence is still arresting, like a hole in the heart.

One of House’s strengths as well as its weaknesses, lies in the title character. Both Doctor Gregory House and Hugh Laurie, who plays him, have the kind of charisma and talent that are very hard to match, and everyone around him are reacting rather than acting, as a fellow fan once pointed out. This becomes particularly problematic when it comes to the women of the show. 

Since House is only gay for Wilson, the other male doctors' interaction with House is quite simple; until series eight they were all his employees, and while their characters did develop somewhat more independently, their main role is to provide a comic or other kind of relief from the intensive House, and they do that well enough. The female roles in House are always more charged, and therefore require better character development and better actresses to play them. 

As for Wilson, played by Robert Sean Leonard, well, he is the enabler best friend; a character which allows House to do as he please and Leonard to cheerfully leave the award winning performance to Laurie, as he admits so himself. It is harder to make the same excuses for either the female characters, who are suppose to be successful doctors, or for the choices of mediocre actresses who play them.  

Apart from Cuddy, who was on the show from the start, and of whose glory I wrote about here, most of the House women have let me, and if you ask me themselves, down. I say most, because in season seven with the wonderful Martha M. Masters, things changed for the better.

Despite being in House, and the actress credited right after Hugh Laurie and before Leonard, Cuddy wasn’t the main focus of the first three seasons. Unfortunately, the series’ powers that be, chose the unbearable Doctor Alison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) as the main feminine focus. Cameron was in love with House, which would have been fine if she had any kind of personality beyond that. Her background story, marrying a dying man and spending the year long marriage taking care of him, only reinforced the feeling that Cameron’s whole personality depends on the men in her life, not just House.

This foundation for her character is negative to begin with as I see it. From this moment on everything Cameron says and does was House bound and I am sorry to say that was how she stayed till she finally did us all a favour and left. Her so called principals were easy to dismiss, ignore and mock like House occasionally did. She became a preachy, righteous woman, who I couldn’t care less about, and probably like the actress who played her, got where she did because of her looks and constant helpless expression, men love so much, rather than any kind of talent. Can you tell I am not a fan? 

"Look at me! My hands are on my hands on my waists, means I must be serious!"

At the end of season one Stacy, House’s legendary ex, played by Sela Ward, showed up and for a brief moment there was hope that someone would pull focus off Cameron and bring some much needed improvement to the House ladies. As the woman who House was still carrying a torch for, I expected her to be quite impressive. Alas, Stacy turned out to be placid, and didn’t really have enough substance or qualities, for me to believe that she was the woman who broke his heart. In comparison; that Cuddy would break House’s heart, though her actual relationship with him was a lot shorter, both character development and the wonderful Edelstein, made me believe without question.

It was only in season four that I finally came across a House woman other than Cuddy, who intrigued me. Two new women have joined the show, actually there were more, but two who would become the important. The first, and the better of the two, was Cut Throat Bitch; Doctor Amber Volakis (Anna Dubek). The creators rightly fell in love with her and kept bringing her back even after she died in the show. The other major feminine addition to the show, who eventually became a regular, was Doctor Remy Hadley, aka Thirteen (Olivia Wilde).

Amber was indeed, like her nickname suggested, a Cut Throat Bitch to begin with. She wanted to work for House and was willing to stop at nothing to get what she wanted, but unlike any other female character up until then, she wasn’t in love with him. Finally a woman whose motivation, whether noble or not, comes from her ambitions just like that of doctors Chase (Jesse Spencer) and Forman (Omar Epp). The problem with Amber, and the reason why she didn’t eventually get the job, despite House liking her, was that she is like her nickname, and in a team of opportunistic and selfish men, there needs to be someone with a conscious. Why that someone always has to be a woman, and why women with similar motives as the men they work with are usually heartless bitches, is a subject for another article, and a sin of which House is not the sole blame for, or the only show that commits it. 

Thirteen’s character had good and politically correct values. Her background story, a winning combination of bi sexuality and terminal illness, was exotic and most importantly House’s spell seems to roll of her like water of a duck. Potentially, Thirteen was to become the second best female character of the show. Unfortunately Olivia Wilde, while pretty, doesn’t even come close to the talent and magnetism of Hugh Laurie or Lisa Edelstein, and so the interesting Thirteen on paper, became colourless and weak on screen. Instead of having a real impact on the show she seems to have passed by it without really having any influence.

Not long after becoming a House regular, Wilde’s cinematic career started picking up, and so whatever hold she did have on the show started to dissolve until eventually she left without it making any difference. Thirteen's first hiatus from the show came at a good point, and allowed space for the brilliant and emotional development of House and Cuddy’s relationship. Her return at the aftermath of Huddy, made for a beautiful episode in which, for the first time since she joined the show, a most interesting relationship was formed between her and House. Interesting because it wasn’t romantic, and Thirteen’s immunity to House was finally used as development device worthy of note. Since Wilde left the show, The Dig (season seven) remains a one off good Thirteen centric episode instead of a beginning of what could have been the only father daughter like relationship of House.  

And so we reach my second favourite lady of the House; Martha M Masters (you got to love this name. It’s like she’s from a Stan Lee comic book), played by the lovely Amber Tamblyn. What a wonderful insight it was to team House, who argues that “Everybody lies” with someone who can’t. Martha is not a love struck fragile doctor whose views can be easily dismissed, like Cameron, or someone who goes both way (hehehe) like Thirteen; Martha is a genus, like House, she speaks his language and understands it better than anyone, but she chose a different way.
Martha is young and sweet, constantly awkward and occasionally neurotic, but at the same time she is passionate and assertive when it comes to things that matters. When Martha stands up to House, unlike anyone else who does, not even Cuddy, she comes from an equal intellectual position and so challenges House in a way no other character, male or female, can. The credibility of her character, which is among other things a result of her being a temporary replacement to Thirteen, demanded that she won't last, but I really wish she did. 

Season eight without Cuddy and the final departure of Thirteen has cleared the stage for the new girls. The first, Doctor Jessica Adams (Odette Annable) is the obligatory pretty face, who so far has not contributed much, but also hasn’t done much damage. I can take or leave her. The second, Doctor Chi Park (Charlyne Yi) is the brains, but she also has attitude and she is quite funny. I like her very much and she fits the slightly more cheerful breeze season eight has adapted after the emotional roller coaster of the previous series. 

It seems that this is going to be the last season of House, which I think is the right thing to do. Therefore, there probably won’t be too much of a character development to the two new women in da House. All one can do is hope; hope that Parks'  potential would be maximized, hope that Adams will surprise and secretly nurture a wish for a certain one of a kind lady to return. 


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