Conscience – it’s not the first thing you’d associate with Doctor Gregory House.
Yet if there’s one thematic through-line of season six, that’s it: consequences, choice and responsibility. This season presents a new-style House (Hugh Laurie), off the Vicodin and actually trying to be nice.
He’s become “a diabolical yet benevolent puppet master”, according to Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard). Has he lost his edge? Not a bit. Has the show? That’s another story...
At the close of season five, House checked himself into a psychiatric facility after repeated hallucinations of Wilson’s dead girlfriend – and a brain-screw of a finale where major events turned out to be no more than an extended drug-addled fantasy.
The resulting asylum-set opener of this season is a brilliant One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-style double bill, with Greg leading the inmates into anarchy, seeing a chance for love with guest star Franka Potente and eventually learning the error of his ways.
Then from episode three it’s back to the regular disease-of-the-week Holmesian detective work while relationships are built and destroyed, the team (Foreman, Taub, 13, Cameron and Chase) play musical chairs and the will-they-won’t-they dance with Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) continues.
Overall, it lacks the strong narrative drive of previous seasons. On the plus side that means the individual episodes are sharp, funny, compelling and more easily dipped into than recent runs, but as a whole it’s missing the gut-punch twists that a tightly plotted season can deliver.
The ‘event’ episodes include ‘Wilson’ – where it’s oncologist James taking reckless steps to save a leukaemia sufferer; he may be driven by compassion, but he’s just as tenacious as House.
‘5 To 9’ offers a glimpse into the stressful world of Cuddy, juggling House’s antics, lawyers, the board and babies. And in ‘Lock In’, Laurie’s directorial debut on the show, a missing baby spells barred doors for the hospital and soulsearching for the imprisoned staff.
As for the extras list, the prognosis is good – ‘Wilson’ and ‘5 To 9’ come with enjoyable cast/writer commentaries, while a brief featurette accompanies ‘Lock In’.
However, elsewhere things are interesting but underwhelming, including a commentary and three featurettes on the opening two-parter. Six seasons in, House is still one of the best shows on TV, yet this season as a whole feels like a step back.
It’s nice to be nice, but it seems you can’t beat a House of pain.
It’s never less than engaging, but never quite as earth-shattering as previous seasons have been.