“If you want to change your life, do something, don’t believe your rationalizations, lock yourself up, and pretend you’re happy.”
A very profound statement laced with irony. I had started writing this article as a review on this week’s House episode, “The Itch” but upon writing it I stumbled upon something I much preferred to write about. Now I realize this whole thought pattern I have here might be me reading far too much into a TV show, or maybe my very in-depth study of Dubliners (James Joyce) in English class right now, that deals with the theme of paralysis, might be to blame for this thought pattern. But nevertheless I feel this is quite interesting, whether it’s a product of my English class or not, so here we go! Please do not take offense if your ship is portrayed in a way you dislike, this is by no means to “bash” your ship, just merely to point out my view on the characters.
House MD is essentially a formula based medical show about doctors struggling to cure a patient. After going through a battery of tests, verbal abuse from House and a couple of organ failures, most of the time the team manages to send the patient home healthy but with his ears burning because of some sarcastic comment from the mean doc. This would be the show for any causal watcher, but for most of us here, the show goes much deeper.(how obsessive does that sound?) House MD is a detailed character study of not only its main character Gregory House, but of his friends and colleagues, using those characters’experiences to send messages to the audience about moral and ethical issues. Jus as authors of books, the writers of House MD generally use running themes through the show to emphasize the messages they wish to convey. One of these themes (or motifs) is the theme of paralysis.
Since its House, let’s start with the root of the show, the patients. Frequently, I’m not going to watch every episode and count, the unlucky sole that happens to be the patient of the week goes through the symptom of paralysis. Obviously, this is the onset of the disease getting worse, but it also seems to reflect something about the patient’s situation. The patients seem to come in already being “paralyzed” if I may use the term in that way. Each of them is stuck in a life they don’t want, or has something blocking their path. To name just a few:
- “The Socratic Method”, suffering from schizophrenia, which doesn’t allow her to connect with her son.
- “Mob Rules”, the mafia won’t accept him being gay.
Senator Gary H. Wright
- “Role Model”, his political power limited because he is black.
- “Acceptance” is literally stuck in jail.
- “Safe”, has a poor immune system and is confined to her house.
- “Meaning”, he’s literally paralyzed, stuck in a wheelchair.
- “Whac-a-mole”, 18 year old has to take care of his siblings
- ‘Needle in a haystack”, Can’t do anything his family doesn’t like.
- “The Itch”, an agoraphobic who stays inside his house.
These are just examples, I could have made an argument for any patient of the week, I could talk about Nate from “The Jerk” if I wanted to, or maybe Kenny from “Ugly”, but this list proves that it seems to be a running theme that the patient of the week displays some sort of paralysis in their current world which is stopping them from living life to the fullest. Normally the sympton of paralysis, or the physical embodiment of the metaphorical
paralysis, happens either towards the end of the episode or in the middle of the episode, signaling that changes need to be made to not only the medicine, but to the general attitude the patient has towards life. Once the paralysis of the disease threatens their life, physically, the patient not only starts cooperating with House’s team more, but suddenly the patient’s own metaphorical paralysis seems to be realized. Sometimes this realization causes them to alter their personal lives. Normally by then end of the episode, if the patient hasn’t died, the patient has seemed to have “fixed” their lives and have been able to move on past their paralysis. This growth of character serves as a complete contrast to the core characters of the doctors, highlighting the irony in how they manage to help patients to overcome their own problems, but seem to remain unchanged in their own stagnant lives. Never was this more seen than in “The Itch” where Nozick was able to overcome his agoraphobia and step out into the world, whereas House, the instigator in Nozick’s move away from paralysis, cannot move past his own and knock on Cuddy’s door.
As we can see with the last paragraph, is also seems that the doctors of PPTH have their own issues of paralysis which limit them and their relationships with others. The show is very ironic in the sense that the patients are normally not only fixed medically, but also fixed morally and often appear to be leading better lives because of their experience at PPTH. While the doctors, whose advice the patients took, are often left exactly where they started, paralyzed. This irony seems to go back to the motto of the show, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want, but if you try sometimes you might find that you can get what you need”, if you move past your problems, things will get better, but you have to try and escape whatever is holding you back. Each of the doctors experience their own version of the paralysis and while there are those characters like House, who’s problems have been explored far more greatly than others, the show has managed to slide in problems of the newbies and plenty of paralysis hangs around its guest stars. Let’s start with those, the reoccurring guest stars.
There is not a whole lot to say about Vogler, considering that his character was to serve as a tool of dramatic tension and was more of a ploy to move character development along in the first season rather than a major character, but paralysis still enveloped him. Vogler was paralyzed by his money and his hatred of defiance. He is greedy and selfish and doesn’t look past the edge of a dollar bill nor does he appreciate House’s disobedience towards rules. This view of the world eventually causes Vogler to essentially kill one of House’s patients. Luckily Cuddy got him booted out.
Stacy on the other hand was a much more developed character who played a much bigger role, and essentially created House’s own paralysis. Ironically with the characters of House and Stacy, they seem to create each other’s
paralysis. Perhaps House’s deepest problems root from her abandonment and because of that he can’t handle change. Stacy is paralyzed because of her own selfishness, never is it more brought out than when she is around House (sorry I liked Stacy but its true). Though I can’t argue objectively that she didn’t come back to House because Mark was dying, I found that is seemed like an excuse for seeing House again. Now, one can argue that she had moved on with her life, had gotten married to Mark and seemed to live happily ever after, and indeed that was the case, until he got sick. Once Mark got sick, Stacy was brutally reminded of the hell she went through with House being sick and everything that resulted and suddenly the happily ever after she had had was suddenly gone and her own selfish desire to avoid confrontation and anger came bubbling to the surface again. When House had gotten the infarction, frankly Stacy hadn’t had the balls to sit by him and take his abuse, but was weak because House needed her to lean on more than ever and she failed him, and therefore destroyed the relationship she had with probably the love of her life. She threatens to do this again with Mark, once House seems to offer himself to her again. Mark, again, is in need of Stacy to support him. But rather than go through the hell of helping Mark become himself again, Stacy would rather take the way out and go back to House now that he’s “all better”. I don’t know if she would have been happy with House if things had worked out (and so that everyone knows I was a Hacy shipper at that time), but I have a feeling she wouldn’t have. Mark is
the better guy for Stacy, and he would give her the attention she “deserves”, but because of her own paralysis, and fear of dealing with hate, if House hadn’t turned her down Stacy may have never been happy because of her own doing.
Tritter again was not as wholly developed as Stacy was but his obvious obsession with House
seemed to paralyze him for a bit. He could do nothing more for a while than make House’s life, and all of those that surrounded him, hell. Tritter may not have had a huge character development, but there certainly was a paralysis in his mission to lock House up.
Amber also had an air of paralysis hanging about her, but not to the same extent as many of the characters. Amber’s paralysis was her own undoing, at least in the competition for the fellowship job and perhaps with her death
(perhaps). Amber was known as “cut throat bitch” and rightly so, she was competitive, manipulative and was certainly a favorite amongst fans. But it was just that, her own competitiveness that would lead her to lose out on the fellowship job. Strangely, House did not value this quality as much as we thought he would. Amber seemed to be in the game to win, and wouldn’t accept anything less. House reminded her that to be in his “game” one would need to learn to be able to loose in life and accept that you have to know when to quit. Her death on the other-hand is a weaker argument. Just as Amber never quitted in her attempts to become a staff member at PPTH, she seemed to never quit on anything else. Even when House refused to take a ride home with her, she followed him on the bus (this is weak I know) and that ultimately led to her death .Whether you agree with the last point or not, Amber was definitely paralyzed by her own eagerness to always win at life.
As one can see, even the guest stars of House carry this theme, but onto the main characters of the show.
Not much has been revealed about this charming addition to the cast. Pin-pointed as the sort of goofy whiz-kid, Kutner’s paralysis may lie though in his
own self esteem issues. Kutner has good ideas, very much out of the box and allows House to reach his diagnosis by coming up with theories and tests that exceed the normal expectations of medicine. But he is intimidated by House, and sort of rings back to the old Chase who sucked up to House. Kutner tried to take a defiant stand to House in “No more Mr. nice guy” but sadly was shut down in his own attempts to stand up for himself. Deemed as a bit of a suck up, and a goof, Kutner’s ideas are sometimes overlooked and his own self confidence issues stop him from defending his ideas further. He will continue to be overlooked unless he overcomes this paralysis.
Taub on the other hand is not so much paralyzed by a personality quality, but rather by a past action. Even if things do repair between his wife and him, adultery never fully goes away and will always put a wall between him and his wife. Taub’s one moment of stupidity and lust has cost him everything. He had to change careers, from one of a successful plastic surgeon, undoubtedly with a higher salary and partly owning his own practice, to a fellow on a diagnostic team. It’s demeaning and House enjoys picking up on that and poking fun at him. For a while though, besides the job change, it seemed that Taub’s life wasn’t fully affected by his cheating. But now that he has told his wife, this might be the cynic in me, but I truly think that though it might not end their relationship, it certainly will put a bump in his marriage that will never go away. So in effect, Taub’s whole life is now at a standstill because he is paralyzed by his cheating.
13’s paralysis is obviously her disease. One can see very plainly the difference in 13’s character after she received her diagnosis; only recently in “Joy” and “The Itch” was she sort of back to
her sarcastic self. Before knowing that she was dying, 13 seemed to be moving forward in her life. She had applied for a fellowship and competed with all of the others for something she truly wanted; face it if you didn’t want the job you would have quit. She was determined and strong and as I said pushing her life onwards. But after the Huntington’s test was confirmed she has sunken into a defeatist mentality. Though strong for one episode in “Dying changes everything”, the patient of the week, Lou, her own paralysis of staying with her boss and not “spreading her wings” further crippled 13 so that her hope lowered ten-fold. 13 is now stuck in a rut of partying, having sex, doing drugs and really doing nothing effective in her life. Though she may be “enjoying” life and having “fun”, really 13 is trapped in her own self pity (I know it’s a harsh word) and cannot push forward with her life, “Lucky 13” showed us that.
I’d like to thank BB for this inspiration, I was kind of stuck on Chase. Chase’s paralysis stems from his expectations of other people. First House and then Cameron, Chase has these ideas about people and bases a lot of his actions and frankly depends on those ideas to guide him to do the “right” thing. Chase was not only scared of House but he also deeply respected him. Chase, I think more than anyone else so far in the show,
used House as his mentor, somebody to look up to, and in some people’s opinions, House stood as almost a daddy figure to subconsciously replace the father Chase hated so much. This was why he reaction to being punched by House was so strong and he had received it with so much bitterness. No matter what Chase did he could never impress House, his sucking up, his willing to do whatever House wanted and even his brilliant diagnoses, nothing Chase did could earn him praise from House. This opinion of House which was once held by Chase (lost it in “Finding Judas”) paralyzed him. He wouldn’t move on from the fellowship, his confidence as a person and a doctor was based on the approval he so longed for from House and because he would never receive that approval from House, Chase was limting the way he was acting in order to meet an expectation he had for House. Because House forces Chase to leave by firing him, in fact House could have never done Chase a bigger favor. Because out of all of the characters in the show, Chase like the patients seems to be the only one who sort of escapes his paralysis. After leaving House’s team he has grown as a person and now doesn’t need to depend on approval from anybody, not even Cuddy. His expectations of Cameron haven’t been blown yet (who knows what will happen) as she has suddenly made room for him in her life, but even with Cameron his paralysis could screw things up. Chase assumes since Cameron had a long with-standing crush on House, that her crush has not gone away. He expects the worse from her; he cynically expects everything she does to be laced with a motive to make House jealous. This is brought back up in season 4 during “No more Mr. Nice Guy” when Chase wants to know if she slept with House. His expectations, have yet to ruin his relationship with Cameron (and hopefully they won’t) but they very well could do, and that is why his expectation were and are his paralysis.
Foreman on the other hand isn’t paralyzed by his expectations of others but of himself. Because Foreman had such a rocky past and was given a second chance after being sent to Juvie, he appreciates how lucky he is and therefore rarely lets himself get out of line. But because his
sudden expectations of himself force him to keep his emotions in check and never allow him to try new things; he is stuck in an unchanging life. Stevi, in “Needle in a Haystack” points out how alone all of the doctors are, how alone Foreman is specifically, he says he doesn’t want that. Chase also points out in the recent “Lucky 13” that Foreman is “boring”. Foreman doesn’t push the limits, doesn’t try for anything new, and when he does he receives harsh repercussions like getting fired from Mercy hospital that only enforce his need for rigid rules to control himself. Therefore, as opposed to living his life to the fullest, he is forever trapped by his past and his fear of letting himself go in case something doesn’t go according to plan. Unless Foreman tries something new, he will be stuck in an unchanging world and will be forever (you guessed it) paralyzed.
Cameron, as Chase so cleverly pointed out in “The Itch”, can’t get over her dead husband. Her paralysis is that she is afraid of commitment (as Foreman pointed out once as well). Cameron picks needy people to give help to because she knows that, deep down somewhere, that the “love” they give her is very superficial and selfish based on the desire to serve themselves rather than to love her back. She picks these people to dote on because she wants
to help fix them, they most likely will give her nothing in return and will move on and therefore have no way to hurt her. Of course she probably did this before her dead husband, heck it’s probably why she married him in the first place, but it has only accentuated her paralysis. Now she is stuck, because she always picks those people to become attached to, her world cannot move, it cannot change. With House he would take everything from her, selfishly bathing in the attention without so much as giving anything back to her, only letting her remain safely in her paralysis. Chase though opens her world up a bit. He is not wounded, and he does not need to be fixed, in fact there is a strong possibility that he will hurt her (with his expectations) and this might break her out of her paralysis. In fact we have already seen signs of Cameron attempting to break free. When House lectures Nozick about being a coward and being paralyzed by his own rationalizations, something finally clicks for her and she makes room for Chase in her life, no matter if he is broken or not, and tries to move on. She is one of the few characters making an attempt to break out of her paralysis.
Wilson is an enabler. What Wilson is trapped by is his own need to please other people. Always being the reliable friend and a shoulder to cry on, Wilson’s first interests always seem to be other people. Amber picks up on this in “Living the Dream” when Wilson doesn’t buy the mattress he wants but the mattress he thinks she wants. Wilson’s life as he has known it before Amber remained at a complete standstill. He got married, he got divorced, he got married, he got divorced etc. Nothing changed, because he didn’t change. He was stuck in this cycle of women; he would be their “friend” and then take them out but always thinking of them first. This either built up resentment against the woman, or, he was never showing the woman who he actually was in the first place. Either way, it always ended up badly, and Wilson would
just start the cycle again. House for a while feared he would go through Cuddy like this, and decided though rather selfishly, to sabotage the budding Wuddy relationship. But Wilson nearly escaped his enabling qualities when he met Amber, unfortunately that opportunity was never fully evoked and though he tried to learn from his past mistakes and tried to leave House after Amber died, he didn’t and sunk back into his pit of paralysis. By that statement I in no way mean that House pulls Wilson down into the depths of paralysis in which House has made a comfy home, but I mean that Wilson hadn’t learned anything from Amber dying. Leaving House was a mistake, Wilson thought by getting away from House he would get away from the misery he thought House brought to him, but in fact House nearly always does the opposite thing. If Wilson had walked away from House, Wilson would have sunken deeper in his own paralysis of needing to please other people. House is Wilson’s voice of reason, as he is with practically every character, forcing him to reflect on himself and sometimes see the mistakes he is making. House likes Wilson for who is and what he is, by calling Wilson out and forcing him to realize what truly motivates him; House lets Wilson acknowledge that he’s not the guy he tries to be and why try to be that guy? My favorite quote to prove that statement is:
Mr. Well-adjusted is as messed up as the rest of us. Why would you keep that a secret? Are you ashamed of recognizing how pathetic your life is?
Resignation, season 3, episode 22
We have seen that Wilson is capable of breaking out of his paralysis he just needs the right people to guide him in that direction.
Cuddy shares many similar qualities to House, and therefore is as stuck in her depths of paralysis as he is, the only difference really being that she desperately tries to climb out. Cuddy’s paralysis is her perfectionism. Cuddy wants everything to be perfect, or like House needs to control everything. As House says, “It makes you okay at what you do, and it means you will never be happy”. She is a “control seeking narcissist” who needs to be in control so that she can try to make things perfect. It’s what drove her ambition to become dean of medicine, a belief that she could do it better than someone else, its why she pushes so hard against the Huddy relationship, the obvious non-thinking of him in “The Itch”, and why she will be alone because nothing can be as perfect as she envisions it to be. This is partly why she becomes so attached to her
patients and looses her objetivity. With Alfredo and Emma, Cuddy saw what their lives were, and what they wanted them to be. She also saw that through the medicine she would be taking the things they wanted the most, Alfredo’s brother to go to school and Emma’s baby, away from them. She desperatly searched for a different diagnosis because it would go against what she saw they could have. Perhaps not always medically the best option, Cuddy more often than not has the patient’s best interests at heart. But as stated before, what is an ironic tragedy to her character is her idealism and determination to overcome her burdens. She still fiercely believes that she will find some outlet for her love, whether it’s through internet dating or through getting a baby, Cuddy’s mixture of the pent up hope of the idealist and the dooming qualities of her perfectionism will forever paralyze her and doom her to a life of unchanging factors, because nothing will ever be good enough for her perfect world.
And now we get to House….practically the definition of paralysis.
House could have his own essay alone on this, but I will try my best to reign in my thoughts and not ramble too much. House is as said above is the literal definition of paralysis, not only is he physically crippled and that limits his actual moments, House is an emotional cripple hiding behind masks of sarcasm and harsh cynicism.
House’s deepest paralysis is his fear of change; again his fear of change can have a whole essay written to itself. At the core of every major thing that affects House you can find the element of that fear. From House getting shot, to Cuddy trying to get a baby even to Wilson leaving, every major thing that happens to House is through change. House lives his life as his agoraphobic friend lives it, but instead of being stuck inside the house, House is stuck inside his mind. Because he never comes out with his emotions, keeps everything bottled up, his situation remains stagnant as he does nothing to make things better. When House fights, as was such with the case with Wilson, he is fighting to maintain the status quo and not have to change, by keeping Wilson there, the situation would remain the same. Which is why is was so scared in “Lucky 13” and Wilson had to continuously remind him that “nothing has changed.” House rarely lets anyone get close to him, his emotional walls stop them from doing that and therefore also stunt any growth House may have.
In “The Itch”, he says that he would be better off “alone”, which one could argue that he was thinking of Cuddy’s benefit in that sentence, but this sentence is also proof of how House deludes himself. By thinking that people are better off without him, he is using a lame excuse to not make himself vulnerable to anyone. By claiming that he will hurt the ones closest to him by letting them get close, he is really covering up for his fear of letting them close, because it will make things different. They will see him differently, and perhaps it will change the secure relationship he has with them. Because that change in relationship could being events that he can’t control, and everything could blow up in his face, just like his dream.
House takes such an interest in the lives around him because he is using them as sort of guiena pigs for testing this theories about change. When he notices something big happening in the lives that surrond him, he takes an unhealthy interest in it, putting an almost radar on the party involved in the change. He analyzes everything about situation and prys into that person’s life, trying to understand their motives and pushing them to reflect on themselves. He watches and studies to see what the change will bring to them, will it be bad or will it be good? He uses other people to base his theories about change and what happens to you, and frankly he has not been convinced that change is good.
It has only been a recent development that House has wanted to escape the life he is living and perhaps escape his paralysis. Perhaps his talk with Amber on the bus produced this new House, but certainly in season 2 we would have never seen House heeding Wilson’s advice and rushing off to Cuddy’s doorstep. House may try to be escaping his paralysis, but in fact it was too strong for him and forced him to back away from the door. More than anything House is afraid of losing the relationships he values with people, and by knocking on her door, he is risking it all blowing up in his face (I just love referencing that dream). Who knows if House will ever overcome his own insecurities?
The theme of paralysis plays a major role in House MD, from the patients coming in having literal paralysis and sharing similar figurative paralysis with their doctors, Shore and Jacobs might be trying to point out to everyone that indeed everyone is trapped by something. Whether its an illness such as the case was in “The Socratic Method” or your sexuality in “Mob Rules” or maybe just your deepest fears as with House, everyone has something they need to overcome. And that’s just it, the point of the show. “You can’t always get what you want”, no you can’t. You are held back from the things you want, you stand back and watch as your life passes you by because you are to scared to step out of the comfortable shell you have made your life. But that’s why Cuddy says the second part of the motto, “But if you try sometimes you can get what you need,” or as House puts it, “CLIMB OUT OF YOUR HOLES PEOPLE”. Stop letting the world pass you by because you can’t force yourself to take chances. The show seems to imply that by trying for things and getting over your paralysis like the patients, you’re life will be better and though there are the risks of everything blowing up in your face, wouldn’t you rather turn out like one of the patients than like House?