If you’re a fan of the show, House MD, you probably enjoyed last night’s 2-part season opener with Dr. Gregory House finding himself in a psychiatric hospital. If you haven’t yet seen the episode and intend on watching it, you may want to skip reading any further, as I’m going to discuss plot components that might give away some of it for you.
Contrary to the ridiculous depiction of staff and how a psychiatric hospital is run on the Fox show, Mental, this two-part episode of House actually did a fairly even-handed job of showing what life in a psychiatric hospital can be like. While the use of the solitary room was a little over-the-top (and likely a part of the plot and power-play between House and the administrator), everything else was far more realistic than a regular episode of House.
Realism doesn’t make House less fun to watch (although I know many doc friends who can’t stand it for that very reason). But seeing people grappling with mental illness depicted in a very complex human and humane way during those two hours was refreshing. Not just refreshing — damned refreshing. House isn’t just a simple, narcissistic ass. House is an ass in order to hide his own emotional pain and refusal to deal with life on the terms it’s given him.
House is wonderfully played by Hugh Laurie, who has suffered from clinical depression himself in real life. As someone who has had to deal with depression first-hand, Laurie’s charitable work is also focused on mental illness. It’s no wonder then that last night’s episode was more sensitive to people with mental illness.
Sure, sure, the episode had its own usual mental stereotypes — the typical mute woman who opens up after something special happens; the manic who refuses his medication in order to remain manic; the superhero who thought he could fly. But within each stereotype, there was some truth, as these are actual maladies that everyday people grapple with, well, every single day. A 2-hour episode has minimal time to explore the depths of such characters, so we get a necessarily simplified outline instead.
Poignantly for the House character, he also realized for the first time that he may not very well have all the answers — and that the answers aren’t always so easily known or knowable. That by deconstructing people to their simple characteristics, you can be wrong. Horribly, tragically wrong.
To see the House character actually grow a little is realistic, too. People don’t change overnight and House isn’t going to suddenly become this touchy-feely, “let’s all share our emotions” kind of person. But we can change in little bits at a time and we can have a wake up call that makes us realize that we may be going down the wrong path in life. It doesn’t always take a tragedy or a heart-stopping revelation to come to this realization (but on TV it may, since the audience needs to be kept entertained too).
Kudos to the writers, producers and Laurie himself for these two great episodes with a sensitive and thoughtful depiction of inpatient life in a modern psychiatric hospital.