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Sunday, 7 of March of 2021

House – “Last Temptation”

“Then neither of us would be exceptional.”

Thirteen, Chase, Foreman, Masters, and Taub notice House down the hall.

“Omar, if you could step forward a little bit so we can get a clear separation between the pretty people and the frumpy ducklings — thanks!”

The bad news: they did manage to take the spotlight off of what could’ve been a grand re-entry into the fold for Thirteen. The good news: they replaced it with an episode that was good enough for a slow clap.

Last week I predicted that they would flatten Thirteen with the quickness into the pastiche of the other Flat Ducklings, making her a sad shadow (a pale imitation, if I may cull the other definition of pastiche) of her strength in “The Dig.” While the fanfare over her return and the struggle Thirteen might’ve had to go through to get her medical license back would’ve been a little indulgent for House, I was hoping they’d put off the flattening for an episode so we could see Dr Hadley as an “assistant.” Sadly, we don’t have time for that nonsense.

So in the same vein that we saw stellar episodes focusing solely on Cuddy and Wilson (aptly named “Cuddy” and “Wilson”), Masters gets her very own episode as she wrestles with the end of her being a student and, possibly, stepping into House’s world on more permanent terms. So, instead of mooning all over Olivia Wilde’s return to PPTH, we get to watch a lamb lost in the Dark Wood. And we witness it all through the lamb’s beady little eyes.

“Last Temptation” is clearly a reference to innocence (or, at least, goodliness) steeped in the evils of the world and having to resist the temptation of contributing to the world through one of the most competitive, rewarding, miserable existences in medicine. They make it a point throughout the episode to establish (for those that don’t remember season 4) that Masters is in a heavily-coveted position and for House to want her is an honor. Obviously, there’s an iconoclast here.

I don’t know what they planned for Masters at the beginning of the season. To me, there was only one direction for the girl to go in: corrupt her and make her one of the jaded, cynical ducklings. She came off like Cameron ethically if a little more naive but had the potential to compete with House intellectually, particularly since her mind also makes life a continual puzzle for her to solve. Of those two traits, Season 7 emphasized the innocence angle and made her intelligence a casual quirk. Had the focus of Season 7 been on the diagnostics team and not distracted by Huddy, we probably would’ve seen the corruption of Masters sometime, at least sooner than her swan song episode.

“Last Temptation” smashes what I felt was a seasonal arc into an episode but is pretty good about it. Masters is always on the outside of or trailing behind the other ducklings, constantly facing her courage (in the form of chickens), and standing stark against the established icons of the series. While she always seems like a lost child on the show (purposefully), Masters seems even more doe-like when sharing screen time with the grizzled veterans of the PPTH Diagnostics program. Notice that she doesn’t ask the advice of Foreman nor Talb as to what she should do. Those characters have been affected by House but not irreparably changed forever; they are essentially the same. There is the intimation that Thirteen has adopted House’s morality (that might be a reason to go back and watch Season 4 to see) and Chase has, of course, grown into someone willing to kill a patient for the greater good. Both warn her off of taking House’s internship. It’s like a a non-drinker sitting at a bar, asking a drunk if she should start. “Good for you for holding out. Don’t start. It’s nothing but trouble.” And then he takes another drink. Because the drunk can’t quit the bottle.

With warnings from the devils but the summoning of Gregory “Morningstar” House to join the fold, Masters has a decision to make and what happens is the best way for her to go. After giving her patient the old okie-dokie inspired by Wilson’s abridged retelling of What Happened with House’s Leg, she didn’t lie to her patient but she did deceive her and the family to do what is best for her. This is a close enough compromise on her moral declaration at the beginning of her tenure that she would never have to lie and the brush with sin is enough for realize she can’t live in the gray area that is House’s worldview. It’s either a strong position for the series to take in keeping dedicated to a character or it’s an easy way to shuffle Amber Tamblyn out now that Olivia Wilde is back. In any case, it’s a far more interesting plot point than allowing Masters to just become another duckling.

There is a question that is begged by the end of the episode: who really won in this “Last Temptation?” Is it Masters surviving with her integrity mostly in tact where so many others have fallen? Or is it House who always knew she wasn’t right for his club? Do we feel like Martha endeared herself to House over the course of Season 7? When the teaser mentioned the internship, I could’ve sworn that would be for Thirteen’s benefit while she wrangles with getting her medical license back. I never felt like Masters was special or integrated enough for House to desperately want her to stick around. But maybe it’s that corruptibility factor. Maybe he needed a new toy to play with and the only way to get her to stick around long enough to mess her up was to find a place for her. But it seems more like House would look at this as a win since he knew all along that she didn’t fit and that hoops he’d make her jump through to get the internship would turn her off the program entirely (unless she was corrupted, in which case she would do as he asks and he wins that way). And, that way, he was right all along. But if we’re going to stick with the titular reference, we have to side with Masters on this one as she bows out with few blemishes.

It was a decent exit for Amber Tamblyn (though we know anyone can come back on House unless you see a dead body or at least a limp arm) and we can say goodbye to the frumpy high-waisted dresses, out-of-place cravats, and saddle shoes. But, to be fair, there’s only room for one person with sassy bangs (to steal a line from The Morning After). And now we can look forward to an ending to this exhausting season.

Quick Note: The other thing missing from this episode was the misery of especially House but also Thirteen. We see House playing games with Wilson again, which I love, but doesn’t line up with the more self-destructive episodes of late. Are we to assume House has finally surmounted his feelings, at least for a few days, or are we seeing the world through the rose-tinted glasses of Martha Masters? Everyone is sweeter, more accommodating, friendlier. House only pops a pill once (we assume — unless he was feeding the chicken-dog Vicodin) and it’s a quick take. I missed the preview for next week’s episode so I don’t know if the misery returns but I figure it’s worth noting.

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