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Sunday, 7 of March of 2021

House – “The Dig”

“I’ll kill you when the time comes. We can do it now if you like. I think I got a baseball bat in the back.”

Thirteen hesitates as House drives her home.

“Kneeing Damon Lindeloff in the pants felt really good.”

If the remaining episodes continue the way they have been since “Bombshells,” this might end up being my favorite season of House yet.

I know, I know. I’ve been bellyaching about this season all year, lamenting the impossible union that was Huddy, sniping about Thirteen’s replacement, predicting nothing but doom and destruction for our narrative sensibilities on an essentially bulletproof series. Well, unless they can’t strike a deal.

Now that Huddy is split and House has, more or less, fallen into full-on relapse, I don’t have anything to whine about. Instead, I’ve used my crying time to reflect on the season. Living through it sucked: House was distant from his diagnoses (his puzzles and reason to live) while maintaining an uncharacteristic level of patience with his girlfriend, Masters was a shade of Cameron with potential for complications that were never realized, the other ducklings became two-dimensional shadows of their former selves unless a spotlight shined on them. It was all about enough to turn me off entirely. But, on the whole, the season works in hindsight. If we forget the ridiculous way Cuddy and House got together at the end of last season, we can see Huddy for what it is: an escalation for House’s eventual valley-making crash. Thirteen would’ve been adjunct to this season since her misery would have no company as House experienced his version of bliss. The exploitation of Masters is a missed opportunity but might’ve felt forced anyway with the jaded goblins she works with turning her into one of them. Even though in the back of my mind I knew it all had to come crashing down at some point, I didn’t believe it. And now House as a mess again makes me feel like the season was almost worth going off course to sink him lower into misery than ever before.

And misery sure does love it some company.

Some might’ve forgotten why Thirteen is an important part of the cast, particularly since she was gone for almost all of the seventh season and the show kept on chugging. Everyone on the show represents some quasi-Jungian shade of House’s pscyhe. Foreman is his authoritarianism, Chase his gray-morality/libidinous streak, Masters his near autistic need for puzzles, Cuddy/Wilson his conscience, and Taub — well, Taub sucks but someone has to counterbalance the rest of these larger-than-life freaks with a bit of simple flawed humanity.

Thirteen’s surface role is to be the one that can constantly sit outside the box. But her assumed role is his partner in misery. Her self-destructive streak due to a worldview colored by certain terminal illness is directly proportional to House’s self-destructive streak caused by his existential struggle. Even though Wilson is his oldest friend and Cuddy is forever intertwined with him romantically, Thirteen might run third in a race for his platonic affection because she is so close to his sensibilities. So now that House has crashed again, it’s only fitting for Thirteen to return (and convenient for Olivia Wilde).

This is an episode dedicated to that dynamic: two flawed characters that understand each other. The medical mystery is really just prelude to Thirteen’s interjection at the end. There wasn’t much else going on at the hospital: the angels of conscience were MIA, Chase and Foreman continued their streak of being nearly indistinguishable (I might start calling them Chasenforeman like Samneric in Lord of the Flies) even when Foreman was dealing with Taub’s barely-an issue, and Masters had her thing with the patient because someone had to. No, no, this was clearly a getting-to-know-you-again-for-the-first-time episode for Thirteen as her wall caved in the wake of familial tragedy. Through the reveal of her past (both recent and distant) is a little compressed, her reaction to opening herself up and having House be the guy she crumbles in front of is in order. More importantly, the story reminds us of what’s good about Dr Hadley.

She’s resourceful and competitive, at times emotional and empathetic and at others thick-skinned and objective. She is complicated and independent, strong. There are other female characters like that in television (not many but some; Teresa Colvin from The Chicago Code and Alicia Florrick from The Good Wife come to mind) but there are maybe a handful of characters that are these things and deeply flawed, too. For example, people might regard Sarah Walker from Chuck a strong female character since she spends so much time kicking the tail of anything in her way, gender non-exclusive. The Blond She-Male will rumble. But she’s (a) deeply dependent whatever Chuck is doing and (b) too perfect. For a woman ripped out of a single-parent family built on swindling and confidence at a young age and brought up through the ranks of the CIA, witness to the very bowels of the universe and the worst of mankind, Sarah seems pretty well-rounded, don’t you think? She’s the male fantasy of what a strong female is. Her biggest conflict is what Chuck will think of [insert problem here] or being afraid of commitment because she’s a spy and spies don’t commit (first rule of spyin’). Thirteen likes her anonymity provided by her nickname, has been known to self-destruct in any way available, tortures herself with her prognosis, but then uses that same prognosis to open up the world beyond conventions and morality. She makes mistakes all the time where she says the wrong thing, takes the wrong drug, sleeps with the wrong person, or tempts the wrong fate. And she suffers consequences that are well beyond the saccharine we-all-learned-something music at the end of television shows.

This isn’t supposed to be a love letter to Thirteen. Chances are, after the spotlight is off her and she settles back into her usual role, she’ll be just like the other ducklings. That is to say, flat. She’ll use passive-aggressive sarcasm to communicate how she’s upset just like Chase and vie for House’s attention like Taub. Depending on how long she sticks around, they’ll probably put Masters next to her to continue the show’s mission to make Amber Tamblyn look frumpy. But for this episode, where she helps build a potato cannon for a contest we had no idea House was ever a part of, House showcased what Thirteen is all about so we can color her in when the series inevitably leaves her empty.

Also: I’m 100% for Cory Barker’s suggestion for a House/Thirteen spinoff.

We have a couple episodes left of this season. I’m hoping for good things. They’ve done everything I’ve asked for so far (crushed Huddy, turned House back into an addict, brought back Thirteen) and I’m hoping for a finale on the lines of “Wilson’s Heart.” Fingers crossed.

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