House Episode 5.20: ‘Simple Explanation’ Review

Posted on April 7, 2009



TVSummary: Shocking and stirring change of events brought on by loss.
Rating: 8/10

Review Trailer
The quick skinny on the episode.

Lawrence Kutner, played wonderfully dry with a puckish quality by Kal Penn, is found dead by Foreman and Thirteen, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot. The team is sent reeling – including House, in his own way – and torn between feeling guilty for not having seen signs and trying to accept that they really had nothing to do with his death. Taub, who has become my favorite of the “B” team, chooses to coldly deal with the case at hand: a couple with a troubled marriage who have found closeness in the face of his death and trade back and forth between wanting to donate organs to one another to live. Meanwhile, House, shaken to his core over Kutner’s death, fights with trying to make sense of the senseless. Laurie gives a stunningly understated performance, still showing House’s spurs while actually breaking inside. And Taub’s eventual breakdown – and Jacobson’s work – was a touching, heartwrenching highlight.

Feature-Length Review after the jump.

House and Me
Background on my relationship with the show for this first review only.

I was not into House when it first began. The concept sounded alright: a doctor who specializes in diagnosing medical anomalies and is a complete asshole in the process. It was backed by Bryan Singer and they were bringing in Hugh Laurie to headline. I grew up with a significant amount of PBS, mainly because that’s where a number of the shows Lionheart (BBC America’s original name) imported to the states were. Dad had picked up a number of shows he’d enjoyed watching during our time over there, so it was nice to have an outlet for those in country.

One such show was A Bit of Fry and Laurie, the comedy sketch show starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. The fact that the show essentially consisted of just these two guys launching into sketches, punctuated by interludes where the two would just riff, was completely fascinating to me. To see each of these guys working on other projects – don’t forget, we were in the U.S., so we didn’t have the experience of seeing them on a regular basis as the Brits did – was always a tremendous joy. It was like a sense of pride to have been in on their game before others. This included House.

I was actually turned on to the show by an ex. She was utterly compelled to watch the show on a regular basis, so we’d catch it a few times if I was over at her place on a Tuesday night (now Mondays). The show featured Robert Sean Leonard, who I’d always liked, but also had Omar Epps, who I’ve had an on-off viewership with. It seemed kind of weird to me, though, that he was on another medical show after being on ER. And then there was Lisa Edelstein. I’ve always adored her, having discovered her in Sports Night (my fave show of all time), The West Wing, and Edward Norton’s film Keeping the Faith.

My problem initially with the show was that it was a medical drama. I understand the idea behind cop shows and lawyer shows and medical shows. The professions tend to lend themselves very well toward episodic television. That’s why they tend to be regurgitated. Doesn’t mean we can’t get sick of them. I was. So I wasn’t really interested in climbing on board another.

Until I watched it. And got hooked.

Feature-Length Review
The in-depth review.

I must admit that I am a spoiler fiend. It comes from my desire to be “in the know” and I’ll often find out things well in advance of them appearing. One such spoiler was that there would be a shocking death on House this season and that it would more than likely be the result of a suicide. The spoilers also said that it would come out of nowhere. There wouldn’t be anything leading up to it and it would shock viewers in how practically random it is. Scuttlebutt was that it was going to be Wilson, with Taub and Thirteen as runners up. Whoever it was going to be, the spoilers suggested this would happen in the season finale.

I was shocked to have the death occur this soon. But I was also bitten by spoiler: I follow Kal Penn on Twitter and he thanked his fans for two great seasons and assured everyone that he himself had not died. I’d DVR’d the show and had yet to watch it. So I knew going in that he was the one to die. To find Kutner dead in the teaser snowed me still. The original spoilers were dead on that this was just going to happen… and not make sense.

We’ve seen suicide before in many forms on TV and in the movies. Still one of the greatest pieces on the subject is the play and subsequent movie of ‘Night, Mother. I hate to say that I’m somewhat desensitized to it as a plot device but that’s a fair assessment. I have to hand it to House folks, then, for dealing with suicide in a realistic and heartfelt manner. That they didn’t give any answer – let alone an easy one – for why Kutner took his life was a stunning and honest exploration of the topic. ‘Simple Explanation’ is the perfect ironic title.

To see the way the death affected the immediate team was the right choice of the writers. Sure, they brought in Cuddy and Wilson, even Chace and Cameron, but all stayed in the periphery. Foreman pulling away from everyone was dead-on for the character and also irked me unbelievably, especially in regard to his relationship with Hadley. It’s a testament to Epps’ ability to inhabit the character that I don’t often find much joy in watching Foreman. The allusions to him being of the same type as House have been, shall we say, less than subtle over the years, but he’s always been more frustrating to me. That he is so feeling that he shuts himself down all the time drives me up a wall, particularly with the walls he throws up. Perhaps he’s a bit closer to my personality than I’d like to admit.

Those walls Foreman puts up have kept me from really buying into the Foreteen relationship. I can understand why someone would be attracted to that: looking for the ways to be the person who climbs into the cracks and finds the soft center. Foreman let his guard down to open up to Hadley in her destructive phase upon finding out about her Huntington’s disease. It roped her in and I can understand why she would try to stay around. But they often don’t seem to care much for one another. They don’t give us the soft side of the relationship enough to really invest in it, aside from the episode where they convinced House that they’d stopped seeing each other. That’s the only episode I’ve really given in to their fling. So to see them in yet more rough waters this episode as a result of their reactions to Kutner’s death had me rolling my eyes. I’m thankful – to a small degree – that they gave Foreman that moment of reaching out by taking Thirteen’s hand at the funeral but I’m still not really behind their “no-mance”.

Fast continuing to become the most fascinating character on the show for me is Taub. He’s kind of slimy but also the most honest of the people in our sphere of domain at Princeton-Plainsboro. He didn’t sit well with me in the beginning but Peter Jacobson’s deft performance, even if a bit monotone at points, has sold me on him. I absolutely enjoyed the friendship they were building between Taub and Kutner. It was built on little moments and was really developing into something small, nice and wonderful. One of my fave little moments was when Kutner called Taub out on the story about a colleague who attempted suicide, asking if it was actually Taub. Taub chose not to answer but it was all but confirmed in this episode, especially in the way Taub withdrew from everyone and focused so intently on the case at hand.

The moment Taub sat down on that bench while everyone was at the funeral and cried just shattered me. He reluctantly let this person into his life, a life he’s been disillusioned with for a while and feels solemnly resigned to. His friend was gone and there was no reason, nothing he could do. He could bury himself in as many cases as possible but it wasn’t going hide what happened. It was extremely touching and I’m still choking up a bit thinking about it.

The amazing dichotomy of both the writing and in Hugh Laurie’s performance as Greg House is that he’s such a brain that gets caught up in his own obsessions yet perhaps feels so much more than anyone else around him. The subtext of that, which they work so hard to hide behind that admittedly deep veneer of bastard, has perhaps never been more evident than here. I was actually blown away how in that first shot of Laurie to start Act 1 you could see how deeply Kutner’s death cut. We’ve seen House care before. We’ve seen him act out as a result of something getting to him. We know that he’s not unaffected by things, even as everyone tries to shove it in his face that he is. The fact that he could care less about the medical case in front of the team was perfect evidence of that.

I was actually surprised that they didn’t have Wilson play House’s conscience more in this episode, which was actually the right choice. Wilson came in and gave the right bon mot, as often happens, telling House that he was more concerned about possibly faltering in his Holmesian powers of deduction than anything else. Certainly, there is a vast part of what House was going through that related to that. But you could see deeply into the soft underbelly of House than perhaps I’ve ever seen on the show, even harkening back to the storyline with his ex Stacy. It was actually a bit uncomfortable to see House reduced to quietly snarky and only ofthandedly tossing out his sharp words.

Even in the face of knowing someone was going to kill themselves off of the show by season’s end and seeing Penn’s thanks to the fans prior to watching the episode, I was still moved by how well written, performed and shot the entire episode was. I’ll miss Kutner on the show. He’d really kind of been given short shrift when it came to exploring his life outside of the hospital and I’d always looked forward to them delving into his life. Perhaps, in death, they will. Penn’s interesting energy was a nice addition to the show and I will miss the way he and Jacobson played off of one another. Thanks, Mr. Penn and goodnight, Kutner.

Posted in: House, Television