For all intents and purposes, the House season 8 premiere presents a wonderfully crafted case study, penned by executive producer Peter Blake, on the man that is House, in which Hugh Laurie masterfully traverses a new environment filled with intriguing challenges and compelling characters - all while slowly revealing an elemental depth to the character that audiences haven’t seen in many years.
Unfortunately, the manner in which the House season 8 premiere presents itself feels less like a barely competent introductory episode, with regard to what fans can expect to see in terms of story-arcs as this season progresses and, instead, more like an epilogue to the events that transpired in the House season 7 finale.
While that may not typically be, in and of itself, the best way to kick off the start of a new season, the obvious shift of focus and overall execution of the premiere represents a very much welcomed evolution to the way that the series itself is handled. Barring the return of any zombie musicals, viewers should be encouraged by House’s new-found direction.
Picking up 12 months after House crashed his car into Cuddy’s (Lisa Edelstein) living room, we find the world renowned diagnostician in prison, but up for parole - thanks to overcrowding and his somewhat good behavior. With five days left before his eventual freedom, the prison’s resident neo-Nazi leader presents House with a non-negotiable fee for his impending release and subsequent safety on the outside. As the proverbial Hitler youth (though, not so much a "youth") so eloquently states, “Unlike you, I have friends on the outside.”
With that, the premiere title, “Twenty Vicodin,” becomes apparently clear, and our favorite diagnostician sets out on his quest to fulfill his forced obligation. Of course, this crusade quickly takes a back seat when a fellow inmate’s unusual medical symptoms appeal to House's appetite for diagnosing the unknown - and, through this, House meets one of the prison’s physicians, Dr. Jessica Adams (Odette Annable).
As the character of Dr. Jessica Adams unfolds throughout the episode, it soon becomes apparent that her purpose is not of any type of romantic replacement for the now-absent Lisa Cuddy (though Cuddy’s current status is never discussed), but as someone who House can help reach her career potential – which, as it is revealed, is much more than mending inmates after altercations. In a sense, her character conveys qualities similar to that of Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), without any hinted attraction to or from House.
With these two storylines slowly unfolding concurrently, the exceptional manner in which they are handled, coupled with some fascinating supplemental revelations, serves to set the House season 8 premiere apart from the familiar “patient of the week” episodes that have become a staple for the series. Despite containing some thematic similarities to the aforementioned installments, all of the plots presented center around the human side of House, rather than the all-too-familiar unrelenting diagnostician.
By providing some intriguing explanations to exactly how House came to the decision to drive his car through Cuddy’s living room and then fly away to a tropical destination for three months, as well as slyly revealing what House intends to gain by serving the prison sentence, the premiere presents an undeniable evolution and growth to the character that hasn’t been seen in the series’ many years on the air.
Instead of the reveling in the slight maturities to the character, as previous seasons have done, these elemental revelations are all but presented as an afterthought – something that’s easily observed, mentioned by others, but never acknowledged by House, himself.
While some may perceive these character moments, which are brilliantly woven into the episode, as a last minute addition that serve no other purpose than to try and make up for the disastrous deconstruction of House that occurred in the season 7 finale, the nonchalant manner in which they are touched upon presents a natural and earnest attempt at House coming to terms with his faults and, more importantly, seeking to overcome them.
With no mention or appearance of any of the series’ familiar cast members and an ending that leaves certain things unresolved, it’s difficult to see, exactly, how House season 8 will transition itself from the newly presented prison environment to the hallowed halls of Princeton Plainsboro - especially without Edelstein.
That being said, if the apparent care in which the premiere was handled in is any sign of how the rest of the season will be executed, there’s no doubt that some wonderfully rich storytelling awaits viewers in the episodes to come.
House season 8 premieres Monday, October 3, @9pm on Fox
Follow Anthony on Twitter @anthonyocasio