Monday, December 18, 2006

House Defense

I have recently become a House addict. Like the Vicodin-gobbling doctor, I can't get enough.

This addiction is difficult for me, since I don't subscribe to either cable or satellite, and I can't find an antenna good enough to allow me a decent television signal. So on a friend's recommendation I Netflix'd the first DVD of the first season. Once hooked, I moved on to purchase, and bought seasons one and two. Discs in hand, I had a mini-marathon. I've watched 'em all several times. Now I'm an addict.

To feed my habit, because I didn't want to wait for the next set of DVD's, I deployed a bit torrent client and snaked down the first ten episodes of season three. Doing this will tide me over until the DVD release of the entire season. I feel like I'm on maintenance at some rehab clinic, since it appears the series is on Christmas hiatus.


Hugh Laurie does a brilliant job being a complete asshole of a doctor, who happens to have the insufferable habit of always being right. Everyone else in the show is equally well done. It's the best bit of casting and acting I've seen since Homicide.

But that's all old news, and I'm late to the party. So let's focus on Detective Tritter and his persecution of Dr. House. David Morse is spot on perfect as Tritter. He's House, if House had chosen to be a cop rather than a doctor. He is just as relentless, just as sarcastic, just as unapologetic, and he's just as much of a bully as House. He is, in short, House's perfect foil. He is also, at this moment, kicking House's ass.

Tritter's absorption into establishing House's "guilt" echoes a Florida DA's pursuit of Rush Limbaugh a few years ago. There, as here, you were dealing with someone addicted to pain medication. There, as here, the only "victim" is the addict. And there, as here, the police motive seems more than just the pursuit of justice, no matter what the investigator(s) might claim.

Much of how Tritter handles his investigation is spot on to the real world, but parts don't work. While the hospital might insist that House get his own criminal defense attorney, there is no way they'd tolerate how Tritter was threatening Wilson and the others. There's no way the hospital's legal staff wouldn't fight on Wilson's behalf because Wilson is the head of the oncology department. Wilson wouldn't have to hire anyone, Cuddy and the hospital would swing to his defense.

Ditto House's staff. Tritter's tactics work well against mob bosses and their staff because they're all criminals. They are less effective against the innocent. They are the sort of tactics that transform prosecution into persecution. You get a hint of that persecution when Tritter pontificates that they [the staff] are all guilty because they facilitate House's conduct. That's the language of someone dealing in absolutes, not truth or justice.

But crossing that line is what makes Tritter interesting. House ignores, bends, and breaks rules all the time. Tritter is doing likewise. And since the show's writers routinely bend medical reality, it's to be expected that they'd also bend legal and law enforcement reality.

I just wish that one of those characters, whose brilliance has already been established, would respond to Tritter in an appropriate manner. Like Cuddy telling him that her legal staff will be all up and down Tritter's ass. Or House's criminal defense attorney could tell him. Preferably, it would be both. House has to fight these sorts of things all the time; let his alter ego go through the battles, too.

Because while House has clearly and unequivocally broken the law, in his television universe he gets results. Tritter bases his entire conduct on the theory that House will, at some future time, kill someone, but why doesn't someone tell him that while House may, in the future, harm or kill someone, he does, in the present, save lives? Also, in an episode from the first season, House presents the shocking truth that sometimes doctors screw up, which means that sometimes patients die. It just goes with the territory. Sort of like the reality of Tritter's universe, that sometimes the bad guy gets away with it, whatever "it" might be.

What makes this fascinating to me is the conflict at play. We're in the universe of television. On one side is House, whose methods always contradict some general rule of ethics, some arbitrary guideline, that every other doctor blindly follows. House willfully ignores the benefit of his patient. His actions constantly challenge the conventional wisdom that puts such rules into place. He's a rebel and an outlaw, and by the rules of his television universe, he's always right.

Tritter also ignores arbitrary rules, and in his own universe I'll bet you he's also always right. We are, in short, witnessing the collision of two absolutes, the rebels in television land who ignore the rules that apply to all others. They ignore these rules and produce a good result.

In the 10th episode of the third season, a television universe compromise was on the table, one that would satisfy both sides of the conflict. But it didn't work, so the cliffhanger is that we're now on collision course. I'm worried that a show that, for the most part, hasn't blinked when it comes to tough decisions will now nod off. This might happen because this is House's medical world, not Tritter's police world, which means the cops have to lose in order for House to win. Chances are that loss will be some arbitrary and disappointing crock. I could be wrong; they might pull a rabbit out of their hat and I'll snort in glee.

Meanwhile, I wonder if they'll develop a new series just for Tritter, because I think I'd become addicted to that show, too.

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