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HOUSE: Locked In

March 31, 2009 by  

During my last trip to New York City, I spent several hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Like so many in attendance, I was initially dazzled by the size and scope of sophisticated paintings, sculptures, and other amazing pieces on display. As the afternoon wore on, I began to feel a deep pit in my stomach. Though my best attempt at a poker face would deny it to those around me, I was completely overwhelmed with boredom. After pretending to be an intellectual snob for almost thirty-one years, I did not get it. Faced with the prospect of spending time with Cornelis de Vos’ Portrait of a Young Woman or George Inness’ Autumn Oaks, I chose to purchase a Diet Coke and putz around the Gift Shop looking for Ansel Adams postcards. Though my intentions were to have a transcendent experience, I fell short as a consequence of taste.

Though it pains me to confess this in print, tonight’s House felt like a guided tour of the Met with no bathroom breaks or exit doors. Director Dan Attias took a huge artistic gamble with the look and feel of the story, but it simply was not enough to hold my attention. After following the staff at Princeton Plainsboro for eighteen episodes, I was looking for the pieces that would help assemble the imminent season finale. Instead, we ventured into unchartered territory through the eyes of patient Lee, the results of which I predict will divide the fan base into equally passionate factions.

Mos Def is a tremendous talent, capable of pleasing audiences in both dramatic and comedic roles. If you have not been exposed to his film work, do yourself a favor and rent The Italian Job, a 2003 heist film that never leaves my TV screen if it comes on F/X, or Cadillac Records, the 2008 Motown showcase where Def plays Chuck Berry. By casting Mos Def as Lee, a husband and father who is literally “Locked In” following a dubious bicycling accident, I understand what the House team was attempting to do. Take a known guest star with legitimate acting chops, and offer him a platform to try something unique. For the first few minutes, as Lee figures out that House is his best chance to remain alive, I was delighted to hear Def’s take on the character. Lee’s quick assessments of House’s medical acumen versus the small time trauma doc who wanted to harvest his organs? Brilliant stuff! The failure of this episode to resonate with me was not a consequence of Def’s performance. That responsibility rests with the folks making the decisions about how Lee’s story would be told.

The experiment of presenting Lee’s story from the patient’s point of view was damaged by an excessive use of that first person camera and a script that contained excessive dialogue and characters talking over each other. The striking visuals in the first few minutes were innovative and enjoyable to watch. By taking a fresh approach to a formulaic show, Attias was able to connect the audience with Lee and his predicament. Unfortunately, I grew weary of the experiment by the halfway point. I wanted to hear the full range of emotions in the doctors’ voices as they discussed the case, and I felt that the technology got in the way of the story. The respites we did get from the main storytelling device came through Lee’s scenes on the beach with House and his children, as he worked to find a “peaceful place” to contemplate his future while incapacitated. Those scenes, for me, were a complete mess, and I could not repeat a line of dialogue from any of them. Congratulations to the House team, for finally giving me scenes with Hugh Laurie that felt like they should have been on the cutting room floor. I did not think it could be done!

For House devotees, I was most disappointed that we did not get more information about a number of tantalizing tidbits that came out of this script. In the midst of the first person POV onslaught, we learned that Dr. House is seeing a brand new psychiatrist, Foreman is experiencing relatable issues with Thirteen’s, and that Wilson is back in the game with a new lady friend! All of those items are newsworthy, but none of them can be broken down fully, because there is much more to learn in all three cases. Thankfully, I trust the House staff to answer all of our burning questions in the weeks to come.

For those of you who enjoyed the artistic achievement that was, “Locked In,” I applaud your enthusiasm and welcome your comments. There is something to be said for a director who takes advantage of an opportunity to be bold. Dan Attias did something special in this episode, and though the results did not leave me counting the days until he helms another installment in House’s world, I hope he continues to take those chances with characters all over our TV dial. I am certain that there are plenty of viewers who would visit his museum for days on end.

What is your take on this week’s imaginative episode? Did the change in format make you more or less interested in the story? Are you dying to hear more about Wilson’s new girlfriend? Why do you think House is really seeing a shrink? We appear to be headed for an exciting conclusion to Season Five. I am excited to read your comments about this episode!

How does Erik combat writer’s block? He indulges in Adam Carolla’s new daily podcast at and reads Bill Simmons’ columns on The GMMR House dude is an active participant in the economic recession, and has successfully navigated the delicate task of becoming friends on Facebook with his high school sweetheart.


10 Responses to “HOUSE: Locked In”

  1. Philiana Ng on March 31st, 2009 2:50 pm

    The artistic gamble paid off. Mos Def was a perfect fit for the paralysis patient and I thought his commentary was both entertaining, provoking and unexpected. I’ve always wondered what the patients’ point of view was, especially with a doctor like House treating them. I enjoyed the episode a lot and this will probably be an Emmy submission. The stylized editing, the interactions from the point of view of the patient, etc. added depth to what could have otherwise been a typical “House” episode. Kuods.

  2. John on March 31st, 2009 2:54 pm

    I am not familiar with Mos Def, but the limitations of the role were such almost anyone could play the part. The fantasy scenes were supposed to illuminate something about the patient, but I am not sure what.

    I applaud the show for trying something new, but this was a miss.

    It was a slow hour of “House”.

  3. geebs on March 31st, 2009 7:51 pm

    After the initial euphoria of watching “House” with its intermittent breaks died, the episode kinda faded from my memory.
    House & a psychiatrist? What was going on? Is this the answer to the missing scenes with vicodine??

  4. geebs on March 31st, 2009 7:54 pm

    So, they effectively ended Taub’s development at the end of this episode?
    Nice to see Cameroon and House together, even though it felt like micro-seconds worth footage.

    Hmmm, guess the entire House team (old/new) made its appearance in this week’s show…

  5. Erik on April 2nd, 2009 1:06 am

    Philiana: Your appreciation of the episode, particularly the bold stylistic choices made to enhance the theme, is understandable. From my point of view, the problems with the impact of the episode were akin to breaking up with someone who does not possess any noticeable flaws. More simply, “It’s not you, it’s me.” I wasn’t put off by a particular voice-over or new camera angle. It simply was not to my liking as a consumer.

    That being said, I also share your view that Mos Def, as well as many of the technical players behind the scenes, will have this episode submitted for Emmy consideration. On this point, I would argue that the style and scope of the episode was not representative of the show that we see each week. For me, an Emmy ought to be awarded to cast and crew who produce a consistent product, for which their nominated performance/script/episode is the most comprehensive example. That principle is not always followed (see the episodes submitted for actors on ER or Grey’s Anatomy for proof) but it ought to play a role in recognizing TV’s best. Locked In was innovative TV, but it certainly did not demonstrate what House has been during Season Five.

  6. Erik on April 2nd, 2009 2:05 am

    John: Thanks for continuing to share your thoughts each week. I also struggled to determine the purpose of those beach scenes with Lee & House. Their dialogue was eerily close to the exchange between Jodie Foster and David Morse in the movie Contact (1997) when the writers were clearly trying to convey a sense of purpose that was not there. A second viewing of “Locked In” might provide a better understanding for the placement of those scenes, but I do not have that on the top of my to-do list.

  7. Erik on April 2nd, 2009 9:28 pm

    Geebs: You raised several pertinent points.

    First, I am coming around to your point of view that the inconsistent airing of new episodes (whether a result of scheduling nuances or preemptions due to Presidential News Conferences) detracts from the stellar work begin done by the House team. While writing the past three recaps, I have had to refer to notes on previous episodes in order to pinpoint specific plot developments. Perhaps I am suffering from a very early case of Alzheimer’s, but I did not require that level of recall assistance through the first half of the season.

    Second, the mystery of the new psychiatrist, particularly House’s rationale for seeking further assistance, ought to be solved before the season finale. My hope is that your questions about House’s specific behavioral changes will be explained with specificity. Because of your comments, I am always looking for the Vicodine bottle that has gone missing.

    Finally, I do not know where Taub’s story is headed next, but it would be disappointing if the time and effort invested in his recent arc was wasted by resetting him to default mode. Based on the trailer for next week’s episode (which I have read NO spoilers about), I would suspect that the entire Princeton Plainsboro team is about to have their senses shaken.

  8. geebs on April 3rd, 2009 12:15 am

    now, you’d almost got me to watch the trailer, but, I will resist it. Hmmm, that would be interesting to see.
    14, Taub, next up is Kutner.

  9. lynzee on April 7th, 2009 5:37 pm

    I just want to say that I LOVED the episode. House, as wonderful as it is, can be extremely formulated. Those of us who’ve been watching for years know the shake down of things. Its cancer, it’s not cancer, its cancer, its not cancer. We get it.

    I thought this episode was a breath of fresh air. Something new to break up the monotony of the series, and one final artistic statement before we head into the push towards the finale.

    I aplaud shows that try and think outside their own box.

  10. Erik on April 7th, 2009 7:40 pm

    lynzee: Thanks for adding your perspective on “Locked In.” The formula at the heart of most episodes (3 missed diagnoses, then House arrives at the proper course of action while having an unrelated discussion) is closer to Law & Order than the producers would ever want us to think, so I agree that a break from the norm is necessary once in a while. Our differing views on the effectiveness of this episode probably have more to do with my short attention span than a lack of creativity or artistic achievement.