HOUSE: Simple Explanation - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

HOUSE: Simple Explanation

April 7, 2009 by  

Television, at its best, can provoke howls of laughter or tears of sadness from the loyal viewers who come back each week to their favorite shows. That emotional investment is one of the key provisions of the bargain we strike with the writers, directors, actors, and other players who bring those programs into our living rooms. As an audience, we can forgive a joke that does not resonate or a performance that falls short of expectations, so long as we can relish in the brilliance of stories that reach beyond the norm to shock our systems. The shocking suicide of Dr. Lawrence Kutner was the most surprising death on my television since Rosalind Shays took an ill-fated step into an elevator shaft on L.A. Law in 1991. Unlike the maudlin journeys to the great beyond that have become staples of other medical dramas, this loss felt like a swift kick to the gut.

After watching the episode a second time, and considering the ramifications that this tragedy appeared to have on the rest of House’s team, I reached a morbid conclusion. Kutner’s death was necessary to keep this show on track. After a season full of creative forks in the road, the Princeton Plainsboro team will now be forced to move forward and make clear choices about their personal and professional lives.

For fans of Kal Penn who may be worried about how this story came about, I am happy to share news about his exciting new public service job. Mr. Penn will be working for President Obama as Associate Director in the White House office of Public Liaison. Nice new digs, right? For more on Penn’s new adventures, and the series of events that led to his departure from House, I would encourage you to read Michael Ausiello’s interviews with the actor and House’s executive producers on I normally do not plug other web sites, but Mr. Ausiello was kind enough to tweet about Give Me My Chuck week here at GMMR, so it is only fair to share the love, right? You can click directly to his Kutner piece at

The unexpected timing and unexplained rationale behind Kutner’s suicide will have far reaching consequences for the characters left behind. In the process of demonstrating the grief and sorrow that comes with losing a colleague, I am hopeful that each of the cast members uses the loss to take the next step in their character’s journeys.

House needs to heed Wilson’s words from this episode carefully, and examine whether he has lost a step, medically and interpersonally. Has House distanced himself too far from the people around him? Will House’s own feelings of responsibility for failing to see Kutner’s struggles take him down a dark path, or will he go back to the psychologist that he wrote off at the conclusion of “Locked In?”

Cuddy was at her best in dealing with the fallout of Kutner’s death, and I found Lisa Edelstein’s exchanges with Hugh Laurie to be among her best of the season. By pointing out that she was sorry if House did not consider Kutner to be “his loss,” Cuddy extracted enough information to realize that Wilson needed to intervene. There are boundaries to the House/Cuddy relationship, and those lines in the sand often require Wilson’s involvement as a third party. It is dysfunctional, but it is how the three characters work best. With the season finale approaching, I hope that Cuddy continues to call on her strength to deal with House and the other doctors, rather than resorting to the baseline femininity that cost her credibility early in Season Five.

Will Foreman and Thirteen grow closer in the aftermath of their friend’s death? I was impressed with Omar Epps and Olivia Wilde this week, particularly as they discovered Kutner’s body. The tendency in those types of scenes is for overacting and obnoxiously loud yelling or wailing to take the place of authentic emotion. Kudos to both actors for conveying the panic of that setting through their facial expressions more than through their vocal cords. There were signs that the two doctors have forged a strong and mature relationship, and I am hopeful that fans who were anti-Foreteen in the early stages will come around as a result of this episode.

Chase and Cameron were given adequate screen time in this pivotal chapter, and both made valuable contributions to treating Eddie and Charlotte. Cameron remains the most impressive female character on House, capable of standing up to House without resorting to flirtation or snarky asides. Looking forward, I am curious how the loss of a peer will impact Chase and Cameron’s view about their impending nuptials and the expectations they have from one another. Hopefully, we will see more of Jennifer Morrison and Jesse Spencer in the next few episodes.

Finally, I wept openly as Chris Taub was overwhelmed by the loss of his friend. The bond forged between Taub and Kutner, without regard to their vast differences in age and personal interests, was one of the secret weapons of this season. Though their screen time together was often negligible, their chemistry was frequently complemented in the comments section of these recaps. I am disappointed that we will never hear more about the Gregory House Online Medical Clinic, or see those two friends offer comfort to one another. Looking ahead, I hope that Taub allows his wife to help him through the grieving process, and becomes reinvigorated by his future in medicine.

This was a difficult episode to watch and to absorb, and I am looking forward to discussing it with you. Were you shocked by Kutner’s suicide? What do you think Kal Penn’s departure will mean to the dynamic of the show? Which characters will be most affected by this shocking development? How did you feel about the tone of the 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 would go back to school for computer training if it would secure him a job at the Burbank Buy More.


20 Responses to “HOUSE: Simple Explanation”

  1. lynzee on April 7th, 2009 6:56 pm

    I was floored when I saw those two legs lying there. At first I thought, heart attack? Seizure? Some big medical thing that will carry us into the finale? But when a very somber medical team started talking suicide… I spent the next 5 minutes trying to figure out, okay, so he can’t REALLY be dead, so what kind of spin on this is writing staff going pull to bring him back?

    Kal Penn was my favorite part of the Diagnotic Team 2.0. He was the quick wit that lightened almost any situation. I’m glad that he’s already found a new gig, though I will greatly miss him on House.

    As sad and morbid as this may be, what a total game changer, I’m SO excited to see where they go with this. You’re aboslutely right, we needed SOMETHING to shake the team up and put them in new and uncomfortable places and will ulitamtely fuel some unforseen cliff hanger finale. I just did not expect that it would be this.

    Fantastic performances all around. Bravo to everyone.

  2. Erik on April 7th, 2009 7:27 pm

    lynzee: I agree with the “game-changing” analogy you made, because there have been other opportunities for the show to shake things up that failed to come together. Cuddy’s quest to become a mother, most notably, could have been a springboard for a host of new territory for House to cover. Instead, we got two or three scenes addressing House’s emotional reaction, then it was back to square one as the baby was cast off to the 24/7 daycare, next to Ross & Rachel’s little one from Friends.

    Kal Penn was a delight to have on the show, but this may be a case of addition by subtraction. If we are wrong, i think we will know by the time Season Five concludes.

  3. John on April 7th, 2009 7:53 pm

    This death was handled so much better than the usual series’ death (which have almost become a cliche). And I hope we never get any explanation for the suicide.

    I hope the show can continue to live up to the impact this death should have for all the characters.

    And congratulations to Kal Penn for his new career move.

  4. Erik on April 7th, 2009 8:22 pm

    John: I share your hope that Kutner’s reasons for ending his life prematurely should never see the light of day. House works most effectively in the abstract, and the talents that Hugh Laurie & Company have for expressing emotions are better left up to debate. Otherwise, what would we have to talk about here?

  5. tw111 on April 7th, 2009 10:10 pm

    To hackney a phrase, I never saw this one coming…. thought for sure the death that was being talked about was going to be Taub’s or Foreman’s.
    Chase and Cameron getting married in the series…. how did I miss that one? I thought they were long split…. on camera as well as off.

  6. geebs on April 8th, 2009 12:34 am

    My prediction from last week’s comment wasn’t off totally. It was about Kutner, although, it wasn’t him.
    I wish I could lighten my burden by losing some tears but, I am still shocked with the extent of sudden change in direction.
    The entire episode felt like a blur, and would rank among the top in the list of “episodes-to-be-watched-again-to-be-understood”.

    Didn’t at all relate to the two victims. And vicodine and those special graphic videos of what’s going/went wrong with the patient are back.

  7. geebs on April 8th, 2009 12:39 am

    I can’t believe House’s entire affliction with Kutner’s death could be the reason Wilson mentions at the end. Or was it just one of those things you hear but shouldn’t understand it literally.
    I would appreciate if anyone could offer their view on this. The expression on House’ face was a mix of loss and a deep pain, which one wouldn’t usually associate with him.

    I am really lost here.

  8. TheOfficeMattress on April 8th, 2009 11:02 am

    This really shocked me, and I am REALLY sad to see Kal Penn go. But I am happy for him to get such a great job and at the White House no less! I was having a really hard time believing he would commit suicide though, along with House I guess. When he mentioned murder and had all of the reasons written on the white board, I immediately thought about Taub, although they were good friends, Taub was having money issues, jealosy about Kutner figuring out last weeks case (even though he let him take the credit), but it doesn’t seem like that was the case. I watched last weeks episode a second time and I’m still in shock that the Kutner from last week would do that. Great episode though, and it will be interesting to see how this will play out.

  9. Erik on April 8th, 2009 4:59 pm

    tw111: My presumption about Chase & Cameron getting married was the result of the last time they shared significant screen time, as Cameron finally decided to commit to Chase. There has not been a proposal scene this season, and I have not read any spoilers suggesting that a wedding is imminent. I inserted that section to address how the death of a colleague may force both doctors to rethink their priorities. Sorry for any confusion or if the passage overreached.

  10. geebs on April 8th, 2009 7:01 pm

    day 2. Still can’t get over it.

    Thats me acting weird!

  11. Kate on April 8th, 2009 11:35 pm

    It wasn’t a bad episode but it was a very opportunistic one. Not only were there no clues that Kutner was depressed (there should have been for the audience if not for the other characters), in the last episode he was behaving in a way that is far from the way a real depressed person acts. Shore went for the shock value rather than the setting up a story one.

    I enjoyed the patient storyline but it got lost in the drama of the death. That’s too bad because both actors and story were worth more than they got.

    I don’t object to Foreteen as a couple, I never did. What I object to is the huge amount of screentime both characters got while characters that I wanted to see got very little. Kunter himself never got a main story line in the two seasons he was on the show while Thirteen had more time than House himself in three episodes this season and she and Foreman had a multitude of story lines. Wilson has been relegated to playing Cupid for most of the season. Chase’s one short scene with Taub is not my idea of “adequate screen time” for him and while Cameron was very good in her 2 minutes on the show, that’s not enough for her either, especially after being completely absent for 5 of the last 6 episodes.

    It sets up the potentional for a good, temporary storyline but Kutner’s death doesn’t alleviate my problems with the show, which is that it’s mostly comprised of unpleasant interactions among selfish characters. Kutner was the only one of the current team I liked. With him gone, I’m down to Wilson, Cameron and Chase. Even with good writing, it’s all the same old thing on this show, and endless repetition of House doing something bad, feeling remorse for two episodes and then every is back to where it started. I want House to finally grow up and Cuddy and Wilson to stop enabling him; I want Cuddy to have a professional life instead of being an emotional mess either about House or her baby, I want Wilson to make some other friends (what happened to his mentoring of Cameron in the first three seasons) I still want at least one member of the current team gone and Cameron and Chase back on the show. I’d prefer both Foreman and Thirteen to go since I’m heartily sick of them both at this point but I know Shore would never give up his favourite characters.

    I wish the show would go back to season 1 and 2 levels, when there were more important things than House’s endless angst, when he had relationships with his fellows rather than the hamster wheel of House/Wilson/Cuddy, when Wilson got to have a life that wasn’t about babysitting House or doing Cuddy’s bidding (although Wilson telling Cuddy that she didn’t care about him, she only cared about what he could do for House, was one of the best moments in the show and long overdue).

    Yes, Kutner has died and the repercussions will last maybe to the end of the season. After that, it will go back to the same old, same old that we’ve been seeing for the past two seasons. House will never change and those around him will either never change (Cuddy, Wilson, Foreman) or will be dropped from the show (Cameron and Chase). A show heading into its 6th season needs more than rerunning the last two again.

  12. Kate on April 8th, 2009 11:46 pm

    Erik, after more than a year of being in a monogamous relationship with him, Cameron finally cleaned out a drawer for Chase when he pointed out to her how much she was holding back on him. It was continuity for her character since she’s never been shown to want him that much but I don’t think it qualifies as committing to him beyond letting him have clean clothes after he’s spent the night..

    The show spent almost three seasons showing why Cameron and Chase would not be a good match in a relationship (and that she preferred House to Chase) and then in the last episode of season 3 thrust her into his arms to wrap up their story quickly and end the House/Cameron ship so that they could start putting House together with Cuddy. If they do get married, it will be for purposes of plot expedience rather than because the writers have never spent the time to explain to us why they are still together.

  13. Erik on April 9th, 2009 2:01 am

    Geebs: Two points for you predicting that this week’s episode would be Kutner-centric. Despite having zero lines to his credit, Kal Penn’s presence was felt throughout the hour, particularly in the quieter moments as each of his colleagues felt the loss sink in.

    I watched the episode for a second time prior to writing the recap, and neglected to mention the emphasis on darker hues and quiet moments throughout. Director Greg Yaitanes was careful to match the visuals with the mood, and the overreaching dread that comes with loss and grief was present in each scene.

    Per your comment about the two patients, I agree that Eddie and Charlotte’s story, while perfectly acceptable for a standard-issue House episode, was completely lost in the aftermath of Kutner’s suicide. In any other week, the parable being told about love, forgiveness, and sacrifice would have provided plenty of fodder for fans of the show, who would have found various ways to link it to their favorite characters or storylines. Instead, I was almost compelled to fast forward through those scenes to focus on the fallout from the tragedy.

    The House/Wilson exchange prior to the funeral sequence was fascinating to me, precisely because of the ambiguity that remained at its conclusion. Wilson appears to be fearful of having the unenviable task of presiding over House’s self-destruction, and began to fight that instinct when he put Cuddy in her place earlier. My hope is that House’s reaction to Kutner’s death will be the centerpiece of the remaining episodes. As I mentioned in the recap, there is an opportunity to forge new ground in House’s relationships with Cuddy, Wilson, and his students. The question is whether the Executive Producers will take those bold steps, or play it safe with a valuable property that shows no sign of ratings weakness. The creative choice is not always the most commercial choice.

  14. Erik on April 9th, 2009 2:08 am

    TheOfficeMattress: Your search for answers, including the speculation about whether Kutner’s death could have been foul play, is precisely the reason why I believe the House team decided to insert this dramatic twist. There were no hints, no clues, no hidden intimations that Kutner was anything but an upbeat, insightful, and motivated physician.

    Kate’s comments, which appear below yours, make the case against such a seemingly reckless creative decision. I am curious whether you or the other commenters believe that this type of “reset” on the brink of the season finale is ultimately good or bad for the show.

    Will Kutner’s death lead to a series of compelling new strains of character development, or will it simply be a ripple in the water that slowly passes as it reaches the shore?

  15. geebs on April 9th, 2009 9:08 pm

    I agree with what Kate has said here. I do feel that we should watch a show for what it is, and not expect it to turn according to our preferences. If things seem bad, I am increasingly inclined to just turn it off or change the show.

    Kutner’s death may seem like a master-stroke but it also begs the idea, if they want to imply something, draw parallels to real life and the ending caption by NAMI, suggests that a perfectly normal guy with no apparent depression symptoms might commit suicide. I mean, not even a single symptom???
    Rather, people were expecting Taub to do it.

    After 2 days of chomping on the show, I now realize the shock factor Kate mentions. It’s a shock for sure. After sinking in, I do realize it is slightly far-fetched and with the producers showing no interest in revealing the cause behind it, I think this is the single most seriously disappointing twist in the show (other than Cuddy’s story line).

    But then, as I said, I would rather watch the show than ask for changes.
    I don’t know if my comment would be any bit offending but I do apologize in advance.

  16. Sander on April 16th, 2009 11:34 pm

    I would have to say that this character’s death ranked number 2 in my sadness for a fictional character’s passing list, behind Dr. Becket’s death in StarGate Atlantis and ahead of Special Agent Kate Todd’s murder on NCIS. I liked Kutner. He was the most House-like of all the characters.

    When I heard some one died, I was sure Taub was going to kill himself, Kutner was a suprise.

  17. Erik on April 17th, 2009 5:58 am

    Geebs: This topic ended up in the discussion of the “Saviors” episode, but since this episode launched the debate over Kutner’s departure, I wanted to keep that topic alive here.

    The image that will stay with me from “Simple Explanation” is the photo that House picked up in Kutner’s apartment, with the young doctor looking off to his left with an unaffected look on his face. The concept that someone can be hurting inside without tipping off his contemporaries is very real, and I am gratified that the NAMI PSA ran at episode’s end to speak to anyone in that situation. Though we can debate the manner by which this story was told, the opportunity to reach out to those who live quietly with depression was admirable.

    Since hindsight is 20/20, and we both enjoyed the next chapter in the House annals, I hope that the events that follow Kutner’s death will be remembered more than the shock value over his suicide.

  18. Erik on April 17th, 2009 6:02 am

    Sander: The shock to the system that follows such an unexpected twist has always made for compelling television. Your mentions of the deaths on Stargate: Atlantis and NCIS probably came off the top of your head, since we tend to file those kinds of events in our permanent memory banks.

    As you can tell, we’ve had an interesting discussion about this episode, as well as the next new episode, “Saviors.” If you caught that one on Monday, or online through iTunes or other sites, please stop by that discussion thread and chime in. I appreciate your feedback.

  19. Gooneress on July 20th, 2009 3:18 pm

    Late to this party as I’m in the UK. I discovered the massive spoiler about Kutner’s suicide while looking for something else – bloody internet. Anway, to the question of his apparently motiveless suicide on House. Personally, for me, this completely rang true; there are many people living, and I quote Thoreau, “lives of quiet desperation”. They present one face to the world, another to themselves.

    I’ve read a couple of stories recently with quotes from family and friends who’ve lost loved ones to suicide, all stunned at the turn of events – none saw it coming. In that respect, I applaud the House writers for not providing the simple explanation. It isn’t always there – and that’s a fact.

  20. Erik on July 28th, 2009 5:44 am

    Gooneress: Thanks for contributing your thoughts. GMMR attracts a large number of visitors from outside the United States, and it is fascinating to read perspectives from different cultures.

    The term “game-changer” is used too frequently to build hype for upcoming TV shows, but Kutner’s suicide fits the definition perfectly. The questions surrounding his death and the impact of his loss on those left behind were critical in bringing House’s season to a meaningful conclusion.

    Please continue to weigh in on each of the remaining episodes, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting your responses!