In the Season 8 opener of House, we find that the usually brash Gregory House has had a lot of the sass knocked out of him. He has been in prison for a year. Crashing his car into Lisa Cuddy’s dining room in a fit of jealousy and rage, then running from the scene put him there. Now he is tired, sad, world weary. His hair is a little too long. His scruff has grown into a full beard. On the positive side, he is on his way to being paroled in five days... if he can stay out of trouble until then.
It’s a tall order for House, who is being tormented by his fellow prisoners by being charged “exit taxes.” Skewed inmate law dictates that when an inmate is being released, his possessions go up for grabs. House’s Vicodin stash is a hot commodity and in order not to get pummeled, he must share his allotment. This limits his intake and sets him on a path to a painful withdrawal.
To take his mind off his troubles, he attempts to get on the good side of Dr. Jessica Adams (Odette Annable), a prison physician, by helping her diagnose a fellow prisoner (as always, the puzzle brings him some small sense of comfort).
She begins to trust him, to see herself in him. House’s actions have ramifications on both Adams and himself, and in the end, there are consequences to be paid by both.
I like seeing House “out of the box.” The episodes that bend the rules and take him away from his comfort zone are done so well, it seems the writers and actors really enjoy creating them. This episode, entitled "20 Vicodin," is exceptionally gritty, extraordinarily sad and quite different from what we're used to on this show. Although he is still a crafty SOB, the blazing confidence House usually exudes has been tamped down by months of incarceration and not being able to practice his “art.”
Is he repentant? Has he learned a lesson from his impulsive and heinous actions? House will do or say whatever he must to get what he wants and what he wants is to get out of jail. For this reason, in this episode at least, it’s difficult to glean his true feelings about what brought him here. It’s a coin toss as to whether this will be revealed down the road. In general, House has always kept his feelings close to his chest, and because of his incarceration, he may even be more reticent to open up to anyone when he returns to his regular grind.
Like the Season 6 opener “Broken,” this episode is House’s alone (and features another standout performance from Hugh Laurie), but his loneliness and alienation are much more intense than they were in that chapter of his story. In “Broken” he still had a swagger and a stinging bite to his banter. In “20 Vicodin,” he just seems lost and very alone.
When House returns to Princeton-Plainsboro, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to being a free man, how he gets along with his colleagues, and if his year in prison has changed him at all.
Season 8 of House premieres on Monday, October 3 at 9pm ET on FOX.