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The Temptation of House

Getting into House after it’s been on the air for four seasons is a little like thinking you’re getting to a party late to be fashionable, when you’re really just … late. Everyone’s eaten dinner and all that’s left is the celery that garnished the boneless chicken wings that used to be there. Luckily, in keeping with the food analogy, House is like pizza: good when it’s hot and fresh, and even better when eaten the next day cold and for breakfast.

My husband and I got into House when our neighbor came over to watch the first episode of the fifth season with us, adamant that we had to start RIGHT NOW, and we did. And got hooked. We became House junkies. If it was rerunning on cable, we watched it. We did House marathons on the USA network; and when the time came, I penciled in the premiere of the sixth season into my calendar (sad, I know, but that’s more a testament to how much I love my calendar than how much I love House). Sure, every episode featured the House formula (patient gets sick, usually having a seizure or something before the opening credit sequence; patient is misdiagnosed, a good four or five times; House gets snarky with the show’s other main characters and broods for a few minutes; patient nearly dies; and House has a conversation with someone about something totally unrelated but makes the connection back to the patient and they are, nintey-nine percent of the time, healed or cured or at the very most, made comfortable before dying), but we were addicts just the same.

And I know why.  The show’s title character, Gregory House, and I are exactly alike.

Just kidding. Actually, we’re kind of opposites: I’m female, House isn’t; House is a genius, I’m not; I’m not addicted to prescription painkillers and loneliness, and House is.  But there might be one thing—one major thing —we have in common. You have it in common too; in fact, if you’re human, you’ve seen it and dealt with it every day of your life. No, it’s not a great love of the band Hanson.* It’s temptation. The desire to go the other way, the impetus to do that which you are not supposed to do. It’s as innate in us as our theological ancestry, outlined in the very first book of the Bible. Temptation burns in us; it roils. It whispers, it intoxicates, and, like House, it’s … kind of addicting.

According to Oscar Wilde (in a quote that also sounds exactly like something House would say), "The only way to resist temptation is to yield to it"; part of the reason why House is such a popular show is because, well, in every episode, he does exactly that.  House is tempted to take Vicodin and out comes the bottle; he is tempted to lust after his boss, Dr. Cuddy, and he spends a good deal of time glaring unabashedly at her decolletage. Although they get him in some serious trouble, he embraces his temptations and owns them. The audience loves it because he does what we are not allowed to do; and at the end of the episode, no matter how frustrating, annoying, or snarky he is, people still hang around him.

Or, I should say, he once embraced them. For the show’s first five seasons we’ve watched as he gave into his desires, but they’ve all had a hand in his own self-destruction (culminating in a complete mental breakdown and a large role in the death of his best friend’s girlfriend). Now, he’s facing himself as he truly is, and is beginning some major work in being honest and needing to fix what’s broken in his life. Haven’t we all felt that way? Sure, we’ve given into our personal temptations, followed the desires of our flesh and not our hearts, and we’ve suffered for it. And, like House, if we really wanted to fix these things, we probably could have. But now, maybe our relationships with others are strained beyond their capacities. Maybe—and this is the most important—our relationship with God is strained, too.

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Sure, some could argue that there are some legitimate reasons for House’s temptations. He lusts after Cuddy because of his immense loneliness and desire for intimacy, no matter how often he turns it away; he chases the Vicodin dragon because of a real desire to stop the debilitating pain of his leg injury; he is so prideful in order to mask his insecurity of not being able to hold real, lasting human relationships (apart from Wilson—and even then, he stretches some boundaries). We do the same thing with ours. We are tempted to not trust in God because He doesn’t work on our timeline; we fly into a rage at someone because they provoked us. We give in to lusting after every man or woman we see on the street, and we crave everything our neighbor has (and maybe even more than that) because that’s what’s been shown on TV since we were two years old. We can find reasons for everything. But just because we can do something doesn’t mean it should be done.

So if we’ve identified with House and his struggle with temptation, maybe we’ll identify with him this season as he deals with trying to correct them. His first-episode-recalling visit at the mental institution got him started back on the path to health and the long, painful process of trying to get things right; while I’m definitely not suggesting that you need to spend time in a padded cell because you’re tempted to sin a few times a day, maybe the idea of looking deep into ourselves to see what we need to fix (and turn away from permanently) isn’t such a bad idea.

*The fact that "MMM-Bop" is House’s ringtone is easily one of the best things about the show.

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