Tuesday's 'House' -- Shark-jumpingly bad or mind-blowingly good?

Hughlaurie_house_240_002_2I'm not a big message board reader, but Tuesday (Jan. 30) night's House was provocative enough to send me to several sites trying to get a sense of how fans were responding to the decidedly atypical episode. It turns out that "One Day, One Room" was either the show's best episode since season one's Emmy-winning "Three Stories," or a sign that the beloved series has jumped the shark.

Now I hate the phrase "jump the shark" like I hate few other things in this industry, because morons (some lazy TV critics among them) use it whenever a show has one or two bad episodes, which isn't what it's supposed to mean. Happy Days didn't jump the shark because the writing was weak for a few episodes. It jumped the shark because The Fonz water-skied over a shark. A show doesn't shark-jump as a gradual process, it shark-jumps when something so audaciously bad happens that it can never recover, never go back.

Tuesday's episode did, indeed, have a moment that could be construed as shark-jumping, if you were so inclined to that point of view: Our Dr. House, ever the rationalist, ever the misanthrope, got all sobby and sentimental with the patient-of-the-week, a beautiful rape victim who also happened to have been a comparative religion major at Northwestern. After a lengthy two-person debate on the very essence of the human soul and the very value of human life, House decided to share a very personal secret with a woman he didn't know, a woman who seemed to have been scripted less as a character than as something of a human truth laxative.

"We know House," detractors are saying, "And that's not something that character would ever in a million years do."

In addition, there's some annoyance that the big secret House told, the secret teased for multiple weeks in ads, was something that viewers of the show already knew. It was established that House's father was a strict task master who intimidated his son. Adding the level of abuse wasn't shocking.

Some folks also seem to be unhappy that an episode was given over to a more philosophical or psychological mystery, rather than the intricate medical mysteries the show is revered for. The violation of the character and of the show's basic structure could go under the heading of shark-jumping, if you were unhappy with it.

Then again, there are the people who admire that David Shore, the writer of this episode and "Three Stories," would give an episode over to an actual passionate conversation between two intelligent people talking about pain and, in one moment, finding the right person to listen to.

"That's what life is -- it's a series of rooms and who we get stuck in those rooms with adds up to what our lives are," House's patient (played fabulously by Kathryn Winnick) observes, setting up House's devastating closing line which gives the episode its title.

The scenes between House and the patient played out like a one-act play and displayed a level of intellectual ambition and depth that no other network show would even attempt, or at least that's what the fans are saying.

Ever the pragmatist, I don't fall to either extreme. I could have watched Winnick and Hugh Laurie play off each other for hours and I have endless respect for Shore attempting an episode of this kind, but the execution had major flaws. Couldn't they have done the storyline with a patient who required treatment? As it was, the episode offered no medical reason for House to continue to talk to her, much less for anybody to feel urgency on the subject. And what was up with Dr. Cameron's under-developed arc featuring a dying patient who just wanted to be remembered? And after the six-episode Tritter arc fizzled out, perhaps one or two normal episodes might have helped before playing with the show's formula?

And I didn't think it was a violation of the character because it was made evidence that the conversation wasn't a turning point for House. He didn't have a major break that'll make him happy and friendly for the rest of the series. What he had was one moment in one "room" where the circumstances were right for him to expose himself, briefly, before covering up again. On one hand I wished his secret had been more revelatory to me, but on the other, I don't think I want to know too much about what makes House tick. The shock was that he told the secret, not the secret itself.

This was my long-winded way of saying...

So what did you think, readers? Best episode of the season? Worst episode ever? Or something in-between?