Just ... Gone
April 7, 2009

Spoiler Alert:
If you, like me, didn't watch the 4/6 episode of House Monday night, if, in fact, you have still not seen it, click away quickly. In fact, you should probably avoid the internet completely until you've watched it. That is, if you don't want the big plot twist revealed. Personally, I should have known not to even log in to Twitter today. *sigh*

Okay, so Los Interwebz are abuzz with last night's episode of House. People are talking about the "shocking" death of Dr. Lawrence Kutner. Of all of the various underlings, it seemed that Kutner was the most well-adjusted. He was a geek. He had a great sense of humour. He had some of House's crazy ideas without House's callous obsession with learning the answers no matter the emotional cost (or just about any other cost).

As it turns out, Kal Penn (who played Kutner) has been teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. He was working for Obama's campaign. He's pursuing a graduate certificate in international security from Stanford University. He decided he wanted to pursue political science more than he wanted to pursue acting - at least right now.

That's some of the background.

Now, Los Interwebz have gone bonkers about the way in which Kutner's character was "deleted" from the show.

You see, people insist that there was no warning that Kutner was going to commit suicide. The other characters on the show certainly seemed to think they'd had no clues. The viewers seem to agree and many are calling it a cheap dramatic punch.

I have to say, I very much disagree.

Before I explain I should say something about one of my favourite movies - it relates, trust me.

That movie is Joss Whedon's Serenity. The pilot in this movie is a geeky li'l boy and definitely one of the most beloved characters in the series (and the movie). You can guess where this is going, right? (Cuz if not, it's a spoiler ... ) When we're most of the way through the movie, but still have plenty of time left to go, he pulls off a beautiful maneuver and they all land safely. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. And then a part of another ship bursts through and skewers him. Dead. Major character, major beloved character, taken away suddenly and seemingly without warning. We spent all that time getting invested in these characters and no one writing the show even considered putting a red shirt on the guy so we'd know not to get too accustomed to him. We had no real warning. That's just unfair.

Actually, it's very much like life, which is generally a theme Joss pursues in everything he does. He's not about dumbing down his shows to match some Hollywood misguided concept of what we'll understand or accept.

Now, back to House and Dr. Kutner.

The show has, in many ways, reminded me of some of Joss's shows. It's more "Hollywood" or "network" than realistic, to be sure. Still, the characters are a little more complex than many network shows. Motivations are a prime focus of the show and they're not always the motivations that seem easy. It's a show known for try some intriguing twists - and for tackling some serious issues around the topic of depression.

So. Does it surprise me that the tv show House killed off a major character by suicide? No. Does it surprise me that it was done suddenly and without much warning? No. Was I surprised that Kutner was the one who killed himself?

Yes ... and no.

Do I think there was no warning?

No.

Kutner was pretty well adjusted, yes. And he was a wonderfully fun character. But he was troubled and there was no doubt about that. He was adopted; his parents were shot in front of him when he was 6; he didn't have a steady love interest; he didn't really talk of friends. His ethics were quite questionable - after all he started a website capitalizing on House's reputation - and he talked about depression. In fact, to a certain extent, he defended suicide to Taub in a couple of episodes. Insisted that it was not necessarily an "idiotic" choice.

One writer states, it was "like the writers realized they hadn't done anything useful with Kutner in all this time and decided to make suicidal lemonade out of superfluous lemons." His fear, and I can understand it given the last season or so, is that there will be no overarching impact on the characters after Kutner's death. He says:

But based on how the show's been operating for a good long while now, I don't see his death having any real impact on House, and only slightly more of one on the others. And if I'm right, then Kutner was sacrifice for the sake of a Very Special Episode -- and for an incredibly creepy cross-promotional website (that I'm not going to bother linking to, or else it might help encourage future sites along the same line) -- and that's a waste of a good actor, if not a memorable character.

I tend to disagree with Mr. Sepinwall about this. We've seen some long term effects on all of the characters over the last year - certainly Wilson has been deeply affected by Amber's death. Taub is starting to show some long-term effects of many of his decisions. I think House is as well. He keeps trying new solutions to his pain ... and then gets scared and wants to get back to "normal." But I think something is breaking down in him ... he's beginning to "get" how he affects other people and he's beginning to not like that effect.

However, the show is still a mainstream network show, not an indie flick, and I certainly don't think they've done with any of the characters nearly as much as they should have. There's no overarching plot consistency as there is on the best shows television has offered (shows like Joan of Arcadia, Saving Grace, and even Dexter). Instead, there's a loose theme that runs through all of the episodes, but the focus seems to be the Scooby Doo mystery of the current patient's illness.

With the caliber of cast and writers, someone needs to let them do the show right ... to really explore the depth of these characters and not be so terribly constrained by one hour, once a week. Take a risk and break out of the mainstream and give us the depth we need.

Kutner's death could be a step in that direction. For now, it's a warning shot to all of us ... to remember that we need to be involved with those around us. Not just a surface engagement, but reaching out to get to know each other.

See, no one really reached out to know Kutner. He was the cute, silly geek. No one needed to really worry about him.

And that's how it often is in real life as well. Not everyone slashes a wrist and cries about it. Not everyone comes to work drunk just for the attention. Not everyone shoots up the American Civic Association.

Sometimes they just disappear. Without warning. Without a reason that we can fathom.

Just ... gone.

Posted by Red Monkey at April 7, 2009 6:36 PM | People Say I Have ADHD, But I Think - Hey Look, A Chicken | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

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