A Dance With the Devil: HOUSE’s Gentle Goodbye to Martha M. Masters

Entering the world of HOUSE is like living in the danger-zone.  As Dr. Martha M. Masters found out the hard way this week, stepping into the shoes of Dr. Gregory House comes at a price.  While it may not have cost her medical license, it did take a piece of her soul.

Dr. House may not always be ethical or moral, but he will save your life — if you let him.  Being a lying, self-deceiving bastard — House knows exactly who he is dealing with when it comes to stubborn, myopic and self-deceived patients.  In fact, it is his personal credo that “everybody lies.”  He knows this is true simply because it is how he lives; in order to get what he wants and throughout every day of his life, he lies to himself and to everyone around him.  Call it manipulation or egotism to the core, but one cannot deny he gets good results.

After all, one does not get the best diagnostician in the world and then hope that he won’t discover your deep dark secrets.  Secrets are what House thrives on — whether relevant to the medical case at hand or not, that is the price of admission to receive such extraordinary care.  If you are a patient of Dr. House, it is because there is already something exceptional about you — your medical condition either intrigues him, or you do.  You are his pet-project and favorite chew toy for a while.  It is both a blessing and a curse.

The same could be said for the doctors serving on his team.  It has been a roller-coaster year for Masters, but she hung on tight with both hands and made it to the end.  She even took a walk on the wild side and tried to emulate her idol.  She learned to lie with the best of them, to manipulate circumstances to get the end result she wanted and managed to save her patient’s life no matter what the cost.  But, for her, the personal price to be paid was too high.  To compromise who she is and what she believes in and no matter how many rules she had to bend and break, it was not something she could ultimately live with.  As she held up the mirror, Masters realized that is not the kind of person she wants to be, nor the kind of doctor she wants to be.

However, it is intriguing that Masters could live with herself knowing that she had saved the life of a notorious serial killer, but she could not face herself in the mirror after manipulating her patient’s parents so that she could amputate the patient’s arm and save the patient’s life.  In her mind, it is okay to save a serial killer, but will she now always be haunted because she stole one girl’s arm?

Perhaps Masters’ roommate was right — she is odd.  But that makes her a perfect fit for House’s team.  Yet, interestingly, she chose otherwise.  She chose to reject House’s fun-house, so that she could pursue another path.  We may not want her to leave, but we respect her decision.  It was clearly a hard decision to make and hopefully Masters’ journey will take her to a place where she can find satisfaction in knowing she is saving lives while observing her strict moral code.

In the meantime, back at the Princeton Plainsboro, House will still be up to his fun-and-games and all the nasty tricks he plays — both to save lives and to mess with everyone in the process — and all because he can.

HOUSE is an intriguing and difficult show.  It may entertain us with chickens and other sleight of hand maneuvers to keep us laughing while tackling the thornier issues of whether it is right to let a cruel dictator die, whether a serial killer deserves to be saved, and whether it is okay for a mother to sacrifice her life so that her child may live.

HOUSE makes us laugh and cry, and frequently both at once.  It manages to capture the absurdity of extreme situations and the impossible choices that we must make when a person’s life is literally on the line.  It also holds up a lens in order for us to see the world through eyes of a man whose own personal life is so shattered that he clings to his sanity by the barest of threads.  Each time House thinks he has conquered the obstacles placed before him, he is thrown yet another curveball and must claw his way back from the brink yet again.  Booze, alcohol, pills, women — House has left virtually no vice unturned.  It is a wonder that he is functional at all, but as we have witnessed countless times over the past 7 seasons, House’s work is his salvation.  It is his purpose for being.  Without the human puzzles and lives he saves, his fractured life would drag him under.  It is a miracle each and every day as he utilizes his superior intellect to unearth the medical mysteries threatening to destroy yet another life.  But he does it thanklessly time after time simply because with each life he saves, he grants himself another day of peace.  While the rest of the world may crave and desire love, respect and prosperity — for House, it is enough to keep his own personal demons at bay and grant someone else another blessed day of life.  In granting miracles for others, House creates one for himself.

It is a strange and marvelous world in which House has condemned himself.  It is not just about the medicine, it is about the mystery of human lives.  House thrives on human mysteries: the choices they make, the lies they conceal, and the astounding human connections they weave.  For he knows that the human condition is just as vital as the medical one.

House also knows that doctors are not simply asked to make medical decisions, they are asked to make moral and ethical decisions along with them: Do we save a life at any cost?  Or is it more humane to let a person die with dignity?  As we saw last week, Dr. House did not condemn his fellow doctor for taking her brother’s life; instead, he vowed to do the same for her one day when she needed him.

This is why Masters’ decision was so hard.  She admires a man who will do anything to save a human life or ease another person’s suffering, but at the same time, she cannot walk that same path.  It is too painful — the personal price is too high.  To carry the burden of life and death decisions is easy, but carrying the burden of denying another person a choice of how to live or die is harder.  We respect Masters’ decision, but we ache for the loss and emptiness she will feel as a result of it.
Like House, she too is a uniquely gifted physician.  She understands that it is not enough to simply heal the body, but there must be a healing in the heart and soul as well.  She may venture out and become a superior surgeon, or a brilliant diagnostician in her own right.  But, in all likelihood, Masters will always wonder about the hole in her heart over the loss of the chance to work with a man who would show her not only how to solve the most fascinating of puzzles, but also how to dance between the lines of humanity in the process.  As House tried to remind her, life is not all about coloring in between the lines — coloring outside the lines can create a truly extraordinary masterpiece.  That she would have dared to be the next Picasso of medicine — that would have been a sight to behold.

Masters, may your journey be fulfilling and rewarding, but come back and visit us once and awhile, you made HOUSE a much more interesting show with your presence.  The power of your conviction tested Dr. House and tested our beliefs too – that testing made for a richer story.

Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to TheTVAddict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).

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  • John

    I think you give House too much credit for humanity. He is driven to solve the puzzles, whether they are medical problems or the lives of those around him. Saving lives is merely a useful by-product.

    He once told the story of a doctor in Japan who was of the untouchable class. This doctor had no status at all, until they had a very difficult case that only he could solve and then the others would deal with him.

    He was sort of like House, but the factor that isolated him was a social prejudice and not based on who he was or what he had done. But House’s social isolation is something he crafted himself, by his extreme anti-social actions – sort of like Scrooge and Marley forging their own chains.

    I don’t know if House understood his anti-social nature and developed his medical skills to still be able to be around people or if his medical skills gave him the some freedom from normal human responsibility and he gradually became more and more sociopathic as his freedom of action expanded with his medical skills.

    I also doubt if Masters will feel a hole in her heart for the loss of working with House. She may miss his medical genius but she values her values too much to want to be there. She got out before she became trapped like Foreman.

  • wonderful send-off! we’ll definitely miss her on the show, her unique point of view and sense of morality definitely shook things up for House and the team!

    on the funny side: loved the chickens! :p

  • That chicken storyline was just HILARIOUS! Nice way to weave in some comedy in what could have been a really depressing episode. 🙂

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