I was recently reading through an online discussion, debating what the best episode of any television show was; television connoisseur that I am, I always find that sort of thing interesting. Rarely do I have anything to contribute, though - I always struggle to make any definitive statement as to what the single best episode of any one show is, let alone every show.
But one answer caught my eye - Three Stories, the penultimate episode of the first season of House MD.
Now, I’m on record as being a pretty big House fan, as well as a pretty big Hugh Laurie fan, so my interest was very much piqued by this. House is absolutely one of my favourite TV shows, and when I noticed that the episode in question was being repeated on Sky Atlantic, I figured I would definitely have to give it a watch, to see if it really does deserve the title of “Best episode of any TV show ever”.
The first thing that stands out about this episode is that it is very clever. House is, at it’s core, a procedural show; rather than policemen and criminals, though, we’ve got doctors and diseases, with each potential subject in fact a potential diagnosis. It’s a set up that serves the programme well - they do a good job of developing the core characters through their interactions with the guest star patients - but it can certainly get a little frustrating in its adherence to the formula.
Not so here, however; House giving a speech to a group of students is used as a framing device, opening up the episode into a cleverly plotted and well written non linear narrative. We deal with three different patients at once, interweaving each of their different stories, and moving across them in such a way that they become increasingly more tense and compelling as the story goes on. It’s also a nice opportunity for some of House’s trademark humour; in positioning him as the narrator, we get plenty of witty little snarky asides, commenting on both his patients and his audience, in a neat little twist on the usual set up.
Of course, though, House isn’t just a narrator – he’s an unreliable narrator. It’s slowly revealed that these patients weren’t just chosen randomly; one of them is, in fact, House himself. Three Stories isn’t just any other patient of the week – we’re watching the origin story for our eponymous Doctor. This twist is what elevates the episode, making it more than just a very clever episode; after twenty episodes of getting to know House, we’re finally coming to understand the source of his pain. The fact that we’ve spent so long with this character means we’re far more invested with his story than we would be with any other patient of the week; Three Stories has a much greater and more immediate emotional impact than a lot of other House episodes.
Part of the backstory is the addition of Sela Ward as Stacy Warner, House’s ex-wife; she’s a fantastic character, and Ward has great chemistry with Laurie. It was actually on the basis of their chemistry together that the writers extended Stacy’s part, bringing her into the second season as well; initially, the plan was for her to only appear in the final two episodes of season one. I’m glad they did choose to extend her stay, in any case – Stacy is a great character, and a good match for House as well. It’s quite poignant, really, to see the way their relationship was ripped apart; we begin the episode seeing her talking to House in the present day, and the gulf between them is clear. However, we only really understand it when we hop back to the past, and see the events that tore apart the happy marriage, and left House the miserable misanthrope that he is today.
Three Stories is, ultimately, a tragedy. House has always been a tragic hero, after all; this is where we see the tragedy at the heart of him. Not content with simple exposition, though, David Shore was able to convey House’s story through one of the most intelligent episodes of the entire series. This episode is very good, and it deserves all the awards and accolades it has won.
Is it the best episode of TV ever? God knows. Certainly, though, it’s one of the best episodes of House that there is, alongside other greats such as Wilson’s Heart and The C Word.
It’s the sort of episode that reminded me why I loved House so much, and why I still do.
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