Monday, October 15, 2007

Afterlife -- Episode 403, "97 Seconds"

Clinic patient:
Car accident victim who sticks his knife into a wall socket in an attempt to recapture his near-death experience.

The connection:
In a nutshell, the clinic patient and the main patient (with a little bit of Wilson thrown in) lead House to zap himself as part of his own personal experiment to test the theory of an afterlife.

It starts with House trying to figure out why clinic guy stuck the knife in the socket. Clinic guy explains what happened after the crash: "I saw these headlights. And I saw ... Paramedics said I was technically dead for 97 seconds. It was the best 97 seconds of my life." House dismisses the visions as chemical reactions in the brain, but clinic guy dismisses that, saying he's done every kind of hallucinogenic drug, and it wasn't the same. "This is way bigger than that," he says. "There's something out there. Something more." And House's interest is piqued.

Now it's the main patient's turn. After being confined to a wheelchair for most of his life, he's just learned that he has cancer and will have to spend his remaining months in a hospital bed, puking and in pain. He chooses to die instead:

Main patient: "I've been trapped in this useless body long enough. It'd be nice to finally get out."
House: "Get out and go where? You think you're gonna sprout wings and fly around with the other angels? There is no after. There's just this."

Afterward, Wilson berates House for squashing the beliefs of a dying man. House is stubborn as always:

House: "He shouldn't be making a decision based on a lie. Misery is better than nothing."
Wilson: "You don't know there's nothing. You haven't been there."
House: "Oh, God, I am tired of that argument. I don't have to go to Detroit to know that it smells."
Wilson: "Yes. Detroit, the afterlife. Same thing."

So House decides to go there. He zaps himself by sticking the clinic guy's knife into a wall socket in his office. When he comes to, he's eager to talk to clinic guy, who unfortunately died just an hour before. Wilson wants to know why House needs to talk to him: Did he see something?

We get our answer in the last line of the episode. House, all alone with the body of the main patient, looks down at him and says, "I'm sorry to say, I told you so."

It seems pretty cut and dried, but I found myself asking this question: Would House, without anyone to overhear him, lie to a dead guy?

Faith is probably House's biggest nemesis. It's an annoyance because it's the opposite of reason and because he's frequently confronted by it. But as convinced as he is in his atheism, it seems that every time faith rears its ugly head, there's always room for doubt. There was a moment in "House vs. God" when it was possible the young faith healer's touch shrank Wilson's cancer patient's tumor. When his patient in "Human Error" miraculously came back from the brink of death, House looked up in futility. At the end of "One Day, One Room," he seemed swayed by the main patient's case for eternity.

House eventually found the medical explanations for the anomalies in "House vs. God" and "Human Error," but in order to disprove God as a factor, he had to acknowledge the possibility of his existence. It's the same in "97 Seconds." If he didn't think there was the chance of an afterlife, he wouldn't have had to test it.

In House's hospital room, Wilson mentioned that House had already had two near-death experiences. The first, when House's heart stopped in "Three Stories," was accompanied by visions. (Then, as now, "They're all just chemical reactions that take place when the brain shuts down.") Same with the second, when he was shot in season 2's finale, "No Reason," although those visions were described more as hallucinations. Was there really nothing the third time around?

My point is this: There's really no reason House would lie to a dead man -- unless he's lying to himself to keep faith from winning.



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