House, Jeffrey Wright
Monday's pivotal episode of House shines a light on perhaps the most crucial question of the series: Do Dr. House's life-preserving ends justify his usually outlandish means?
House First Look: Jeffrey Wright puts Dr. House on trial!
For nearly eight seasons, Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) has been able to pull almost any stunt he pleased at Princeton-Plainsboro, simply because he's a brilliant diagnostician who saves lives. But in Monday's episode (8/7c, Fox), House's methods end in a catastrophe that threatens one of his team member's future at the hospital. Enter Dr. Walter Cofield (guest star Jeffrey Wright), the head of neurology at a nearby hospital and a former mentor to Dr. Foreman (Omar Epps) — and the man who will determine whether House or his team is to blame for the accident.
"Jeffrey's character really decides the fate of the series — he puts House's process on trial," director and executive producer Greg Yaitanes tells TVGuide.com. "These are questions we've never really asked of the series before, one of which is: What is the responsibility of everybody in an environment of recklessness?"
But why just start questioning House now? "It takes this many episodes of the show to make an episode like this truly relevant," Yaitanes says. "You almost had to get [viewers] to a place where they all were kind of on the same page. You essentially get everybody on board with the way House conducts business and then pull the rug out from them and ... say, 'Have I participated in the events that took place because I've cheered House on?' I think it's so rare to see something in television that really turns the mirror back on yourself."
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And just what kind of a man is required to take Dr. House to task? Yaitanes says Wright, an Emmy winner for his role on HBO's Angels in America was just the formidable foil he needed. But for Wright, it was a bit of a challenge.
"There is a temptation among doctors toward playing the role of the Creator," Wright says. "House is certainly one who revels in that aspect of medicine. So, to have another character who has equal authority and who has an opportunity to play, essentially, judge and jury over that type of ego is interesting and probably requires a similarly out-sized ego."
Adds Yaitanes: "Cofield is in the top of his field and is incredibly well-respected. He was brought in here for a very specific reason. ... We filled out the backstory that he was sort of the other side of the coin for House. He's someone that didn't necessarily play it safe, but played it right."
Wright is quick to point out that Cofield and House are not polar opposites. "He and House are similar in their approaches and in [questioning] how much one allows the personal to interfere with the professional," Wright says. "There needs to be an objectivity that serves only the interest of the patient ... and I don't think he is one who allows himself to be distracted from the objective."
Jeffrey Wright checks in to House
However objective he may try to be, Cofield clearly doesn't seem to care much for House. "They may, from a medical standpoint, reach similar conclusions case by case, but I think they probably take very different pathways toward those decisions," Wright says. "I don't think that Cofield allows himself the room to make those types of choices that House tends to make. Therefore, there is probably some degree of curiosity but also resentment."
So, can Cofield really be objective when it comes to deciding House's fate? "The question is: Is the decision made relative to the outcome of a case, or, is it made relative to the cumulative results of a number of cases over time?" Wright says. "At the end of the day, I think that from Cofield's perspective, their job as doctors is to heal."
House airs Mondays at 8/7c on Fox.