I love the show House, M.D. Hugh Laurie is great. I enjoy the whole cast really. I enjoy the philosophical stuff going on in the show. I appreciate the presentation of the theme and interconnectedness of the various plotlines, which is more sophisticated than so many other shows on TV (mainly because noone spells it out for you just make sure you get it).
— SPOILER ALERT —
A little over a week ago, the episode “Simple Explanation” aired. In addition to the usual medical-mystery-as-dance-floor-for-philosophy, the episode featured the discovery, by two of House’s team of doctors, the body of one of their own–Dr. Kutner, played by Kal Penn (who actually left the show, despite his enjoyment of acting in it, for a job at the White House). Kutner’s death is quickly and accurately ruled a suicide.
The suicide of the Kutner character comes very much out of the blue. He’s not the member of the team or the doctor among those who we would predict would commit suicide. He seemed much more balanced than most or all of the other doctors, and seemed to be genuinely happy. We’d have never seen this coming.
Which is exactly the experience and articulated reflection of the characters in the episode itself?
What I find so fascinating is that the abruptness and total unexpectedness of Kutner as suicidal and troubled inspired roughly the same sort of talk as an actual suicide would. Hear me clearly—obviously there is not the emotional connection. But in terms the sorts of things said, the self-reflection inspired, the language and speech patterns employed, the way the episode presented the story recreated an engagement with the surprise of Kutner’s death that sounded eerily like what one might expect to hear if the event had happened in the real world.
I bring this up to make a connection and raise a question for communicators—in my case, preaching and teaching Scripture and the Christian faith. The connection concerns the art of storytelling or presentation—how to tell what, when. What to actively engage and what to leave alone.
The question (which I don’t have answers to yet) is: How can we communicate in such a way that the listener/audience/congregation is so engaged that they find themselves mimicing what the next appropriate words will be? How do we introduce a narrative that practically jerks them into the plot and bids them to participate in the unfolding of the story? This is what happened in the House episode. What teaching/communication instructional value might there be for us in learning how more effectively to create vivid entry points that can introduce or re-introduce persons to faith, and draw persons of faith into a deeper immersion in the Christian Story?