Idol Chatter

KalPenninHouse.jpgApparently the signs pointing to actor Kal Penn’s eventual political career were pretty evident: his character in the “Harold and Kumar” series craved White Castle hamburgers and he played a doctor on a show called “House,” clearly portending an eventual appointment to the White House.
Ok, so maybe his quiet involvement with the Obama campaign–he was a runner at the convention among other things–was a more telling sign that “The Namesake” star was serious about his politics. But it still came as a shock to “House” fans when his character, Dr. Lawrence Kutner, committed suicide, so that the actor could move on to working in the White House as an associate director of the Office of Public Liaison, a position in which he will interact with Asian constituencies and those in the arts community. (For full details, read the Entertainment Weekly interview.)
While I am glad to see someone so passionate and selfless join the administration (the man is giving up million dollar paychecks to do so), it’s a bittersweet goodbye: Kutner was my favorite of House’s new team of fellows. In fact, he was the favorite of many fans and his out-of-the-blue suicide storyline isn’t sitting well with some of them if message board chatter is any indicator. At first, I felt the same way, thinking the writers were simply taking the easy way out. Not bothering to build subtle clues into his arc.

But that’s the reality of many suicides: no one sees them coming. Sometimes there are no warning signs, no years of noticeable depression, and oftentimes there are no explanations. I once interviewed a counselor who specializes in working with families of people who had taken their own lives and she kept coming back to the trauma inflicted by, in many cases, the absolute surprise of the situation. And each character in the episode, from House to Foreman to Taub, demonstrated coping mechanisms that the counselor described: disbelief, anger, guilt, isolation.
The memorial site and FaceBook page that FOX has set up to Dr. Kutner is a bit odd in my opinion, but at least it is sprinkled with numbers to crisis hotlines, though I would like to see those given more prominence.
In the end, we come away with two great lessons. The episode was, in reality, a good teaching moment about the nature of suicide. And Penn, who should be applauded for following his political aspirations, is providing a great civics lesson. But, just a note to the producers: you’ve already killed off another of my favorites, Amber (a.k.a. Cutthroat Bitch), so please, if you decide to knock anyone else off, make it Thirteen. I have a soft spot for Taub.
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