I’m not really a House viewer anymore, considering the dive it took last year, but re-watching ‘The Tyrant’ reminded me of why I used to love this once thought-provoking show. The basic set-up for this episode has countless political undertones relating to the wars that have recently taken place in African countries such as Sierra Leone and Uganda. The premise is that House’s diagnostic team is forced to treat a repressive African dictator named Dibala (played by the talented James Earl Jones) who is planning an ethnic rebellion in the south of his country, one that is being considered a genocide against the fictional sitibi people. It is believed that if Dibala survives his treatment at Princeton Plainsboro hospital, that he will return back to his country and order his rebel armies to massacre up to 2 million of his own countrymen because of their sitibi heritage.
While Foreman and Chase try to remain as objective as possible, Cameron emphasises the ethical issues with treating someone who most people would consider a brutal murderer. While it is reiterated that she had no issue with treating a murderer on death-row, she states that justice was brought to him when he was sent back to prison, whereas Dibala will be allowed to continue to rule his country and carry out mass murders. Dibala confesses one of his many ‘indiscretions’ to Chase, admitting that he recruited teenage boys and fed them drugs before making them torture and rape sitibi women.
I viewed this episode for the first time last year, and it resonated with me again recently, because of the project I’m doing. While I researched more about the history of the civil war in Sierra Leone, I learned more and more about Foday Sankoh, a repressive dictator that allowed millions to be massacred during the decade-long war caused by the Revolutionary United Front group. Dibala bears resemblance to Sankoh and his followers, as they were both responsible for recruiting child soldiers to carry out orders of mass murder.
Every now and again the writers of House surprise me with a brilliant episode like this that has a greater political message that the audience can connect to, and by the end of the episode, Chase decides to ‘kill’ Dibala to stop him from potentially murdering millions of people in his country. While this is fictionalised and obviously created by a panel of screenwriters, the great thing about television shows like House is that it can easily get away with addressing political issues without direct repercussions. After my recent viewing I was left with a huge question mark over the real death of Foday Sankoh. The doctors treating him while he was awaiting trial must have had a big moral and ethical dilemma on their hands, much like the characters did on this episode, and the fact that Sankoh died due to complications with the treatment of his strokes, raises questions of just how objectively were his doctors treating him.