There was a lot going in this episode. There were the usual snappy one-liners, the same old inappropriate shots of Cuddy’s cleavage and tight skirts, and over-the-top moments of House’s clownish behavior, including a take-off on Survivor, complete with bandana and Bunsen burner torches. The episode had a little bit of everything: comedy, intrigue, drama, and pathos, along with forced scenes designed to keep all the shippers happy and the fan fics flying. We see that Cameron and Chase are still together, and we also learn that Foreman has failed at Mercy Hospital by working outside of the rules and acting like House. Even with so much to process, “97 Seconds”, as a whole, was not one of my favorites.
House challenges the new doctors by dividing them into two teams – men against women – to see who can diagnose the patient of the week — a wheelchair-bound man named Thomas who passed out while being led across a street by his canine aid. Amber does not like that idea, thinking that her chances of being on the winning team would be better if she were with the group of men. However, the men don’t want her because she is, as House called her in the classroom, a cutthroat bitch. Amber is seen throughout the rest of the episode manipulating everyone into helping her solve the case. As unpleasant as she is, I like the strong development of her character. She stays true to form while she finagles her way onto the men’s team, literally wriggles her way out of the time-out room that House assigns her team to after blowing their first opportunity at the diagnosis, and uses psychology to manipulate both Cameron and Chase into helping her.
Despite all of Amber’s machinations, it is the women’s team that begins Thomas’s treatment, while the men waste time discussing which tests to administer. Thirteen, which is her candidate number, guesses that in addition to the spinal muscular atrophy that has him in the wheelchair, Thomas has Strongyloides worms, which he got from lying on the sand during a recent trip to Thailand. House is intrigued by Thirteen’s diagnostic skill and the fact that he has learned nothing about her. Despite House’s queries, she does not reveal anything about her personal history. She won’t even tell House her real name. This is one way to get to him; we all know how much House loves to solve puzzles. The dialogue between the two of them is sharp and provocative. I am as intrigued as House to find out more about her and to see how their working relationship develops.
In the clinic, House meets up with a bruised and battered patient who had been in a car crash. The man pulls a knife and electrocutes himself by sticking it into the exam room electrical socket. After the patient crumples to the floor, House pokes him with his cane, and then calls for a crash cart. What is interesting to House is why the patient would fry his organs instead of choosing some other way to die. In a rare follow-up, the clinic patient explains that he isn’t suicidal. He just wanted to relive the 97-second near death experience that he had after the car crash. Despite the fact that he had already tried every kind of hallucinogenic he could lay hands on, those 97 seconds were the most blissful time of his life.
While Thirteen is giving Thomas his medication cup for worms, she is interrupted by the men’s team coming to run a battery of tests on him. After the tests, Thomas’s condition worsens with new symptoms that include green blood and kidney failure. Thirteen sticks by her diagnosis (which was House’s original diagnosis) but Amber points out that all the symptoms point to scleroderma. When all tests results come back negative, House assumes it is a cancer that originates in Thomas’s eye. House gets Wilson to help suggest removing the patient’s eye to get rid of the source. Thomas refuses, saying that he does not want to live if he can’t walk, eat or see. He wants to be free from the failing body that he’s been trapped in for so many years. House asks, “Free to go where?” He yells that there is no afterlife. The life that Thomas has now is all there is.
Wilson understandably ushers House out of the room and rightfully chastises him for destroying the only comfort left to a dying man. He wasn’t psychoanalyzing House without cause; he was completely justified in pointing out that in this instance, House’s lack of bedside manner was nothing but detrimental to the patient’s well-being. House argues that a miserable life is better than nothing, but Wilson counters that House doesn’t know what is ‘out there.’ We next see House sitting in his office with the clinic patient’s knife in hand. He is apparently thinking about his two patients and makes a decision. He looks up at an electrical socket, and we know that House is about to do something really stupid – even for him.
Meanwhile, Thirteen and Amber are with Thomas. He is having trouble breathing because his lungs are filling up. Amber drains his chest and notices that the liquid is clear. If it was cancer, the liquid would have been bloody. Sadly, Thomas asks for his dog to be brought over so that he can say goodbye. The dog is laid on the bed, with his head on Thomas’s legs. Thomas whispers to the dog that he’s not afraid then quietly dies. I have to admit that the scene was heartbreaking.
Amber gets paged by House and finds him unconscious after electrocuting himself. Because House paged Amber before he stuck the knife in the socket, we know that it wasn’t a genuine suicide attempt. It is within character for House to try to solve the ultimate puzzle of life after death, but this theme has been explored before. When House almost died in “Three Stories”, he said that the visions he saw were just random neurons firing off. Perhaps House just wanted to experience what his clinic patient described as the ultimate high. This theme has also been explored before when House faked cancer for the chance of having drugs injected directly into the pleasure centers of his brain.
The problem with House electrocuting himself is that it feels improbable and hard to believe. I would think that any educated adult who wants to test death by pseudo-suicide is a candidate for intense psychiatric intervention, if not a judge decreeing that he is a danger to himself and should be locked away. As often as I’ve thought of House having the mental age of an adolescent, this stunt only proves that I was being generous. I know three-year-olds who are smarter. When House comes to, the only repercussion is that Wilson calls him an idiot (before rewarding him with more pain meds) and he gets yelled at, again, by Cuddy for playing games while both of his patients died. House reacts by getting out of bed to order Thomas’s autopsy. It’s business as usual. House does throw away a line while looking at Thomas’s dead body, saying that Thomas was wrong, but that is as close as we get to discovering what House’s near death experience was like.
The autopsy reveals that Thomas did have Strongyloides worms. He never took the pills that Thirteen handed to him. His dog ate it instead, which was unfortunate for both. Thomas died because he didn’t get the medication, the dog died because the medication is fatal to his breed. House yelled at Thirteen for not following through to see Thomas actually swallow the meds she gave him, but when he saw her crying over the patient in the autopsy room, he told her she wasn’t fired. He knows she is a good diagnostician and she will never make that kind of mistake again.
House will not be on this week due to Major League Baseball. When the show resumes, I hope that Cuddy and Wilson have child-proofed the Diagnostics Department, and House goes back to being a brilliant doctor instead of an idiot.