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TV Review: House – “Airborne”

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There's something in the air this week on House: House. "Airborne" (alternate title: "Snarks on a Plane"?) takes him out of the hospital and into an even more confined space as he and Cuddy fly back from a conference in Singapore, where he gave a three-minute speech and nearly made up for not taking a vacation last episode.

Cuddy: The room service thing was just spiteful.

House: I was hungry.

Cuddy: $300 for a bottle of wine.

House: I was thirsty.

Cuddy: $120 on video services.

House: I was lonely.

It's fine, though, because he made up for the frivolous $500 he expensed by downgrading Cuddy's ticket to coach while he luxuriates in first class. He kindly offers to trade with her when the passenger next to him loses his lunch and the flight attendant calls for a doctor. "I'll get her," he says.  

On the ground, we meet the other patient of the week, sweet, dumpy  Fran (Jenny O'Hara, who looked familiar to you because she has guest starred on every show ever made). Fran lives with her sweet cat in a sweet house and is getting ready to have a guaranteed sweet time – twice – with a sweet prostitute. I wonder if she uses the same dial-a-hooker agency House does? The festivities are dampened when Fran passes out at the sight of Robin in leather. While Robin's about to make an exit with the money, the cat's stern gaze inspired her to do the right thing and call for an ambulance. Cats and Cameron – useful as moral compasses.

The set up to the episode was highly promising, with two parallel medical mysteries, with Wilson trying to play House and corral the argumentative ducklings, with House and Cuddy trapped together, Cuddy's life seemingly in House's hands, and House creating a makeshift diagnostic department complete with stand-in ducklings. Poor emasculated Chase is replaced by a kid whose task is to agree with everything House says. Foreman's Doppelganger, who is told to disagree with everything, doesn't speak English – and it doesn't matter in the slightest. Cameron's replacement, who House assigns the job of being morally outraged at everything he says, is described in the episode media release as Sour Faced Girl.

The episode itself didn't quite live up to that promise, though there were enough great moments to keep "Airborne," um, aloft. (I think I'm done with the bad puns now.) 

Fran is not quite the soft, sweet woman she appears at first. After collapsing with more seizures in the clinic, she tries to sell Wilson a story about visiting her sister in Duluth. He notes her un-Duluth-like recent tattoo, and extracts the confession that she actually went to Caracas, where she did drugs off a gay man and had sex with another called El Gordo, all in an attempt to seize the day after her 58th birthday – the age at which her mother died. Robin the hooker, whose feline lesson in doing the right thing has brought out her requisite heart of gold, seems suddenly impressed.

Wilson is a poor substitute for House, even saying "please" after ordering the team to do their tests, but he does throw in the familiar request that they search the patient's house. Chase and Cameron oblige, but the bed proves slightly more appealing than poking around for toxins, so they continue their no-complications sex arrangement under the watchful eye of the cat. You just know it's all going to go wrong now.

After going through diagnoses like cancer and a brain bleed, Chase gets the aha moment when he realizes everything comes down to the cat. He remembers the animal's food bowl was full, deduces that lack of appetite was a symptom for Fran too, and researches the home with an eye towards finding a toxin rather than a good time. He finds a dead cat and a connection to the house next door, which had been fumigated. Of course his phone call comes just in time to stop the unnecessary surgery. "I thought I was being punished for going away, but really I was being punished for coming home," laments Fran. There's a lesson in there: a wild weekend in Caracas beats a weekend at home, maybe.

So Chase is the hero, and House missed it entirely. Instead, he's got a 12-year-old boy replacement for Chase who sort of comes up with the aha moment for the airborne patient of the week.

Cuddy suspected meningitis and wanted the plane turned around before it spread. House suspected food poisoning and convinced the flight attendant to carry on. Then, more passengers – including Cuddy – were affected with the same vomiting and rash.

When the food poisoning theory proves to be wrong, he does a lumbar puncture made all the more dangerous by not having the right equipment, taking place in a shaking plane, and being performed by a man who has minions to do those kinds of tasks for him normally. It's successful anyway, and negative, so that plus Cuddy's rage makes House realize the "contagious" disease is actually mass hysteria, which affects women more than men. "I know it sounds sexist, but science says you're weak and soft. What can I do?"

Cuddy's miracle cure was one major disappointment for me. I admit, I wanted a more dramatic effort on his part to save her, maybe involving pressing a cold cloth to her fevered brow, and a few moments of doubt and angst while desperately trying to save her life. I know, it's cheesy, but when he was examining and sniffing her it was oddly hot, while undeniably creepy at the same time.  

Anyway, he's wrong again with his theory that the man has swallowed a condom full of cocaine which is now seeping into his system. "You think he's a mule," Cuddy says. "I think he's a jackass," House confirms. But as he prepares to do improvised, unanaesthetized surgery with the help of his pseudo-ducklings, House notices that when the Chase clone pressed on the man's joints, his pain subsides.

The discovery of a scuba certification card and trip receipt confirms a diagnosis of the bends, and the treatment requires no blood loss, just lowering the plane until they can club baby seals out the windows. House's brilliance charms the flight attendant, who lets him know she's in New York frequently. His brilliance does not charm Cuddy, who refuses to let him claim he saved her life, and responds to his "you're mean" by exasperatedly saying that's how she compensates for being soft and weak. There's probably a grain of truth in that in general, if not in this case specifically.

It's not the women in this episode that are soft and weak, either. Wilson's both puzzled and impressed that Robin compassionately stuck with Fran so she didn't have to be alone. Maybe he interpreted that as neediness, so when he calls to let her know Fran will be fine, he clumsily asks Robin out. I can only hope he hasn't deduced that she's a hooker. Either way, he's not a well-adjusted man, however shiny his veneer is.

Cameron has gotten a lot more adventurous since her apparent rejection of the carpe diem philosophy in "Hunting," throwing herself into the friends-with-benefits deal with Chase. I guess it's better than dial a hooker. But Chase wants more, and lets himself be vulnerable enough to tell her so. She's also gotten a lot colder, so at that, she ends their deal with a cruel: "It was fun. That's it. And now it's over." But is she mean to compensate for her softness? We'll see. I doubt the repercussions are over for either one of them, or rather, as Foreman feared, any of them.

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About Diane Kristine Wild

  • http://www.bennink.info/houseaudio Corien

    I really enjoy your House reviews every week! Keep ‘em coming!