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TV Review: House – “Cane & Able”

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What would a showdown between House and Mulder be like? Would Hugh Laurie's caustic beat David Duchovny's sardonic? "Cane & Able" feels almost like the promise of such a showdown, with the case of a little boy who's terrified of being abducted by aliens, then, before our very eyes, seems to become a guest star on The X-Files, presumed anal probe and all.

While I didn't believe for a second that House, a show that's a valentine to science and empiricism, would have alien abduction as the resolution to a case, it was fun to see the clues build up toward that result and wonder what could possibly fit the symptoms.

So, yay, the fun as well as the funny are back to the show, after a disappointing season premiere. House was back making gleeful fun of his underlings and Cuddy's breasts. He believes in his patient's UFO theory: Unidentified Flowing Orifice. When they discover a chip at the back of the boy Clancy's neck, he tells his team the lab couldn't identify the metal, or confirm that it's terrestrial. "Really?" ever-gullible Chase asks. "No, you idiot, it's titanium, like from a surgical pin," House replies. When Clancy ends up having "alien" DNA – genetic material that doesn't match his own – well, House is more stupefied than jokey, but then that's just weird.

I still found the Wilson-Cuddy plot to trim House's wings preposterous. Last episode, they decided not to let House know that his theory had cured a patient because he just "got lucky" and they didn't want it to go to his head. If I went through all the transcripts of the past two seasons, I would be demonstrating I have way too much time on my hands. But my real point is that I would find he "gets lucky" nearly every time, with a diagnosis so crazy three or four or five doctors disagree with him until he's proven right. We've even heard the exact phrase "he got lucky" more than once before. So, I find the plot not so much ill-conceived of Wilson and Cuddy, though it is that as well, but ill-conceived of the writers.

Anyway, like Cameron, I am all about the forgiveness and love, so I'll just go with it. The contrived drama (oops, right, I'm going with it starting now…) of whether House has gained a leg at the expense of a brilliant brain is played out in "Cane & Able," and it starts to seem like he's going to be left with neither. Despite writing his own prescription for Vicodin last time, he's experiencing worsening leg pain and beginning to limp again. He even has fun with that, though, taking advantage of Cuddy's concern to fake her out with a pretend stumble.

Cuddy and Wilson debate over whether they've done the right thing (here's a clue: no) when they wonder if the pain is psychological, a symptom of his depression over not solving his last case, and therefore something they could alleviate with the truth, or a sign the ketamine treatment is not going to last. He refuses to be tested in order to determine the truth. So hypocrite Wilson, the hider of knowledge that doesn't make himself happy, accuses House of "running away from knowledge that won't make you happy."

Then, when Cameron encounters last week's formerly vegetative patient in the clinic (looking for "a bucketful" of Viagra – it's sweeter than it sounds, really), she's in on the secret and pushes them to tell House the truth. When Cuddy tells her they're trying to teach him a glimmer of humility, Cameron objects. "Why does he need that? Because other people have that? Why does he need to be like other people?"

It's a good question. I'd like to know, too. But at least in this episode, it was clear without us being simply told so that House wasn't attacking the case with his usual reckless abandon. Cameron was the only one throwing out the brilliant theories, as Foreman pointed out, taking malicious delight in pointing out House's not-perfect track record every chance he gets. And instead of testing out his atrophied bedside manner, House is back to hiding from the patient and his family, who, by the way, are nicely realized people, with little touches of characterization last week's patients lacked.

A more disturbing sign that House isn't House is after determining Clancy suffers from a clotting disorder and hypertensive episodes, and zapping the alien DNA that's causing most – but not all – of his symptoms, House is going to discharge the still-hallucinating, seizing patient without having solved the puzzle completely.

That's enough to make it seem like he'd been turned into a pod person, so Cuddy finally steps in to tell him he had, in fact, solved his last case. When she confronts him in the parkade to convince him to continue diagnosing the boy, House continues with his persistent jokes about her being pregnant (she denies it – do we believe her, or the master diagnostician?). That's when he has the kind of medical epiphany that makes him House.

Clancy, who was conceived through in vitro fertilization, has a twin absorbed into his body, not a teratoma – old hat to medical show aficionados – but something called chimerism. Though he solves the case through his own brilliant deduction, his leg pain gets worse, to the point where he digs his cane out of the closet. Episodes like "Skin Deep" last season implied that the pain has always been at least partly psychological, and interestingly, we still don't know if his relapse is psychological or physical. We do know he's preserving his own lie about being drug-free, and refusing the test that would distinguish between the two.

These last two episodes helped me define the line where I lose all sympathy for House. I love him while he tortures patients, displays shocking insensitivity, treats patients against their will. And maybe that's wrong, but… okay, it's just wrong and I'm a bad person. But as in last season's "All In," I have no patience with the suggestion that he can't psychologically handle not solving the puzzle. If his self-worth hinges on him being infallible… well, sorry, House, that's where you lose me. Besides, as he said so astutely in the season ending "No Reason," he's "almost always eventually right." That doesn't sound like a man who thinks he's God, despite his occasional fun with that concept, so I refuse to believe he believes it.

And it turns out he doesn't, really. He spots Wilson's influence on Cuddy's decision to hide the truth from him, and confronts him. "What was the plan? That I'd feel so humble by missing a case that I'd re-evaluate my entire life, question nature, truth and goodness, and become Cameron?" Wilson explains it was for his own good: "I was worried your wings would melt." House's reply: "God doesn't limp."

So House doesn't believe he's God, or even a god, and unlike Icarus, he's aware of his physical limitations. And he's back to being a medical genius, though far from an emotional genius. While there were rumours it had returned last week, now it seems that both House the show and House the character are really back.

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About Diane Kristine Wild

  • Ibrahim Ng

    I don’t object to House being back on the cane. However, I feel that if the creators were going to heal him, he should’ve stayed healed for at least eleven episodes, given us time to get to fully know what House would be like without the pain in his leg. *Then* take it away, if they felt the need, or go with it. The way it is, a healed House was a direction never given much of a chance, and it makes me wonder what the point of curing House was if the cure would be revoked one episode later.

    Of course, later episodes may well supply that point. 😛

  • Diane Kristine

    I suppose I should reserve judgement to see where they’re going with it (if anywhere) but it did seem a bit pointless. 11 episodes, though? That’s very specific of you! Sounds like some complex math at work there.

  • Ibrahim Ng

    Well, I just thought, if a standard season is twenty-two episodes (although the second season had twenty-four), then I would have liked to see at least half a year of House on both legs. Not because I liked this version of the character more than his original incarnation, but simply because I think half a year would be a fair run before making the choice to recover the cane or throw it out forever.

  • Diane Kristine

    I was just teasing – I kind of figured that might have been the math, but it’s supposed to be 24 episodes this season again. I don’t think I really needed to see House physically healed in the first place, but I think your argument is that if they’d done it longer, maybe that would have given them time to do it better. That’s a bit too hypothetical for me. I’m OK with them just moving on from it quickly, since it didn’t work for me.

  • Ibrahim Ng

    Well, my point is more — um, let’s go to comic books for a bit. About five years ago (I think), Cyclops, the X-Men character, was killed off. About eight months later, the character was brought back to life in a mini-series called, “The Search For Cyclops.” Which made me wonder, what was the *point* of killing Cyclops off if he was to be restored and made hole almost immediately afterwards? Wouldn’t it have been better to not have killed off the character in the first place?

    However, if you weren’t intrigued by House being healed, I suppose you would be relieved to see the back of that plotline. :-)

  • http://fischesnachtgesang.blogspot.com Morgenstern

    I have a different take on the “House is God” question … I think House has just discovered the advantage of his cane: It keeps him grounded. While John Mayer is singing “Gravity, stay the hell away from me”, I think it is precisely that – gravity – what House is looking for. I think he actually thinks he’s God in a way. He believes in his ability to solve cases by simply sitting in a room, playing with a ball and later on having an epiphany solve all the mysteries. He believes his brain (or the workings of his brain) is/are god-like. But like all grumpy people he doesn’t like the shiny happy people out there. The over-achievers, the doctors with the big houses and the big cars, the good looks and the trophy wives. He doesn’t want to be one of them. He is not “a God in a white coat”. Being the stereotypical Harvard doctor – or, on a lesser scale, being the brilliant head of a department with the good looks who likes to skateboard (refer to s. 03 epis. 01) and to ride his motorbike – doesn’t interest him. Because it would limit him to the stereotypical behavior of such doctors. Golf Club membership and whatnot. He wants to be recognized as the genius doctor he is but he still wants to get away with murder (= his usual outrageous behavior) because he doesn’t want life to be boring. And if his brain is indeed as infallible as it is made out to be by the writers of series, then what stands between him, the Country Club membership and the mansion in the Hamptons? His cane!

  • http://dotcrawl.wordpress.com Matt

    House is too rational to believe he’s God any more than he believes in aliens. Notice, he didn’t make any comments on the existence of extraterestrial life. (I was kind of looking forward to his thoughts.) It’s almost like he’s above all that.

  • http://bonamassablog.us Joan Hunt

    Congrats! This article has been placed on Advance.net

  • http://fischesnachtgesang.blogspot.com Morgenstern

    I don’t know if I agree with you, Matt. House does of course not think of himself as a supernatural being but I am convinced he believes his ability to eventually find a cure for every patient is quite infallible. If the next time somebody’s mother objects to a treatment of his saying “Who do you think you are? God?” his answer will probably be “God doesn’t have a limp” but secretely he believes he is always right. He’s not always rational. He tells Cuddy “If I thought my leg was getting worse, don’t you think I would take steps to prevent that?” I’m not so sure, my answer would’ve been. Why doesn’t he talk about the pain? Why doesn’t he let Cuddy do the PET scan? As Diane suggested, the pain may be psychological. I believe he doesn’t want the pain back but somehow he thinks that without his cane and the bad leg and the Vicodine, he won’t be able to go back being a brilliant doctor again, so in a way he is happy he has his cane back. Not accepting help is not rational IMHO.

  • kali

    I’m sorry I can’t agree with you…I loved “Meaning”. I thought it was brilliant, the way it picked up on all the issues that were raised in “No Reason”, such as how much he defines himself over his pain and his disability, whether he might lose his edge once he is pain-free and bodily abled, whether his brain is all he is! I simply loved it, and the more often I watch it the more I love it! And loving House the way I do, with all his contrasting qualities, his complexity and his damage, both in his body and his mind, I loved seeing him able to walk, to run! I was happy along with him and seeing all his “friends” doubting his motives was heartbreaking!
    And as much as I hated Wilson and Cuddy for what they did to him a part of me got what Wilson was doing: he was afraid that now that his friend couldn’t get his high on pills he would try to get it via his other addiction: solving pusszles, and that he wouldn’t stop from fabricating those puzzles with no medical proof whatsoever! But I agree with you on that: House doesn’t simply get lucky, he is House! a tautology but nevertheless the truth!
    I was sorry to see him go back to his cane, and I thought that it was brilliantly conceived: as you said, again we’re not sure how much of his pain can be contributed to his psychology and I’m really looking forward to exploring ths further!

  • moonspinner

    i have all 3 of house series but I’m getting kind of tired of him angry all the time. he is getting even worse since he fired all his people. i just can’t get use to the new people. i really liked the old ones. they played the parts better than these others do.