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TV Review: House — “Fetal Position”

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Freaky Friday nearly meets House in the heartstring-pulling but never cloying "Fetal Position." It's mostly a one-way role reversal. Cuddy channels House in her zeal to cure not only the patient of the week, but the fetus of the week as well. As she retorts when House says that if she's going to be him, he might as well be her: "You don't have the cleavage for it." That sounds awfully like a House-ism, but it's not the entire truth, since House isn't entirely unaffected by the Cuddy-House personality switch.

The patient of the week is Emma (Anne Ramsay of Mad About You), a pregnant photographer who self-diagnosis herself when she collapses while at a photo shoot with Tyson Ritter of All-American Rejects (Tyson Ritter of All-American Rejects).

When a patient declares "I'm having a stroke," that would seem to leave little room for House and his team to do their magic. However, he finds a symptom her other doctor missed that thankfully helps prolong the episode beyond the teaser.

House actually visits this patient, maybe because Cuddy told him Emma was important, maybe because she's famous once removed, and maybe because there's flirting potential while he ridicules her profession.

"People are always hiding things. I just keep shooting until I can see what's really inside them," she says. That sounds familiar. No wonder she and House have a nice rapport.

She snaps photos to document her time in the hospital, which would annoy me, but the easily-annoyed House surprisingly takes it in stride. His team is comically befuddled while staring at one of her gorgeous black and whites of that craggy, conflicted face. (I'm suppressing the nitpicky voice in my head that wonders how and why she brought a printer. Shut up, voice.)

Foreman: This is definitely different.

Chase: It looks almost like …

Cameron: … he's caring.

The progression in the last few episodes has been puzzling. I suspect we're building to another angst-filled season finale (pleaseohplease not a cliffhanger), but we've gone from the self-destructive House who will do anything for a high to a moderately well-behaved House who's playfully planning a vacation. Or is he? The Galapagos, Cambodia, the Andes — I suppose that's more House-like than lying on a beach in Puerto Vallarta, even taking into account the women in bikinis.

Cameron is less than sanguine about House being completely sanguine after discovering her relationship with Chase, and she can't stop fretting about it to her poor friend with benefits. "Maybe he just doesn't give a crap," Chase suggests unhelpfully after ridiculing the suggestion that House's vacation plans have anything to do with her.

When House rats them out to Cuddy, Cuddy and Foreman both assume Cameron is going to be the one to get hurt. Emma and House see the truth, which is that Chase is the one in danger. Emma captures a "glowing" Chase, staring at a photo of his friend with benefits.

When Emma's kidneys start to shut down and all diagnostic possibilities have been exhausted, House comes up with the solution: maternal mirror syndrome. Something's wrong with the fetus, and that's affecting the mother's health.

Cuddy and House stake out their ideological differences with Cuddy insisting on referring to Emma's child as a baby, and House referring to him as a fetus.

"If there's anyone I would trust to save my baby, it would be Dr. House," Cuddy comforts Emma at one point, much to House's surprise. "Fetus," he exaggeratedly mouths, before the shot cuts from an ultrasound of said fetus/baby to a CGI of the fetus/baby to an actual baby in the maternity ward, where Cuddy is staring wistfully at the little tykes.

House may have exposed his caring to the camera in an unguarded moment, but Cuddy's the one who cares to the point of unabashedly identifying with the patient. That makes her very House-like in her tenacity and willingness to take risks, but not in her lack of objectivity.

Emma is a single 42-year-old-woman who endured miscarriages and in vitro and sees this pregnancy as her last chance for a child. Cuddy is a single I-have-no-idea-how-old woman who endured a miscarriage and in vitro trying for what she sees as her last chance for a child. She also sees the fetus as a patient, while House clearly does not. He quickly comes to the conclusion that abortion is the only way to save his patient's life.

It's not the first time the show has dipped into the contentious abortion issue, and it's not the first time it's refused to turn into a morality lesson, which is refreshing.

Cuddy is not even remotely capable of being House, and her desperation and self-doubt is a clear sign of that. But she does use House's methods and recklessness to get to a House-like diagnosis and cure of both patients, to avoid trying to use her empathy to persuade Emma to consider the abortion. Cuddy even starts fidgeting with random objects before zeroing in on That Damn Ball and making peculiar metaphors to explain her position.

When Cameron, Chase, and Foreman worry she's out of control, Foreman points out, "Somebody's got to be Cuddy's Cuddy." That's Wilson apparently, though I was expecting House.

He's about as effective as House's Cuddy, inspiring her to get even more radical, pursuing a treatment that nearly kills Emma and the fetus/baby but also gets her close to the solution.

Though she's sent him on his vacation early, she goes to House for help with the next steps, and he obliges. The lure of the mystery, or the lure of the Cuddy? The next step is just as radical: surgery on the fetus.

I'm not one to get all gushy over fake TV babies, but when the tiny hand reached out of the womb and grasped for House's finger … sniff. I mean, my heart's not made of stone. Neither, to everyone's surprise, is House's, as he takes several precious seconds to process the moment. "Sorry. Just realized I forgot to TiVo Alien," he says when he shakes off the awe of the moment.

Thankfully the moment isn't turned into a turning point where he realizes all life is precious and he's been so very wrong. Seconds later it's original-recipe House moving in to cut the umbilical cord and spell the death of the fetus/baby when Emma's heart rate plunges. Cuddy forces him to step away by refusing to stop shocking the patient, even if it means electrocuting House. She's probably wanted an excuse to do that for years.

While I love that this show is willing to risk a tragic conclusion now and then, like in "Forever," I'm grateful Cuddy didn't fail in the end. For one thing, we've seen that before, in "Humpty Dumpty" — where her medical skills were called into question — and even more devastatingly in "Finding Judas." Because of that, it's nice to see Cuddy win over House, even though the win is debatable.

And debate they do. When she congratulates him on trying to have a life and girlishly presents him with a ticket to Vancouver Island, since he had to cancel his vacation plans — or did he? — to help her with the case, she gets his "you got lucky" lecture that sounds like he's channeling Cuddy. I could side with either one of them, which means I would make a bad Cuddy's Cuddy. One the one hand, Cuddy was doing what the patient wanted, the patient should have autonomy over her body, and it's hard to argue with success. On the other hand, House is right that Cuddy wasn't doing the math.

House: In a case like this, you terminate, mom lives 10 times out of 10. You do what you did, mom and baby both die 9.9 times out of 10.

Cuddy: Sometimes .1 is bigger than 9.9.

House: No, it's smaller. Exactly 9.8 smaller. Always is, always will be.

Cuddy: Well not for Emma. And not for her son. Now go away and be happy.

That's too tall an order for House, though.

There were enough Canadian references in this one to make me suspect episode writers Garrett Lerner and Russel Friend were currying favour with the boss, or that David Shore couldn't resist throwing in lines about his hometown of London, Ontario, and the Tiger-Cats, which may or may not be a reference to nearby Hamilton's team, and Vancouver Island, which is nowhere near London, Ontario, but it is Canadian (and the home island of Bones creator and Shore's friend Hart Hanson. Coincidence? Probably.)

We end with House at home, ripping the ticket in half (Hey! But who doesn't like Canadians?) and demonstrating his own brand of fetal position: Vicodin popped, leg propped, TV tuned to images of the exotic destinations he can't quite bring himself to visit. But he's not unaffected by the events of the case, having referred to Emma's fetus as a baby, and now apparently marveling at the memory of the fetus's touch. It's a baby step, but a step toward… something.

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About Diane Kristine Wild

  • http://www.noface4film.com/ Kaonashi

    I thought that the little “fetus” hand grabbing House’s finger was downright adorable. House’s reaction made me think of that line in the Grinch Who Stole Christmas:

    In who-ville they say, that the grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!

    But then he made that “Alien” joke, which was pretty funny.

    Poor Chase. He is so going to get his heart stomped on.

  • http://www.taylorhicksblues.blogspot.com Jewels

    We were having small tornadoes ripping through North Texas and the show was cut out by an an almost hour long emergency weather report, so sadly missed the great baby moment. I knew I could count on you for a great recap. Thanks.

  • blogreader

    Here’s the

    real-life photo
    . The photo was taken in 1999.

  • Diane Kristine

    Thanks for that – though the article accompanying it is misleading. The surgeon has pointed out that of course the fetus was anesthetized, and the hand did not actually reach out and grab him.

  • http://indiequill.wordpress.com/ Amrita

    You know at the beginning of this season i was all ready to hear that this show is slowly but surely felling down, crushed by its expectations. I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong.

  • Maddoc

    Loved the way he kept BSing about all the locations.I never,not for once,believed he was serious when mentioning all the possible spots.The kinda guy he is,if he were serious about actually going to some vaca spot,he would never have mentioned it in front of everybody.
    And the fetus shot was too long.It seemed forced to me.Like they were trying to make a point or something.But on the whole,one of the funniest to date and definitely one of the best of the season!

  • http://www.michaelclancy.com Michael Clancy

    I am the photographer that took the original picture of Samuel reaching from the womb.

    Samuel did reach from the womb on his own! Dr. Joseph Bruner will never admit the unborn child he was performing experimental surgery on simply came out from under the anesthesia too soon. But that is exactly what happened. Samuel did not immediately grab the doctor’s finger but when Dr. Bruner touched his hand he responded and grabbed the doctor’s finger.

    Let me remind you of the way the USA Today reporter Robert Davis started his original story. “In a crowded operating room where outsiders have gathered to watch a rare medical event, surgery on a fetus still in his mother’s womb, a stool falls with a loud bang, “Hush,” said Joseph Bruner, the doctor leading the operation, “you’ll wake the baby.”

    Blessings, Michael Clancy

  • Ana

    If anyone gets hurt, it will be Chase. Remember, we’re dealing with Cameron 2.0 here, not the delicate Cameron from season one!