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TV Review: House – “Informed Consent”

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Episodes that leave me feeling lukewarm, like "Informed Consent," are the hardest to write about. It was fine. There was a lot thrown out there to think about, though the episode did most of the thinking for us. There were some funny moments – including a volleyball joke, cementing my already-cemented love for Dr. House – though not enough for my insatiable sarcasm thirst. There were some nice moments, along with a way-too-nice moment. But three episodes into season three, and I'm not quite feeling my usual love for the show yet. Hang in there, though, doctor – we'll get through this together.

And three episodes in, we're already back to the same old House with no real character take-aways from the sudden cure and uncure of his leg, which he doesn't want to talk about, or the epiphany that reason isn't the only master. He's still all about the puzzle, and can't rest until it's solved, damn the patient's wishes, and yeah, we get it already.

One thing the show does extremely well, and demonstrates again here, is making a persuasive case for the adorability of rodents. Except when they're being vivisected. Or chewing on the man doing the vivisecting. But then you can't really blame them for that, can you?

Our patient of the week is Dr. Ezra Powell (Joel Grey), a researcher House admires – so we're told, anyway – who collapses during his rat experimentation. Before the gang can find out what's wrong with him, he begs them to end his suffering. It lost some impact by coming so early in the episode – and by being the one-line description of the episode. At only 15 minutes in, with the character barely defined, it just didn't seem that dramatic, insufferably swelling music aside.

What follows is an example of one of my least favourite types of scenes, which the show uses too often for my taste. The team gathers in the conference room, and each picks a side to an ethical issue and gives their 30-second PSA, just so we understand the issue involved. In this case, Chase believes in helping patients end their lives with dignity, Foreman is adamant that he could never condone euthanasia, and Cameron objects but can see both sides to the issue. The fact that whatever he has might be curable, if they can only figure it out, makes the euthanasia arguments more tenuous and therefore less interesting.

David Foster, the doctor writer, wrote season one's "DNR" as well as this one, which pales in comparison to that earlier exploration of patient rights. Both have House promising to help a patient end his life if he can't solve the puzzle, but here, he has to actually act on his promise. Of course, being House, that action isn't what the patient expected. When the self-imposed deadline arrives, House injects him with enough drugs to put him in a coma and intubate him so that he can continue experimenting on him against his wishes.

A morally outraged Cameron refuses to work on the case further, though she does hang around enough to glare a lot. "You do know you can't really pierce me with your stares?" House says at one point, and the drama king calls her a drama queen. As Foreman points out, though, she's running away from the situation rather than standing up for her point of view – because she doesn't quite seem to know what it is, except disapproval.

Cuddy finally appears in this under-Cuddied, under-Wilsoned episode to be minimally supportive about House's stunt (or is that assault?). Maybe she really is pregnant, to be so mellow about something that would have her blowing a gasket in another episode, or maybe House is right – she can't lie to him to teach him humility and then object to him lying to a patient to keep him alive. (Lie, experimentation without consent, same thing, right?)

Cuddy: We're doctors. We treat patients, we don't kill them.

House (speaking into Cuddy's breasts – that is, make-believe wire): Right you are Dr. Cuddy, and we also don't pad our bills, steal samples from the pharmacy, and fantasize about the teenage daughters of our patients.

Cuddy: True, better be true, and you're a pig.

House points Cameron to journal articles that prove Dr. Powell experimented on babies without their parents' consent, probably causing cancers … but in the process discovering techniques that saved other lives. Hey, that rationale sounds familiar. Cameron even throws out a couple of examples – Tuskegee and Willowbrook, but wisely stays away from the Nazis, who just ruin every argument they get injected into. She rebukes House for thinking that she'd think more of House's methods if she thought less of the patient, but then, acting in anger, she ends up taking a skin sample against Dr. Powell's wishes, with no anesthetic. Remember, she's the nice one.

House's lesson seems to be more than that, though. If Cameron believes patients have a right to have control over what happens to their bodies – that informed consent is a golden rule – then that should also apply to Dr. Powell. "You either help him live, or you help him die," House says. "You can't have it both ways."

The key to the case comes from the panties of the daughter of House's clinic patient. I love that Hugh Laurie has chemistry with every woman on screen, some of the men, and the occasional inanimate object. But do I really want to see him flirting with a 17 year old? No, no I don't, thanks anyway. It was almost worth it for the scene where Cameron finds House befuddled by the attention of someone even younger and arguably hotter than she is, but … not quite. Besides rats, the show also has a thing for red thongs. This time they're not Cuddy's, but the teen's, and they make House think of Congo red, a dye test that proves Dr. Powell has terminal amyloidosis.

So once he's diagnosed as terminal, the idea of euthanasia seems less unlikely, and sure enough, Cuddy demands to know if House knows why his patient died suddenly overnight.

The reveal of who administered the lethal dose was telegraphed in advance, with shots of a pondering Cameron loitering in the change room, so the final scenes lost some impact. House finds Cameron-the-apparently-non-atheist in the chapel and places his hand on her shoulder – at which point I was getting a little choked up at his uncharacteristic but well-placed empathy. But then he ruined the moment by saying "I'm proud of you," with no sarcastic chaser. Stay tuned next week, when House buys a puppy. And, apparently, deals with a 17-year-old with a bad case of puppy love, if the calendar marking down the days until a certain girl turns 18 is any indication.

The case helped Cameron discover which side of the euthanasia issue she comes down on in reality, not just theory, but the episode's path to that discovery wasn't particularly compelling. It's an interesting concept, that we may not be aware of our own beliefs until they're actually challenged, but most of the interest of this episode was unfortunately in concept, not execution.

About Diane Kristine Wild

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Good summation of this week’s show- good, not great. It was still worth watching.

  • http://www.notdeadyet.org Stephen Drake

    To me this show was a real missed opportunity to delve into real complexities around these issues – I can only guess that Foster has some strong personal beliefs in favor of euthanasia.

    For example, no one ever mentioned “double effect” – the idea that giving a person a medication that relieves suffering might also shorten their life, without the shortening of life being the intention.

    Also unmentioned was the practice of “terminal sedation,” probably much more commonplace in a situation like the one in last night’s show than outright euthanasia. A dying patient is kept sedated to the point of unconsciousness and kept that way – the patient is free of discomfort and passes away after some time.

    These are pretty standard complications in the euthanasia debate and it’s disappointing that the House episode left them out entirely.

  • Huppy

    Thanks for the review, good points as always. this episode left me cold, despite Joel Grey, because it was so unbelievable that Cameron would finally take this position. I’d have respected her more if she’d stuck with her guns to not do this, but instead she let House manipulate her into it. I’ve been so disappointed with the season so far – the writers seem to have lost it.

  • Haider

    Hi Diane and all!I saw the first 2 episodes and not the 3rd yet!But i got one feeling from those two!It is the story!Writing is still Pithy,and Hugh Laurie is still good at bein a jerk…….
    I think writers have lost their direction so to speak!Second season was marvellous,as most said,after season1 nobody could imagine anything could beat this track record,but they did!
    Now,I dunno!I still like it!But the spunk,that just ain’t there!
    I think they need a David Shore Story!Or a strong transfusion,which would probably come in episode5 :P
    They should have explored his reversal of fortune more closely!makes me wonder……..

  • http://dotcrawl.wordpress.com Matt

    This was the best episode of the season so far. And no, it wasn’t great. But the strength of the show is seeing House do his job at the hospital. We get to know his character way more when he’s healling, not jogging.

  • Bliffle

    I thought it was a satisfactory episode. There have been better ones, but this is OK.

  • Linda

    House is apparently ‘unchanged’ by recent events, yet you say his placing his hand on Cameron’s shoulder is ‘uncharacteristic’. See a connection, anyone?
    This season has been wonderful so far, and I remain a fan. The quality of the writing, acting and directing has been excellent. DK, I think that, mentally, you have moved onto other shows, and this colors your perception of “House”. No offense intended by that statement, btw.

  • Diane Kristine

    No offence taken, Linda, but it’s a funny thing to say. What shows do you think I’ve mentally moved on to? At the moment, House is the only show I watch regularly (I’m sure that will change if any of the new premieres capture my attention).

    Perhaps – here’s a crazy thought – my taste is simply different from yours? I am obviously still a fan of the show or I would’t write thousand-word analyses of it. But this season has not grabbed me the way the show usually does, and I think the cure-uncure was a misguided plotline.

    You think the result of his epiphany that reason doesn’t trump all is that he becomes softer personally, but treats patients the same? Because he sure didn’t learn anything from Moriarty that he transfered to Dr. Powell. I believe that’s not just misguided, it’s on the way to ruining the character.

    I loved the fact that he was sympathetic to Cameron at the end, but I thought the spoken line was clunky and schmaltzy, from a show that is rarely either. They had already conveyed the same thing without dialogue.

  • Morgenstern

    Linda, with all due respect: you sound like someone who was paid by Fox to say good things about the show. I think that if someone were to move on to other shows (and I am not saying Diane is) it’s nobody’s fault but the writers’. True, even the most avid fans tend to get tired of their favorite show after some time. But not after 2 seasons. Not if the major ingrediences of the show that turned you on in the first place are still there. I think most people agree that “excellency” is something else than what we saw in episodes 1 to 3 of season 3. It’s still a great show, though, and I still wait anxiously for every new episode. But I don’t know for how much longer if they don’t change something . . .

  • Linda

    Morgenstern, you make me laugh.

    “Most people” as in “most people who read DK and agree with her and post their agreement here on her blog”? Because if you ventured out and read other reviews you might see other opinions of the quality of season three that aren’t in agreement with those expressed here.

    I still feel you have fallen out of love with this show. We all know how, when you first meet that special someone, they can do no wrong? Well, now they can do no right after the ‘breakup’. That is certainly your perogative. I will be interested to see if any of your reviews this season will be positive, however.

    I find it interesting that you apparently don’t understand the concept of how perceptions are colored by yourself, that it is impossible for an individual to be completely objective about anything observed. Of course that applies to myself as well, but at least I am aware of that, and you should be too.
    Funny, what gives anyone the gumption to think they should advertise their opinion to the rest of the world, ie, be a ‘critic’, when it’s all subjective? A tough job, but someone has to do it, I suppose.

    Enough. I won’t be back to read your response, although your blog reviews will continue to interest me. Snark away! :)

  • Diane Kristine

    Well, I can’t tall you how crushed I am that Linda won’t read this, but I have to assume most people (as in “most people”) understand that my opinion is mine alone, that when I say “I think” and “I feel” that means I’m expressing that opinion subjectively, and that when I say “perhaps my taste is different from yours” it means I recognize that other people have different opinions.

    I don’t care in the slightest if people disagree with me, but it’s far more fun when they do it intelligently and give a substantiated opinion other than “it’s wonderful, you’re wrong.”

  • Haider

    Hi!I still think that House the guy is working just fine,they just need to explore him better!He had to have changed after getting the un-tortured life and then getting back to the tortured existance in a space of 2 weeks,which co-incidentally were his first 2 weeks back at work!Is there a correlation!why was it not probed!And what about the introspection he went through during his hallucinations!What about them?
    You don’t just get better and then un-better and still be able to move on!So I still think story writers/plot developers have rushed us through it all!And now,even they don’t know what would be plausible and what would look superfluous to ridiculous so far as this character is concerned!
    Hugh Laurie is still delivering,and thats whats keeping us around,hoping for some improvement!And I am keeping my fingers crossed for that cop line to develop!
    Gawd,where is David Shore?

  • Diane Kristine

    David Shore is the head writer, so he’d be involved in everything. And he cowrote the first two episodes of this season (the second of which I quite liked, despite having reservations about some of the cure-uncure/teach House humility story). I suppose he might not be completely infallible, but as I keep saying, I have faith in these writers. There’ve been a few times where I haven’t been on board with an ongoing story, and the show always bounces back. And Shore says he’s not going to make House softer, so I have to have faith in that, too. I’m disappointed that it hasn’t been a strong start to the season, but we’ve got 21 more episodes to go.

  • Satsuma

    Its unfortunate, but David Shore seems obsessed with turning this into the “House & Cameron” show, turning everyone else into shadows of themselves and even House with that so uncharacteristic “I’m proud of you” comment, which completely ruined the episode. Foreman has to steal her article & stick her with a needle, so she can be noble, Chase has to be a fink & an idiot so she can quit & be coaxed back, she’s the one to beat up Wilson & Cuddy for what they are doing to House this season – its turning the show into a complete joke, particularly House himself, and what a waste of the rest of the cast.

  • Haider

    Thanx DK!And yeah,nobody is infallible!And they do have something great going on,so our expectations have risen!
    I just finished watching the latest episode!And I think it cud have been better if they had not let House say his last line!
    Rest yeah,episode cant be considered great,it was just good,which by the shows standard is not good enough!
    I remember Shore’s 3 stories!And then there was another one too in second season!But maybe I am wrong!So was kinda hoping for that wonder story…..
    Anyway,hope it bounces back!And soon!

  • Diane Kristine

    I think they have to pace themselves. Can’t have a brilliant Three Stories or No Reason too early in a season, or everything that follows, no matter how great, will seem average by comparison. But I’m still waiting for this season’s Autopsy, a really great episode to kickstart things …

  • Jan De Vries

    Everybody seems to agree that episode 3 was a good one, not a great one. So do I. But besides just confirming on what everybody else already mentioned, I would like to point out a few things.
    First of all, Joel Grey’s performance. For me the best so far in the series. Then, this shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s ever seen any of Joel Grey’s performances.
    More of a concern to me is how House ‘solves’ this case. No clue, Ezra is right, lost cause, and BAM, just by looking at a red thong, he finds the answer. Now don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with that thong, but come on, the show is smarter than that, no? So please give the viewers some credit as well.
    Then there’s the puppy love issue. Unfortunately the trailer already gave away that she will be back for at least one more episode. Personaly, I kinda like it. Younger girls have always ‘intrigued’ House, so it’s no surprise that when she throws herself at him, he’s tempted, to say the least. Being aware of the difficult situation he gets himself into and loving every second of it, as it provides more drama and concern for the other characters makes it even more fascinating for him…. You go, House.
    Cuddy and Wilson weren’t as visible as in other episodes, and again, thank you for that. I still don’t see Wilson as House’s Watson. Furthermore, to me R.S. Leonard is one of the weaker actors in the series. Cuddy’s part is more believable, if brought to us in the right doses.
    Finally, the music. Some might call it pathetic, but to me, the final scene of this episode was breathtakingly beautiful. I was absolutely, truly moved by the whole atmosphere. Ezra on his deathbed, and the cold ‘send shivers down my spine’-music that accompanied it…. Give the guy responsible for the music an Emmy, Nobel Prize and Oscar. Amazing.
    So in all, no reason to give up hope yet. The best definitely is yet to come.