Late Christmas presents are always welcomed and appreciated. Not only do they brighten up a bleak winter, they usually contain an element of surprise. FOX gave us our present in the shape of this late holiday episode of House. This fast-paced episode, written by Pamela Davis, was chock full of the usual themes, Houseisms, and engaging dialogue that the show is famous for, along with lies, secrets, and surprises. It did not disappoint, and it seemed like the perfect remedy for a drab television season.
The patient of the week is Maggie, a mother who became paralyzed when spotting her eleven-year-old daughter, Jane, at an indoor climbing wall. Maggie’s mother died of breast cancer when she was young, and she later found out that she had inherited the cancer gene. As a result, Maggie had a preventive double mastectomy without reconstructive surgery, and she vowed never to lie to her daughter. The team rushes to discover what caused Maggie’s paralysis, which is followed by blindness, bleeding eyes, and calcification of her bones. The patient is dying, and they don’t know why.
Of course, House does not believe that Maggie never lies to her daughter. It goes against his main diagnostic mantra that everybody lies. He spends the majority of his time trying to discover Maggie’s lie.
First, House interviews Jane, in what seems like an impromptu lesson in deception. He explains to her the different kinds of lies: white lies are lies we tell to make other people happy and rationalizations are lies we tell to make ourselves feel better. Jane denies that her mother has lied to her in either way, and instead of explaining lies of omission, House asks Jane what her mother’s favorite sexual position is. Jane doesn’t see how it matters, but then factually tells House that her mother used to like being on top, but doesn’t now because of her scars. Maggie really doesn’t keep anything from her daughter.
Later, House tries to get Jane to lie to Maggie, telling her it would help with the diagnosis. Jane refuses. When his attempts to corrupt Jane fail, House follows up on his quest for discovering the lie by urging the team to do the usual home break-in, complete with stealing computers and reading emails. House never fails to show that he is a doctor without boundaries.
I think that one of the reasons why House insists that everybody lies is because he is so good at lying himself. In a parallel story, House has to deal with his new team. He is upset that they are all working together in cooperation with absolutely no fear of being fired hanging over their heads. In House’s skewed view of the universe, his team would work more effectively if there was dissension in their ranks. When Cuddy refuses to allow House to hire 40 new candidates, he takes matters into his own hands.
After dismissing Kutner’s attempt to decorate the office for Christmas as being a superficial representation of a hypocritical season, House decides to go along with the new doctor’s idea of having a Secret Santa. House puts the names into a Christmas stocking and insists that the whole team participate. What he does not tell them, but they all eventually learn, is that every slip of paper in the stocking had House’s name on it. As House explains to Wilson, Secret Santa has its own inherent conflict: Santa is all about sharing, and secrets are about withholding. He understands that they will all eventually learn that his is the only name, but that alone will cause more conflict between them.
One very interesting aspect of this episode is that it is the first episode where Kutner, Taub, and Thirteen are working together as a team. As they treat the patient and try to deal with House’s duplicity in the Secret Santa scandal, the parallels and subtle differences between the new team and the old team, with Foreman as the bridge between both, are apparent. Kutner is the kid of the group, easily dismissed just as Chase was in beginning seasons – a competent doctor who contributes very little to the diagnosis and a total suck-up to his boss. Taub is more like Foreman, taking House’s hits and jabs at being Jewish with resigned acceptance. He is the no-nonsense man, who just wants to treat the patient and do his job.
The parallels between Thirteen and Cameron are the most apparent in the episode. Not only is Thirteen the only female on the team, she is the most likely to argue with and disagree with House regarding his style of treating patients and dealing with staff. Like Cameron, she refuses to lie to the patient on House’s orders, and like Cameron would do, she refuses, at first, to play along with House’s Secret Santa game. She eventually and begrudgingly acquiesces, but she wants to get back at him by refusing to be angry with the other team members for playing along. Thirteen is adept at mind games. The difference between Thirteen and Cameron is that Thirteen’s strength comes from not caring what House thinks about her, whereas Cameron wanted House to like her.
In a third storyline, that provides a bit of comedy and a subtle hint of House’s personality, we get to see House treat a clinic patient named Melanie. In a brilliant stroke of casting genius, Melanie is played by Jennifer Hall, who some may remember from Nip/Tuck. On that other medical show, Jennifer’s pretty, youthful, and innocent face believably hid the crazy, sex-starved nymphet nanny beneath.
On House, Jennifer plays a young woman who comes to the clinic for a strep throat. While diagnosing her, House deduces that she is a prostitute. She does not deny it, but only smiles seductively at House. She ends up coming back to the clinic later, having developed a rash. House notices that her lips look darker and asks if she has had contact with a donkey. She flashes a devilish smile at him and tells him that she can never remember if it is a donkey or a mule. House tells her she has contagious ecthyma , which came from contact with the donkey. (Call me crazy, but after seeing her performance on Nip/Tuck, I can totally believe that this girl could play someone who has sex with a mule. It’s not the first time this theme has shown up on House either – ewww!) While he writes her prescription, she invites him to her show.
When Maggie’s bones start to harden, Kutner suggests that the cause may be a CA-2 deficiency. House orders the tests for it and Taub informs Maggie that if it is this genetic deficiency, she will need a bone marrow transplant. Maggie refuses to let them test Jane to see if she could be a donor, insisting that they try to find someone else who would be a match.
Maggie’s refusal is the key House needs to discover the lie in her life. The reason why Maggie doesn’t want Jane tested is because she is not her biological mother. Jane’s mother was a drug addict, who didn’t want Jane to know who she was or that she had been given up for adoption. In the meantime, as the team finishes analyzing the blood tests that reveal that it is not a CA-2 deficiency causing Maggie’s illness, Jane comes in the lab to tell them that she wants to be tested. It is too late, and the doctors are forced to tell Jane that her mother is dying.
Jane joins House and Maggie and tells her mother that she knows what is going on. Maggie tries to lie to Jane, telling her everything is going to be okay, but Jane refuses to listen, bluntly telling Maggie that she is going to die. House is impressed and touched by Jane’s brutal honesty.
House leaves the hospital while the Christmas party in the lobby is in full swing. He is joined at the door by Wilson, who is wearing a silly reindeer hat in celebration of the season. House tells him about his dying patient, and then yells at Wilson to take off the ridiculous hat, saying it is like decorating a Christmas tree with dreidls. Everything has its place, he says. And that is the clue that he needs to solve Maggie’s case.
House goes back into the lab, singing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." (Another present to Hugh Laurie fans everywhere!) He tells the team to administer risperidone to Maggie. This provides proof that House’s theory of her illness was correct. What was not in "its place" was breast tissue. Although Maggie had the mastectomy, she still had cancerous breast tissue in her body. The risperidone made it swell, and they found the tissue in her leg. Once the tumor is removed, and Maggie starts chemotherapy, her other symptoms should go away.
The end of the episode has House leaving the hospital again, through the Christmas party. He slows down to observe Thirteen, Kutner, and Taub conversing with Cameron, Chase, and Foreman. His plan of creating dissension did not work. Pointedly avoiding the crew, House leaves, with a look that said he was trying to think of what to do now. He smiles and makes a decision, and here’s where we get yet another surprise.
We see House entering a church. My first reaction was to say, “What the hell is he doing there?” followed by a brief glimmer of hope for the preservation of his soul. As he made his way up the center aisle to find a seat in the crowded mass, I thought that maybe he was inspired to explore something spiritual. Of course, such a development would make no sense, and we are soon treated to the real reason he is there.
He was there for the Nativity procession. There, riding a donkey and dressed ironically as the Virgin Mary, sat Melanie. She smiled her seductive smile, and House sat in the pew smiling back. Leave it to good old Dr. House to go to church on Christmas Eve to find sex.
I applaud Pamela Davis for this amusing little twist in Melanie’s story, while I secretly chastise myself for having my mind in the gutter regarding the donkey show. I also want to applaud the writers of the show for walking the fine line between letting their main character grow without changing the entire premise for the series. The old Dr. House would have let Jane know that she was adopted. He has learned that some secrets are not his to divulge. And while the old Dr. House would also have walked past his colleagues who were joined in fellowship and celebration of a holiday, he would have spent a lonely Christmas Eve holed up in his apartment, with nothing but Vicodin and a bottle of scotch to keep him company.
Granted, spending time with a prostitute is not much of a step up, but this is not the same House who yelled at Wilson bemoaning how unattractive his leg and cane are to women. House is no longer hiding but making connections with people. Those connections may be calculated, manipulative, and/or what the mainstream considers immoral, but he is relating to others; which leaves room for those relationships to improve. Christmas is a season of hope, and with this episode I have newfound hope for Dr. House.