It’s a typical day in the life of Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital’s dean of medicine and chief administrator on House, M.D. Up at 5:00 a.m., she starts her morning yoga routine, only to be interrupted by the screams of her baby Rachel, who is apparently sick. It is a mere harbinger of her day to come.
Running later and later, Lucas comes into the house after a nighttime stakeout with House (they must’ve made up since “Moving the Chains”). Lucas convinces Cuddy to be late in order to indulge in a “quickie.” And, yes, I do mean that in the literal sense of the word. Cuddy goes off to work sexually frustrated, but Lucas’ may have another agenda—a bet with House with fifty dollars at stake.
But Monday’s episode of House was a peek behind the scenes at Princeton-Plainsboro, a place where Cuddy lives between the usual lines of script and in between the goings on in the hospital’s diagnostics department. This day, like all days, Cuddy must deal with House and his innovative yet high risk medical practice—like trying to diagnose a patient by giving him malaria. Defending herself against charges of favoritism of House, Cuddy must also fend off the chief of surgery, upset because Chase has left his service to go back to work in diagnostics. (And, he argues, after he only gave the job to Chase as a favor to Cuddy). But these are the least of her problems.
By the opening of “5 to 9,” Princeton-Plainsboro is in the end-stage of negotiations with a major insurance company over reimbursements. Being dealt what she believes is an unfair “final offer” from the insurance carrier, Cuddy has decided to play hardball with the corporate negotiator. Not believing that Cuddy is tough enough, the (rather sexist) negotiator refuses to deal, but he is wrong as Cuddy threatens to terminate their contract entirely—a game of brinkmanship of which she’s not entirely confident.
In the meantime, the pharmacy is reporting a case of drugs ordered, but gone missing. Her immediate reaction is to think “Vicodin” and “House,” concerned that House has backslid. But her fears are misplaced as she learns a seemingly valued pharmacy tech has been skimming drugs. Like the insurance negotiator, the pharmacy tech doesn’t know Cuddy quite as well as she thinks she does. At first playing on Cuddy’s sympathy, the slightly overweight tech pleads that she was only trying to lose weight by stealing phentramine. And Cuddy, promising not to rat her out to the DEA (yet firing her), seems to feel the young woman’s pain. But Cuddy isn’t quite the pushover she seems to be, and both the negotiator and the tech vastly underestimate her resolve.
It’s neat trick, seeing the hospital, House—and even the clinic—from Cuddy’s point of view. Just as we saw things from Wilson’s perspective earlier this season in “Wilson,” this week, we see them from Cuddy’s. We get House in short bursts, annoying and seemingly capricious; wise and serious. It’s nice to see House slide into this role as an honest advisor to Cuddy, especially as her confidence erodes during her game of brinkmanship with the insurance company. He seems to know everything that’s going on, from the details of the negotiation to the issue with the pharmacy tech. It’s almost as if he’s in the background guarding Cuddy’s back, knowing when she most needs his brand of honest consultation. And when she’s at the end of her emotional rope, feeling as if she’s lost the power game with the corporate big guns at the insurance company she flees to the solace of her car, certain the game is over. House finds her there, counsels her, and from that she seems to derive resolve and gain confidence.
But Lucas, too, has his place in this picture (for now, at least), and figures into nailing the lying pharmacy tech, who’s not as sympathetic as she appears to be. it’s interesting to see the difference in Cuddy’s relationship with both men: one with whom she has an uncomplicated and easy relationship and the other with whom her relationship is laden with history and an intimacy that transcends the physical—but is intensely complicated.
Lisa Edelstein does a great job showing Cuddy’s frustration, fluctuating confidence and ultimate resolve. She knows how to play the game and isn’t afraid of the big boys. I like this Cuddy, and I like the way Cuddy and House relate to each other, perhaps getting back to some sort of normal—for them. It is truly a pleasure to see the wry grin of obvious pride House holds for Cuddy as she addresses the entire medical staff at the end of the episode—victorious in every way.
On a Personal Note: Apologies for the brief and hasty write-up. My mother passed away Friday morning, and (having seen the episode in advance) I wrote this review during the endless hours of waiting as doctors from toxicologists to infectious disease specialists and intensive care experts tended to her until the end, when it was clear that anything more would be futile and unnecessarily invasive at her advanced age. From her I got my insatiable curiosity about everything scientific and my passion for writing. I dedicate this column to my Ellen’s memory.