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TV Review: House, MD – “Adverse Events”

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(Apologies to my dear readers for the lateness of this review — the Jewish High Holy Days delay more than Congressional votes!)

“I wanna be what you see when you look at me.” A patient’s teary confession to his girlfriend. It sounds romantic, wanting to be an idealized version of yourself, to make a significant other happy; maybe to love us more. In House’s case, the opposite is often true. He wants others to see what he isn’t — what he keeps deeply buried. Not to be liked better, but to be disliked and distanced. Even to the point that when he may want to be seen in a different light, through a different lens, he fails.

For the patient in season three’s third installment “Adverse Events,” the desire to be seen in a perfect light has driven him to become a human guinea pig. Rather than admit his failure as a portrait artist, Brandon has hidden his unsold paintings, and maintained a nice lifestyle for himself and his girlfriend by selling himself into pharmaceutical research trials. Involved in at least three simultaneous trials, Brandon has begun to suffer visual/perceptual problems. His paintings take on an Edvard Munch-like distorted image of reality. After ruling out a brain tumor, House keeps coming back to the experimental drugs as the source of the problem.

Good detective work by Taub uncovers a pattern in the visually distorted paintings, leading House to conclude that the drugs are indeed causing the problem, but “they’re hiding under the stairs.” More specifically, they’re hiding in a medication “bezoar” — a mass made of hair, fiber, and undigested drugs, which at various times injected a toxic cocktail into Brandon’s system.

But the experimental drugs aren’t all that’s hiding in “Adverse Events.” House has put his new companion and private investigator Lucas on retainer, paying for both his snooping skills (to uncover those pesky hidden things among his staff) and his companionship. It’s an incredibly odd, but somehow strangely satisfying, symbiosis. Their verbal gymnastics are amusing, and House seems to be enjoying the company and the repartee without the judgment, nagging, and lecturing that often characterize his relationship with Wilson. (Not that Lucas can ever really replace Wilson!) But Lucas seems also to have an eye for Cuddy. Should House be worried? (He hates it when Cuddy is interested in anyone. At all.) Or is it all part of a convoluted and distorted game?

At House's request, Lucas has discovered an array of interesting tidbits about the team. House delights in outing them in front of the staff, just to see how the others react. Hadley (“13”) is not so good with money; Kutner holds a Guinness record for crawling, and Taub’s wife has a secret bank account. House loves to “know stuff;” the fact that he now has a PI at his disposal makes him a bit of a kid in a candy store, although it’s got to be costing him big bucks. (Part of me wonders if Lucas feels a bit sorry for House and hasn’t pressed him about payment quite yet — obviously House was trying to pass along the costs as medical expenses.) But does House have any motivation besides curiosity for his “research?”

“Miserable people save lives. If your life has meaning, then your work doesn’t have to have meaning.” This is an incredibly important reveal for House; it explains how he can manage to live with his incredible misery, deriving meaning only from his work. He can justify his own unhappiness by telling himself that his work would suffer if he were happier. He believes that happy people will consider work as an means to an end — a “job.” If work is all you have, it takes on more importance, as you devote your energies to its pursuit. It is how House lives his life, certainly, but can it apply to his team? And has he really managed to convince himself that it's even true?

But Lucas wonders if House's philosophy will backfire, particularly with Taub. We learned in last season's "Ugly" that Taub gave up a lucrative plastic surgery practice to protect his wife — gave it up rather than have her find out about an affair. “If his marriage falls apart,” Lucas asks insightfully, “do you think he’ll work harder for you, or not be working for you at all?”

This is a truth that House needs to accept, although it goes against his own world view. Will baiting Taub about his wife’s secret bank account backfire? To live ignorant in an innocent bubble is a sort of bliss, Taub rationalizes. Confession is an inherently selfish act, if all it accomplishes it to make the other person unhappy.

But the team is not Lucas’s only target. Lucas is also on Cuddy, stalking her in the clinic, rummaging through her desk, talking his way out of it, giving her roses — essentially being House, but nicer and more charming. Cuddy is amused (or bemused) and somewhat bewildered by the fast talking and charming Lucas. Is he operating on his own behalf, or on House’s?

Promising to reveal embarrassing information about House, he asks her to have a drink, hang out with him. Returning home, House finds Lucas going through his closet, looking for that certain embarrassing something to give Cuddy. The whole thing is a ruse; Lucas is simply House's envoy — a Trojan Horse sent to invade and return with informaton House can use. Lucas gives something to Cuddy, and in return, Lucas gets something to give back to House. “I’ve been negotiating with that woman for half my life; I want to finally have something to scare her into saying ‘yes.’” Ah, but “yes” to what?

“We both want the same thing,” Lucas tells House. “We’ll see who gets there first,” he challenges. House looks worried. What has he unleashed here? And on whose behalf is the fast talking and smart Lucas operating?

Lucas meets Cuddy in a bar, showing her an old photo of House as a college cheerleader — the something embarrassing about House. She gives Lucas nothing in return on herself, except a radiant, albeit bemused, smile. Lucas offers that the photo is a fake made by evil genius House and this is all a game — a manipulation of some sort.

Cuddy responds that she knows, and is playing along to screw with House. Rightly, Lucas wonders how playing the game is screwing with House, and Cuddy only replies with another– this time, enigmatic– smile. She’s clearly screwing with House by stringing along Lucas. Because we all know how House will respond when Cuddy shows an interest in Lucas and House finds out. Or is Cuddy genuinely interested in Lucas? Has his attention, flirting, and awkward courtship charmed her in a way that a less wary House might? Time will tell.

In the meantime, Lucas seems to have taken up residence in House’s flat, even usurping his piano (which has morphed from that beautiful old German baby grand into a bright shiny new Yamaha) as House continues to pay him for companionship. Lucas realizes that the embarrassing photo was genuine — and that by sharing it with Cuddy he is trying to get Cuddy to see him in a different light. But not only didn’t she believe it, but she didn’t even think it could be possible. Dismissed. “People hate people who have theories about other people,” retorts House defensively as he picks up his guitar, ready to jam with his new friend.

How do we want the people we care about to see us? And what do we fear when we think they can see us for who we actually are? A painter who believes his significant other loves him for his success as an artist is afraid of being discovered as selling himself as a human guinea pig? A doctor whose wife perhaps sees him better than he thinks she can; even House, who briefly wonders if Cuddy, after all these years can see him in a new light.

I found "Adverse Events" to be a fun and convoluted glance into people's perceptions of each other. It was a lighter episode, although I'm not complaining after last season's finale and the first two entries of this this season. It seemed somehow transitional, with neither House nor anyone else referring to Wilson, yet knowing that House's relationship with him is unresolved.

Speaking of which: Is everyone excited about the next episode (October 14)? House loses his father and resists attending the funeral as Wilson is sent in to make sure he gets there. We all know about House’s troubled relationship with his dad, and I wonder how it will play out, so… stay tuned!

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • Cedara

    At times, Lucas is a bit of a stand-in for Wilson, albeit a charming one.

    And yes, very very interested in the next ep, more than I had been in this ep. Damn Fox for making us wait a forthnight.

  • cristina

    amazing review as always!
    I really appreciate your theory about Cuddy’s behaviour..well we’ll see even if I opte for the former.
    House wanting Cuddy to see him in a different light would be something, in my opinion, out of his M.O but that’s why I think it could be true because it shows how much he cares and incounsciously He can’t stand anymore his misery, no without Wilson and losing Cuddy for another man. People is forced to change because life change, no matter how much we opposed to it, we’ll just end up more miserable in the process.

  • Mel

    Amazing review!!
    I’m italian and I did not always understand everything watching the episode in english, but I was not pleased with Cuddy’s behaviour.
    I feel like Cuddy was too much easy impressed by the PI and I don’t like it.
    But House is trying to make Cuddy see him in a different light, and that makes me hope that will actually see that in the next episodes.

  • Barbara Barnett

    Thanks for your comments. I don’t think Cuddy is fooled one bit by the charming PI (especially because she knows he’s being paid by House). She would therefore be especially suspicious of him :)

    It does seem like an eternity to wait for next episode, but it’s already Friday, so only a week and a half to go!

  • Kate

    Barbara, I just have to say that I have been reading your reviews for quite some time and am always impressed with your insight. Many of the questions you brought up about the House/Cuddy angle were ones I had been pondering as the episode played. I also noticed that, the PI gave her white roses. When Cuddy inquired how he knew she liked them, he said “all women like roses.” Red ones…yes…but white is a specific color. Knowing that House was helping PI Lucas, I wondered if House knew Cuddy liked white roses and had PI Lucas give them to her to butter her up for information. I just think House is using this PI to help him convey feelings to Cuddy that he is fearful of conveying himself.

  • Barbara Barnett

    Interesting idea about the roses, Kate. And about playing “Cyrano” with Cuddy. We shall all see How it plays out. Can’t wait!

  • Maineac

    Fess up, Barbara. How many times did you watch the final scene, the piano/guitar duet?

  • Barbara Barnett

    I confess to only twice. That piano was completely out of tune. Gaaah. Sounded worse than mine when my dehumidifier’s not working properly. I have to say I loved House’s old piano–this one sounds a bit strident. Loved House playing guitar, but I have to also confess (and it makes no sense since I’m a guitar player) I love it more when House plays the piano.

    OK–so I watched it four times :)

  • Orange450

    “House loses his father and resists attending the funeral as Wilson is sent in to make sure he gets there.”

    Hi Barbara, I haven’t seen the episode yet, but I’m printing out your article to read tonight, and this line of yours caught my eye.

    Do you remember “Cheers”? (Almost as big as House, in its day.) The episode when Diane – who had left and moved on with her life – was brought back by Coach to deal with Sam, who was drinking again? Very similar gambit – a supportive, caring, yet disapproving third party brings back the once significant other to help deal with a difficult situation, resulting in all sorts of interesting fallout.

    This is probably a coincidence that only occured to me, but I think the showrunners do reference other works occasionally.

    For example, I’m convinced that the Wilson/Amber deathbed scene was channeling a very similar scene in the 1970 Ryan O’Neal/Ali McGraw movie “Love Story”. Not only the action, but even some of the dialogue seemed excerpted. But I think I was the only one old enough to notice on the forum where I discussed the episode, and no one knew what I was talking about ;-)

    Looking forward to seeing the episode over the weekend, and coming back with something useful to say instead of my usual aimless rambling …

  • operahouse

    “Miserable people save lives. If your life has meaning, then your work doesn’t have to have meaning.” This is an incredibly important reveal for House; it explains how he can manage to live with his incredible misery, deriving meaning only from his work.
    And this is a nice continuity from House talking about this same subject to Foreman in Euphoria. This was my least favorite episode of the season, but I am very much looking forward to the next one! I think that the whole “how you see someone” theme also applied to the House/Wilson situation very deeply.

  • Barbara Barnett

    Yes, operahouse. It’s great continuity. and a huge revelation for the character–and a sad one at that.

    I feel that “Adverse Events” was transitional. It was one of the most difficult reviews I’ve had to write. I had about 10 false starts. In many ways, it was a very straightforward procedural episode, reminiscent of season one or early season two. But like many of those episodes, it also had some complexity interwoven that was only apparent after additional viewings.

  • Grace

    No one has mentioned this point yet. HOUSE was a CHEERLEADER!!! WHO can even believe that????
    He tells P.I. guy that he joined because of a girl. Doesn’t that tell us that House was pretty normal during that time? So we get a small peek into his life when he was much younger.

    BIRTHMARKS is already driving me crazy and it hasn’t even aired yet!!

    ****SPOILER AHEAD*********

    I can’t even imagine what House will say at his father’s funeral. I guess he will lie and make up good stuff about him since his mom is right there and the man is dead. He probably won’t mean much of what he says….or will he???
    Being with Wilson in the car from N.J. to Va., a several hour trip right? What will they talk about? Will House get on Wilson’s nerves on purpose to try not to get to Va.? Will they talk about their friendship? It’s killing me waiting to find out!!! The previews show House being an ass towards Wilson, so they may not ‘make up’ too soon……SIGH!!
    THANKS for the recap, Barbara. I always love to read them!

  • Barbara Barnett

    The fact that House was a cheerleader (for whatever embarrassing reason)does validate what I have always thought: that at one point House was normal–he fit himself (or tried to fit himself) into society. Whether society rejected him or he rejected society and when is another question of course.

    As to what he’ll say at the funeral, I have no idea. But House has a lot of baggage and much of it is owed to his dad. But we shall see.

  • Anna

    Dear Barbara, I am Italian and I have been reading your comments on House for some time. I must say that yours are the most insightful comments I have ever read about this series, and with this latest episode this is most true, just because this is a sort of transitional chapter, but at the same time we get to know so much about two characters we love, Cuddy and House: no one has mentioned that Cuddy has revealed the existence of a sister for the very first time (possible future developments, who knows?), and the revelation of House as a cheerleader is completely unexpected. I still wonder if he has told the truth.You have a deep understanding of the characters’ dynamics and I am confident that you will lead us to the comprehension of this complex, intriguing and still fascinating series after almost 100 episodes for a very long time. Congratulations on your work.

  • Barbara Barnett

    Dear Anna,
    Thank you for your kind remarks. Good catch about Cuddy having a sister. And regarding the cheerleader picture, I agree, it may turn out to be quite false advertising ;)

    I find the characters (especially House) compelling and complex, and hope to write about them for some time to come. It’s great that the series is hitting its 100th episode (probably sometime this winter, I’d guess).

  • JL

    Would you expect House to say anything other than the truth about his dad? I think his mum is either incredibly brave or naive wanting him to do the eulogy, and I think that might be one reason House doesn’t want to go – because he’ll hurt his mum.

    I’m reminded of House’s speech for Vogler in Season 1. He couldn’t bring himself to lie, but he did make a token effort not to disgrace himself by saying the minimum required (before giving up and going the whole hog when Vogler refused to let that be enough).

    For that matter, House’s mum may believe that there’s some good stuff about his dad lingering underneath all the hurt, and that giving a eulogy will force it out of hiding (because he’ll have to find something true to say).

    In the two previous episodes dealing with House’s father (that I remember – any others?), he’s revealed a lot of hurt. I feel like House must still love his dad in there as well (as Chase said – you can’t help it, it’s part of being their child) and I’m fascinated to see whether this episode may be one where House deals with that a bit.

    (However, we haven’t even seen ‘Adverse Events’ in Australia yet, so maybe I should focus on watching Cuddy flirt with PI first… incidentally, wouldn’t it be easy enough for him to find out if she visits a florist and what flowers she orders?)

  • Barbara Barnett

    Hi JL–

    I have no idea as to what House might say at the funeral. He clearly does not want to go. I agree there’s a lot of hurt there. A lot.

    In “Role Model,” House did make the feeble attempt to say as few words possible so as not to be untrue to himself. But forced to talk more at length, House could only be true to himself and say what he felt. To “do the right thing.”

    So will he do the “right thing” at the funeral? I think yes. And the right thing would be to repress the hurt, brush it off–and say what his mother needs to hear.

  • Anna

    I think he will say something that only Wilson can understand, something subtle… to let him know he is his real guide, a sort of model to look at, rather than the severe father he had.

  • Helena

    Wow Anna, I was thinking exactly the same thing the other day, I think that instead of talking about his father, House is going to talk about Wilson, but nobody is going to realize that. I think this is the only way in what House can say something positive in that eulogy. saludos. ;)

  • Orange450

    The episode had several components that I liked, and others that bothered me. On the plus side, I very much liked the carryover of the visual/perception ideas from the previous episode. The PoTW’s girlfriend’s answer to him: “When I look at you, I see … you” was the perfect continuation of the exchange between the PoTW and House last week: PoTW: “Things will be beautiful?” House: “Things will be what they are … how do I look?” PoTW: “You look sad.” So there’s a limit to what House can hide from a perceptive viewer.

    I also like Lucas very much (especially the fact that Michael Weston is Artur Rubinstein’s grandson and plays the piano too!) I love seeing House interacting with a non-co-dependent intellectual equal (that he seems to have a healthy respect for), and I don’t mean to sound blasphemous, but I think Lucas might be an improvement on Wilson. But isn’t it odd that House’s piano sounded so sour? You’d think that a musician like him would insist on keeping it well tuned.

    I disliked House’s public disclosures of his team’s personal information. In the light of your article on House’s ethical framework, this one is a big breach, IMO. I can understand his digging for data that might be important, but this was just plain mischief-making, for the sake of seeing his staff squirm. I couldn’t come up with any positive spin on it.

    While I understand that House uses his work to derive meaning, I’d like to think that he’s too smart to believe that the construct that he set up is mutually exclusive, and works that way for everyone. He must know that there are happy people out there who nevertheless require – and derive – great meaning from their work, and likewise there are miserable people who don’t come close to saving lives. I hope he doesn’t really think it’s true, and is just using it as a rationalization for his behavior.

    I’ve got a question about Cuddy and the cheerleader picture. Lucas gives House a speech about how sad it is that Cuddy can’t imagine that the picture could actually be real – that House could ever have been the kind of guy who would do such a thing. Yet we know that Cuddy knew House when she was an undergrad, which means he wouldn’t have been *all* that much older than the time the picture was taken.

    And House says that he’s been “negotiating with that woman” for half his life. He’s pushing 50, so he’s known her since his early-to-mid twenties, which makes sense given the timeframe that Cuddy established in Humpty Dumpty. So wouldn’t she know what House had been like in those days? Why would it be hard for her to believe that the picture could be genuine?

  • Jeanne

    Barbara, love your reviews. I like your insight about House, the man. The relationships of House, Wilson & Cuddy are my favorite parts of the show. But, I absolutely love this PI and House together, better than his friendship with Wilson. I watched the final musical scene ten times.

  • Bertha S.

    Hated the episode and will never watch it again. I totally missed Wilson, my fav House character. I am so looking forward to Birthmarks becuase THERE WILL BE WILSON!!!!!!!