My favorite chemistry professor once said: “Why makes something simple when you can make it complex and beautiful?” Although his sage advice referred to organic synthesis, it can also be applied to writing, even for television. And like the best House, MD episodes, “Whatever it Takes” is simple on the outside (and a tasty treat for the casual viewer), but complex and beautiful for anyone who wants to take a peek beneath the surface.
The hour unfolds in side-by-side medical cases as Dr. Gregory House (the ever-amazing Hugh Laurie) is called away to tend to a secret agent with an unknown and likely fatal illness. In the meantime, newly chastened and returned to House’s staff, Dr. Eric Foreman leads the fellow-wannabe in their efforts to diagnose a race-car driver. Simple, straightforward procedural. But (and this is what makes me an adoring fan of the show) things are never as simple as they seem, and the beautifully constructed character plot contrasts the eccentric House with not one, but two doctors. Guess who wins?
The episode’s two medical cases are solved side by side. House is off-campus at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, as Foreman leads the team back at the ranch (PPTH). The parallel cases set up an interesting contrast between House and Foreman, who believes that he is not only as good a doctor as is House, but better–and without the excess baggage. But Foreman lacks House’s experience, credentials and humility.
When a CIA guy drops in on House, badge and all, House is (to say the least) skeptical (actually House doesn’t even believe that the guy is an actual CIA agent, but a practical joke sent by Wilson or Cuddy). However, disbelief soon changes to adolescent glee as House is transported via black helicopter and corporate jet to the fantasy land of spies and double crosses. I have a sneaking suspicion House devoured Ian Fleming novels as a kid. And I would not be surprised to discover that he has a copy of Hugh Laurie’s novel The Gun Seller tucked away somewhere in his flat.
Suddenly House finds himself right in the middle of some teenage boy fantasy–complete with a beautiful woman and real spies. House, a bit seduced by the “cool” factor, is (at first) more than excited. He is practically giddy by the time he arrives at the CIA. But House is not the only doctor on the case. The CIA have also brought in the anti-House, a staid, no-nonsense and equally famous doctor from the Mayo Clinic. It’s an interesting premise to see House interact in this sort of situation with a peer not only from outside House’s universe, but set outside his usual environment (and not on his own turf).
Throughout much of the episode, House’s conversation with the CIA doctor (who resembles a figment of a video game designer’s imagination) is overtly sexual and crude. House is usually better at filtering his language around strangers, reserving his raciest comments for Cuddy. I was really put off by House and leering, wondering if it had something to do with him being outside his element, but then I realized that his language and interactions with the CIA doctor were a direct result of his video-game-playing- adolescent- “aren’t I cool?” state of mind.
His filters are (more or less, and thankfully) back in place once the patient’s situation becomes dire and reality settles back onto House’s shoulders. He thinks he has the diagnosis early on, and being wrong, he initiates the wrong treatment. After realizing the error, House's entire demeanor and way of handling the case changes.
“Whatever it Takes” is a perfect title for this episode. House's reputation is based on both his genius for putting together the puzzle, and because he does “whatever it takes” to save the life of a patient. He will bend, even break, rules; ignore established medical ethical standards, lie and steal. But House also has a fundamental understanding of his own fallibility, and is humble enough to recognize it, be affected by it and make adjustments to serve the interests of the patient because of it. “Humility is important if you’re wrong a lot,” he tells Foreman way back in the season 1 episode “DNR.