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TV Review: House, MD – “Frozen”

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Lacking the gratuitous and over-the-top jokiness that has characterized some of this season, the House super-duper post-Super Bowl episode had a compelling and emotional drama; a terrific side story; and a resolution to the games that have been played between House and his fledgling fellows since episode two. What a perfect episode to place in that coveted time slot. And what a joy that so many people tuned in to see my favorite show at its very best. According to FOX, “Frozen” "…earned the series its highest ratings ever, and was the highest rated scripted program on any network in two years.”

Mira Sorvino (read my interview with Ms. Sorvino) guests as Cate Milton, an adjunct professor of psychiatry at Princeton Plainsboro, currently on leave, serving as staff doc at an Antarctic research station. She comes onto House's service via web-cam, complaining of severe kidney pain.

Despite House’s expected sarcasm regarding psychiatrists, his admiration of, and growing respect for, Cate are apparent from their first scene. She disarms him almost immediately, even as he baits her in his usual manner, only to be cut off (literally) as she reminds him that she is the one in control. It is her strength and bravery despite her illness that intrigue and impress him.

“Since when do you let a patient in on a differential?” Foreman asks, stunned at House's acquiescence.

“Since the doctor and patient are one and the same.” House, no longer dismissive of her, realizes that unless he treats her as an equal, he will get nowhere.

The relationship between House and Cate quickly becomes one of equals. He insists to Foreman that they be forthright with her when cancer becomes the most likely diagnosis. House dismisses Foreman’s argument for withholding this information, respecting Cate’s right to stay in the differential loop. When House discloses that she needs to perform a full-body X-ray series, he appreciates her stoicism as she sets aside her emotions to perform the task. “Good for you,” he quietly reflects.

House consults with Wilson as he evaluates the X-ray films for signs of cancer. As House complains about Cate, Wilson deduces that House actually “likes” her, goading him about it. It’s a great and playful scene between Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard. But it also draws an interesting (to me, anyway) distinction between the two doctors’ personalities. Wilson insists that they’ve hit a dead end, after they discover a deep-lying enlarged lymph node. It’s too deep to biopsy without a full surgical team, he argues. House, on the other hand, evaluates the problem idealistically, assuming that they will find a way, focusing on which stains they will be able to improvise after they have the sample. It’s the sort of unique optimism that is very characteristic of the pessimistic House. House contends they simply need to find a node closer to the surface, despite the fact that Wilson sees no X-ray evidence of any enlarged superficial nodes. House needs to examine the patient!

As House sits comfortably on his apartment sofa in front of the web-cam, Jack Daniels nearby, fireplace roaring in the background, he informs Cate that she will need to strip for his exam. Because he can’t really touch her, he will have to rely on her self-exam and his own very sharp observational skills. Cate refuses to strip in front of House in his apartment.

“Show me your apartment,” she insists as a quid pro quo for undressing. House’s apartment is a glimpse into his heart and soul — beyond his affected boorishness. “No pictures of family or friends,” she observes of the lonely and isolated House. But his flat also reveals a man who likes books, antiques, artwork, and music. This is a serious and studious side of House that almost no one gets to know — a personality he keeps well hidden.

Reluctantly, House agrees. “You’d rather show me your soul than your leg,” she baits. Everything that this battered and tormented man has gone through is symbolized by the long disfiguring scar on his right thigh, his constant reminder of all of his wounds — internal and external.

Pushing back, he sneers, knowing full well what comes next. “Got me all figured out. Gonna try to fix me now?”

But instead, she disarms him. “Who said you needed fixing?”

House guides her hand from 9,000 miles away, distracting her by keeping the focus on his typically inappropriate remarks. Yes, of course he’s enjoying himself, and part of it is House’s inept way of connecting with women. But once they identify an enlarged lymph node, their banter is immediately forgotten. Both of them understand the gravity of what happens next. “You’re doing a biopsy,” he intones gravely, roaring fire and sexual innuendos suddenly evaporating into the ether of cyberspace.

Now it is Wilson's turn to direct Cate as she prepares to biopsy the lymph node. House sits nearby, clearly distressed about the difficult and painful procedure that she must perform on herself. He shocks Wilson by urging her on, calling her first name, then asking her (almost as if he’s metaphorically holding her hand) if she’s “okay” when she finishes the procedure, exhausted.

Of course, Wilson must badger House about “caring for her.” He pushes hard, maybe even knowing that by doing so he’s pushing the emotionally fragile House back into his shell. It leads me to wonder whether Wilson actually wants House to come to terms with himself. If he did, Wilson would understand these seeds of humanity for what they are and leave them alone; instead he suffocates them. (Although despite this, I really did like the House/Wilson dynamic in this episode– and House certainly gets his zings in as well.)

Cate is curious about their unlikely relationship. Wilson, she has learned, is the guy with the “perfect score: responsible, nice, human.” House is “brilliant, straightforward and an ass.” Cate’s suggests that Wilson may not be quite as nice as he seems. “Indiscriminate niceness is overrated,” she challenges.

“No wonder he likes you,” responds Wilson as he examines the results of the biopsy with her. Wilson understands the attraction. She is strong, brilliant, and wise. And (fortunately) she does not have cancer. But she is now having acute pain on the other side.

Knowing that it’s not cancer, and back in his apartment, House visits with Cate. Even though she may not even see it, House has paid her the rarest of compliments — by trusting her enough to see his leg. Maybe he’s doing it to goad her; maybe to prove to her that she was wrong and he's not self-conscious about his scar. Whatever his reason, she does not attempt to psychoanalyze it; she appears to not even react. (But we do see her looking at his leg as she switches off the camera.)

Autoimmune disease is the latest theory. Anti-inflammatory meds are out of the question, so Foreman comes up with an innovative but very risky idea, one to which House is extremely and uncharacteristically opposed: send her outdoors in -70 degree temperatures for five minutes (in eight, argues House, a healthy person would be dead). Although it is unlike House to argue against a procedure simply because it is risky, we as viewers know House’s relationship with ice. His father used ice baths as punishment when he was a boy. I don’t know if the writers intentionally made this connection or not. But it would explain why House, growing more attached to Cate, would avoid inflicting that sort of torture on her — therapeutic or not.

But before she can test Foreman’s theory, Cate collapses into a coma. They need to diagnose the cause and need to call on her mechanic, Sean, to continue running the tests.

When asked to tap Cate’s bladder to taste her urine, his reaction suggests to the hyper-observant House that Sean is in love with her. In House’s view, that love should trump everything when her life is on the line, no matter how distasteful the task. (Is this how House was finally able to come to terms with Stacy’s sacrifice of their relationship? Hmmm…) This is House the romantic — the disillusioned idealist when his cynicism button is muted.

To relieve the pressure that has now built up in Cate’s skull, Sean must drill into her or she will die. Sean is not okay with this (neither would I, I’d be freaked). Viscerally connecting with Sean, both caring about Cate’s well being, House practically pleads with him as he shrinks from doing the risky procedure. “I am not going to let you hurt her,” House assures him. “Please, please. This is her only chance.” An astonished Foreman watches intently, as House emotionally pleads with Sean, mystified at this version of House, unguarded — someone who Foreman has never before seen. Believe me, Foreman can do a whole lot worse than to “become like House,” something that he abhorred so much last season, he resigned rather than risk it. Seeing the power of Sean's love, House backs away, as Cate thanks him, telling her that it was Sean that saved her life. Phew.

The intensity of the episode was broken by the the dual side plots of House's quest for cable TV and the mystery of Wilson's new girlfriend. The cable games served also as a reminder that as emotionally connected as he was to Cate, House is, fundamentally, House. And House can be an ass. Even when (and sometimes because) he has a point.

House said it at the beginning of the episode, “As far as you know it’s more than a silly battle over cable.” And it was. I said in my review of “It’s a Wonderful Lie” that House craves a team that will stand up to him, challenge him, keep him from drowning in the deep end of diagnosis. So he pushed until someone snapped, standing up and telling him “No!” But only House would try to couple that with a pathetic attempt to get cable television!

FOX will re-broadcast “Frozen” on Friday, February 15.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • sassydew

    Thanks for another great review, Barbara! I especially loved the connection you made between House not wanting Cate to be in the cold and his father forcing him to take ice baths. I never would have thought of that!

  • marykir

    Fox issued a press release earlier this week that “Frozen” will be repeated the 15th, not the 8th. The Fox House page had different info until yesterday, but now it also says the 15th.

  • Thanks Barbara this was a great review… I thought it was brilliant episode… that was until I saw the one after that… now that was brilliant and hilarious 🙂

  • Robin

    One nagging point to me is why didn’t the full-body xray reveal the broken toe? Unless it was focused on the internal organs only. I liked Cate’s “niceness is overrated”. It echo’s House’s “humanity is overrated”. I agree that Wilson would have been wiser to leave House’s concern for Cate alone. He will hold those cards closer next time.

  • Ann

    Thanks for the great reveiw. I like the connection you made between sending Cate into the cold and the ice baths House was forced into as a child by his father. Didn’t think of that. Foreman has never been my favorite, but I have to say I loved him in this week’s episodes, too. It’s great to see our favorite show back in top form. I love every episode, but the two episodes that aired this week were absolutely brilliant. I hope the strike ends this week so we can find out what happens next and what the powers behind the show have in store for us.

  • Thanks, Marykir–that will be updated.

    Thanks everyone for the kind comment. This was one of the best (and I agree it may have been trumped by “Don’t Ever Change.” My review of that one will be up in a day or two.)

    Wilson has done this before, Robin. In “Meaning” he wouldn’t stop badgering House about happiness and using his compassion muscles. If he’d only let well enough alone, then House might have actually been much better off. Maybe it’s part of the show’s scheme–House badgers Wilson about stuff; Wilson badgers House about stuff. But House is much more emotionally fragile than Wilson–and more sensitive (which would go with House’s artistic and genius sides). so, just stop it, Wilson.

    With any luck the strike will be over by next week (fingers and toes crossed everybody). Another six to eight weeks and voila!


  • Mary

    I found it interesting that Cate’s comment “Who said you need fixing?” is similar to the parting comment that House’s mother made to him in “Daddy’s Boy,” after that tension-filled meeting with his parents: “You’re perfect just the way you are.” I wouldn’t agree with his mother, but that kind of acceptance must be balm to the soul of a man who grew up with a father who was a constant source of criticism, and emotional (and physical) abuse.

    When I first saw the episode, I thought that House pointing out that he was pants-less was just another example of him being inappropriate. The point that Cate had earlier asked to see the scar on his leg is a good one, and certainly casts the scene in a more favorable light than I had originally thought while viewing the episode.

    Hugh Laurie has said that the character of House is not likely to change. But dare we hope that the producers and writers of this show, who have upended all our standard expectations about what kinds of characters and stories will work on American television, will overturn yet another convention of the genre? If Amber can change (and I think she has), maybe House can too.

  • If Amber can change (and I think she has), maybe House can too.


    In my reading of House, these changes he’s making fit the character as he is. He’s not so much changing as allowing parts of him that already exist to come to surface a little more. But that’s just me 😉

    Thanks for your comments!


  • Houseguest

    Barbara, I couldn’t wait to read your review of “Frozen,” and I wasn’t disappointed! I LOVED this episode, and you, as usual, brought out some things that I didn’t think of, but made the episode better because of: the ice abuse/frigid cold connection; wondering if Wilson really wanted House to come to terms with himself; and Cate looking at House’s leg when she shut off the web-cam. House exposed so much of himself to Cate, that it was heartbreaking to hear House say “He loves her” at the end, and, with a backward glance, walk away. The tv got awful blurry for a few minutes after that…

  • Houseguest–I know whatcha mean. House was willing for the first time in a long time (but not without his sexual innuendo-mask)to take a baby step and make a connection with someone. But the disappointment could not be more apparent. I think each of the last three episodes have shown House to be really feeling his isolation and loneliness and being powerless to do anything about it. I also noticed that his beard is much heavier (never a good sign for him–usually means he’s in pain); he’s not sleeping. He seems more isolated, too.

  • Louise


    What a wonderful review–especially pointing out that that Frozen avoided the overt jokiness of most of this season. We got to peek inside House’s mind in this one–that space and place that draws us back each week to try to figure out the real mystery in this series. Re Wilson’s pushing: yes, he pushes but as Kate pointed out that may be one reason House hangs around with Wilson. The pushing is also “seeing through” the facade House puts up. One reason I think so many people don’t like Foreman is that he doesn’t see through that facade. By the way, I am starting to really, really like Kutner. What a well-written and interesting character–science fiction, goofball, and very smart. Great acting, too!

  • Louise, I would agree with you about what Cate was suggesting. It IS interesting that House would gravitate towards people who probe beneath his surface–with Cate and Wilosn coming to different conclusions.

  • sdemar

    It was mentioned a couple of times above but I wanted to reiterate what was said about sending Cate out in the freezing cold weather. It never dawned on me that House would be against this because of what his dad did to him with the ice. Great connection and I believe you are right.

    The other thing I thought about was how nice it was that Foreman was in the same room when House was pleading with Sean to drill into Cate’s brain. Perhaps after witnessing this scene, we will begin to see a thaw in Foreman’s short-sighted thinking and he will realize there is a lot more to House than him just being an ass.

    Great review, Barbara.

  • Susanne

    Fantasitc review for an episode that made me restore my faith in the show. I LOVED it to bits and wasn’t dissapointed!

    Ok I will admit that one of the main reasons I loved it was because I saw less of the new team. But I LOVE Kutner, if they have to make a choice on who is to stay I say KEEP KUTNER!!

    Loved Wilson in this episode especially with the “yo mamma” comment and when he bolted from House, it had me in stiches.

    I loved the Cate/House relationship in this episode and I actually cried when house was heartbroken at the end combined with the music. I loved their chemistry but I have the feeling that she may come back and then it would be ruined. I also had the impression that cate had elements of Cameron, Cuddy and Stacey in her all rolled into one.

    Loved seeing Foreman and House together, they work pretty good together when they forget about clashing and just work together and I really enjoyed Cameron actually standing up to House. It brought back old memories of the new team. I really hope they come up with a way to get the old and the new team together. I hope the strike is over soon.

    Thankyou Barbara for a brillaint review I loved it to pieces and the best episode this season.

  • Thanks Susanne and Sdemar for you kind and insightful comments. There is such a strong distinction drawn in the series between House’s outrageous flirting and his quieter, more hesitant behavior towards women who he truly connects with. Even with Cuddy, who he (of course) is completely outrageous with, when he is being serious, he is more hesitatnt, more tenative–he’ll back off before he be rejected. With Cate, perhaps he thought he might dare to expose himself to the risk, let his guard down a little. But when he saw the able-bodied, very handsome Sean in love with and Cate responding to it, he backed off (rather than making some sort of sarcastic remark about Arctic sex or kinky sex or something). He simply backed off wordlessly.

    I really liked Kutner in both of these last 2 episodes, and I do think the entire show has settled down, now that the games are over. I said to have faith, and that faith has been greatly rewarded!

  • Great ep. and great review Barbara.

  • Dude. I completely didn’t think about the connection to ‘One Day, One Room’ and ‘Daddy’s Boy’ regarding the ice. This is my favorite episode so far of the season because it was one where they allowed House to act like more than his work-life persona for more than mere moments. It was a beautiful thing to see him being able to connect to another adult who is not Wilson, Cuddy, or his mother and actually be able to admit it without feeling like he was betraying himself or giving up some sort of strength. In fact, it felt like he was gaining some and it was an absolutely fantastic thing to see. Hopefully, this won’t be the last of the version of House where we can understand viscerally why he became a doctor.

  • thanks, Mary.

    Amen to that Angelfirenze! Looking forward to the end of the strike and maybe another 5-6 opportunities to see this side of him.


  • angelcat2865

    Hi Barbara,

    Great review as always!

    One thing you did not mention that stood out in my mind was House’s reaction to Kate when she teased him about spending more time with her than any other patient. He abruptly apologized and turns of the screen. I think at that point House felt he had allowed her to get too close to him too fast which may have been another reason he pushed Kate toward Sean in the end.

    “I think each of the last three episodes have shown House to be really feeling his loneliness and being powerless to do anything about it.”
    I think the whole season has in some way was pointing to House feeling an sense of powerlessness in almost all the aspects of his life not just in his feelings of loneliness. I believe this is the reason he pushed the games so hard it was one thing he could actually control.

  • One thing you did not mention that stood out in my mind was House’s reaction to Kate when she teased him about spending more time with her than any other patient. He abruptly apologized and turns of the screen. I think at that point House felt he had allowed her to get too close to him too fast which may have been another reason he pushed Kate toward Sean in the end.

    There was a ton of emotion in House’s reaction to that–as if his opening up was somehow exposed, destroying his confidence in having done that. It was a remarkable moment. Hugh did a brilliant job in showing House’s vulnerability and disappointment.

  • Susanne

    That’s the reason why I love HL it was so heartbreaking it made me cry..and I haven’t cried in 14 years.

  • I can’t think of another actor who can make me laugh, cry and be simply amazed in a single scene without a word of dialogue spoken. But that moment in Frozen, after reminds House that he’s spent so much time with him–exposing that–and his utter disappointment (and delivery of the line). It’s what make Hugh such a great actor.

    BTW: the news looks pretty good tonight with regard to the writers’ strike.

  • Susanne

    I heard on the morning news it sounds very promising.

  • Robin

    At least Foreman showed kindness by not commenting in that last scene with Kate.

  • This is true. I’m beginning to like Foreman a bit better.

  • Sue

    I wonder if TPTB purposely diminished the screen time of the unpopular new team in this post-Superbowl episode. They went with the safe team of Wilson, Forman and House.

    I don’t like how one-dimensional Cameron and Chase have become. Cameron is now all snark all the time, and Chase has become grumpy. There is no hint of the Cameron or Chase of old.

  • Kerry

    Thanks – a very good review.

    One thing niggled at me when I saw the exterior shot of the hospital: it was summer in the Antarctic. Now I’ll grant that it’s not tropical there, but it’s not necessarily going to be extremely cold.

  • it was summer in the Antarctic. Now I’ll grant that it’s not tropical there, but it’s not necessarily going to be extremely cold.

    Actually, the mean January temperature (high summer) at the South Pole is -16F.

    Remember that in addition to being in the middle of the Antarctic ice sheet, it’s also 9300 feet above sea level.

  • Kerry–thanks. And thanks, Dr. D for setting that straight. I remember when the X-Files movie came out and was set (for part of it) in Antarctica, it should have been winter (and dark), but the sun was shining! At least this made some sense. And at that altitude, it could have been a real possibility to get stranded there for days or weeks, I would think during a storm.

  • Kerry

    Thanks to Dr D for the data point.

    But I still incline towards sloppy scriptwriting.