Happy New Year to all, and big apologies for getting this review up so late. It’s been a hectic end of the year, and there was much to mull over with “Ignorance is Bliss” (6×09) especially after feeling somewhat negative about “Teamwork” (6×08). So, better late than never…
Is ignorance is bliss? Is it something to long for when plagued with the isolation and loneliness of genius? It’s a question debated by this week’s patient, Jimmy, in “Ignorance is Bliss,” the ninth episode of House’s sixth season. Jimmy, prodigy physicist, who has quit a famous life to become a deliveryman, comes to Princeton Plainsboro after falling ill while delivering packages to a bookstore.
The team lands on a simple diagnosis (for House’s service anyway): TTP—thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, a blood disease. (Trivia question: name the episode when TTP is the final diagnosis.) It’s a straightforward diagnosis—perhaps a little too straightforward. As Taub notes, the case must be more complex, and House is simply waiting for them to catch on and catch up to his thought process.
But in actuality, House doesn’t a different diagnosis in mind; he’s too preoccupied with interfering with Cuddy and Lucas’ relationship, planning to first endear his way into a Thanksgiving dinner invitation from Cuddy and then breaking up the relationship entirely. I’m never enamored of House when he’s so overtly scheming about something apart from the medicine itself, and I found myself slightly cringing at the prospect.
In any event, a spelenectomy should cure the TTP, but it doesn’t. There is more going on with Jimmy than meets the eye. House eventually realizes that Jim is using drugs to tamp down on his intelligence: a legal, easy to obtain drug—he is “Robo-tripping.” Dextromethorphan (DXM) the active ingredient in cough suppressant (like Robitussin), lowers the IQ when taken in high enough doses. It also can cause brain damage, unless tempered with alcohol, which the team has found hidden in Jim’s apartment. Turning his brain on “low” makes life less miserable and more bearable for him, he explains as House tells the team to clear the drugs from his system.
Jim’s genius is quickly restored, but no longer buzzed, his wife—a woman of mere average intelligence—is suddenly no longer attractive. He cannot even picture himself making love to her. It’s hard to feel sorry for Jimmy, however, because he’s an incredible jerk, comparing his loving wife to a gibbon. No wonder he was miserable; his feelings of superiority probably isolated him more than his sheer intellectual gift. Sober, Jimmy is a grade-A jerk. And no wonder he wanted so desperately to leave that behind.
The answer to the medical mystery does lie, however, in Jimmy’s dissatisfaction with life—and the reasons behind taking the DXM. After years of loneliness, Jim had suffered enough loneliness and misery—the isolation he felt as an intellectual outlier. He had his gift but wasn’t happy.
Jimmy asks House whether he’s ever tried killing himself. House answers enigmatically “not quickly,” which is an interesting acknowledgement. Jimmy explains that he had tried committing suicide years ealier, hurling himself off an eight story building but failing. Instead he landed in the hospital with broken ribs. Meeting a woman there while buzzed on painkillers, he experiences something life-altering. He’s happy; he’s in love—and the drugs keep him foggy enough to turn down the volume on his overactive brain.
And as he explains this all to House, he realizes that his first diagnosis was correct; it’s TTP. Jimmy’s fall damaged his spleen, and the one splenectomy didn’t get all 16 accessory spleens resident in his body. Cured, Jimmy decides to continue taking the DXM and go back to his happier, but less intellectually supercharged, life.
Taub doesn’t understand why House accepts Jimmy’s decision so passively. No comments, no mockery, no derision: House simply sends him on his way. “Ignorance is bliss,” House explains to Taub.
This theme was explored last season in “The Greater Good,” which featured a cancer researcher who gave up a professionally fulfilling but empty life to live a happier, albeit more ordinary, life. What is more valuable if you have to make a choice: genius or happiness? Fame or happiness? It is a prominent theme in the series, and one with which House has struggled at various times over the past several seasons (and was, the focus of his decision to undergo the Ketamine treatment at the end of season two). Of course with House, it’s not only his genius that isolates him, but his physical disability and his past. But Jimmy’s conflict resonates with House.