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TV Review: House, MD -“Painless”

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First, my apologies on getting this review up so late in the week. I wanted to mull it over, given the episode’s dual themes of pain and suicide, two themes that have threaded through four and a half years of House, MD. So forgive me if this reads more like a short essay than an episode review (author’s prerogative, I suppose).

Of course House’s own pain is a major trope of the series: its ebbs and flows affecting (or even being affected by) House’s emotional well-being. Throughout the four-and-a-half years of House, MD, we’ve witnessed House have better days and worse days. And occasionally, really bad days. He seems to have hit another bad patch now, which is not too surprising considering the stresses he’s been under since the end of last season. Emotional stress absolutely seems to make House’s leg pain worse. 

Usually House conceals his pain, hiding it beneath a biting sarcasm; deflecting with an insult before anyone (hopefully) notices. He steadfastly refuses to allow himself to be defined by his disability to the point where denial of its power defines him anyway.

But as we see in “Painless,” when he is alone, House suffers much more than he lets on.  Sitting in the bathtub (presumably to soak his leg), House appears to be in terrible pain, barely keeping it together.  I have to say that Hugh Laurie does such a brilliant job of portraying House’s pain that to watch it, I feel almost a voyeur. His eyes, the hunch of his shoulders, the heaviness with which he leans on his cane or walks without it tells us whether House’s pain is a “10” or merely a “5,” which, for him, might be a “good day.” As he told detective Michael Tritter in “Words and Deeds,” his pain is “merely intolerable” on good days, but “soul-sucking” on bad ones.

Although it’s not quite as pervasive a House theme as “pain,” suicide has been tackled several times during the series run — in different contexts. “I got no problem with people killing themselves,” he tells his patient in “DNR.” And he doesn’t — after the patient has all of the relevant information. After that, it’s the patient’s call. In “Painless,” when Jeff attempts suicide a second time, House seems almost angry that Jeff is determined to kill himself, refusing to allow him the privilege. “Just let me die,” pleads Jeff. “No,” is House’s emphatic response, not while there’s a chance he can be cured. That has been House’s M.O. In "Informed Consent," Wilson advocates that House help Ezra Powell die, reminding him that he's assisted a patient's death in the past. House counters that he's only done that when the patient is terminal, "and we're nowhere near that," he emphatically insists. 

House has never seen suicide as being a relevant way to “go onto something better.” He doesn’t believe in that “something better,” only the here and now. With no belief in an afterlife or heaven, House strongly believes that a miserable life is better than no life.  

Is he opposed to suicide? No. And he has facilitated it — and understands it. (Gabe in “Son of Coma Guy” and “Informed Consent” — after the “terminal” diagnosis made a painful death inevitable. Even for himself, he surely had to have at least contemplated it in “Merry Little Christmas.”)  However, as miserable as he is, when it would have been easier for him to simply give up, the tenacious House has fought himself back from the brink three times since we have known him (“Three Stories,” “No Reason,” “Wilson’s Heart”). Perhaps it’s part of his personality, never allowing himself to let go — to give up — but fundamentally House has consistently believed that a miserable existence (since everyone’s miserable) is better than the nothingness that is at the end of life. And while hope exists, suicide is not something he advocates.

Back in season two, House had a couple of episodes when his pain meds stopped working (“Skin Deep” and “Who’s Your Daddy”). Between those episodes, we witnessed House having more and more difficulty walking and clearly in a greater amount of pain. Despite the placebo effect of the saline injected by Cuddy in "Skin Deep," by the episode’s end, it had worn off, and House continued deteriorating until the end of the season when he was shot. But clearly during that time, his future was weighing heavily on his mind. Resorting to morphine use, and an bleak future, House is shot by a former patient in the season two finale, but as he lay bleeding to death, his survival uncertain, House chooses “life,” when death would have been so more simple an answer for him. Instead of letting go of it all, he fights back to consciousness long enough to request an experimental pain treatment. There is something about House, that despite his depression, his disability, and his pessimistic outlook on humanity that keeps him coming back. Whether it’s courage or a deeply-buried, underlying optimism, he cannot give up on life. It’s like he told Apple in “Not Cancer” when she senses the similarities between them. “Only difference is, I haven’t given up,” he tells her — a patient who has given up on finding any sort of joy in her life.

On the other hand, House has a well-defined self-destructive streak that drives him passively towards an early death. His drug use and drinking, his not really caring much whether he lives a long life or dies tomorrow, have been explored in episodes during all five seasons. House’s self-destructiveness has nearly done him in on several occasions. Wilson, in particular, has always been alarmed at House’s apparent indifference to whether he lives or dies.

Enter Jeff, the “patient of the week” in “Painless,” a man with a young family, suffering from intractable chronic pain, despite treatment with narcotics (according to Foreman, Jeff “makes House look like a Christian Scientist” based on the patient’s collection of pain meds) for three years. After three years with no diagnosis and bleak future, Jeff “just wants it to be over,” attempting suicide before his wife brings him to the Princeton Plainsboro Emergency Room. Treating him in the ER, Cameron refers Jeff to House.

Is Cameron trying to make a point to House?  She claims she has done it to bring to his attention someone who has “even less to look forward to.” Even though, as she admits, House is unlikely to “learn” anything from the experience. Cameron might be hoping that House would somehow connect with someone who she thinks might be a kindred spirit. Or maybe the case might cause House to reflect on how his own life might be in a few short years (maybe a few short months), and to try another path. Although how much more House can do is debatable. Maybe she’s trying to show House that his life is no less self-destructive than Jeff’s and that unless he changes something, he might find himself at the end of the same rope.

In any event, Cameron knows that, despite his outward attitude, House is a deeply reflective man, and maybe she knows that that Jeff’s pain — and where it’s driven him — will cause House to pause.  As Katie Jacobs told me in my recent interview with her, “Cameron is worried about him” and what might become of him if he doesn’t take better care of himself. I think Cameron also knows that unless he’s diagnosed (and cured), Jeff will surely try to “check out” again. Who better to assist a medical lost cause than the relentless House.

It’s interesting to compare the two men and how they deal with their pain. Jeff tells House at one point (although how he knows, unless Cameron clued him in I couldn't say) that with no family, House has an easier time dealing with chronic pain. Jeff argues that there is no one for whom House has to put on an act; no reason to conceal the pain he has; no expectations. Life is more difficult for family man Jeff.

Actually, Jeff has gotten it wrong, because House spends a huge amount of energy doing just what Jeff says he need not. House scowls, glares, and insults for the very purpose of keeping people far enough away that they don’t see how much he’s suffering. Jeff, on the other hand, seems to wear his pain on his sleeve. The pills no longer effective, Jeff conceals nothing — not even from his young son — about his upset, including that he wants his life to be over. Jeff is not only trying to destroy himself, he has no qualms about taking his family down with him (emotionally, anyway).  If House were to finally decide enough is enough and to end it, I think it would play out much like the final scene of “Merry Little Christmas.” (alone, a quiet “good-bye” to his mother — but no note, no drama). I always believed that in “Merry Little Christmas,” House, desperate and alone, facing the loss of his freedom and his “one thing,” seriously considers killing himself, taking a bottle-full of Oxycodone and a lot of whiskey. At the last minute though he makes himself vomit, saving his own life, determined to face the consequences.

Ultimately, House is forced to answer this question from his patient: “what if it were you? Could you live like that?” It’s a question to which House cannot honestly answer “yes,” and when Jeff’s wife asks House to stabilize her husband and let him do what he needs to do, House quietly answers, “OK,” barely able to look her in the eye. It’s clearly something he continues to consider well into the night and long after he has condemned his patient to a voluntary death. With House’s clear uptick in pain, he surely has to be wondering about the truth of Jeff’s stinging retort to House — about how life will be when the meds stop working; when House’s “merely intolerable” good days cease to exist. 

Good luck to the House cast and to Hugh Laurie at Sunday night's Screen Actors Guild awards. Hugh is nominated for the fourth time. (He has won once.) This is the cast's first ensemble nomination. New episode Monday at 8:00 p.m. ET.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her debut novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse comes out October 11 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)."
  • Sera G

    Hello, Barbara,
    Another beautifully stated “essay”. I enjoyed “Painless” and find more depth as I think about it days after watching. While not a standout episode, I agree with you that it is one that reminds us of House’s ongoing struggle and the link pain has with his emotions. It had the feel of an episode that will have repercussions down the line (either good or bad)
    A few moments that stood out for me, if I may:

    1. the look Chase gives House, when he admits his pain is worse
    2. the game House plays with the man repairing his plumbing
    3. the poignant story of the arrogant young doctor who tried to commit suicide and the misery it caused the people he cared about (nice further development in understanding Taub)
    4. Wilson’s excellent advice to Cuddy; you CAN’T and don’t have to do it all yourself
    5. House stroking Cuddy’s med school desk. That put a lump in my throat.

    Looking forward to 1/26.

  • marie

    Thankyou Barbara great review as always , loved this episode , like you I thought House was that good at portraying his pain that I shouldnt be watching it ,pain so bad that it takes away your breath should be very personal and private and we were privileged to see it through House , it was more like the House of old , loved the banter with the plumber , loved how each time he was leaving he said ” dont touch the Piano “lol loved how Chase and Cameron ( up in the viewing gallery ) reacted to House confessing the pain is getting worse ,loved how he solved it through deep thought process again , loved the House and Cuddy bits (and him stroking and sitting on the desk) some of his expressions are Oscar winning stuff for me , the funny ones and the serious ones he is a master at it. when the patients wife asked House to stabalise her husband enough for him to go home House’s face showed so much feeling just before he said “ok ” I almost cried ..thats when I love House the most, ( do love him in the bath though too yum yum lol, )especially at the end when he realised he had done the damage himself..priceless … getting to love Tuab and Kutner , still bored senseless with Fourteen, (waisted screen time for me ). is this season is getting back to being more Housian (apart from fourteen ) or am I imagining it ….

  • Lisa G

    Hi Barbara
    I enjoyed your review of Painless almost as much as the episode, which I loved. It was so bittersweet to watch House again try to deal with his physical and emotional pain. For me much of the episode was AMOST too painful to watch. Hugh Laurie can make me cry with just a look. I was glad to writers put in some fun snarking between House and Cuddy to break up the somber mood. I loved the scene where after Cuddy hands Kutner Rachel’s dirty diaper House says, ” IF you want a man to take your crap you have to marry him first.” and Cuddy smartly replies, ” or employ him.” Very funny, and necessary, for me anyway, to be able to get through the rest of the episode wich was great but very heavy. Like Sera I also loved the way House was running his hand over Cuddy’s desk. It almost looked like a caress. I was wondering if he was thinking of some shared past with Cuddy or contemplating on missed opportuinities. He came so close and now with the baby around I am sure (IMO) that he feels she is lost to him forever.
    Thanks for the article Barbara it was worth the wait.

  • barbara barnett

    Sera G–thanks for commenting.
    1. the look Chase gives House, when he admits his pain is worse
    That was a very surprised look. Was it: a) because Chase was surprised, or because Chase was surprised that House was admitting it? Or did Chase think that House was acting for the patient?

    2. the game House plays with the man repairing his plumbing

    3. the poignant story of the arrogant young doctor who tried to commit suicide and the misery it caused the people he cared about (nice further development in understanding Taub)
    I’ve always liked Taub–liked his darkness and edge. I’m glad to see it being explored (and I love the relationship between Kutner and Taub).

    4. Wilson’s excellent advice to Cuddy; you CAN’T and don’t have to do it all yourself

    Excellent advice…I can’t help but wonder if that’s one of Wilson’s “panty peeler” lines he has used alot, but this time means it sincerely?

    5. House stroking Cuddy’s med school desk. That put a lump in my throat. Loved that too. small touch, probably unnoticed by the masses of of fans who don’t remember why he might be doing it, which I also love, since the show is all about the subtlety.

    Marie–what was that with the piano, hmmm. I really liked the integration of the pipes story line for the humor of it with the main theme. It really worked. Something that struck me was that like his pipes,which House destroyed passively by leaning on his shower pipe (using it as a grab-bar), he may be just as silently and passively killing himself with his lifestyle choice and how he treats his pain.

  • Alessandra

    Hi Barbara!
    Finally, your review. As always, deep thoughts about a deep and complicated man. I have really nothing to add. I also appreciated your brief look into Merry Little Christmas, one of my favourite eps ever.

  • Wnkybx

    Thank you, Barbara, for another thoughtful review. This is my first time posting … I was so intrigued by House’s reaction to Jeff that I had to join in on the conversation. When I first watched the episode, I was so confused as to why House would reject Jeff’s plead to let him end his own life but then let Jeff and his family go without having an answer to the medical mystery. He is so obsessed with finding answers that when a previous patient had died, he will stop at nothing to prove he was right to save another patient (“All In”). At first I thought the writers were being inconsistent; then it became clear to me how much this case affected him. This time around there is something more important than stopping at nothing to get the diagnosis … he didn’t ask for more time to sit at his office late at night to think; he was being compassionate in letting the patient go. I think whenever House is emotionally rocked to the core, answers become secondary, which contrasts with why he became a doctor in the first place (remember his story about the janitor in Japan who was always right?) and how he operates personally (always prying into people’s business until he has an answer to why they may break away from habit). This is definitely something I will watch for again (I am sure this is not going to be the last time he doesn’t find an answer) as a cue for House’s emotional state. For example, back in “Joy” House couldn’t answer Cuddy when she asked him why he had to negate everything … the softly spoken “I don’t know” was probably a cue to the emotional chaos he was in at that moment. I am trying to think of other moments when he doesn’t have smart-ass know-it-all responses or can’t find answers.

    And yes, I was very touched by the moment in Cuddy’s office when he was contemplating the desk. Makes me wonder what memories they shared back in Michigan!

  • Dev

    Thank you for the review. My question is how is House suppose to “fix” his life by meeting the patient. Specifically, ever since the Three Stories, has the idea of House amputating his leg and getting an artificial leg ever been discussed. I would imagine most of the pain would go away (probably not all). Depending on what clothes he wore and the type of limb he had, most strangers wouldn’t be able to notice as long as he wore jeans or something. He could possibly even run again but that type of limb may be more noticeable to outsiders even when he isn’t running.

    I realize there may be psychological difficulties with amputation, but people already stare at him for being a cripple and he would (as far as I am aware) be in less pain.

    This I think I would be an interesting story line perhaps during the last season showing House taking a positive direction in his life a long side perhaps his social life with Cuddy/Wilson/Cameron and the others?

  • barbara barnett

    Thanks guys, and welcome to all new commenters 🙂

    Dev–There has been a lot of discussion in the fandom about amputation. If I recall correctly, the placement of House’s injury would have made it necessary to amputate almost as high as the hip, making prosthesis very difficult. Of course with amputation you also have the problem of phantom pain, which can be just as horrifying as pain from the injury itself.

    I think House’s choice in 3 Stories had much to do with his understanding of what lay ahead for him. He did the math and saw the future. He made a decision to take a caluclated (although very large(risk) by doing nothing. He was OK with dying, or living…but not dying a slow death that would be his lot with any other option. That choice was removed from him–an act that has affected his view of humanity, his quality of life and medical point of view from that time.

  • Luisa Borges


    I was anxiously waiting for your review, and now I get to enjoy it all the more for the wait. Great to read context into your review (as always), bringing out relevant things from other episodes to enhance our understanding of this new one. And I have to say that I agree with your thoughts.

    I really enjoyed “Painless”, I really love season 5, I think so many of the underlining issues in “House” have matured in this season (and greatly so), it´s truly a joy to watch. So some of my thoughts brought forth by reading your thoughts, along with the ones in the comments.
    One thing that I have questioned a lot is House´s self-destructive streaks. I don´t really see himself as being self-destructive. I see him as being reckless sometimes, but as man of great skills and deep medical understanding, I think he takes calculated risks. I feel his is more often than not in complete control of his choices and careful not to push things too far. He is a logical man, a cause and consequence kinda guy, so he knows what he´s doing and knows it won´t really kill him. To me his recklessness strives from his emotional detachment, and that is a condition which he forces upon himself. He wants to be detached, longs for it, but is nevertheless full with unfulfilled feelings and longings, so he goes through the dangerous behavior route. Emotionally filling himself through adrenaline discharges, getting the sensations he craves through risk taking behavior.

    Another thing I´ve noticed it that his pain is enhanced by his emotional state. When he gets the placebo injection and feels better that was proved to me. He feels pain, physical one, but it gets harder to cope with depending on his emotional state. I think his fears and emotional pain are greater than his physical one. And I´m with you, Hugh is great in showing House´s pain, it´s so real I can feel it.

    I loved the bits about plumbing in this episode. Something clogged or broken, not permitting the natural flow of things, forcing overflows and spillage, getting things out of control. And his talk with the plumber was very telling of Housian logic, he feels better to pay more (bribing the guy to lie at his insurance claim) to do what he feels is right that he would feel about paying less but admitting to something he knows is wrong. That´s his logic, what´s right is right and needs to be done; he is a strait forward guy, all about doing the right thing. Except, he was wrong, and he realizes that in the end. So he smiles, because I think he knows that is his stubbornness that is breaking the free flow in his pipes (as its also breaking the free flow of emotion in his life).

    And what a great scene of him with Cuddy´s desk, fondling it so gently, treasuring it. A great emotional bit.

    Thanks for this great review and the chance to share my thoughts. And thanks for the 20 essential episodes list. I had my “House” episode fest during my vacation, with helps and tips from you and other great people here so now I want to do it again with the essential episodes.

  • Sheelagh

    Great to see your thoughtful review up Barbara & once again generating excellent discussion. A few points from my own perspective:

    – The patient ‘ Jeff’ actually confirmed with House that House ‘was alone’ prior to making his comments on not having to put up a front, when in pain, for others. House’s reply to Jeff’s initial enquiry was that he had ‘ Left all his family back on Krypton’. I agree that Jeff didn’t understand that House’s ‘family’ actually consist of his close colleagues & Fellows.

    – I don’t believe for a moment that Wilson was using a ” pantie peeler line’ on Cuddy in this episode. Wilson knows his friend House is emotionally invested in the ‘non-relationship’ with Cuddy and although Wilson not infrequently simplifies House’s motivations ( because he doesn’t get to see the private moments the audience does) , he is very protective of House & has clearly supported a relationship between his friends and collegues. he wants his friend ” to be happy”.I don’t believe Wilson would sabotage his best friend this way if I’ve correctly understood your inference.

    – as an orthopaedic RN, I can confirm that House would have been facing what is known as a ‘hip disarticulation’, not just a high amputation, given where his muscle infarction was . It is a horrific surgery not readily eased with a prosthetic and would most likely have condemned him to a wheelchair. Given that we know House was athletic …running; climbing; sports…and a relatively young man and a physician , who would know all about phantom limb pain….House was fighting for a quality of life. Having seen the after math of such surgeries, I for one can’t disagree with his choice.

    _ I think House did attempt a sort of ‘passive’ suicide in ‘ A Merry Little Christmas’. I think he took the pills not caring what happened to himself at that point and just looking for oblivion. Vomiting was most likely just a fortunate aftermath of the pills & booze combination. I for one have never thought Wilson left him on the floor. Given Wilson’s character, I think he tossed the empty pill vial back at House in diappointment & betrayal…. & then took time to collect himself emotionally before pouring some coffee into him. In fairness, even if he had left House on the floor, he knew as a physician that House was conscious and had vomiting up the lethal mix. There wasn’t much else for him to do at that point. I prefer to think Wilson stayed just long enough to ensure House’s safety.

    – I think House’s willingness to both expose his pain in front of Chase, and to listen to the patient’s wife (note: House was still clearly trying to problem solve the case while lying on the sofa prior to discharging the patient), highlight House’s emotional growth this season. The ‘old’ House might well have blocked both issues.

    – I feel like the House writers are really hitting their stride again , seeing the episodes & topics coming up. Some pretty heavy issues included but surely done in a Houseian why . I’m pumped !

    – Lastly( because I have to write this somewhere), the ‘photo’ of Hugh Laurie getting tattooed for the 100th episode which fans are commenting on all over the net, is clearly a graphic art work based on the Norman Rockwell print called ‘ The Tattooist’. I can’t believe so many fans aren’t getting the reference.

    Thanks again for such an intelligent & erudite Blog.

  • sdemar

    Thanks for your wonderful review, Barbara.

    Did anyone else think that Jeff looked a bit like House? Both have nice eyes (although noone can express them better than Hugh), tall, good-looking and with scruff. And then add in the chronic pain.

    As a Huddy lover, my mind instantly goes here, but I don’t think I am stretching it when I say that I believe the increase in pain is a result of what is going on with Cuddy. Her increase time with the baby means less time with him and also less time at the hospital which ultimately affects how he does his job. The caressing of the desk sort of cemented that idea in my mind along with the fact that we have not really seen House in pain this year and his intake of vicodin doesn’t seem to be front and center like it has in past seasons.

    The two people House cares about the most have rejected him somewhat this year. Wilson when he quit and Cuddy fostering a child. This has had to take a toll on him. And his father also died. Even though he couldn’t stand him, we know at the end of that particular episode, he was mourning his death.

  • Val

    I was so glad to see your review/essay finally posted. It was worth the wait!

    I really enjoyed this episode (as I am liking the majority of this season). I had to watch it three times to finally feel like I got all the angles I wanted though I am sure it’s one of those episodes in which I will find something new everytime I watch it.

    I found myself thinking back to the House we saw in the ‘Three Stories’ story of his infarction and even the House of the pilot a lot as I watched ‘Painless’. House and Jeff were both suffering from chronic pain, but as we saw, their handling of it and its effect on them was certainly different. Despite the pain, it appears Jeff is happier than House–during the psychological questionnaire both his wife and his son note his laughter and optimistic attitude; however, by the time he is brought to House he is determined to die. We know that we are lucky to see House even crack one of his infamous smiles, but despite his outward misery he has chosen to live the numerous times he has faced death…the last and perhaps most memorable with Amber on the bus. This may have to do with his belief–or lack of–in an afterlife, but he has chosen not to give up. That is an important difference that I saw between the two and says a lot of House’s character. The fact that House thwarted any attempts Jeff made to end his life until the wife came to the office pleading with House, to me, showed remarkable growth from the man we first met in season one.

    I,too, love the subtly that continues to stream through Huddy. The desk, and even the banter and glances in the nursery show us that they haven’t forgotten about each other…

    The new ducklings are really coming into their own…Taub and Kutner continue to forge a unique friendship, and as Taub is more of a contemporary to House than all the other fellows I enjoy his interactions with his boss and co-workers. One question: we know Taub was a plastic surgeon and knew the specialisations of the previous fellows. Have those of Kutner or 13 ever been revealed? I’d be curious to know.

    In the end, Jeff gave House a lot more food for thought. When the plumber said to House in the end, “Happy?” and he replied “No, but I’m right.” It was so fun when he realized he was indeed wrong (we got one of those smiles). So, maybe there is hope for happiness(or at least Housian happiness).

    Lastly, I just wanted to note from a comment I saw on another fanboard: the similarity in theme of this episode and the theme song of another unforgettable series…M.A.S.H.

    I continue to throughly enjoy and agree with your thoughts Barbara and love reading everyone’s insightful comments…what a great start for 2009!

  • Debbie

    Hi Barbara, thank you for your wonderful review. I’ve been reading your blog since your first House review but this is my first time commenting.

    First I just want to say how much I love and look forward to your episode reviews and special House blogs. I find myself agreeing with you 99% of the time and love how your reviews and your commentors bring additional enjoyment to me for a television series and character that I am completely enamored with.

    Two things I was hoping you would’ve included in your review of “Painless” was 1) the aha moment for House, finally figuring out the medical mystery. How did he put testicles, epilepsy and severe pain all together? And 2) What was with the lawyer thing?

  • Sera G

    Hi, All!
    Great comments. I haven’t had a chance to watch “Painless” again, but I will try before the weekend is over. Second and third viewings are necessary for me to truly grasp the subtleties and pretend I understand the medicine.

    One thing I forgot in my list:
    House calling them “Foreteen.” LOL!
    At first I thought it was a wink to the audience and all of the shippers (Huddy/Hameron/Hilson) and to those on the Fox site who quickly dubbed them Foreteen. Then I realized that this episode had to be written several months ago.
    Those writers…so clever and so on to us!

  • barbara barnett

    thanks val, debbie for your comments. Debbie: House’s aha! moment came as he saw the plumber “adjusting” himself. That was the trigger to House’s aha. That one little obscure fact that was jarred loose by the visual made House think of epilepsy that if presenting by straining the area near the lower abdomen would cause the pain to present the way it did.

    the thing with the lawyer–House was trying to threaten the insurance company into paying for the pipes, which they said were not covered by the home warranty(interestingly, that suggests that House lives in a condo, not a rented apartment, but something he owns–and that he bought it as a new renovation). He needed the name of a lawyer (not the actual lawyer)–but when his name was dropped, the lawyer must’ve been contacted by the insurance company, which ticked off the lawyer–and cost House yet more money.

  • Orange450

    Barbara, thanks for a great review. I liked your article better than I liked the epsiode – which IMO, somehow lacked the subtlety of the really outstanding ones.

    You wrote:

    “Jeff tells House at one point (although how he knows, unless Cameron clued him in I couldn’t say) that with no family, House has an easier time dealing with chronic pain. Jeff argues that there is no one for whom House has to put on an act; no reason to conceal the pain he has; no expectations. Life is more difficult for family man Jeff.

    Actually, Jeff has gotten it wrong, because House spends a huge amount of energy doing just what Jeff says he need not.”

    To a certain extent, though, Jeff does have a point. House *can* give in to his pain at home – as we saw him do in this episode, and in previous ones. Once inside his four walls, he doesn’t have to put up a front for anyone. Remember “Detox”, when he smashed his hand as a counter-irritant? Imagine doing that with family in the house!

    “Ultimately, House is forced to answer this question from his patient: “what if it were you? Could you live like that?” It’s a question to which House cannot honestly answer “yes,”

    This scene made me wonder whether House would now have a different reaction to Stark’s wish to die in “97 Seconds”. I’ve always taken exception to his unilateral position that “misery is better than nothing”. Maybe it is for him – and maybe it isn’t, or it just depends on the degree of misery. But in any case – it’s not his call to make for anyone else. House has enough trouble living with his leg the way it troubles him now. And yet, that doesn’t compare to all the misery that Stark was facing in addition to the SMA.

    His “don’t touch the piano” reminded me of “Adverse Events”, and how House came home to find Lucas playing his piano. It didn’t seem to bother him at the time, but maybe he’s now worried that anyone he hires is going to feel free to try it 🙂

    Regarding the option of amputation that House was faced with in “Three Stories” – it seemed to me that Cuddy – acting as his doctor – was using the example of kids with prosthetic legs making excellent time in the 100-meter dash to reassure him that he could have a decent quality of life even if they amputated. So while the real-life position of his injury might contraindicate that, I think this may be an instance that requires one to suspend one’s disbelief, and believe that a “straightforward” amputation could have been possible. I actually thought his response to Cuddy: “…but not as pretty” was a reveal of his poor self-image – that he felt that any appeal he had was based on his physical appearance and abilities rather than his essential personality, and he was concerned about that.

  • Val

    Debbie, thanks for reminding me!

    Another thing I liked about the episode was the reference to the season two finale. When the lawyer says (I am paraphrasing here)–Which one of you is Dr. House? and House points to Foreman saying The tall, black guy and, in response to Foreman’s look, Last time this happened I got shot–was brilliant! It told me that House had been indeed thinking of the times when he faced his mortality and chosen to live.

    Great continuity on the part of the writing staff.

  • Orange450

    Hi Sera G,

    I definitely thought that “Foreteen” was a wink to the audience – that term’s been used for a long time already. I don’t know for sure, of course, but I think it was already in use before there was was any actual story about Foreman and 13 getting together.

  • barbara barnett

    “To a certain extent, though, Jeff does have a point. House *can* give in to his pain at home – as we saw him do in this episode, and in previous ones. Once inside his four walls, he doesn’t have to put up a front for anyone. Remember “Detox”, when he smashed his hand as a counter-irritant? Imagine doing that with family in the house!”
    True, House can go home and not put on a front for anyone, but clearly the kid and the wife have shared in Jeff’s pain for a long time–based on their reactions from the beginning of the episode on. House does not let his pain interfere with other lives, and we do see what it costs him when he can be alone with it. Even in HH and WH when everyone knew how badly injured he was, he suppressed how bad off he was in front of people. House is fairly stoic when it comes to his pain. And for all of his optimism, Jeff was ready to give up, and involve his son in suicide.

  • Maya


    I started reading your reviews a couple of months back. While I don’t always agree with everything you have to say, I generally come away with a richer understanding of the episode after doing so.

    I am very glad you didn’t choose to do a regular review of the episode because frankly I thought it was a pretty disappointing and had very little substance, except for the plumbing sub-plot which brilliantly and beautifully showed us House’s pain and his need to always be right.

    Your analysis of the twin themes of pain and suicide running through the episode and how they related to House over the years was excellent. You pointed out what is perhaps the most important of House’s contradictions , which is that he advocates and chooses life over death unless all hope is lost, yet has a self-destructive streak that is steadily driving him towards an early death.

    I think the reason this contradiction exists is that despite all the pain, self-hatred and pessimism which causes his self destructive behavior, somewhere deep inside him he does believe that he deserves happiness and there is a tiny glimmer of hope that he will experience some form of it in the future. It is what keeps him coming back when he’s teetering on the edge between life and death.

    This is beautifully shown in the scene towards the end of Wilson’s Heart (which you surprisingly didn’t mention). when House is on the brink of death and hallucinates that he’s chatting with Amber’s ghost on the bus and she tells him he isn’t dead yet. House thinks he deserves to be but he nevertheless lets her convince him that he should get off the bus and chooses life with the possibility of perhaps a bit less misery. We see it in Joy when he is completely thrown off balance when Cuddy asks him why he has to negate everything . And for the first time we see him making an effort to grasp that glimmer of hope at the end of The Itch when a cane-less and helmet-less House rushes to Cuddy’s.

    “Jeff, on the other hand, seems to wear his pain on his sleeve. The pills no longer effective, Jeff conceals nothing — not even from his young son — about his upset, including that he wants his life to be over. Jeff is not only trying to destroy himself, he has no qualms about taking his family down with him (emotionally, anyway).”

    Jeff had been successfully maintaining a front for his family for a long time and the statement he makes to House comes from his own experience. His son tells Taub that his father used to smile a lot, for instance. It is only recently that he’s stopped trying and dropped all pretenses because his pain has become totally unmanageable.

    “Actually, Jeff has gotten it wrong, because House spends a huge amount of energy doing just what Jeff says he need not. House scowls, glares, and insults for the very purpose of keeping people far enough away that they don’t see how much he’s suffering.”

    The difference between Jeff and House is that Jeff maintains a front to keep his family happy while House does it so his colleagues and patients don’t pity him, perceive him as weak or think that its taking away from his ability to do his job. Also, he can let down his front when he’s at home as we have often see him do when he rubs his leg and paces around, something that Jeff probably never had the luxury of doing when he was maintaining his front successfully.

    Luisa Borges:

    Love your analogy between House’s broken pipes and the free flow of emotion in his life and how his stubbornness is interfering with both.

  • Lisa G

    Hello again
    Barbara, the very interesting debate going on between you and some of the commenters about how House handles his pain, and what that means, has compeled me to chime in again.
    “House does not let his pain interfere with other lives, and we do see what it costs him when he can be alone with it. Even in HH and WH when everyone knew how badly injured he was, he suppressed how bad off he was in front of people. House is fairly stoic when it comes to his pain.”
    I absolutley agree with you and at the same time I think this is a huge problem for House. Living alone does give him the “luxury” of finally giving in to his pain. Something I think he needs to do. Now that House is finally taking, or at least contemplating taking, slow steps toward a relationship with Cuddy I believe he is thinking of all the ramifications of having someone else around him so often, of what he would have to give up. Remember after LTEC when House talks to Taub about sacraficing something to make a relationship work? In House’s case being in a relationship gets very complicated when you also factor in his pain and how he deals with it differently when he is alone, as aposed to when he around other people. If House moves foward with a relationship he will have to sacrifice either the sanctuary of not having to hide or deflect or guard himself in anyway when he is alone or, in his eyes, his pride when he is unable to mask what his pain does to him. I think that thought was what made the conversation between these two suffering men so painful for me to hear. It felt as if Jeff was again condeming House to a life of loneliness. And the fact that Chase and Cammeron got to hear this conversation was very moving.

  • Debbie

    Thanks for the clarifications, Barbara I saw the episode twice so far and I didn’t catch either of these things at either viewing. Sometimes I’ve got to watch an episode multiple times to “get it” (how he solves the mystery) (Such a burden, but am willing to sacrifice! ;0)

  • Orange450

    Yes, House is stoic, and sucks up a lot of pain. I agree with Maya, who says that he doesn’t want people to pity him. But we only see Jeff now, when his situation has become intolerable. Even though we know that his family has been seeing him like this for a long time – in the OR, he refers back to a time when he could still hope for “good days”. He’d probably been trying to put up a front for his family for a long time – before it became impossible to continue to do so.

    I had a thought that maybe the parallels between Jeff and House were designed to show House an additional kind of contrast – that as bad as it is to have to deal with others when in such pain, the flip side is that “feeling better” feels even better when one can share it with loved ones. (His adorable smile when he shook the shower pipe was his own “happy ending”, but he had no one to share it with!) House has been taking baby steps since the beginning of S5 – does he move forward in connection with others, or doesn’t he? He seems to be at some sort of crossroads now, and I think that the examination of family relationships in connection to pain and its relief may be nudging him in one direction or another – yet to be demonstrated.

    Lisa G, I agree with you that he’s been thinking about relationships as they apply to him. I think his badgering Cuddy as she’s trying to figure out her potential role as a mother is related to his exploration of the ups and downs of what happens to a person when they open up to intense, life-altering relationships. I think this also applies to his contemplation of a possible relationship with Cuddy, herself.

    (I did think that Jeff’s involving his young son was basically unforgivable – and I also thought that he could have decided on a different, less dramatic way to commit suicide – maybe one in which he’d be found in bed, looking as if he’d died in his sleep. While still not good, that would have avoided some of the trauma of his son finding him in the garage.)

    I’m in the middle of “House and Philosophy”, from the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series. Has anyone else been reading it? Very interesting, although the contributors have opinions about incidents in episodes that not everyone will agree with. So what else is new? 🙂

  • barbara barnett

    Congratulations to Hugh Laurie on his wonderful achievement–a second Screen Actors Guild award. Well deserved, and so wonderful to for him to once again to be recognized by his peers.

  • Sheelagh

    So terrific when such a fine actor and gentleman as Hugh Laurie is recognized by his peers. The fan base also appreciates Lisa Edelstein’s enthusiastic shout outs for her colleague and friend during the award ceremony. It seemed to cut both his tension ….and ours! It’s great to be able to enjoy this fine actor and cast in this riveting show. They make me smile.

  • Kim

    Yeahh! Congratulations to Hugh Laurie. He deserves it.

    Sheelagh–“The fan base also appreciates Lisa Edelstein’s enthusiastic shout outs for her colleague and friend during the award ceremony.It seemed to cut both his tension ….and ours!”

    I’m from Spain so I have not a chance to see the SAG’s show. Please can you explain more what you mean when you wrote the above lines. I would like to know ’cause I´m a Lisa Edelstein fan.

    Thaks Barbara for the Painless review and Katie Jacobs interview. They were both great.

  • Alessandra

    Hurrah for mr. Laurie! Sorry Barbara if we’re going out of topic, but this must be said: he really deserved it. And I think it’s pity they didn’t get the prize for the cast…but a first nomination is a sort of recognizement, too, in my opinion.

  • Sheelagh

    Reply to Kim: sorry Barbara I won’t make this a habit, I realize we’ve strayed off topic, but we’re celebrating here! Re my comments above:

    Lisa Edelstein shouted out a loud & very enthusiastic “Yeah” after Hugh’s performance clip was shown at the SAG Awards which appeared to amuse & touch Hugh Laurie. He acknowledged her with a warm smile & small head bow that seemed ease his tension while awaiting the announcement of the winner. Hugh Laurie tends to bolt for the stage once called up at award ceremonies, but he took the time last evening to stop & take both of Lisa’s hands kiss her on the cheek. Lisa was so clearly delighted for him . She continued her vocal shout outs ( much to Kal Penn’s amusement)as Hugh hoisted his award on stage. It was all very warm and demonstratively supportive of a talented friend & colleague.

  • barbara barnett

    Totally fine. I think I was the first to actually go “off topic” for this column. Actually “off topic” is always fine. This isn’t a forum 🙂

    That SAG is well-deserved. House’s Head alone should havve secured that award! Bravo.

  • Kim

    Sheelagh–Thanks for your reply. I wish I could see this images which sound like you said “very warm and demonstratively supportive of a talented friend & colleague.”

    And also thanks Barbara for letting us celebrate here Hugh’s award.

  • Orange450

    I wasn’t able to watch the SAG awards in real time last night, and didn’t record them either. And I’m old enough to remember a time when if you didn’t watch the show when it aired, you probably weren’t going to get to see it. But Kim, thanks to the marvels of the internet, if you go to youtube.com and enter “SAG 2009 Hugh Laurie” into the search line, there are several entries that you can watch and enjoy. (Barbara, I hope it’s OK to refer to that website by name on blogcritics.)

    Sheelagh, when HL took Lisa’s hands and gave her a kiss on the cheek, it really looked to me as if he was acknowledging and thanking her for everything she’s contributed to his personal success, and the success of the series. Always, but especially in HH and WH, and all of this past season, when they’ve played against each other so remarkably, and she’s been an incredible foil for him.

    It’s so gracious, and so like him, to stop at the moment of his own spotlight and show appreciation for a very significant reason that he’s in it.

  • Kyrpio

    I’m so glad Hugh got the SAG award, he deserves it for his portrayal of such a complex character. I sometimes wonder how much of the complexity is written, and how much is in his interpretation; however it originates, it is acted beautifully! I read recently that Hugh Laurie doesn’t think House took off in the UK because he plays an American – I don’t think that’s the case, it is shown on a network that isn’t available nationally, and season 5 hasn’t even started here yet. House got a poor deal in the UK, but it still has many fans here!

    Anyway, onto the episode!! Thanks Barbara for such an insightful commentary, and to others viewpoints; I have just re-watched the episode, with your comments in mind, and picked up on the things I missed the first time around, some of the looks between House and Cuddy for example! I thought Wilson was under-used in this episode, it seems to be exactly the type of case that would throw him into psychoanalyst mode, especially when combined with House’s increased pain. It was interesting that the new Ducklings didn’t register his increased pain, but his old ones did (there was a cut to Foreman observing House as they were sat round a table, though he didn’t comment). Is it possible House disconnected himself from his old Fellows because they could see right through him, perhaps start to pity him?!? Or am I reading too much into this?

    I loved Wilson’s duck ‘It’s too big?’ and House’s wry smile as he got into the bath – thanks Barbara for the burst pipe/House’s feelings connection; I hadn’t taken it that far while thinking about it (I had just noted the irony of House’s leg being responsible for wrecking the thing that gives him most (non drug induced) relief from his pain… connotations with his love life?).

    The other moment I liked was between Kutner and Taub, and Taubs simple ‘nope’ in confirmation of Kutner’s suicide theory. I like how they didn’t make a big deal, there was no big reveal of a traumatic past – can you imagine Cameron revealing this in such a manner?

    Anyway, that was my 2 cents – I look forward to the next episode and review, I’m glad I found this blog, it’s nice to find people who read as deeply into this program as I try to!!

  • Kim

    Orange450 — Thanks Orange450 for your advice.In the webpage were several videos.I enjoyed watching all of them.

    See u in the next review. I love this blog


  • Debbie

    “It was interesting that the new Ducklings didn’t register his increased pain, but his old ones did (there was a cut to Foreman observing House as they were sat round a table, though he didn’t comment). Is it possible House disconnected himself from his old Fellows because they could see right through him, perhaps start to pity him?!? Or am I reading too much into this?”

    Kyrpio, you make a very keen observation here.

    Remember Chase and Cameron’s reactions when the POTW asks him if his pain has gotten worse and House admits that it has. Chase turned to look at him during the procedure as if he was surprised that House admitted it and Cameron, up in the theatre, turns away as if it was painful for her to hear his admission.

    You may be on to something!

  • Debbie

    The part of Kyrpio’s comment I was referring to was: the new Ducklings didn’t register his increased pain, but his old ones did (there was a cut to Foreman observing House as they were sat round a table, though he didn’t comment). Is it possible House disconnected himself from his old Fellows because they could see right through him, perhaps start to pity him?!? Or am I reading too much into this?

    (My apologies for any confusion. I thought I included it in my reply.)

  • Thank you Barbara for your insightful essay.

    Every time that House has recklessly gambled with his life, as in “97 Seconds”, it has forcefully reminded me of his ongoing desperate state.

    House’s last act of wanton risk-taking with his life was the Season 4 finale. Luckily, we have reached the middle of Season 5 without House blindly flinging his life out to meet its fate. This is even more potentially hopeful than at first glance because House has remained steady this season in the face of Wilson’s defection and Cuddy’s preoccupation and absorbtion elsewhere. Could it be possible that House is done with recklessly endangering himself?

    Here in Switzerland assisted suicide is legal, as it is in Belgium and the Netherlands. The criteria is quality of life, not certain death within six months. Therefore, the mentally ill, chronic pain patients, quadriplegics and others have the option of assisted suicide if they can convince a doctor and cover the costs.

    On the House and Cuddy front, we were given three scenes.(that I remember) Two of the scenes tied off stray threads.

    The opening scene of House and Cuddy arriving at the hospital ended with House teasing about his busy schedule and an appointment with a w-h-o-r-e. But Cuddy cut him off quickly, saying, “You two will have to go outside and play”. Does she mean House and Cameron(new patient) or House and his ‘paid for’ playmate(w-h-o-r-e)? Or both? One could argue that House was fishing for a reaction from Cuddy about a prostitute to find out if Cuddy had, indeed, seen him with such a one (“Let Them Eat Cake”). His subsequent reaction to Cuddy’s comment was to throw away all his telephone messages in frustration and perhaps rueful chagrin.

    The second scene which tied up a loose end was when House caressed Cuddy’s desk. Thanks to Barbara’s interview with Katie Jacobs, we already knew that House was the secret admirer who arranged for her desk to be delivered, also in “Let Them Eat Cake”. I especially loved the battle scene that raged between House and Cuddy after the desk caress. We know that House just wants her back at work. I imagine doing his “one thing” isn’t as satisfying without her.

  • bakerstreet blues

    Of all the episodes of House MD, this is the one that truly breaks my heart and literally makes me cry for House. When Jeff asks House if he is having more bad days lately, House’s emotional honest “Yes” completely broke my heart. It is one thing for House to be honest with a patient, but totally different for him to be that honest with Chase (and Cameron) in the room listening. If he is willing to open his soul with them there he is clearly hurting. I never could figure out how House curing someone worse off than House could possibly help him, considering ALL of House’s patients are worse off than him. It seemed more cruel to me that Cameron showed House his future with the knowledge that there is no way to stop the train on his tracks. There may never be a future for House without pain. If Cameron doesn’t know that House has already attempted suicide then I would be shocked (since Wilson tells all House’s secrets). I do believe that Cameron understands House better than anyone else at PPTH (including Wilson), and is also concerned about him, but I don’t think this was a good patient for House to work with. Yes he was cured, but that does nothing to change House’s future. I also noticed that House acknowledged that he was wrong about his shower being his fault. This is just another tell that House is not OK. He is cruising down a hill and gathering speed quickly. I also noticed that Cuddy was of no help either, accusing House of “checking under the hood with no regard to Jeff’s life”, seriously can she be that dense? Cuddy leads all of her cases with her heart and is continually saved by House’s objectivity (Humpty Dumpty, Fetal Position, Joy, and there are others), before she can make any real mistakes, but is always the first to accuse House of doing just that. Jumping ahead on this train of thought: the argument that Cuddy presents to House in Fetal Position about how the baby’s doctor would want all possibilities explored before taking its life….and too bad that doctor is your boss is exactly the argument that House presents to Cuddy in Help Me. Almost word for word….but Cuddy instantly assumes that House’s decision is based on emotion over Cuddy’s engagement. (out of the chute she does the same thing again). The fact that Cuddy tries to accuse House of this again in this episode just bothers me. On a side note, I really wanted to choke Taub to death here. He really doesn’t know House, nor does he seem to really want to learn anything from him. I have noticed that every time one of the fellows jumps up on their HIGH HORSE to judge someone on something it is always relative to their own short comings. Taub=suicide and sex (of any kind), Kutner=bullying Foreman=con artists 13=sexuality and relationship lies. Oddly enough the man with the most short comings (or so believed by everyone else, House) never judges any patient.