Although Della is willing to be martyr for her brother, saving the few years he has left in a selfless sacrifice of her own. But what effect would her death have on Hugo? Far from being a selfless act, dying would leave Hugo without a sister—someone to live life in a way he cannot—through whom he can live a vicarious and exciting life.
This is the type of ethical choice House (and House) is especially good at, but his new relationship with Cuddy at stake, is House willing to “do what needs to be done, rules be damned” if that mean creating conflict in the fledgling romance? Throughout the episode, House tries so hard not to step on Cuddy’s toes, Taub observes the short leash Cuddy has lassoed around his neck. House realizes that he is being overly deferential; he knows the relationship is affecting his medical decisions, but can’t help himself. He wants so desperately for the relationship to work, he’s second guessing himself and tiptoeing around choices that might upset her.
Deferring to Cuddy—refusing to engage her in debate, arguing his cause or going around her back frustrates the team—and eventually even frustrates Cuddy, because it gets them nowhere either with each other or with the patient. And if it keeps up the entire relationship will implode.
In a pivotal scene, House wants to do a risky procedure on Della, Cuddy approves the procedure, but House senses that she opposes it. Pulling his punches, House goes with a less risky procedure. It works, but as Taub insists, it might not the next time. Second guessing himself to please Cuddy is not the way to run his practice. But how to make it work—and make things with Cuddy not contentious?
And although they seem to be selfless, each afraid to make a move to oppose the other, House and Cuddy are also being selfish. As they guard their relationship, just beginning to blossom, they nearly blow apart the case. House, afraid to do what has to be done, rules be damned for fear of ticking off Cuddy, feeling compelled to defer to her, and Cuddy afraid to rein in her reckless-prone doc finally come to their senses and act as if they had no intimate relationship at all, perhaps the riskiest—and most selfless act possible.
Precipitated by the parent’s decision not to allow a lung transplant from Hugo, House blows up (finally), pointing out as only House can, the idiocy (and bad math) of their decision. But the decision is removed from them when Hugo overhears the blow up and insists against his parents’ wishes (and Della’s) to donate part of his lung: a selfish/selfless act. The resolution is incredibly satisfying when Cuddy and House start arguing the ethics of the situation and blow up at each other. As Cuddy says, it’s the most honest they’d been with each other all day. It clears the air between them, and gives each (and their relationship) room to breathe.
Another thread of the “selfish/selfless” theme emerges when House is plopped into a family conflict when an elderly man brings his even more elderly father into the clinic. The son wants House to insist that Dad be placed in an assisted living arrangement. He’s tired after all these years of being parent to his father. For once, he wants to be “selfish.”
Unbeknownst to him, Dad, too wants to be rid of his hovering son who “can’t let go” and also asks House “selfishly” to be recommended for the old folks’ home (a private suite with all the trimmin’s). Over the course of the series, House has been forced into these little family situations, where a little Housian honesty might go a long way to make everyone a little less miserable. This clinic beat is classic, appearing several times during the episode.
Even the team exhibits selfishness in the their reactions to House and Cuddy’s news: Foreman thinks that a happier House is a less harsh boss; Taub, who enjoys the excitement of their practice sees no good if it mean House will play it safe and let Cuddy keep him on a short leash. But is House right when he suggests Taub’s concern might be more selfish? Does Taub like the miserable company that House provides, and if that’s gone, is Taub sitting on that limb all by himself as House suggests?
Next week, Amy Irving guest stars as a children’s author in “Unwritten.” More about that, hopefully, later in the week. Stay tuned!