In this week’s House, M.D. episode “Unplanned Parenthood,” Jennifer Grey (Dirty Dancing) guest stars as Abbey, a middle-aged new mother whose baby is born with serious breathing problems. In addition to dealing with her sick newborn, the new mom is also dealing with the resentment of her adult daughter, jealous that the mom who was never available when she was young, is suddenly so invested in this tiny new life.
But it turns out that despite trying to take care of herself while pregnant, Abbey has two forms of deadly cancer: melanoma and lung cancer. The metastasized melanoma has been passed to the infant, but (almost miraculously), the antibodies from the cancer are sufficient to fight off the cancer cells in the baby. Blood transfusions from mother to newborn seem to treat the baby’s melanoma; but without treating her own dual cancers, Abbey will die—likely from a blood clot in her lung. Wanting to do right by her baby, Abbey refuses treatment until the newborn has received sufficient blood from her to kill the cancer. Sacrificing herself to save her baby, Abbey dies, leaving her baby daughter in the arms (and hands) of her other daughter.
The medical story is pretty straight on the nose, and largely handled by the team without House (Hugh Laurie), with the addition of a pediatrician from the NICU, who becomes a candidate for a place on House’s team. She is sharp and has a lot to add, but in the end, she decides to stick with her current practice. That’s too bad; I really liked Dr. Chang.
In the meantime, House and Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) play their own unplanned parenthood game when Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) asks House to babysit Rachel. There is nothing very deep here, and I’m reminded somehow of an old Dick van Dyke (or some other similar classic situation comedy) episode where Rob Petrie and Jerry Helper (his neighbor) have to do a mom thing; it goes wrong, and Jerry and Rob try to cover it up without letting Laura know about it. Of course it eventually backfires, despite their efforts, care and really good intentions. No surprises here—completely predictable, but very, very funny.
House is pulled in several directions, caught between his natural inclination to avoid things that scare him or have challenges outside is comfort zone. This House is part jerk; part endearing and charming; part fun and funny; part wanting to do the right thing and part not. Is this how Stacy saw in him so long before we met him—before the infarction?
House has Wilson to be a (rather misguided but effective) guide on this adventure—one the likes of which, I’m pretty sure, House has never before experienced. Yeah, House is great around kids in the clinic. He has the chops to treat them and entertain them. His has a lot of empathy for them when they’re under his care. But this is Cuddy’s kid we’re talking about and not a dying child or societal victim. The challenge is greater than conjuring miracle cures: it’s chasing a toddler around Cuddy’s home.
House tries to bail on his promise when Rachel wakes up demanding juice. She doesn’t really want juice so much as to have a little fun. There is nothing quite so animated and exasperating as a two-year old knowing she can outrun and outfox you. House is neither physically (or in any other way) up to the task. So, who you ‘gonna call? Wilson, of course.
House’s plan is to leave Wilson with Rachel. House plays the jerk card and leaves, believing that Wilson would never leave the baby alone in the house. Wilson plays the “it’s not me who’s getting sex from Rachel’s mom” card and threatens to do just that. In the end, neither can really leave her, so both stay to tend to the (impossibly cute) toddler.
However, it seems that Rachel has gotten into the Chinese food Wilson has so graciously brought with him—and the bowl of popcorn House has left on the coffee table. But neither of those are the issue, as House catches her in the act of eating a coin—change from restaurant.
Situation comedy ensues when House and Wilson frantically try to figure out if Rachel has actually swallowed any of the change, and a quick tally suggests there is still a dime missing. Of course they can’t tell Cuddy what happened. (Television males can never admit to being inferior at child care. It’s a rule.)
House goes on “poop watch” hoping that the allegedly swallowed dime will emerge as nature intends. But there is a small chance that the dime will become lodged and cause serious intestinal problems for Cuddy’s beloved baby. So House and Wilson do what any self-respecting duo of comedy males would do and keep watch on the kid until the dime meets its natural end. Which it does—eventually. And predictably, it is Cuddy who finds the dime, right where it belongs, in Rachel’s diaper at changing time—after House and Wilson believe themselves to be in the clear.
It’s enjoyable watching House and Wilson together, totally witless about caring for a child. And trying to be sneaky in keeping the truth of the swallowed coinage from Cuddy.
The patient story was interesting, if straightforward, but it didn’t draw me in as most episodes do. I have really enjoyed season seven; I enjoyed “Unplanned Parenthood.” I usually adore David Foster’s episodes immensely; they are usually packed with subtext and other little gems. Perhaps the subtext of this episode concerns the responsibility that goes along with parenthood—even when it’s not planned. Abbey, in an extreme understanding of the nature of this responsibility, sacrifices her life for the life of her child. Abbey’s adult daughter, in turn, accepts the yoke of responsibility—of unplanned parenthood—when Abbey dies.
Cuddy asks House to watch Rachel, perhaps testing his willingness to be a surrogate parent (while testing her own concerns about him—expressed last episode). Can he take on the responsibility of child? Is he capable and can he rise to the occasion? At first, we’re not so sure, but when it becomes a matter or either telling Cuddy about the swallowed coin or becoming a watchful parent, House does seem to take seriously (eventually) his responsibility. It isn’t easy; it doesn’t come naturally—and he is reluctant in the extreme—and it’s completely twisted, but he does it.
Taub (Peter Jacobson) also has responsibility thrust upon him: to be father to the team and hire a new fellow. He fails, unwilling to follow his own instincts, certain that House is setting him up to fail. And in the end, it is Taub who causes himself to fail. It isn’t quite unplanned parenthood, but it seems to sort of fit the overarching theme of the episode.
It bothered me, however, that House is barely engaged in the case, relegated to the “B” plot. But with the comedic “B” plot being so front and center (and really where the episode’s action takes place), the entire episode seemed slightly off to me.
The series is off the air for the next few weeks, and will return November 8 with “Office Politics.” Later this week, I’ll have up my interview about the “television ratings game” with Robert Siedman of TV by the Numbers. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet, read last week’s interview with Lisa Edelstein or have a listen to a Canadian radio interview with me talking about the series and House’s season seven.