“Who's Your Daddy” is one of those House, MD episodes that people either love or hate. When it first aired at the end of season two, the episode was soundly trashed by some in the fandom. I guess I never figured out why. Having aired on FOX this past Friday night, I find an opportunity to revisit the penultimate episode of season two.
I am firmly in the “I really loved it” camp. It was revelatory and touched on House’s musical background. And Hugh Laurie does such a fabulous job of dealing with House’s emotional conflict regarding an old friend, his suppressed feelings for Cuddy, and his unrelenting pain. "Who's Your Daddy" also sets us up for the season finale and House’s decision to try a radical pain therapy as he deals with increasingly uncontrollable pain.
The first scene after the opening credits takes place in House’s flat. He is alone, in his pajamas. As he paces, distressed and in a great deal of pain, House grows increasingly desperate in his movements, looking for a moment's relief. But after hours of walking, pacing, trying more and more Vicodin, the terrible pain in House's leg still gnaws at him. It's a long scene; a revelatory scene; a scene without one word of dialogue.
Hugh Laurie is at his best in these dialogue-free scenes. He conveys the building panic in House’s body language and in his eyes as nothing seems to work to keep the pain in check. After what must’ve been hours, he can pace no more, supporting his weight on his kitchen island; the pain is so intense that he is nearly in tears. It is in this frame of mind that he collects his morphine rescue kit from where he has hidden it on a high and barely accessible shelf. For this extreme step to be sympathetic, we have to buy that House's pain is so intense, that if he doesn't do it, he will collapse. Laurie is simply brilliant at conveying the range of emotions through which House must be going. It leaves us to wonder whether we've looked voyeuristically in on an isolated event, or gotten a peek at the physical distress he endures regularly, in the privacy of his personal life.
Before he can inject himself with the drug, the phone rings and Cuddy has a case for him. Work beckons, and despite the uncontrolled pain, he realizes that morphine will dull his ability to diagnose the case. And perhaps the distraction of a case will mitigate the pain enough to make it manageable.
Cut to the hospital, where we meet House’s old friend Dylan Crandall, a writer. He and House were friends when House was in college. Presumably, during those university days, House supported himself by playing jazz. House immediately suspects that Crandall (known as a bit of a pushover) is being scammed by Leona, the granddaughter of a famous jazz pianist, and the subject of a Crandall biography. Leona has convinced Crandall that she is his daughter, and that her mother died, a victim of Hurricane Katrina. House doesn’t believe it for a minute. Much of the remainder of the episode is divided between figuring out what's wrong with the girl — and her real story; Wilson trying to figure out how a guy like Crandall and a guy like House could possibly be friends; and House dealing with a level of pain we've not seen very often. And dealing with Cuddy's big secret.
We've often seen Cuddy and Wilson insist that House has increased pain when his overly active mind is bored; that all House needs is a puzzle to solve and – voila! – no leg pain. We’d seen that theory tested earlier in season two’s episode “Skin Deep.” It’s tested again here, as House has multiple distractions. But his pain problem hangs, growing more severe as the episode wears on. His pacing becomes more frantic. He tries keeping the leg cushioned and elevated; he tries massage (to humorous effect); he tries more Vicodin and nothing seems to be helping him. This is not pain from boredom or guilt (as Wilson suggests at one point); or from missing Stacy (as Wilson and Cuddy suggested in “Skin Deep”). I wonder whether House would have even thought about self-medicating with morphine as he did in “Who’s Your Daddy” had Wilson and Cuddy not been so dismissive of him in earlier episodes.
One of the things that most intrigued me about the episode was the nature of House’s relationship with Crandall. Twenty-five years earlier, House slept with Crandall’s girlfriend, betraying his friend. After 25 years House still feels guilt and remorse about his actions, taken at the age of 20. To this day, Crandall probably has no idea that it had even happened. But House can't let go of having betrayed both Crandall and his own ethical code.
Believing that Leona is taking the easily conned Crandall for a ride, House wants to do a paternity test. Crandall refuses, liking the idea of having someone to care about — a daughter he never knew he had. The Gregory House that everyone thinks they know would do the test anyway and prove that Crandall’s a fool for being so obviously scammed, shoving it in his face (as Wilson expects). Although House does the paternity test, he does it surreptitiously, telling no one of the results even though House is proven right; Leona is not Crandall’s daughter. But then House does something apparently uncharacteristic. He lies to Leona, shocking her with the news that that Crandall actually is her father, preserving Crandall's fantasy. He couldn't, in the end, kill Crandall's dream (echoed so beautifully in the season four episode "The Right Stuff").
House's inability to let things go has been a recurrent theme the first two seasons. He was unable to let Stacy go, remaining haunted and in love with her for five years after she walked out on him. He couldn't let Esther's case go in "All In," tormented by it for 12 years. But this is also the side of House he never lets anyone see — the essentially decent man; the one who in season three’s “Human Error” Wilson wants House to reveal to Foreman. But House — the man who can be protective of those who are weaker (children in general, syphilis lady, the mom in "Socratic Method"), who is a closet romantic, a closet idealist — never wants this side of himself known.
Finally, one of my favorite reasons to love this episode: House's scenes with Cuddy just crackled with sexual tension. I love that House did not run and tell Wilson that Cuddy's trying to get pregnant after he learned about it in "Forever." But then in “Who’s Your Daddy,” we find that House continues to keep her secret, and that Cuddy trusts him enough to take him into her confidence, asking him to administer her fertility injections.
Cuddy knows (as do we all) that House is a gossip. But he's a gossip of trivial things — and this is not a trivial thing. This is something incredibly important to Cuddy — and maybe to House as well. The trust between them is just wonderfully played. And that first injection scene, to me, will go down in my book as being one of the most erotic scenes on the show ever.
We learn that when it comes to some things, House doesn't believe that the purely empirical is, de facto, the best path. He urges Cuddy, in ways only House can, not to select a donor based strictly on genetics. "Pick someone you trust," House warns her. "Like you?" Cuddy asks him sarcastically. "Someone you like," he simply responds, looking away, unable to look her in the eye. I have never seen House quite so earnest.
The end of the episode leaves us back where we began. House, home at last, can take his morphine and chill out on his sofa, finally relieved of his pain. It is only then that we learn about the nice thing he has done for Crandall. Did it without anyone suspecting, unselfishly, and without thanks or acknowledgment — something that is a key MO for House.
House airs four new episodes at a new time (Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT) beginning April 28. I’ve been hearing some tidbits hither and yon, and I am very, very excited about these final episodes. So stay tuned!