“Open and Shut,” the 19th episode in House, M.D.’s sixth season, is an examination of relationships within the context of the patient’s open marriage. She and her husband have an agreement that allows them to be with other sexual partners based upon the idea that the openness of their marriage will prevent the lies, secrets and misery other marriages. Like Taub’s (Peter Jacobson). Taub is a serial philanderer who struggles with keeping faithful to his wife Rachel. So the episode allows us to observe the two relationships juxtaposed. Is an open marriage the panacea to Taub’s marital issues? Is it really that simple? On House, as in real life, nothing is ever that simple.
And then we have the budding retreaded relationship between Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) and his first wife Samantha (Cynthia Watros). Tangling with an ex-spouse can be a minefield in any scenario, but when you add in House (as in Dr. Greg, played by the always interesting Hugh Laurie), “minefield” is almost too gentle a word to describe it.
House plays puppet master in all three relationships, trying to illuminate each in the harsh light of day, tease out what's real and what's hidden behind a smokescreen of lies and deceptions. But is he playing the cynic or the romantic? Is he trying to help, or is he only interested in inflicting misery on the players in these relationships?
House does not believe that truth hurts a relationship. Honesty, whatever its consequences cleans the slate and removes the subterfuge. As House dissects the patient’s relationship with her husband, Hadley realizes that House isn’t the disdainful cynic; he’s the disillusioned, pro-monogamy romantic.
House visits the patient, curious about how she and her husband justify their relationship, especially with a six-year old child. But she disarms him, relating how much better it is to live life openly, without the toxicity of secrets and lies that pollute other, less honest relationships. I wonder if her philosophy resonates with House, himself the product of an unfaithful mother. Was their household tension caused in part by the open secret that House could not have been John House’s son? Would young Greg’s life have been any less miserable?
Buying into the logic of this relationship, however--at least for the moment--House believes he has found “the unicorn,” as Taub puts it: a mythical and honest relationship where happiness is attainable and love maintained by an open sexual attitude towards marriage. But when Chase discovers that the husband, in fact has not been playing around on the side and only agrees to his wife’s infidelity because it makes her happy, House immediately suspects that all is not open and honest in this marriage. Chase calls him on the cynicism that immediately makes him jump from the husband’s assertion to “he must be compensating for his own misdeeds.” He allows it, therefore he must be perpetrating his own betrayal. House unicorn is now a “donkey with a plunger stuck to its face.”