Here be (mild) spoilers.
Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) is infectious diseases specialist. In other words, he knows his bugs (that is, viruses and bacteria). And when the opening scene of Monday’s House, M.D. episode “A Pox on Our House” suggests an outbreak of smallpox on a slave ship, I was immediately intrigued.
The teaser is a four minute mini-movie complete with a CGI ship, Dutch slave traders and a segue onto a modern ship off Bermuda where a young girl finds more than she bargains for when scuba diving. Finding a sealed barnacle-covered, sealed bottle in the deep of the slave boat shipwreck, she cuts her hand when the bottle slips from her grip. That can’t be good. House thinks its the long-eradicated virus smallpox.
Foreman, Chase and Masters are skeptical, with Foreman insisting the girl only has the flu, but House explains that the bottle contained primitive vaccine made from the scabs of infected pox victims. Even after obtaining confirmation from the CDC that it’s theoretically possible for a virus to survive 200 years in a sealed bottle, Foreman continues to insist they test for the most likely suspects: varicella, measles and all those boring 21st Century that House would find boring. Eventually the evidence is overwhelming and House is right; it’s smallpox.
But just as the CDC comes in to take over the diagnosis, House begins to suspect that it’s something else, which puts him at odds with the CDC’s infection control guru—who’s smug arrogance makes puts House’s to shame. Clearly this guy either isn’t aware of House’s reputation—or he just doesn’t care, treating House and his team like country doctors who need to make way for the boys and girls from Atlanta (where CDC is based).
What follows is a confrontation between House’s team and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) infectious diseases specialist. Is it smallpox or something else—something that behaves much as smallpox would. Enlisting an unconventional source (an amusingly inappropriate translator), House realizes it’s not the fatal disease, which was eradicated decades ago—but something mimicking the symptoms. The CDC guy hears nothing of it, But when House continues to insist that it’s not smallpox, he risks his life to prove he’s right–and save the patient.
In the meantime, House and Cuddy grapple with their relationship in the aftermath of his lie last week about the faked test result (“Office Politics”). Although Cuddy understands that House will do whatever he needs to save a patient’s life (including things that will contravene her orders), she is upset that House has kept it from her—even after the fact. Although House has forewarned that he will likely do “horrible things to her” (“Now What?”), his lie seems to have hit a particularly sensitive nerve, one that strikes at her professional pride and authority as Dean.
Suspecting that Cuddy knows, House finally comes clean, wondering why she hadn’t said anything about it. But bringing the lie out in the open doesn’t really help when they can’t come to terms about whether or not it’s possible to compartmentalize their professional and personal lives. House believes it’s not only possible but necessary; Cuddy vehemently disagrees.
Wilson and Sam also explore their relationship after the smallpox scare has caused a hospital-wide quarantine. Wilson’s cancer patient, a little girl who only wants her “Lamby” doll requires very special bedside manner from couple as they watch over her. The experience allows Wilson and Sam to consider nature of their relationship and where it may be going.
I liked “A Pox on Our House.” Masters gets to shine big time in this episode especially (without giving too much away) when House is in no position to come up with the final diagnosis himself. I’ve always argued that he should always be the smartest guy in the room, and I still believe that, but I don’t mind Masters channelling House; she “gets” him—probably more than any of the others who work for him.
I’m not sure I’d like it as much, however, if this dynamic became part of the show’s regular rhythm long term. In a way, she makes the rest of the team look ineffectual by comparison, which they often appear anyway, stuck in House’s long shadow.
But I wonder how the House “boys” will feel having to live in Masters’ shadow as well. I get that Masters and House are probably more similar than any other two characters on the show, and I’ve long contended that as a young doctor, House might have been a lot like the Masters we see here (although never likely quite as idealistic). So I don’t mind seeing how this all plays out within the team.
Anyway, more about “A Pox Upon Our House” after the episode airs tomorrow night, Monday, November 15, 8:00 p.m. ET on FOX.
Media heads up: I’ll be appearing on FOX’s Chicago affiliate WFLD tomorrow morning (Monday) about 8:50 a.m. (CT) to talk about House and more. So, if you’re in Chicago, tune in or, if you’re not, watch the live stream.