Thursday , October 1 2020
House, MD's third outing of season three examines perception vs. reality as the team treats an artist in "Adverse Events."

TV Review: House, MD – “Adverse Events”

(Apologies to my dear readers for the lateness of this review — the Jewish High Holy Days delay more than Congressional votes!)

“I wanna be what you see when you look at me.” A patient’s teary confession to his girlfriend. It sounds romantic, wanting to be an idealized version of yourself, to make a significant other happy; maybe to love us more. In House’s case, the opposite is often true. He wants others to see what he isn’t — what he keeps deeply buried. Not to be liked better, but to be disliked and distanced. Even to the point that when he may want to be seen in a different light, through a different lens, he fails.

For the patient in season three’s third installment “Adverse Events,” the desire to be seen in a perfect light has driven him to become a human guinea pig. Rather than admit his failure as a portrait artist, Brandon has hidden his unsold paintings, and maintained a nice lifestyle for himself and his girlfriend by selling himself into pharmaceutical research trials. Involved in at least three simultaneous trials, Brandon has begun to suffer visual/perceptual problems. His paintings take on an Edvard Munch-like distorted image of reality. After ruling out a brain tumor, House keeps coming back to the experimental drugs as the source of the problem.

Good detective work by Taub uncovers a pattern in the visually distorted paintings, leading House to conclude that the drugs are indeed causing the problem, but “they’re hiding under the stairs.” More specifically, they’re hiding in a medication “bezoar” — a mass made of hair, fiber, and undigested drugs, which at various times injected a toxic cocktail into Brandon’s system.

But the experimental drugs aren’t all that’s hiding in “Adverse Events.” House has put his new companion and private investigator Lucas on retainer, paying for both his snooping skills (to uncover those pesky hidden things among his staff) and his companionship. It’s an incredibly odd, but somehow strangely satisfying, symbiosis. Their verbal gymnastics are amusing, and House seems to be enjoying the company and the repartee without the judgment, nagging, and lecturing that often characterize his relationship with Wilson. (Not that Lucas can ever really replace Wilson!) But Lucas seems also to have an eye for Cuddy. Should House be worried? (He hates it when Cuddy is interested in anyone. At all.) Or is it all part of a convoluted and distorted game?

At House's request, Lucas has discovered an array of interesting tidbits about the team. House delights in outing them in front of the staff, just to see how the others react. Hadley (“13”) is not so good with money; Kutner holds a Guinness record for crawling, and Taub’s wife has a secret bank account. House loves to “know stuff;” the fact that he now has a PI at his disposal makes him a bit of a kid in a candy store, although it’s got to be costing him big bucks. (Part of me wonders if Lucas feels a bit sorry for House and hasn’t pressed him about payment quite yet — obviously House was trying to pass along the costs as medical expenses.) But does House have any motivation besides curiosity for his “research?”

“Miserable people save lives. If your life has meaning, then your work doesn’t have to have meaning.” This is an incredibly important reveal for House; it explains how he can manage to live with his incredible misery, deriving meaning only from his work. He can justify his own unhappiness by telling himself that his work would suffer if he were happier. He believes that happy people will consider work as an means to an end — a “job.” If work is all you have, it takes on more importance, as you devote your energies to its pursuit. It is how House lives his life, certainly, but can it apply to his team? And has he really managed to convince himself that it's even true?

But Lucas wonders if House's philosophy will backfire, particularly with Taub. We learned in last season's "Ugly" that Taub gave up a lucrative plastic surgery practice to protect his wife — gave it up rather than have her find out about an affair. “If his marriage falls apart,” Lucas asks insightfully, “do you think he’ll work harder for you, or not be working for you at all?”

This is a truth that House needs to accept, although it goes against his own world view. Will baiting Taub about his wife’s secret bank account backfire? To live ignorant in an innocent bubble is a sort of bliss, Taub rationalizes. Confession is an inherently selfish act, if all it accomplishes it to make the other person unhappy.

But the team is not Lucas’s only target. Lucas is also on Cuddy, stalking her in the clinic, rummaging through her desk, talking his way out of it, giving her roses — essentially being House, but nicer and more charming. Cuddy is amused (or bemused) and somewhat bewildered by the fast talking and charming Lucas. Is he operating on his own behalf, or on House’s?

Promising to reveal embarrassing information about House, he asks her to have a drink, hang out with him. Returning home, House finds Lucas going through his closet, looking for that certain embarrassing something to give Cuddy. The whole thing is a ruse; Lucas is simply House's envoy — a Trojan Horse sent to invade and return with informaton House can use. Lucas gives something to Cuddy, and in return, Lucas gets something to give back to House. “I’ve been negotiating with that woman for half my life; I want to finally have something to scare her into saying ‘yes.’” Ah, but “yes” to what?

“We both want the same thing,” Lucas tells House. “We’ll see who gets there first,” he challenges. House looks worried. What has he unleashed here? And on whose behalf is the fast talking and smart Lucas operating?

Lucas meets Cuddy in a bar, showing her an old photo of House as a college cheerleader — the something embarrassing about House. She gives Lucas nothing in return on herself, except a radiant, albeit bemused, smile. Lucas offers that the photo is a fake made by evil genius House and this is all a game — a manipulation of some sort.

Cuddy responds that she knows, and is playing along to screw with House. Rightly, Lucas wonders how playing the game is screwing with House, and Cuddy only replies with another– this time, enigmatic– smile. She’s clearly screwing with House by stringing along Lucas. Because we all know how House will respond when Cuddy shows an interest in Lucas and House finds out. Or is Cuddy genuinely interested in Lucas? Has his attention, flirting, and awkward courtship charmed her in a way that a less wary House might? Time will tell.

In the meantime, Lucas seems to have taken up residence in House’s flat, even usurping his piano (which has morphed from that beautiful old German baby grand into a bright shiny new Yamaha) as House continues to pay him for companionship. Lucas realizes that the embarrassing photo was genuine — and that by sharing it with Cuddy he is trying to get Cuddy to see him in a different light. But not only didn’t she believe it, but she didn’t even think it could be possible. Dismissed. “People hate people who have theories about other people,” retorts House defensively as he picks up his guitar, ready to jam with his new friend.

How do we want the people we care about to see us? And what do we fear when we think they can see us for who we actually are? A painter who believes his significant other loves him for his success as an artist is afraid of being discovered as selling himself as a human guinea pig? A doctor whose wife perhaps sees him better than he thinks she can; even House, who briefly wonders if Cuddy, after all these years can see him in a new light.

I found "Adverse Events" to be a fun and convoluted glance into people's perceptions of each other. It was a lighter episode, although I'm not complaining after last season's finale and the first two entries of this this season. It seemed somehow transitional, with neither House nor anyone else referring to Wilson, yet knowing that House's relationship with him is unresolved.

Speaking of which: Is everyone excited about the next episode (October 14)? House loses his father and resists attending the funeral as Wilson is sent in to make sure he gets there. We all know about House’s troubled relationship with his dad, and I wonder how it will play out, so… stay tuned!

About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."

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