First and foremost, I must offer my congratulations to Hugh Laurie on his Screen Actors Guild Award for “best actor in a television drama series.” Laurie earns that award every episode, creating a deep, complex character who is both infuriating (and sometimes frustrating) and completely sympathetic. It’s a challenging role and Laurie makes it look so easy that it’s easy to overlook just how difficult it is to play. Surely the award from his peers (which I’m guessing Laurie values more highly — especially being his second — than any thus-far eluded Emmy award) recognized his achievements particularly in episodes like last season’s penultimate episode “House’s Head.”
I have to admit I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to “Big Baby.” We all know that House can be a petulant brat. And the occasion of Cameron taking over Cuddy’s day-to-day duties at the hospital (including babysitting House) would be a grand opportunity for this particular Gregory House to emerge. As House tells Cameron, vividly painting the peculiar scenario: “former student becomes the teacher…” and all of the humiliation that may bring. I’m not overly fond of House, the brat: he can be snide, mean, and even cruel with no good reason. With an episode title of “Big Baby,” I foresaw an episode of parallels between a screaming, out of control baby — and an over-the-top sullen and bratty House.
I was pleasantly surprised by this good, solid episode. I liked Cameron at first relishing the idea that she could control House by playing his game, but realizing that she actually could not. She knows how he thinks, and agrees with him and his unconventional take on medicine. How can she then say “no” when she knows he’s probably right (eventually), and that his path to the “right” answer is circuitous and bent at odd angles. Cuddy also knows House but she doesn’t really think like him, so she can distance herself from his more radical ideas, but can say “yes” when needed. As Cameron said towards the episode’s end, “I can’t say ‘no’ to him” after working for him for so long; another doctor would never be able to say “yes.” House would be frustrated — and he would not be able to do his job, which is not just practicing medicine, but also practicing an outside-the-box thinking that would elicit only a knee jerk “no” from anyone else. So, it’s got to be Cuddy. She can indeed say “no,” but also knows when to (even exasperatedly) say “do what you think is right” because she knows him.
But Cuddy this week is wrapped up in trying to be the mother she thinks she should be. Instead of finding herself cooing and gurgling in rapt joy at finally being a mom, she is depressed, lonely. Instead of happiness, she is feeling her jangled nerves ratchet up one more degree of rawness with every idiopathic shriek of baby Rachel. Cuddy believes that she lacks the “mom” gene resident in every mother, causing them to insta-bond with the new baby, thus relieving the constant irritation of baby screams and cries. She longs to play with grownups again and feels she’s made a terrible mistake. All I can say to Cuddy is “been there, sister.” And Lisa Edelstein nailed it right down to the frazzled and raw nerves. Thank you, David Shore, for refusing to make Cuddy “instant” power-mom. It was real, and brought back some of my own less fond memories of early motherhood.
I remember, if you might indulge a personal reflection for a moment (if you won’t, then scroll down), when my first child was about eight months old. My husband worked about an hour from home and usually arrived home around six. My mommy anxiety meter generally ran out right around the time he walked in the door, when I thankfully placed her into his able arms. One particular night, when our daughter had been screaming most of the afternoon, he phoned me about 10 minutes from the time he usually arrived home. He called to tell me he had a late meeting and would just then be leaving the office. As we hung up, I broke into tears, unable to handle the screaming alone for the next hour. And she and I cried together for very different reasons until she finally fell asleep, exhausted. Me too.
All of this is to say that I so related to Cuddy in this episode; it was all very real — compressed, but real. Like Cuddy, when the opportunity arose to return the office and be with other professionals, I grabbed for it, hiring a nanny. I was a better mom for it. As will be Cuddy. That is, if she sticks it out long enough.
In the meantime, her other baby, House, is testing the boundaries of Cameron. Will she run interference if he asks for something he should not? The question is whether House is pushing her because he wants her to push back or because he wants her to consent to whatever craziness he offers.
This week’s patient is a special education teacher, who connect with her students, finding infinite patience to tolerate even the most frustrating of them. House believes it’s a brain issue causing the patient’s symptoms; no one on the team agrees with him. As House predicts each step in the progress of her disease, he asks Cameron (almost gleefully, hoping to yank her chain to an extent) for permission to do risky tests and procedures.
But the first procedure for which he asks permission is one that he doesn’t want to do at all: total body irradiation. He asks her because he believes she’ll deny permission; but she doesn’t. It is Cameron who is trying to play House’s game, and effectively backs him into a corner. Despite Cuddy’s warning to her not to try and one-up House (“Do not engage him; do not play his games. You will lose.”) House is forced to pretend doing the procedure. Eventually allowing House to do a risky open-brain test, which involves removing the top of the patient’s skull, Cameron actually assists during the procedure, involving herself in House’s diagnostic process which makes her ultimately realize that no matter how correct House is eventually, he does sometimes take risks beyond the necessary. And because she is so attuned to the “whys” of House’s process, and understands his rationale for doing the things he does (and is often right because of them), she is unable to stop him.
Interestingly, House never subverts Cameron, never goes around her back, simply not asking permission. He never really begrudges her the opportunity to be the “student turned teacher.” Most other doctors would have found it humiliating and a slap in the face; House finds it slightly amusing, somewhat frustrating and interesting; but he never really is a “big baby,” becoming the petulant, screaming child I thought he would in the situation. House doesn’t harass her, causing her to run screaming from Cuddy’s office.
In the end, I think whether Cameron had quit or not, Cuddy would have run screaming from her own home for the refuge and relative quiet (and adult interaction) of the hospital. Wilson’s supportiveness is sweet, but not enough. (Hey, never mind that the big yenta couldn’t keep Cuddy’s profound doubts and depression a secret from House. Something, by the way, I think House would have kept quiet about.) But once House knows, he uses his knowledge to further inflame Cuddy’s feelings, both bluntly telling her what she’s really feeling (in his opinion), and coldly expressing his opinion on her options, all much to the shock of Cameron. When Cuddy hangs around the hospital for hours, it isn’t to brag about Rachel; it isn’t to hear the cooing of the nurses and smiles of her staff. She dreads going home to face Rachel alone. To the four walls of her house.
Eventually going home, she is called back (by remote) by Kutner to put an end to House’s brain procedure. She tries quieting Rachel while admonishing House and overruling Cameron. When the baby’s incessant crying won’t abate, the patient, who had been calmly engaged in the testing with House, grows increasingly annoyed and irritated — something that should raise her blood pressure but doesn’t. The screaming and irritation sends it into the tank. House believes that this is significant.
As House ponders this new bit of information, Cuddy visits him in his inner sanctum. I love when she enters his personal space, asking him to move over to make room for her on the footrest of his chair. She offers him the baby, and, in a surprisingly tender moment, he takes her and holds her while Cuddy looks at the two of them, eyes glistening. She wants House to accept Rachel in her – and his – life. It’s a neat moment. Not overdone; not sentimental, but a bit of a sweet surrender from House. And something that leads House to his signature epiphany moment about the case.
Monday marks House’s 100th episode. It looks like an excellent outing. But more about that from me later this weekend.