What is a black hole? In astronomy, a black hole is a compact mass in space from which nothing (not even light) can escape. Opaque, it absorbs all light (and all matter) that hits it and reflects nothing back.
This week’s House episode, the appropriately titled “Black Hole,” is all about opacity and trying to find the truth within a densely constructed façade. Because in the end, it’s a deep secret that holds the key to a teenage girl’s life.
The episode opens as usual: a teaser that fades to credits as this week’s patient collapses. We are in outer space, planets, stars, constellations whiz past, leaving us to wonder if somehow the remote control flipped to the Discovery Channel. I usually don’t talk much about the teaser in my episode reviews, but this one, like the earlier season six episode “Epic Fail” (6×03) features a visually stunning opening, beautifully rendered (by the way) in hi-def.
A teenager, Abby has stopped breathing while watching a planetarium sky show, oozing something unpleasant from her mouth. The case, of course, finds its way to House’s team.
Leading the differentials, House (Hugh Laurie) shares power with Foreman (Omar Epps), willing to go along with his ideas, even deferring to him. Of course House is certain Foreman's wrong.
Abby is also suffering hallucinations along with her other symptoms: she imagines falling into a black hole while in the MRI machine (in another neatly directed effects sequence) and sees visions of herself as a little girl. House believes that her subconscious is trying to tell her something, pointing to whatever is wrong with her. Foreman thinks Dr. Rational House is insane for wanting to pursue this fantastical diagnostic path.
But House believes this procedure, cognitive pattern recognition, is really their only hope, no matter how "crazy" it seems. By contrast, Foreman comes off as an intransigent skeptic. The episode sets up a framework through which to compare the relative styles of the two physicians as they try to diagnose Abby.
In the first years of the series, Foreman would ever accuse House of gratuitously shooting down the fellows’ every theory. Of course, he’s right—but with an important caveat. House’s practice of “shooting down” theories has always been part of his synthesis, filtering others’ ideas into a cohesive whole.
In “Black Hole,” it’s even more clear than usual when Foreman disparages House’s ideas on the case, he has no point other than to disagree. And as the diagnosis progresses, the entire team is wowed by the success of House's procedure. Except Foreman, who continues to shoot down its validity.
House calls him a "buzz kill." Foreman lacks the wonder and imagination that House’s requires and possesses himself to take that leap into the experimental. Chase, Taub and 13 are all right there with House, amazed and awed by what the subconscious mind can process and what science can now reveal, while Foreman is on his own, there simply to criticize. But perhaps he believes that's his role on the team.
The subconscious mind is itself a “black hole” what goes on there, what it means, is usually in the realm of psychology. Memory, experience, images and emotion trigger electrical impulses within the essential inner workings of the brain. Locked inside is “who you are” buried so deeply that even you are not aware. But getting past the opacities of Abby’s façade and into her subconscious is the key to finding out what its trying to tell her.
Like nighttime dreams of waterfalls and running brooks that tell the dreamer that he has to go to the bathroom. Abby’s subconscious is trying to tickle her conscious mind and tell her something. Her hallucinations have meaning.
I would imagine that in the months since House was released from Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital, he has considered the nature of his own hallucinations in the weeks before his emotional collapse at the end of season five. He knows that hallucinations tell us something. They may reveal feelings for someone for whom we want no such feelings; act as guide or muse; tormentor or persecutor.
Hallucinations, like dreams reveal truths that are too difficult to face (like Abby’s affair with her boyfriend’s father, which resulted in her illness). It's a corollary to Carl Jung's idea that dreams are the answers to questions we don't yet know how to ask.
The episode explored more than medicine. Lawrence Kaplow’s great script as provides a nice lens through which to observe Taub (Peter Jacobson) and his marriage, as well as comment on the eminently opaque and enigmatic Wilson (along with his reluctance to buy furniture).
Is Taub who he says he is: a repentant cheater who sincerely wants to renew his marital vows to “do it better” this time around? Or are his romantic olive branches towards wife Rachel intended as mere cover for his continued affairs? Is he creating his own black hole through which no light will emerge from the subterfuge of his lies?
House is at first convinced that Taub’s moves are strictly a cover story that will allow him to remain a serial cheater, but slowly he’s convinced otherwise after Taub re-proposes to his wife Rachel. House is affected by this overtly romantic gesture and approves. “Good for you,” he tells Taub introspectively; it’s a phrase House reserves to express his admiration when someone makes an unexpected and difficult choice.
But House’s moment of approval is brief as he watches Taub flirt with a young nurse. House’s disappointment is obvious; Taub’s gestures are meaningless, and you have to wonder what visions might plague Taub's sleep as his subconscious conscience wrestles with him over his actions. Is he, like Abby tormented by what he does?
But on House, there is no character more opaque than Wilson. He is as unknowable as House wishes he could be. And when House insists he buy furniture for the new condo, Wilson can’t seem to reveal enough of himself—even to himself—to furnish his apartment. “We are what we sit in,” House claims. Wilson has spent so much of his life being who he believes others want him to be, even he doesn’t know who he is. At least that’s what House claims.
I loved this little side story about the apartment furnishings. House’s apartment is so full of character—and so him. I have mourned the AWOL apartment all season because it lets us in, even as House reinforces the metaphorical outer walls surrounding his true self. It gives us a glimpse into the part of House he can’t help being, no matter how hard he tries to conceal it.
On the other hand, Wilson’s apartment is white bread and milk. Vanilla. House’s admonishment that Wilson buy even one piece of furniture to express his essence is impossible. Although we do get a glimpse of Wilson in the furniture store and find that his taste is rather quirky. (He seemed to gravitate to a strange wheel-like piece that reminded me strangely of 2001: A Space Odyssey.)
In the end, Wilson does purchase something, but it’s not for him—it’s for House. Buying a classic organ for House to play is a lovely gesture and very Wilson. And House seems to truly like the organ. (How many musical instruments does House play, anyway?) I loved House playing Bach and then the organ line in Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” (which borrows heavily from the Baroque composer), a metaphorical ballad on the nature of relationships.
House returns April 12 with the final six episodes of the season (and, so I’m told with no more interruptions). Hugh Laurie directs “Lockdown,” with guest star David Strathairn.