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Actions have consequences on House as House (Hugh Laurie) bonds with Cuddy's daughter Rachel in "Carrot or Stick"

TV Review: House, M.D. – “Carrot or Stick”

Anyone who has watched House, M.D. long enough knows that Dr. Gregory House (the always-wonderful Hugh Laurie) seems to connect with small children. Whether those kids are in the clinic or the precocious offspring of patients, House has somewhat incongruously gotten along well those who enter his orbit

It should therefore surprise no one that House has (rathercourtesy foxflash reluctantly) bonded with Cuddy’s (Lisa Edelstein) adopted daughter Rachel, no matter how hard he tries to distance himself and deny it. But how the show’s creators have done it, makes the development charming and purely Housian. More about that later in this review.

The episode’s title “Carrot or Stick” suggests that there are two ways to get what you want (whether or not it’s something you “need”). Our patient this week is Driscoll, a brutal drill instructor who brutally lords over a troop of juvenile delinquents at a work camp. He is most brutal with once particular young man named Landon (Tyler James Williams).

When first Driscoll and then Landon both fall ill—and a rather large secret is revealed—House realizes that the only answer to this week’s diagnostic puzzle concerns genetics. Driscoll is Landon’s father, having abandoned the mother many years earlier. Unable to confront his son so many years later, Driscoll enrolled him in the military camp, trying to get him to grow up right by the same use of punishments and brutality he uses on the convicted juvenile criminals under his command.

Martha Masters (Amber Tamblyn) tries to get Driscoll to see the error of his ways, suggesting (and demonstrating) that you get more out of someone using a “carrot” rather than a “stick.”  I have to confess that as much as I enjoyed this episode, I would so like to have seen more scenes between House and the father, who is a natural avatar for House’s own father; Driscoll’s relationship with his son is a completely logical parallel to House’s relationship with the man who raised him—and might have set up an interesting side story about terrible outcomes resulting from fathers never coming forth for their sons (and might have further tied interestingly into House’s growing attachment to Cuddy’s child). The one conversation between House and the patient (and the look of disdain well-played on Laurie’s face), were all the bits of emotion inserted into this particular story thread. I think it was a missed opportunity. But it didn’t mar how much I enjoyed this excellent episode.

Carrots and sticks were everywhere, from the “carrots” used by House to train Cuddy’s young daughter to the stick used to teach Chase a lesson about who he really is. But this episode was more about actions and consequences than about reward and punishment.

“Words mean nothing; actions are the only things that change things” is a familiar trope on House. But actions always have consequences: good or bad. And often, so do words.

Corliss walked away from a pregnancy years earlier: how does that affect Landon, who seems like a smart, sensitive kid? Would things have been different for him had Corliss taken responsibility for his parenthood before Landon was damaged by negligence? Will Corliss’ admission in order to save Landon’s life in the end make amends for a lifetime of absence?

How might House have turned out differently had the truth about his parentage been known earlier? Would it have saved him from an abusive father, and a mother who stood by and allowed the brutality to continue in the interest of peace in her family? (Yes, I know that House’s childhood is only part of the picture.)

I loved the commentary on this theme played out by the pranking perpetrated on Chase (Jesse Spencer). It was brilliant. Chase in a threesome is what we might have expected of him back in season one. But Chase changes dramatically—maturing, and perhaps revealing the guy who “likes John Hughes movies” of whom we get to see more in seasons three through mid season six.

But then came Dibala (Chase assassinated the evil dictator) and the break up with Cameron. We don’t know the emotional cost of these losses to the very private Dr. Chase. We do know that this season, he’s reverted to type, becoming (as Taub says) a “player.”

Attending a hospital wedding, Chase finds himself involved in a threesome and someone has caught him (literally) on camera with his pants down, broadcasting it via broadband for all to see on his social network.

Chase’s question is “whodunit?” And on the road to answering the question, Chase learns something about the three young ladies—and himself. I think what he learns shocks even him, and in the end, the culprit is none of the three, but someone who’s hoping to teach Chase a lesson with a stick—and not a carrot. Either you’re a great actor, or you really are a good guy—and something happened to you, analyzes the perp. The reveal gives Chase pause, and it will be interesting to see where the writers go with this storyline over the next few months.

And with the theme of this episode we also get the punchline of Taub’s (Peter Jacobson) story. Actions have consequences. What you do (and what you say) matters. Rachel’s emotional distancing and her connection with her long-distance confidante have more to do with Taub’s neglect than with anything Rachel may have done. Had Taub not been a marital cheat, Rachel never would have met confidante Phil (or likely have the need to connect with someone else). Now Taub is alone, and what he learns from this is anyone’s guess. My guess is that he’ll out-Chase Chase.

Now to the story of the other Rachel her relationship with Dr. Gregory House: talk about carrots and sticks, and unintended consequences! House looks a bit stricken when Cuddy first reveals her desire to get Rachel into an elite preschool. He doesn’t see normal toddler Rachel as anything but a “paste sandwich.” She’s dumber than a stick—at least that’s what he thinks.

He believes that if Rachel is rejected, Cuddy will be devastated, and of course when Wilson suggests that House actually cares enough about them both to meddle, House blows it off as a Machiavellian ploy to keep him from having to be the supportive and loving partner he surely is not! Right. I don’t think Wilson buys it either.

So, believing that there is no way for Rachel to be admitted to the school, House sets out to make her the ideal candidate—by training her. House’s scheme is elaborate as it is diabolical, and he nearly does too good a job, practically getting the unsuspecting Cuddy in trouble for “coaching” Rachel. But Rachel has learned more than how to play “Feed the Monkey” from House; she has picked up on his ability to lie when necessary.

But for all of House’s efforts, Rachel isn’t accepted into the school for lack of space. Cuddy is disappointed but takes it better than House seems to; he is clearly dejected about the rejection. But there is an interesting consequence to House’s scheme. As House spends more and more time with Rachel, buying her toys, and paying lots of attention to her, the little girl becomes ever more drawn to her mom’s boyfriend.

Rachel doesn’t know she’s merely part of House’s experiement in intellectual conditioning; she only knows that this man, who spends a lot of time at their house and with her mom is spending quality time with her. So in the end, as the three of them sit on the nursery floor, Rachel returns the favor, giving him the only thing she can: her affection. As she crawls into House’s lap, cuddling against his stomach, his reaction is priceless and I can’t say enough how wonderful Hugh Laurie’s acting is in this scene. House is surprised and completely caught off guard. But House’s discomfort gradually transforms into resigned acceptance that he has, in fact, bonded with this sweet little girl. It’s a great moment in House history.

I’m sure that out there in the fandom, some will scoff a the very idea that House not only allows Rachel to cuddle on his lap, but that he responds by touching her back. Of course we know who House is, and some of what causes him to act the way he does. But we also that he does respond to love and tenderness.

The consequences of House’s early life still affect him, help shape who he is. His closest attachments: to Cuddy and to Wilson are forged from their use of carrots and sticks to support and encourage—but also to help him find the limits within which he can function within society. His attachment to Rachel is different; it’s not fraught with baggage and conflict. It’s simple and sweet. (And if I were House, I’d try to stay on her good side by keeping those toys coming!)

House returns February 7 with “Family Practices.” I don’t know if you saw the preview for it, but it promises to be an intense, dramatic episode with consequences for everyone involved. I will be appearing next Monday morning on Fox Milwaukee’s morning news to talk about the show and season seven. 

 

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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