Wednesday , May 29 2024
In this year's Christmas-themed episode, House treats a bullied teenager with a secret, while Cuddy finds joy.

TV Review: House, MD – “Joy to the World”

“Merry Christmas, Cuddy.”

I couldn't imagine words normally intended to be so joyous could be uttered as poignantly as House did in the penultimate scene of Tuesday night’s House, MD episode “Joy to the World.” (Although Hugh Laurie's brilliance at portraying pathos should never come as a surprise — and it's the second time he's made me cry with those very words in a House episode.)

So Cuddy has her baby, and what a difference a month has made in the dynamic between her and House. Back in “Emancipation,” the news that Cuddy was going to adopt a baby landed a sucker punch in the gut. In “Joy,” House badgered her about being a mother — until he saw that it was something she really wanted and kissed her with passion, affection, and regret at having hurt her.Of course that was after Cuddy had lost the baby.

But tonight, rescuing the infant of a teenager who had left her for dead, Cuddy has been given another chance at motherhood. And House has another chance to react to the news and show Cuddy what's really in his heart.

I watched “Joy to the World” having been somewhat spoiled about the episode. I knew more than I would have wanted to know going in, and that led to expectations about the episode that materialized in ways not expected. Or not at all. My foreknowledge affected my enjoyment of the episode the first time through, but not the second, which I enjoyed tremendously, especially since I was able to speed through the commercial breaks, which were too frequent and too long. (By the way, whoever is listening — this six-act format really, really sucks! Badly!) So my advice to all: go spoiler-free.

Although the patient drama of bullied, unpopular teenager knocked up by the school stud, who’s really a nice guy underneath it all and really likes her, is a tried and true (and sometimes tired) device, the episode uses that device to further the series narrative. So I didn't mind. Simon, one of the bully ringleaders, acts one way in public, but when no one’s looking brings her homework to his victim. Hardly a romantic gesture, but one that shows that he cares. Somewhere in there.

Cuddy is drawn to this overweight, unhappy teenage girl; even House can't figure out why. Is there something in Cuddy’s past of which we’re unaware that makes her young patient’s plight resonate so strongly? What bad decisions did she make early on? Was she bullied? An outsider, and not the "circle queen," pursued by every "Tom, Dick, and Herschel?"

It was a terrific holiday gift to the viewers to see the return of the clinic patients to the mix, and watch House grapple with being "nice" and "polite" to them. (And may I say that the white coat, tie, and ironed shirt looked quite… splendid on the normally scruffy House.)

But oh, what trouble that virgin birth stuff will cause for the young couple unexpectedly expecting. Of course the virgin baby schtick was designed to win a gift from the patient and win his argument with Wilson, although there is precedent for House covering up a patient’s judgment error so that he or she does not suffer in the long run. (“Sports Medicine” immediately comes to mind in which House told Cuddy that everyone makes mistakes, but that those mistakes do not necessarily justify ruination. And even more to the point, the ditzy pregnant young woman in "Maternity." House lied for her too.) But the act was a completely House-like thing to do anyway, argument with Wilson or not!

And "inhaler lady" made me immediately think of "jelly girl" from season two’s “Deception” (also a Christmas episode). But she completely amused House, and Hugh Laurie further gifted us with that delighted, bemused smile. (Not to mention while wearing the white coat, ironed shirt, and tie. Okay, I'm done.)

I loved the easy (and sometimes silly) camaraderie between Taub and Kutner. They bring a sort of comic relief to the series that is completely new. And then there was House’s experiment in giving himself (once again) a Christmas gift to observe the fellows’ reaction that came back to him! Brilliant.

Unmercifully teasing House about something so personal as his feelings about Cuddy is something I thought I would never see from one of the fellows. They pranked him back. Great stuff. And he so deserved it.

Of course the not-gift also resulted in that fun exchange between Kutner, Taub, and Wilson. Robert Sean Leonard as Wilson is at his absolute best when he is droll, ironic, and dryly humorous. And we've gotten a lot of that Wilson this season. Dr. Joseph Bell, indeed! And Irene Adler, too!

Perhaps I should explain. For those of you unaware, the character of House is loosely based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Joseph Bell (who wrote the medical book Wilson gave to House) was a Victorian-era surgeon upon whom Holmes is based. Dr. Bell would perform “party tricks” diagnosing peoples’ illnesses without touching or even talking to them. House is the direct literary descendant of Holmes, and by extension, of Bell. No wonder Wilson "thought of" Gregory House when he came upon Bell's book. Irene Adler, the green wrapping paper gift giver to whom Wilson referred, is a female adversary of Holmes’ for whom he had a particular fondness ("A Scandal in Bohemia"). He referred to her as “the woman,” and she clearly got to him, though they never got together.

House should have learned from his little experiment that his team is not nearly as afraid of him as his old team was at the same stage of their relationship. And speaking of the new fellows, I enjoyed the unexpected twist that Kutner’s reaction to Simon was fueled by guilt rather than what we would have expected: that the geeky, orphaned Kutner was a bullying victim. And I was touched that Kutner was affected enough to seek out his old high school victim and make amends.

And then we have “Fourteen,” Foreman and 13. I’m really beginning to find the story coming in far too large doses for me. I’ve never been a big Foreman fan. I find him egotistical and arrogant — and in ways that House would never consider. And without House’s years and years of both medical and life experience. And without his genius.

So Foreman doesn’t want to be like House. Okay, I get it. Well, here’s a shock: he’s not. Never was. House does treat people like numbers in his hyper-objectivity, but when he’s dealing with a sick patient (and yes, I know I’ve said this dozens of times) he’s honest, but not brutal; blunt but compassionate. I don’t think he’d tell his Huntington’s patient to “get over it.” Well, okay, he would, but then follow it up with sage wisdom from a man who has walked down a difficult path or two himself. I’ve never gotten the "Foreman is House, but nicer" argument. Not since season one when it was first set out for us in “Poison.”

I really could have done without the episode ending with Foreman and 13 making out. It’s great. They’ve found each other. They have the possibility of a real, sustained adult relationship, something of which House is clearly incapable at this point. But the episode really should have ended with the House/Cuddy scene. I feel somewhat cheated by that. Because that scene was incredibly powerful — bittersweet and a perfect ending to the first half of the season. They should have flipped the scenes. Bad editing choice (or writing choice).

That final scene provided a beautiful bookend to the narrative arc that began at the end of “Emancipation,” when a stunned and speechless (and petulant) House learns that Cuddy plans to adopt. The kiss that happened at the end of “Joy,” after House pushed and pressured Cuddy about motherhood was spontaneous and opened for both them somewhat of a Pandora's box — something wild between them, and out of their control. The question for them (and House in particular) was whether to go with it or to hold back. House declined to take advantage of the situation in “Joy” and grappled with his feelings about Cuddy in “The Itch.”

In “Let them Eat Cake,” again, House held back. It would have been so easy for him to simply “do what was expected” and kiss her. That would have undoubtedly led to a sexual encounter, which was where things would have been heading. But by House doing something he knew would be off-putting to Cuddy (inflicting a small hurt to prevent something much larger that they both might regret) he put a stop to it. His grand gesture of the desk was both romantic and well-planned. Not impulsive like the kiss, nor like the moment untaken in the empty office. We have no idea what happened with the actress at the end of “Let Them Eat Cake,” but whatever it was, it certainly (in my opinion) was not intended for Cuddy’s eyes. (For my part, she misread the encounter, although I know some of you, my dear readers, completely disagree.)

Which brings us back to that poignant final scene between them in “Joy to the World.” House has come to her, quietly asking about what’s to become of the baby. And, knowing that the baby is essentially an orphan, what she plans to do.

There is no “you know, the baby is probably brain damaged.” There is no “you’re not prepared for this.” It’s a simple “what are you going to do?” House knows that this baby is meant for Cuddy — and that she wants this pretty desperately. House believes that he’s lost, defeated by the bundle of joy now within reach.

I really do believe that this fear is what fueled House’s reticence — his holding back from starting something that is not meant to be, but simply a substitute for what she desires. But I think he’s wrong. And given time and space, House’s patience will be rewarded. Or not. But he understands that Cuddy wants this, and his presence is superfluous as are his thoughts about the practicality of her plans. And he respects her decision.

When House, Cuddy, and Wilson are discussing the best course of treatment for the patient, Cuddy and Wilson want to treat immediately for leukemia with chemotherapy. House does not. He wants to run more tests before subjecting her to anything. Cuddy is puzzled that House isn’t going to barrel into the treatment, but take it slowly. He tells her that it's her choice and, looking disappointed, he walks out of the room.

Wilson explains House’s seemingly out of character response. “Why put a dying girl through painful treatment if it’s not going to save her? He’s being kind.” And he is. In House's unique way that most of his colleagues simply don't "get." Push treatments to diagnose; push tests, browbeat and badger. That's what everyone observes House doing. Ah. But, then when the patient decides (after all information is received) enough is enough, House always respects that. (Nearly always, anyway, because I know that one of you astute readers will prove me wrong, otherwise!) But was Wilson speaking metaphorically about House’s relationship with Cuddy?

So often the episode’s closing song resonates strongly with House’s emotions (it’s not surprising that the emotionally inarticulate House would have to be translated through music playing over the scene). In this case, it’s “Whisper,” by A Fine Frenzy: “Running the race/Like a mouse in a cage/Getting nowhere but I'm trying/Forging ahead/But I'm stuck in the bed/That I made so I'm lying/But if you keep real close/Yeah, you stay real close/I will reach you/I'm down to a whisper/In a daydream on a hill/Shut down to a whisper/Can you hear me still?”

New House episodes resume Monday, January 19 with “Painless.” In the meantime, catch a different side of Hugh Laurie as he hosts this week’s Saturday Night Live. And luck to the entire House gang as the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominees are announced in the forthcoming days.

During the hiatus, I will be finally posting part two of “House in Love” as well as a new Trivia Quiz and one or two other surprises, so stay tuned.

About Barbara Barnett

A Jewish mother and (young 🙃) grandmother, Barbara Barnett is an author and professional Hazzan (Cantor). A member of the Conservative Movement's Cantors Assembly and the Jewish Renewal movement's clergy association OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement. In her other life, she is a critically acclaimed fantasy/science fiction author as well as the author of a non-fiction exploration of the TV series House, M.D. and contributor to the book Spiritual Pregnancy. She Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (

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