My apologies for this review being so late. There was much to digest about this episode, and I do hope that you enjoyed my interview with Lisa Edelstein, which is now being featured on the FOX official House, MD site. Now on to "Joy," episode six of what is turning out to be an excellent season of House, MD.
Dr. Gregory House's patient of the week, Jerry Harmon suffers from a genetic condition called familial Mediterranean fever. A rare symptom of this condition, anhedonia — literally the inability to experience pleasure — afflicts the patient and his daughter. The absence of even the simplest of pleasures is suggested beautifully by Deran Sarafian's stark, high contrast camera work in the teaser and the flat affect of the actors portraying the sick father and his joyless daughter.
But, as usual on House, the parallels, sidebars and deeper meanings as they relate to House and his colleagues are really the heart of the story. And when our (anti) hero House could be the poster child (in some respects) for anhedonia, the resonances for him and everyone in his orbit are enormous.Of course, House's misery isn't directly driven by illness, but circumstance. And although House has little joy in his life, he can, unlike his patient, find comfort in music, beauty in art, and satisfaction in his work.
House lives a life of pain, anger, and disappointment; betrayal and bitterness. And this has been a particularly difficult year for him (although not as bad as season three). House has been through emotional wringer and just when his life seemed to be settling down last episode in "Lucky 13," Cuddy hit him with the news that she is planning to adopt a baby.
House generally surrounds himself with people who, like him (but to a much lesser degree), are pretty miserable. His best friend Wilson has had three failed marriages, so something in his life just doesn’t quite click (not to mention having House as a best friend is pretty dysfunctional anyway). Cuddy, a middle-aged hospital administrator, is in a pretty heady professional space, but her life is empty. She can’t find fulfillment with an adult relationship. (As House said in last season's "Games" she may think she knows what she wants, but has no idea what she needs.) House believes that her baby-seeking efforts are a misguided attempt to fill that gaping void in her life, and perhaps he has a point. House’s fellows have their own (as House might say if he was using Yiddish) mishegas (sorry, no proper English translation for that, except “craziness"). In their company, House isn’t quite as alone; misery loves company, or so they say.
It’s always alarming to House when one of his comrades seeks happiness or fulfillment, trying to move on with their lives. It's something of which he seems incapable, and the thought that others in his sphere can leaves him terrified. House felt abandoned when Amber came into Wilson’s life. In season three, when Cuddy made moves to enhance her social life, first in “Insensitive,” and once again with Wilson, House couldn’t handle it.
Yet, in season two ("Who's Your Daddy") when Cuddy wants to try in vitro fertilization (IVF) with a sperm donor, for all his teasing, pushing and making her think twice about it, House fundamentally supports her decision, keeping her confidence and assisting with her needed injections. His concern is expressed in his pushing her to select “the right” donor, advocating using her heart, not her head. (“Pick someone you trust; pick someone you like.”)
So where is House coming from in "Joy," as Cuddy seeks to adopt the child of a meth-using single mom? On a subconscious level, House is worried that the baby will take Cuddy's focus off of him; perhaps on a deeper level, he’s even concerned that she might quit her high-powered job and be replaced by someone not very tolerant of House’s modus operandi and attitudes. But I think his motives are are also not completely selfish.
I think that House really wants Cuddy to understand what she’s actually getting herself into. As he had in “Who’s Your Daddy,” House pushes her to understand exactly what she’s doing — and what she's in for. House's questioning leads Cuddy to question herself, where she might otherwise go into her endeavor blithely ignorant and blind.
In the same way that Cuddy sometimes functions to remind House that he has real human emotion somewhere underneath his defenses, and Wilson acts as House’s personal Jiminy Cricket, House often serves as Cuddy’s rational inner voice, asking the tough questions she wants to avoid. And he does so relentlessly as Cuddy anticipates the birth of "Joy."
When Cuddy notices what appears to be a simple heat rash on the arm of the mother-to-be, she orders a complete fetal workup for the baby-to-be, insisting that she is only doing what House would do, based on the mother's history of drug use. Yet House tells her that she’s acting irrationally; there’s nothing likely wrong with the baby — or the mother."It's exactly what you would have done," she reminds House. "Yeah," he counters, making the point, sarcastically," and I'd be a great father."
House continues hurling at Cuddy the unvarnished truths about new parenthood (not to mention a cup of baby barf). House is relentless (does he know any other mode?) in making certain that Cuddy understands the impact of the baby on her well-ordered administrator's life. When Cuddy calls him on his intense interest, House flatly replies, "I'm a humanitarian."
When the baby shows signs of pulmonary hyperplasia (underdeveloped lungs), House is not surprised, given that the mom is a drug user. “If you take in strays," he pushes, "don’t be surprised by the worms…” Cuddy is pretty unaffected by House's cynicism, not taking it too personally (at that point, anyway). She knows that he's pushing, testing, and challenging. It's who he is, and Cuddy, very confident in who she is at the moment, and what she wants, ignores House's continual challenges. She knows that she'll pass every test.
But the needling does begin to take its toll, and you can see it in Cuddy's growing weariness (Lisa Edelstein was just fabulous in this episode). House views Cuddy's attempt to adopt as a folly to replace having a meaningful adult relationship in her life. And House berates her for seeking unconditional love, where none exists. Babies don't love unconditionally, but they are unconditionally needy. (Actually, House is right on that, take my word for it!)
It has been long established that House doesn't believe in the possibility of unconditional love. "All love is conditional," he tells Wilson in season three's "Son of Coma Guy." Love has brought House nothing but pain and betrayal: his father (and, yes, his mother) and Stacy.
He tests Wilson's friendship because he is constantly searching for its outer boundary, and in last season's finale episodes "House's Head" and "Wilson's Heart," he came dangerously close to finding it. But without the surety of its boundaries, House can never be completely secure with love — of any sort; it is always conditional.
Failing to deter Cuddy from her motherhood mission, House seeks out Wilson's counsel. Already aware that House has been fretting about the baby, Wilson suggests that House is most "upset because she’s going on to high school and you’re stuck in eighth grade.” House's is acting like a schoolboy who "likes" the smartest and prettiest girl in his class. Long past the days of dipping pigtails into inkwells, this is House's dysfunctional method of courtship. And he resents the intrusion — and fears abandonment.
Becca finally delivers, in a C-section that may end in the death of baby Joy. House learns that Cuddy is observing the delivery. Going to the delivery room, House hangs back at the entry, trying to pull Cuddy away from the procedure to do her job. It seems harsh and an unnecessary intrusion, and part of me believes that House is still testing Cuddy, making her choose between her administrative hospital duties and her maternal desires. However, a larger part of me wonders if House's actions are simply a pretext to get Cuddy out of there, given the risk to the baby. If the baby is a stillbirth, or she dies quickly, House knows that Cuddy will fall apart. And I can actually see House in this (protective) role, though he would deny it all the way.
When House observes Cuddy interacting with her new baby as it finally draws its first breath, he sees Cuddy's delight — her utter joy. And it's not lost on House. Not one bit. And something fundamental to House's equation changes significantly.
At that moment, House resigns himself (as he had when Amber found a place in Wilson's life) to the facts as he sees them. Cuddy should have the baby; she should be happy. He was wrong; and he knows it. This is House's renowned objectivity at work. As sure as he was that he was right about Cuddy, evidence to the contrary causes rethink his position.
But Cuddy's bubble is burst suddenly (but perhaps not surprisingly) when Becca changes her mind, deciding to keep the child for herself. She tells Cuddy that she wants something different for herself: "My life has been about pain and anger and disappointment, I want it to be about love…" (In a beautifully stated avatar for what might be House's own heart, if he allowed it a voice.)
And onto that incredible final scene. Beautifully realized by Hugh Laurie, who can convey 30 pages of dialogue in one world-weary facial expression, and by Lisa Edelstein, equally brilliant, the final scene of "Joy" suggests that House, too, maybe in some way — spurred by Cuddy's tragedy — desires change and wants to alter his reality. (The impact of that final scene probably deserves its own essay, but perhaps that's for another time.)
I'm not saying at all that House went to Cuddy's home to reveal himself suddenly to her. But there was a reason for him going to her house. It wasn't impulsive or random. And it wasn't even entirely out of character. House didn't go to gloat, push or to tease. It was to be supportive in the only way he knows how.
He tries platitudes, telling Cuddy what he believes she wants to hear from him in that moment. House's default position when he doesn't know what to say — what to do — is to mimic what he thinks is appropriate for the moment.
I actually do think that House really was disappointed (after what he had seen in the delivery room) that Cuddy was giving up on adoption, unwilling to put herself through that again (how much like House is that?), at least for now (and I wouldn't be surprised to see her revisit the baby thing sometime later this season or next).
But then the entire thing backfires for House when he concedes that Cuddy would, in fact, be a good mother after all. By this point, after what she has gone through, and having been jerked around by House all through it, she has had enough. She wheels on him, stunning him with the force of her anger. "How dare you," she seems to say. "How dare you do this to me?" It's a verbal slap across the face, and a well-deserved one. And House looks like he's just been slapped. Hard.
But then Cuddy asks House a question that he is unable to answer. "Why do you always need to negate everything?" she asks. Stunned speechless, with Cuddy deep into his personal space, and all he can do is look helplessly into her eyes and tell her that he doesn't know. It's as emotionally naked as we have ever seen House. (And he's been pretty raw since the beginning of the season.)
I wonder what House had been up to in the hours leading up to that moment, since he had learned of Cuddy's loss? I have no doubt that he'd been thinking a lot about it; about his own loss; about Wilson's loss and searching his own feelings about Cuddy, bringing him over her threshold and to this singular moment — a kiss.
The kiss is full of meaning: regret, affection, passion, desperation. How long has it been since House has kissed or been kissed that way? Even when Stacy came back into his life, for her it was mostly about the passion, the fun. This kiss even had sweet shyness to it in the end, as House backs away — fighting his own libido and pent-up passion to end it. And then both of them looking shell-shocked and slightly breathless, just gazing at each other for a moment. Phew. (Anyone have a fan? It's suddenly warm in here.)
Be sure to play the embedded video on the first page for an alternative take on the kiss (and commentary by Hugh Laurie and Lisa Edelstein, courtesy of FOX). Enjoy!
And then, there's the next episode, "The Itch." Can't wait. More about that next week. In the meantime, for my US readers: Whoever may be your presidential preference, do make sure to go out and vote on Tuesday if you have not yet done so!
And if you have not yet had the chance to read it, be sure to take a peek at my interview with Lisa right here on Blogcritics!