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Home / TV Review: House, MD – “Let Them Eat Cake”
House treats a fitness guru with a weighty secret while 13 enters a clinical trial and Cuddy moves closer into House's personal space.

TV Review: House, MD – “Let Them Eat Cake”

First — hot off the NBC press release: Hugh Laurie will be hosting Saturday Night Live December 13! Joining Hugh will be hip-hop artist Kanye West. (Now back to our regularly scheduled episode review.)

Marie Antoinette was the most self-deluded of monarchs. As Paris starved around her, as rebellion fomented, her response was cold, yet filled with denial. “Let them eat cake,” she famously said of the masses who could not afford bread.

“Let them eat cake,” the tenth installment in House, MD’s fabulous season five, is fundamentally about self-delusion and exposure — and how exposure and coming to terms with its consequences are sometimes an evil necessary for moving on. This theme touched each thread of Garrett Lerner and Russel Friend’s intricate, funny, and insightful script, from House and Cuddy’s bizarre and poignant courtship, to the main case of the week and Kutner’s virtual clinic patient — who wasn’t. Great performances from everyone, and Hugh Laurie seemed to be having a ball (even though Cuddy seemed to have House’s stashed quite nicely away) portraying the more playful side of House.

This week’s patient is a fitness guru, who hawks her fitness and weight loss videos on late-night infomercials. She pushes her obese clients into hardcore fitness regimens, and when she turns up on House’s doorstep, we learn that rather than using a regimen of hard exercise and a strict diet, she has undergone gastric bypass operations, thereby enabling her to lose 200 pounds and gain a new career. She has, however, the most ironic of diseases: a genetic anomaly, the cure for which requires her to consume a high-carb, sugary diet. She ultimately must face her own demons: would she rather be healthy and possibly overweight, or enjoy her new body, but live a life of illness? She promotes “healthy lifestyles,” but can she have her cake and eat it too? In the end, she opts not to be healthy and to submit to drug therapy that will treat, but not cure, her ailment.

In the meantime, 13 has enrolled in a Huntington’s Chorea clinical trial being managed by Foreman. It makes sense that he would be involved in such a trial, being a neurologist. Nice continuity for the character.

Foreman tries to understand why 13 is continually late for her appointments and refuses to come into any sort of contact with other Huntington’s patients. As a young girl, 13 watched her mother succumb to the neurological disease and the toll it took on her –and on 13. Never saying “goodbye,” 13 reveals that she hated her mother until the day she died, never understanding her mother’s Huntington’s induced bizarre behavioral symptoms. Every Huntington’s patient 13 encounters, she ultimately reveals to Foreman, is another reminder of her past and how her attitude affected her mother in her dying days. It’s a lot to face alongside the issues of one’s own mortality, but as Foreman tells her, she has to “get over it” in order to move on and have a chance of succeeding with the experimental Huntington’s protocol.

Kutner, and to a lesser degree Taub, believe they can “be House.” After all, they’re only really trying to be a virtual Dr. Gregory House, famous diagnostician. In a hysterically funny side story that is a sort of “virtual” clinic beat, Kutner has set up an Internet diagnosis line under House’s name. Raking in thousands of dollars a week, Kutner has had an easy side job. That is, until he acquires a new patient with a potentially deadly boob job. Unable to diagnose the woman’s strange – and growing stranger by the minute – symptoms, Kutner turns to plastic surgeon Taub, who wants his share of Kutner’s action for the consult (and not ratting him out to House). But when the patient actually shows up looking for Dr. House, Kutner and Taub end up in over their heads. They go to Chase and Cameron, which only digs Kutner in deeper. And when the patient apparently dies, the duo are deeply in the poo.

But House has known about the scheme all along and has orchestrated this entire patient scenario in an effort to teach Kutner a lesson — and maybe get in on the action himself. Talk about self-delusion! House involves Chase and Cameron in his elaborate scheme and shells out $3,000 to hire an actress (possibly a prostitute). I loved this entire storyline. Taub and Kutner are funny together and sort of reflect House and Wilson in a subversive sort of way. But no one has House’s mad “skillz.”

The third thread of this triple chocolaty-confection of self-delusion concerns House and Cuddy. As Cuddy says halfway through the episode, “Everyone knows that this is going somewhere.” But, she mistakenly believes that proximity and then assertiveness will trigger a (proper) response from House. House isn’t one for directness; he much prefers game playing. The House-Cuddy chess match continues. The question is, who will be the first to resign their control of the board?

Moving into House’s space after her office was destroyed in “Last Resort” is Cuddy’s opening move. Pawn to king four. But they are playing on House’s turf (although you can argue that the hospital is Cuddy’s turf, since she’s dean of medicine and all that, so “potato, potahto.”)

House moves into her space, insisting on sharing his own desk; but then he goes into her office and breaks the toilet, taking control of the renovation, moving out his bishop. House is deluding himself that he can control the relationship with Cuddy, keeping it funny and non-emotional. She’s as good a chess player as he is — and maybe that’s the fun for him, the challenge. So, Cuddy moves out her knight, reacting to House’s move by removing all the furniture from his office, and yet neither one of them moves out of the office itself. They simply wait. House “castles;” Cuddy “castles,” the players on their respective sides of the board (he in the outer office, she in his usurped inner office). But then there is a delicious and frustrating encounter after House shoos the team out the door to run down Cuddy’s alternative theories.

House’s own theory is that Cuddy has them chasing lost geese, leaving the two of them alone in House’s now empty office. But House thinks he knows what’s going on and challenges her, moving out another major chess piece. (Okay, enough with the chess metaphors.) “You didn’t stop me for medical reason,” he challenges, thinking he knows Cuddy’s game — and her strategy. “You stopped me because you have the hots for me.” Very House thing to say, and a classic deflection.

“You’re still here (and let me control what your team is doing, rather than doing that brain biopsy) because you have the hots for me.” Point, counterpoint.

Deflecting, House calls Cuddy on her attire while admitting that it turns him on. “Why are you dressed like that? Why are you always trying to get my attention? Are you screwing with me?” But his tone of voice is suggestive not snarky. He finally does want to understand Cuddy’s strategy. Not giving anything away, she reverses the questions, leaving him with nothing to say as she moves close into his personal space. “Depends on your answer,” he replies to her still trying to maintain control. But Cuddy tries to take control by pushing forward the idea that “everybody knows where this is going.” Check (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Cuddy offers that this is the appropriate time for a kiss. Instead, House makes a grab for her breast: a juvenile and crass gesture. But it's not playful; it's not sensual; it's not even sexual really. It is, however, an unemotional response to her unemotional statement about the kiss. What had House hoped to hear from her? Had he hoped to hear from her lips some measure of intimacy? An answer to his question about why he matters to her so much? But that would have been risky for her, and she could not reveal that much of herself. So she speaks in third person and asks for intimacy in return.

I believe that House’s refusal to give in (and kiss her) is his refusal to end the game so soon. He’s not ready (emotionally) to commit, despite being powerfully attracted. His “boob grab” is intended to push her away. I think it took every bit of self-control for House not to kiss her. But I do also think that had she given him a real answer and taken a step forward herself, he would have responded in kind, because he wouldn't have been able to resist.

Cuddy leaves, disappointed in the defeated strategy and disappointed (but not surprised) by House’s crass and juvenile behavior. What Cuddy had orchestrated to be a “moment” between them has fallen flat, and House is who everyone expects him to be. Hence, House regains control of the situation. But House is also disappointed as evidenced by his body language as he stands, eyes downcast after Cuddy leaves him.

As juvenile as he seems, House he is clearly (and seriously) considering his relationship with Cuddy and where it’s headed — and what he should do about it. Is he deluding himself that he can control things with Cuddy? Is he deluding himself into thinking that it is lust that he feels — and not love?

I found House’s conversation with Taub very interesting. House asks him about philandering and not about his real, long-term relationship. “How do you feel when you’re philandering?” House asks him. It’s interesting that he’s asked Taub about this and not serial philanderer Wilson. Wilson’s cheated time and again — and each of his marriages ended in failure. Taub has done the same the thing, but his marriage has succeeded on some level. And maybe that’s why.

At first Taub gives him the conventional wisdom, but then House, who has clearly been thinking about this, suggests to Taub that Taub sacrifices something to make the relationship work. He sacrifices a bit of his soul, but he stays with his wife, whom he loves (and over whom he was willing to give up an lucrative career.) What is House thinking? What’s House willing to give up to make things with Cuddy work? Is he willing to give up anything at all? Retreat from his iron-clad control at all? It’s something that House is considering — and considering seriously — with all of the attached consequences. He's trying to intellectualize and analyze something that is as ethereal as love. He’s deluding himself that it’s possible.

And then the wonderful reveal about Cuddy’s new desk — just as she is complaining to Wilson that House is unemotional, juvenile, and hopeless. What a perfectly House-type gesture. And Cuddy totally gets that it’s from House.

The same guy who makes a grab for her in his open office, makes the grand gesture of restoring to Cuddy her medical school desk. That’s exactly the sort of grand, romantic — and anonymous — gesture that I think House does well. This is the same guy who wrote Stacy a prescription for her heart condition; who bought Cameron that silly corsage; who came in singing a romantic aria after sleeping with Stacy (and not “Voulez Vous Couche Avec Moi”).

So that leads us to the final scene in the episode. I’m of two minds here, so maybe you all can help me decide. If the fake patient is a hooker as well as an actress, has House decided to express his “urges” with her (philandering) while he courts Cuddy? House isn’t ready to commit to a physical relationship with Cuddy, but he’s got to be going crazy with desire. He knows that intensifying things will have broad and long-lasting implications for him and for Cuddy. So does he sacrifice a bit of his soul — getting his physical needs met, while making grand romantic gestures towards Cuddy? Was that the advice House was seeking from Taub?

Or was she really an actress and the hooker comments were typical House remarks about his own sexual proclivities? Was the scene in his office an innocent “let’s get a cup of coffee?”

Or (okay, so I guess I’m of three minds, not two!) was the scene staged for Cuddy’s eyes to get her to back off and cool things down between them? I guess I’m caught between one and two. I'm not sure about theory number three. And beyond that, is House deluding himself (threading back to the episode’s theme) that he has any control at all over Cuddy or their intensifying situation? Okay, folks, so what’s the differential here?

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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