I confess. I do not like cats. They are, to be sure, pretty to look at (Persian’s my favorite) and have exotic eyes. (And I do have a thing for eyes.) But I’m much more of a dog person. My first thought when I’d heard that last night’s House episode “Here Kitty” was to be about a cat, I cringed (well, only slightly). I’m also not as much of a fan of House-light (hearted): episodes that are light (but never fluffy) and a bit more comedic than the dark, serious, angst-ridden House that I love.
That being said, the idea of a cat that can predict death sounds interesting, and presents an irresistible challenge for Dr. Gregory House. To me, House has always been a sort of the “anti-Mulder.”
On the 1990s FOX series The X-Files, Fox Mulder was the FBI agent who “wants to believe” in supernatural phenomena. He spent many seasons trying to prove that supernatural phenomena exist and are not the products of misplaced hope and a deranged imagination.
House tries (sometimes beyond reason, as Wilson suggests in “Here Kitty”) to identify the rational/scientific reason for everything. Unusual events are coincidence; everything can be scientifically explained. So what could be more like cat-nip to House than to be presented with a patient who insists she’s dying because a psychic cat sleeps next to her?
Morgan West works at a nursing home where a cat seemingly predicts patients’ deaths by curling up and sleeping alongside them. The cat only chooses to cuddle up to patients who shortly thereafter kick the bucket. The seemingly psychic cat has now elected to sleep next to Morgan. Freaked out the cat’s prediction of her death, she fakes a seizure in the clinic to be admitted onto House’s service.
But after the team dismisses her as a victim of the psychiatric disorder Munchausen’s syndrome, (and with seemingly good reason), House, who seems fascinated by the cat (and very interested in debunking its reputation) insists Morgan really is sick after all. More than being interested in what ails Morgan, House is determined to discover the rational explanation behind the cat and its seemingly mystical powers. Ultimately, House’s relentless pursuit to understand Puss’ karma leads him to diagnose her (real) illness—and one that would have killed her.
Beneath the episode’s light surface lurks some darker and more serious themes (of course). House finally figures out the mystery of the cat when it curls up on his laptop computer. The cat isn’t drawn to the dying, reasons House, it’s the warmth. (Anyone who uses a laptop knows how toasty warm that keyboard can get.) People with fevers, and the warming blankets placed on wasting away and dying patients in a nursing home beckon the heat-seeking kitty. It is this last bit of information, House’s understanding of the cat’s “motives,” that produces the key to Morgan’s medical condition.
So in the end, House has his rational scientific explanation. But Morgan challenges him, suggesting as did the priest in the recent episode “Unfaithful,” that coincidence and rational explanation can co-exist with “miracles” and faith. As Einstein said: “miracles are God’s way of remaining anonymous.” She asks the ever-cynical House why the cat (who had disappeared) chose that moment—just in time to save her from a dangerous brain surgery—to hop up onto his computer. Could it be divine intervention by an anonymous God?
In a sense, everyone in “Here’s Kitty” seems to be trying to hold onto their beliefs against a siege. Morgan steadfastly believes in a cat predicting death as a connection to the afterlife because she wants to ascribe meaning to her own personal losses. She needs to believe in something, and even after House bursts her bubble about the cat, she still clings to that faith, challenging House’s rational explanation. Taub, whose life is falling apart, has faith in a man he hasn’t seen in years because he needs to believe his life can be better. He is the classic scam victim, looking for a way out of a terrifying financial hole with a quick fix—manna from heaven. Unlike Morgan, Taub’s faith (in more than an old friendship) is shattered.
No matter what House does to mock and challenge Kutner’s belief in his childlike superstitions, he clings to them. He survives the siege, and ultimately wins a battle of mind games with House (that goes far beyond mere superstition). And of course House is relentlessly obsessed with the cat, insistent in his belief—beyond everyone else’s doubt—that the cat is not the least supernatural. Even Wilson calls him on it, failing to understand House’s (apparently) irrational pursuit of an explanation—and his unequivocal faith that science can explain everything. By the episode’s end, he has his explanation, but he has no response for Morgan’s challenge to it.
Although there was much to enjoy in “Here’s Kitty,” I definitely did not enjoy House’s goading of Taub. Yes. Taub is defiant and argumentative for the sake of being argumentative. And I get that House needs to assert himself as the alpha-doctor on the team. Unlike the rest of House’s fellows, Taub is a successful surgeon whose career went off the rails for personal, not professional, reasons. I’ve always contended that Taub may prove to be a more dangerous adversary to House than Foreman ever could be.
House usually has a point to his nastier behavior, however remote that point may be. Even as he goaded 13 about Huntington’s Disease, it was intended to get her to deal with it; to stop her self-destructive behavior and do something. With Taub, it’s just mean. Does he see a threat and simply intends to break Taub’s spirit? That wouldn’t make sense since House has no use (and doesn’t even like) fellows who can’t hold their own against him. Is he trying to find Taub’s limits? House keeps pushing and Taub pushes back. Will he push until Taub simply stops pushing back? Again, not like House to do that. To me it seems that House is hazing Taub for no other reason than to make him even more miserable than he is already. And that’s the Dr. Gregory House for whom I have no affection. The look on House’s face when he sees Taub sitting in the office at the end of the episode, all hope shattered, suggest that perhaps House know’s he’s gone a step too far.
On the other hand, I found House playing with Kutner’s childlike superstition an enjoyable diversion. Umbrellas open inside; spilled salt, ladders that cannot be avoided, all of those Friday the 13th sort of myths most of us gave up by the time we turned 16. (Hmm. Wonder if the theme had to do with the episode’s proximity to a real Friday the 13th?)
Is it wrong to admit that I really loved the scene in which Cuddy and House watched the news footage about the cat? House, sitting on Cuddy’s sofa, sucking a lollipop (but not a red one?), seemed very comfortably planted next to her. And, of course, House’s “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die” ala Auric Goldfinger made me smile.
Due to a network scheduling change there will be no new House episode next week. “Locked In” will air March 30. A preview of “Locked In can be found on the FOX Official House site.