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A disillusioned priest and our favorite disillusioned doctor connect in House, MD's latest episode "Unfaithful."

TV Review: House, MD — “Unfaithful”

Albert Einstein once said, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” What is it that brings a priest with a rare, but hidden (and incurable) medical condition to the attention of a master diagnostician on a cold winter night? Who is to say whether it’s coincidence or an anonymous God opening small doors of oblique opportunity that brings Daniel into House’s den? Are his visions of Jesus a simple whiskey-soaked hallucination, or the hidden miracle of coincidence? By the end of “Unfaithful” both the atheist priest and the atheist doctor aren’t completely certain anymore.

Daniel is a disillusioned priest. Accused of child molestation four years earlier, he has been transferred from parish to parish and when we meet him, he is a wreck of a man. Opening the door on a cold snowy night, he is greeted by the vision of a bleeding Jesus. Seriously freaked out, he goes to the Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital emergency room. 

Needing a diversion for the rest of the team while he copes with the adverse effects of the Foreman/13 relationship, House raids the ER for a throw-away case. “It’s either alcohol or exhaustion,” Cameron wearily explains, ready to discharge the man. But it’s what House is seeking, as he gives Foreman and 13 an ultimatum: either leave his team or stop dating. They have until the case is solved to decide.

In the meantime, Cuddy plans a simchat bat for baby Rachel, “a Jewish tradition dating all the way back to the 1960s,” as House explains sarcastically, but correctly. A modern response to the exclusively male ritual of the “bris” (a ritual circumcision and formal welcoming into the circle of Jewish life of every eight-day old Jewish baby), the simchat bat is a baby-naming ceremony just for girls that has no basis in Jewish law, yet has become a popular new tradition among Jewish families.

House (of course) declines Cuddy’s invitation, which is, she tells Wilson, what she really wants, anyway. But Cuddy’s contradictory behavior regarding House and the simchat bat reflects her own ambiguous feelings towards his involvement in this important life-cycle milestone.

Cuddy knows what House will do at the affair. He’ll stand in a corner by himself, drink and sulk. And observe — everything. It will tarnish her enjoyment, and make half the room uncomfortable. So, she doesn’t want him there. Conversely, House is clearly very important to her. You could argue that she’s in love with him (or not), but she certainly loves him. She wants him to connect with Rachel, and his (even half-hearted) acceptance of her is important. So she also wants him there.

She acts on her ambivalent feelings by engaging (even involving Wilson) in an awkward series of mind games with House. Like Cuddy, House is ambivalent, but in a different way and for different reasons (in my humble opinion). His true feelings about it are betrayed only in the privacy of him home through the eloquence of his piano composition. House calls Cuddy a hypocrite for suddenly finding religion, and even then picking and choosing as if religion is an ala carte menu. “Have you suddenly started keeping kosher?” he asks. For House, no compromise is possible, either you are or you aren’t. Follow all the rules or none. It’s very House, whose own view of morality is very black and white — except when it’s not.

He sees no value in religious “hokum.” The prophet Isaiah, who railed against the performance of empty ritual while great injustices were being perpetrated, would probably agree with wholeheartedly with House’s viewpoint (ironically enough). But I think a more significant reason for House refusing to attend the ceremony is his knowledge that he would be (and feel) out of place at the joyful event, stand in a corner alone and sulking — and only end up pissing off Cuddy.

Finding nothing wrong with Daniel except the easily-dismissed hallucinations, the team is ready to discharge him. Except for one teensy tiny problem. A toe, completely necrotized, has fallen off Daniel’s foot. (Ouchie!) This hitch has turned Daniel in to a real case. Unfortunately, it’s too late for Foreman and 13. Having ignored the earlier ultimatum, Foreman is summarily fired. Citing Foreman’s actions during the Huntington’s drug trial, House believes that, together, the couple known as “Foreteen” is useless to him and his diagnostic practice. Not even Cuddy will give Foreman a recommendation, siding with House and reminding Foreman that he compromised both the study and the hospital by his activities.

As Foreman and 13 each try to save the other’s job, clashing angrily in the process, House, Taub, and Kutner diagnose the dying Daniel. Learning of the priest’s disillusionment and his alleged pederasty, House decides to meet the man face-to-face, his “ridicule muscle” at the ready. But the priest’s bitter words — a rant against the pain and suffering inflicted by a cruel God who has forsaken the world (and him personally) — strike a resonant chord in House. Daniel’s words could just have easily come out of House’s mouth, and have (in one way or another, at one time or another) over the course of the years we’ve known him.

Visiting Daniel a second time, House notes the “stink of faith” on the priest as he wonders why Daniel hasn’t abandoned the priesthood, feeling as he does. Daniel defends himself by confessing that church work is all he knows, something House doesn’t quite buy. House believes that still Daniel holds out some residual hope for a renewed faith, something Daniel neatly reverses onto House.

“You say you don’t care about anyone or anything, yet here you are saving lives,” he observes. This is an all-too familiar trope to House, who has been analyzed by his patients too many times to count over nearly five seasons. On the other hand, Daniel is trained to be perceptive — to look for the oblique and the hidden — just like House.

House rejects Daniel’s presumption. “Solving puzzles. Saving lives is collateral damage,” House retorts falling back to his Rubik’s complex default position. It’s a position that his actions have disproven many, many times. Daniel’s response seems to unnerve House and interest Kutner and Taub who are working on the patient.

“I don’t think you’re hoping for someone to prove you right, I think you’re hoping for someone to prove you wrong. To give you hope. You want to believe, don’t you?”accuses Daniel. The intensely private House glances warily at Kutner and Taub, preferring not to pursue this uncomfortable line of debate.

But not even Daniel’s certainly unwelcome prying deters House from popping by his room again, this time to mooch his lunch (something usually reserved for Coma Guy). They debate relationships and House’s “thing” for Cuddy (and her “thing”). But House’s social call is interrupted by Kutner with the news that Daniel appears to have AIDS.

Insisting that he can’t possibly have AIDS, because he is celibate, Daniel refuses testing, realizing that getting tested is a virtual admission of guilt. No matter the result, he will certainly lose what little credibility he has left.

Taub, giving Daniel no benefit of the doubt, defies House, seeking out the priest’s teenaged victim. But Ryan’s disinterested reaction to Taub’s AIDS alert suggests that maybe Daniel isn’t lying after all. And, later in the episode when Ryan visits, it is not to confront Daniel, but to ask his forgiveness. “For everything.” And in a transformative moment for both of them, Daniel, still the priest, no matter the damage caused by Ryan’s “confusion” four years earlier, grants him a sort of silent absolution.

When an angry rash appears on Daniel’s chest, House revisits his white board, trying desperately to make all of the pieces fit. As House considers the options, Wilson interrupts, to change his mind about the simchat bat. “Overlook her hypocrisy,” Wilson counsels. This of course leads to House’s patented epiphany moment. Ignoring Wilson’s arguments about Cuddy, House begins to instead “overlook” the various symptoms decorating the white board. He pauses at the top of the list, visions that brought him to House in the first place. Eliminating the religious vision as a hallucination, the constellation of symptoms finally makes sense to House. Dismissing Daniel’s visions as the product of excess alcoholic consumption, House confirms Cameron’s initial assessment. He diagnoses “Job’s Syndrome,” a rare genetic disorder, which can be treated (but not cured) by long-term antibiotic therapy.

Daniel wonders at the convergence of circumstance that has saved his life. House argues that everything can be rationally explained and can be interpreted as mere coincidence. Ah, but Daniel counters, quoting Einstein on God and coincidence. “That’s a lot of coincidences,” he concludes, leaving House uncharacteristically quiet and pondering.

So in the end, House stays away from the simchat bat, and instead goes home, not to two hookers, not to a full body massage with gallons of Jell-O, not even to a Brubek album on his Sota turntable. He returns his dark and empty solitude, his drink, and his piano. And this is where we find him: playing a seemingly mindless medley of slightly exotic musical motives.  But this piece, composed by House star Hugh Laurie for this episode and played so gloriously on House’s new Yamaha grand (I frankly liked the old one better) is not a simple random series of song fragments. It is a pouring out of House’s heart and soul.

In five-plus years of House, MD, I never have I wept quite so hard as I did hearing that music played over the episode’s closing sequence. It is clear as House plays that he is thinking about one thing, and one thing only. And that is Cuddy, her baby, and the religious service he has chosen not to attend. (Okay, so that’s three things, but you catch my drift.)

The more plaintive modal motives of Jewish folk music weave a simple but evocative niggun (wordless song) that give way to the more childlike and whimsical melody of the shtetl (Eastern European Jewish villages that died with European Yiddish culture during World War II). As House takes a drink, but with his hands still on the keys, his emotions take him next to ecstatic of celebration, freylach (Yiddish for "joy") and filled with exuberant delight.

What is going through House’s heart and mind as he plays? We’ll never know, not for sure. But a sudden musical turn finds House playing what might be the opening strains of Van Morrison’s classic song “Have I Told You Lately (That I Love You)?” The song, coincidentally (or not) composed as a prayer by Morrison, is also one of the most glorious love songs written in the last 50 years. Or is the first measures of the Rolling Stones "You Can't Always Get What You Want," which has become a sort of signature piece for the show.  That would also fit "Cuddy's Serenade," as the composition is called. As much as she "wants" House at the ceremony, as the song says: "Sometimes you get what you need." And maybe House knows that she "needs" him not to intrude upon this particular moment. I leave it to you (and your comments) to interpret what House was thinking — and feeling — as he played it.

In an interview back at the beginning of season two, Laurie told Elvis Mitchell that music is House's most articulate emotional language. And in “Unfaithful,” Dr. House could not have been more eloquent.

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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