When archeologists work on a dig, they carefully peel back layers of civilizations searching to understand what lay beneath. Along the way, they encounter clues, surprises and the occasional precious gem. House, M.D.’s 150th episode, appropriately called “The Dig” follows several parallel story lines. While the team tries to uncover the background of this week’s patient through his morbidly cluttered home, House (Hugh Laurie in a great peformance) tries to uncover the “why” behind 13’s (Olivia Wilde) six months in prison after pleading down to “excessive prescribing.” And Foreman (Omar Epps) digs for the secret of Taub’s (Peter Jacobson) new lover, who turns out to be none other than…Rachel Taub (Jennifer Crystal Foley).
The patient’s wife, it turns out has a genetic disorder, which caused multiple miscarriages. The emotional impact of the miscarriages led to sobsessive hoarding, and the hoarding exposed both her and her husband to an illness. Martha Masters’ (Amber Tamblyn) zeal in treating the couple’s home as an archeological dig where they can piece together the story that’s not being told leads her to the crucial puzzle piece.
But the real excavation work is done by House trying to ascertain why 13 has been incarcerated for six months—and what had she been doing in the six months previous to her imprisonment? Greeting her as she is released from prison a year after she disappears from Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital (in last season’s finale) with a martini (complete with olive), House persuades her to help him beat a rival in a spud gun tournament. Their journey to the tournament provides a great backdrop for House to figure out 13’s big secret. It’s a puzzle “too good” to share with anyone, including his team.
But along the way, House also reveals parts of himself that he’s been trying hard to push away since the breakup with Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) in “Bombshells.” There is no doubt that House is still hurting pretty badly, but this week, the over-the-top antics of the past couple episodes are gone.
House is clearly trying to get on with his life in a less self-destructive way, but its equally clear that his grief isn’t far beneath the surface. His emotions almost get the better of him each of the three times Cuddy comes up in conversation, whether it’s the acknowledgment of their breakup, the wistful recognition that it would have been their first anniversary, or in the very painful emotional slap down of 13 telling House that “it’s no wonder that Cuddy dumped” him. His efforts to deflect, when he tries at all, are ineffective.
Over the course of the episode, 13 lets slip that she has a sibling—a brother also with Huntington’s Chorea. Dying, his muscles and even his sanity fading, his last request was for 13 to euthanize him. This is the final clue House needs to put the puzzle together.
She fears now, that with no one left, she will die a slow and painful death, with no one to do for her what she has done for her brother. She has no one to ask, no one she can ask to risk what she has risked—to lose months of her life and her medical license. Her act had been one of ultimate sibling love: selfless and compassionate.
But solving the puzzle of 13’s disappearance doesn’t make him happy. There are no smug grins; no self-satisfied “I was right.” Instead, House is simply stunned silent. He doesn’t know how to respond, what to do—what to say. Although 13 reads his stunned silence as lack of caring, and the inability to make any sort of human connection, I think it just doesn’t know what to say or how to make this sort of grief better. He is without resources and in an emotionally-devastating situation.
But in the end, House does react, and in a way that as much stuns 13 as it doubtless will have shocked many viewers. In a simple act of selfless friendship, House essentially returns 13’s life to her after a year in hell. First of course, he offers her a job—even before her medical license is reinstated—and to pull a few strings to expedite things with the medical board. It can be read as not so much a nice thing as it is rational (and perhaps even self-serving). House believes 13 adds something to his team of diagnosticians, and it’s logical to have her back at the white board.
But then House incredibly offers to euthanize her when the time comes—to do for her what she has done for her brother. Now that House has worn himself out with hookers and monster trucks, leaps from balcony railings and two self-pitying weeks of dissipation, is he internalizing the lessons of the breakup?
There’s no practical aspect to the proposition. It’s a simple, straightforward (and very Housian) promise. “I’ll kill you.” It is an amazing moment for the characters and for the series, made even more spectacular for the beautiful and understated acting of both Hugh Laurie and Olivia Wilde.
There is nothing in it for House. It’s a pure act whose only possible intention would be to comfort a scared young woman and ease her pain. It’s lonely where she stands, and with House’s promise, she is a little less alone. Wow!
The two characters seem to understand each other in a way others cannot. House has always had a protective streak for 13 since early in season four. He sees 13 as a tough-as-nails, hard living woman. But House sees beyond her guards. He pushes her and prods her, but has also protected her from the worst in herself. In her he sees a bit of himself. And whatever he does with his own life, he never wishes his misery on anyone else.
I believe 13 has always seen herself reflected in House, and it scares her in a way. I also think that she has always hoped in her own way that he would find some sort of peace, because in so doing it would give her some hope. Like House, she has always poked and prodded, often at the risk of ticking him off. Unlike others on his team, 13 has no real fear of House; she’s also not romantically interested in him. But I’ve always felt that she “gets” him in a way that neither Wilson nor Cuddy can. I’ll never forget that final scene in “You Don’t Want to Know” when she suggests to him the reason he is always seeking answers is that “when you run out of answers, you run out of hope.” It’s an astute observation, but one she might as easily ascribe to herself.
The rivalry between House and his spud-gun rival Harold Lamb is a cyberpunk cowboy’s delight! Spud gun is a sport for physics geeks who like the great outdoors, I think. I loved House’s hopelessly lame spud gun complete with barbeque lighter. I also loved that 13 really seems to get into the spirit of the tournament until House ruins it by guessing her secret. She is quite the geekette. Let’s hear it for the geekettes of the world! The Sergio Leone vibe between Harold Lamb and House is a perfect homage. Loved it.
Masters has such a crush on Chase. Who else loved that House calls her “Harriet the Spy?”
I thought the patient story was probably the strongest of the entire season—best since “Help Me,” last year’s finale. I love that it was fundamentally a love story about a woman devastated by her loss and terrified to share it with the one person who would share her pain. She was so afraid to lose the person she loved that she nearly destroyed him and herself in the process. There are echoes here of House’s own fears of abandonment and what it’s done to him. He pushes away those who love him and who sympathize with him rather than risk rejection.
I may have more to say later in the week either here or on my personal blog (depending on the heat of the flames). So stay tuned.
New episode airs Monday night, April 18 at 8:00 p.m. ET.