Sunday , March 3 2024
The team treat an agoraphobic patient, while House and Cuddy struggle with their feelings for each other in "The Itch."

TV Review: House, MD – “The Itch”

When you have an itch, the logical thing is to scratch it. For a very long time, in House’s case, the itch has seemed to be his attraction to dean of medicine, Dr. Lisa Cuddy. And despite House’s claim all the way back in season one that there is nothing but animosity between their flirtatiously hostile banter, we know better (well, I can't speak for anyone else, but…). On the other hand, scratching that particular itch is, to say the least, problematic.

At the end of the last episode “Joy,” House and Cuddy shared a kiss after Cuddy lost the adoption. Actually, much more than a kiss, it was the release of emotion built up over a long, long period of time. In the appropriately titled "The Itch," House and Cuddy try to deal with what happened — or didn’t happen — between them that night. Predictably, House brushes it off as nothing; Cuddy as a moment in which she leaned on a close friend. They are, of course, both lying — most especially to themselves.

House treats Stuart Nozick, an agoraphobic patient of Cameron's, so afraid to leave his home that crossing the threshold causes him physical pain. He refuses to leave his apartment, even for a needed surgery. And so the team is called upon to treat him in his home.

Stuart is, of course, a somewhat obvious stand-in for House — a man so afraid to expose himself to the possibility of joy, of happiness, that it physically hurts. House is terrified of exposure, of letting anyone see him unguarded, of letting them witness any glimpse of his (considerable) humanity.

House is so afraid of stepping outside the cocoon, still so wounded by events in his past that when House and Cameron were to go out on a dinner date in season one ("Love Hurts"), Wilson warned her that House might retreat inside himself forever should be once again be hurt. And, again in season two, he gave up Stacy (after pursuing her for months) rather than put himself through the inevitable pain that would come with her leaving him for a second time.

But last episode's kiss has left House bitten, physically and metaphorically; and he can't let go of it, no matter how hard he tries to hide it under wraps (or increasingly large bandages). More affected by The Kiss than he wants to admit, even to himself, House tries unsuccessfully to chalk it up to an awkward moment in time. But he is wrong, and despite himself, House begins to find himself slowly drawn away from isolation into once again living.

The patient’s illness is almost beside the point to the emotional strife that is driving his fears. But it's an interesting proposition: how to treat a gravely ill person who refuses to leave his home. It's a combination of Cameron's hyper-sensitivity to wounded animals and House' directness and engagement that save Novick's life. But as usual, the medical story is never as interesting as what the patient suggests about House (and everyone else in the main cast). And Novick's story not only has an impact on House, but also on Cameron, who is finally able to take a baby step in moving past both her dead husband — and House.

Cameron is unable to completely overcome the loss of her husband — something she must do to hang on to her relationship with Chase. It’s something that Chase perceives; realizing that he can only pursue her for so long, no matter how much he loves her. But Chase must wonder whether it's Cameron's dead husband or House that blocks their happiness.

And of course, there is House’s pesky mosquito. Wilson doesn't even believe that it really exists. It is, in his opinion, a metaphor for not dealing with Cuddy. The bite continues to annoy House until the end of the episode.

But the mosquito is real, and House even dreams of elaborate mosquito-zapping contraptions to get rid of the pesky little blood-sucker. As House does battle against the mosquito in his dream, all he manages to do is blow up his own apartment. Too bad Wilson didn't get a chance to analyze that dream. House is so disturbed by the dream (and the mosquito) that he is even unable to sleep in his own home, dropping in on Wilson in the middle of the night. But Wilson knows what House really needs, and that is Cuddy. Better to scratch the itch than to let it simmer, boil, and ultimately blow up in his face.

But of course this is House we’re talking about. And it’s not going to happen that easily. However, the fact that House doesn’t dispute Wilson’s assertions (combined with the noticeable lack of argument from House in his dealings with Cuddy — even when she boots him and the team from the case) tells us that Wilson is quite correct. And that mosquito bite keeps bleeding no matter how big a bandage House tries to apply to it. No matter how hard he tries. Metaphor, anyone?

But as much as those feelings buzz around him, persistent and refusing to go away, for House the fear of exploring those feelings is even worse. When Stuart admits, “I feel pain when I go outside, so I avoid going outside," House calls him on his irrational fear, telling him that he’ll die if he doesn’t go to the hospital. “I’d rather die in here than live out there,” is his honest reply.

It’s something that should resonate with House, who has so often been held back because of his own fear, telling himself that he’s better off without love, without companionship. As miserable as he is, exposure and rejection would put him in a much worse place.

Although Cuddy doesn’t share House’s fear of involvement (at least not overtly), she has convinced herself (perhaps correctly) that a relationship with House would likely combust and consume them both. Wilson doesn’t agree and is delightful trying to play matchmaker. (He’s a great “yenta,” which is Yiddish for someone who can’t mind their own business, and a character in Fiddler on the Roof: Yenta — the matchmaker!) Wilson goes so far to concoct an obvious yet endearing plot to make House jealous enough to act on his feelings.

But House’s fears run very deep, and maybe, like Stuart, House had always been isolated, afraid to connect with women on anything but a very cursory level. Stacy, the love of House’s life, was the only woman able to get past House’s barriers and his terror (and maybe House’s own version of post-traumatic stress disorder). And even when she was willing to return to him in season two, he retreated, unable to take the risk.

So House's whole life is tied up completely in his work, perpetually on the outside looking in (or, like Stuart, on the inside looking out). But for House it's the only way he can cope, deluding himself that he's "fine," and "better off alone."

“When one part of your life is the Titanic,” he says to Taub, deflecting, “you make a life raft of the rest of your life.” Work takes on more significance, etc. And isn’t that fundamentally House? His life is a wreck, and rather than try to repair it, he takes refuge in the one part of his life that isn’t a wreck. Cuddy offers House the promise of something else, but in order to access that promise, House has to risk much. Is it too much?

“If you want to change your life, do something!” House goads the patient, with a dawning self-realization. So, when House finally has the opportunity to destroy the pesky bloodsucking mosquito as it lands on his hand, he lets it live and lets it bite him again. And he resolves to take a giant step. Leaving his cane behind, he flees the apartment and heads for Cuddy’s home.

It’s extremely significant that House left his cane at home. He’s in no less pain, in no less need of it; yet it is something that, in his rush to act on his feelings about Cuddy, he has forgotten it. Or is it simply forgotten? House goes almost nowhere without that cane. So, is the cane also a metaphor?

When House walks without the cane, he is so much more vulnerable. He walks with difficulty, dragging his bad leg like an anchor. That cane is his guard against appearing too fragile, too vulnerable. And it's a physical barrier between himself and everyone else. By laying down his cane, he abandons his one physical defensive weapon. Without it, he is (literally) defenseless, but he is also emotionally unguarded. It’s an important moment for the character.

Standing in front of Cuddy’s window, House looks in on her, fighting his fear and on the brink of making the first positive change in his life in a very long time. As House pauses in front of Cuddy's home, we are able to peek into both the patient's life and Cameron's to see that they, having both heard and heeding House’s words, resolve to overcome their own fears.

Both Cameron and Stuart are able to take small, but significant steps toward opening their lives to the possibility of happiness. Stuart takes a few steps outside his home; Cameron invites Chase to cross her threshold. Cameron’s move is simple, making space for Chase in her dresser, allowing him to move into part of her life. Stuart takes a significant step outside the cocoon of his home.

Only House, hesitating at Cuddy’s door, just as he had at the end of season three’s “Half-Wit” at the pub’s entrance, backs away, unable to overcome his fear. He is unable to leave the safe cocoon of his own misery. At least for now. Hugh Laurie (again in one of those dialogue-free sequences) did a superb job of wordlessly conveying House’s diminishing resolve as he moved from his flat to Cuddy’s doorstep and then painfully down the steps to the sidewalk.

I really liked the episode. Even thought the parallels were pretty obvious, I like those episodes when the patient resonates so clearly with House’s own situation. The teams, old and new, played nicely together, with the old team taking the lead, “old school,” as House said. Cameron was her old, slightly annoying, hyper-ethical self, but I liked seeing the exploration of her relationship with Chase and how it has been affected by her fear of moving on. Jesse Spencer did a nice job conveying Chase’s resignation about Cameron’s lack of commitment.

Wilson was a delight, and I loved his role as House’s friend without the moralizing. He genuinely feels that House can achieve happiness with Cuddy, as she is strong, smart and already likes him. His pushing of House was appropriate and good-natured, as their relationship has been for the last couple of episodes. Robert Sean Leonard, too, hit all the right notes, being friend and go-between; nudge and listener. In all, another excellent installment in what I’m thinking might turn out to be my favorite season of all!

Random Notes: I am still working on that article about House and relationships. (Sorry for the delay, but hopefully it will be worth the wait). Later today, I’m participating in a conference call with Katie Jacobs and will report on it in the next couple of days. In the meantime, just a reminder that in January, House will move to Mondays, airing before new episodes of 24.

About Barbara Barnett

A Jewish mother and (young 🙃) grandmother, Barbara Barnett is an author and professional Hazzan (Cantor). A member of the Conservative Movement's Cantors Assembly and the Jewish Renewal movement's clergy association OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement. In her other life, she is a critically acclaimed fantasy/science fiction author as well as the author of a non-fiction exploration of the TV series House, M.D. and contributor to the book Spiritual Pregnancy. She Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (

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