Wednesday , February 21 2024
The master of medical sleight of hand treats a magician. House is skeptical at first, but the patient's illness is more than an illusion.

TV Review: House, MD – “You Don’t Want to Know”

It’s the pacing. I finally figured out what’s been (ever so slightly) bothering me during this season of House. It’s the pacing. Okay, so I didn’t figure it out myself. A sage poster over on a House, MD forum (House's House of Whining) figured it out. Every episode this season (except perhaps the first episode, "Alone") has sped along at a hugely fast pace. Lots of characters, lots of fun, very enjoyable. But slightly lacking (for me) in those quietly reflective moments: House alone pondering a problem or the meaning of something; House at his piano, playing some melancholy tune; House deep in conversation with a patient.

We’ve had bits of that (well, except the piano part) scattered amongst the eight episodes we’ve had so far this season. A (quick) moment of reflection as House contemplates risking his life for an experiment on himself in “97 seconds;” a brief scene with the young patient in “Ugly;” the scene in last night’s episode with 13, where she tells House that his quest for answers can’t stop because if it does, he’ll run out of hope. (More about that one later.) But the moments have been scattered, brief, and with little long-term impact, like echoes of a bygone era. And I’m really sorry to see them sacrificed for lighter, fun moments, as fun as those are. But I really miss those poignant, provocative, thoughtful scenes, which seem to be so fewer this year.

It’s not that I don’t like this season, and it’s not that I don’t like the episodes themselves, because I do. A lot. I hope (with only four more pre-strike episodes to go) that this changes in the last few as the new team is established and things get back to a new normal. And I hope the WGA strike is settled next week, and the show, itself, has its full fun of 22 episodes to share with us this season with lots and lots of character exploration as interpreted by the wonderful Hugh Laurie.

That said, on to "You Don't Want to Know" (which I thoroughly enjoyed). I love magic. I love trying to figure out magic tricks (and never can); and I appreciate the sleight of hand and dexterity it requires to be good at it. House likes magic too, despite his protestations to the contrary. He’s done magic tricks before — for his own amusement and to have something to do with this hands (I’m thinking particularly of his disappearing poker chip trick in “All In”). He’s told Wilson that he can make a quarter emerge from any orifice (“Top Secret”). I also think House loves to demystify magic tricks. He likes to know how pretty much everything works: things; people; the human body (which is why I think he really became a doctor, by the way); the natural world, etc. So combining magic, magicians, and House is pretty much playing to my weaknesses. Add to that a couple of (way too brief) scenes where House is vulnerable or quietly compassionate and you’ve got a pretty happy camper. So it is with "You Don't Want to Know."

The patient is a magician, about whose illness House is initially skeptical. House professes to disdain both the very idea of magic and the sense of wonder it requires to appreciate it. And a magician is a great natural antagonist for House. But I think that at his core, House actually has a fairly profound sense of wonder that can be almost childlike. And I begin to wonder if House’s initial pushing back against the patient has something to do with that: he doesn’t want to get sucked into the magician’s orbit. We get evidence of that in House’s astonishment at the magician’s card trick, and later his own card play.

The patient ultimately receives a transfusion, but continues to get sicker. The team thinks it’s something the patient picked up in a transfusion. House is convinced that it’s not the blood and offers himself as a human experiment to prove his point. The patient is too ill for biopsy, and House, certain that the transfused blood is clean, is willing to take the calculated risk in the patient’s place.

House suffers a reaction to the transfusion, becoming feverish and ill. Standing up, he is dizzy, which is not a side effect of transfusion. He’s been drugged! By 13. She too does “whatever it takes” to win the diagnosis — and by proving House wrong, she will distinguish herself to him both in confirming the diagnosis and in one-upping the master. But she’s wrong; House, indeed, has suffered a transfusion reaction and after a bit of rest, he is fine. Wilson, on the other hand, is alarmed that once again House has risked his life in an effort to “know something.” Wilson must be really spooked now, being as this is the second time House has done something extremely dangerous and risky within a very short period of time. Does House not care if he lives or dies? Is his clearly happier-this-year exterior covering a deeper problem inside House’s psyche? Not sure where they’re headed with this, but I sense that they’re headed somewhere. It’s too deliberate and (since Wilson actually referred to the event in “97 Seconds”) unusual for these to be “nothing.”

I have to admit I was put off by the challenge House put to the team: “Get me the thong of Lisa Cuddy!” Eeew. I was happy in the end (so to speak) when it was revealed that Cole obtained said thong by collusion rather than thievery. And I was not surprised that he was fired for said collusion.

House stated at the beginning of the challenge that the idea was to determine who among the candidates would be able to perform such a daunting task and NOT GET CAUGHT doing it. Making a deal with Cuddy was breaking the challenges rules. So Cole won unfairly, not proving anything except that he was willing to make deals with Cuddy (something that would not serve House well). House has had his share of colleagues who’ve formed alliances against him before, either for his own good or to serve their own self-interest.

And that’s why Foreman is there — to be Cuddy’s snitch. So, bye-bye Cole. Of course the very idea of this challenge points out House’s biggest mystery and fascination: Lisa Cuddy. His fascination with her keeps Cuddy in control of their relationship, since she allows him access to very deliberate and very limited morsels. She owns him, just like she said back in “Words and Deeds” (season three). So Cole was willing to do “whatever it takes” to win the challenge, even stabbing his friend Kutner in the back. His firing suggests that sometimes doing whatever it takes pushes the boundaries too far, breaking too many rules, turning win into lose — a too deliberate sleight of hand that simply can’t escape the hyper-observant House, who deconstructs everything and everybody.

And now House has a new distraction. The mysterious 13 may have inherited Huntington’s Chorea (a terrible genetic disease that took the life of Woody Guthrie, one of my childhood heroes). The endlessly curious House nibbled away at the mystery , eventually believing that she has Parkinson’s (given the tremor in her hands) and assuming that she knew it. House was stunned to learn that it was Huntington’s, which elicited that rare and quite heartfelt “I’m sorry,” when he learned that her mother died of it. (The disease is untreatable and ultimately fatal.) 13 has a fifty percent chance of inheriting it; and House is stunned to learn that she’s never been tested for it.

House surreptitiously tests her for it himself, but when she tells him that she doesn’t want to know, he doesn’t push her, and doesn’t peek himself (unless he already knows the results). In any event, House accepts her decision to not know; and he also won’t accept her resignation. He, who wants to know everything, doesn't understand why she doesn't want to know. She replies fatalistically that it wouldn’t really matter anyway, given the nature of the disease. What would "knowing" accomplish?

Then she takes her own shot at understanding the mystery of House himself (oh, how so many have tried and failed!). "You spend your whole life looking for answers because you think the next answer will change something, will make you a little less miserable. You know that when you run out of questions you don't just run out of answers, you run out of hope. You glad you know that?" she bitterly asks him.

Does House hope? I think he does. I think House’s fascination with everything — wanting to dissect and deconstruct everything, has got something to do with finding the answer to himself. I recall an earlier discussion, back in season two, between House and Wilson. Wilson accuses House of holding onto his misery like a security blanket; that being miserable makes him special. I don't think House wants to be miserable, despite what Wilson thinks; but he has no idea as to how to work himself out the terrible hole he’s trapped within. He can gain bits and snatches of happiness here and there: a mindless Foosball game; monster trucks; riding his bike; puzzles, music (his true solace). But happiness is probably something that has eluded House (maybe except when he was with Stacy). So, for House, maybe the answers to all of those questions will someday lead to the answer to his greatest puzzle — himself. Or not. Anyway, I like this idea — and I like it a great deal more than Wilson’s posturing and lecturing; and more than Cameron’s pop psychological deconstruction of House.

Next Week: The Final Four, and a final challenge. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Thank you for your readership and support.

Remember: The Writers Guild and the producers return to the negotiating table on Monday (yay!). But the WGA remains on strike and please support the writers by NOT downloading or streaming or episodes from either the Fox site or Amazon Unbox.

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, (

Check Also

BotCon: A Look Back at ‘Beast Wars: Transformers’

"You're not standing there doing a voice; you're doing a character."