Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Shades of grey -- Episode 410, "It's a Wonderful Lie"

Clinic patient:
Woman who may or may not be a prostitute.

The connection:
Everybody lies. It's a concept all us "House" fans have been familiar with from the get-go, a philosophy so good they put it on a t-shirt. Now, in the fourth season, we get an episode that's a sort of liar's handbook -- a handy dandy little field guide with definitions (courtesy of an early chat with the main patient's daughter), a conversion chart for the ratio of big lies to small truths (just how honest can you be without telling your daughter she's not your daughter?) and a close-up look at that whole fuzzy area called the absence of truth (our clinic patient).

There's a lot to lying. As the opening credits are still rolling, House has a little sit-down with the main patient's daughter to try to figure out what her mom's not telling them. In the process, he gives her a little lesson in lying and all its various forms: evasions instead of answers; white lies -- "Lies we tell to make other people feel better"; rationalizations -- "Lies we tell to make ourselves feel better."

The clinic patient's lie takes a more complicated form, and House actually helps it along through assumption. The patient comes in complaining of soar throat, stomach and glands. As House is checking her over, he notices her necklace.

House: "St. Nicholas?"
CP: "Patron saint of children."
H: "Also seamen, merchants, archers, prostitutes and prisoners."

He tells her she has strep and that she should take it easy -- not to worry, he'll write her pimp a note.

CP: "Pimp?"
H: "You don't have the skin of a seaman, the fingers of an archer, the clothes of a merchant, or the attitude of an ex-con. That just leaves one left."
CP: "Two, actually. But I'm not a child, am I?"

So House, in his deductive reasoning kind of way, figures she's a prostitute. She's not denying. When she comes in again, this time with a nasty pustule-filled breakout around her neck, the whole conversation is based on the idea that she's a prostitute. His immediate guess -- the clap. ("Clap on, clap off.") After closer examination:

H: "Do you do a donkey show? I'm not curious. It matters."
CP: "It's a donkey or a mule. I can never remember."

Is there contact? Yup. Diagnosis: contact ecthyma. House is thinking beastiality. Her creepy smile turns into an amused one, and she offers to give him an explanation, but he won't have it, thoroughly convinced she's a prostitute and wanting to avoid the scary details. She leaves him a flier for the show, and at the end we see it's a live nativitiy scene at a church, and she's riding a donkey.

It could go either way whether she's a hooker or not. The whole church thing would seem to rule that out, but she could just be a religious prostitute. I say she's not. She called St. Nicholas the patron saint of children -- if she's active in the church, of course she's working with kids. Her frequent HIV testing could be simply a precaution for some sort of needle exchange program. Checking herself for gonorrhea? Well, not all religious people are pure.

So if she's not a prostitute, then she's just playing House's game, letting him believe that she is. Is that the same as a lie? Well, it's not the truth. The same can be said of the main patient. She tells her daughter everything, except that she's not her daughter. It's not an active lie. It's a lie of omission.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Power play -- Episode 405, "Mirror Mirror"

With House's fellowship version of "Survivor" raging on (thankfully, only one more episode!), it's no surprise that there's been little room for clinic patients. And frankly, I'm glad the writers haven't tried. It's been hard enough squeezing in Chase and Cameron, let alone subplot z.

But the clinic itself is still there and, in this episode, at House's disposal. His goal is to get back at Cuddy for rehiring Foreman. So he announces to a crowded hospital cafeteria that the mayonnaise is bad, then directs them all to the clinic and tells them to ask for Dr. Cuddy. But she's played House's games enough to know how to even the score -- she pilfers House's Duckling wannabes to help with "The Great Mayonnaise Panic of 2007." (Of course, it would have been sweeter had she roped House into clinic duty, but we all know that wouldn't happen.) House gets his differential diagnosis anyway -- Kutner and Bitch chime in from exam rooms, while Taub and the guy who stood around a lot throw in their two cents from the waiting room -- then offers expensive tests for all uninsured patients. "Fight the power."

This most recent power play between Cuddy and House is not the first to be played out in the clinic (see "Occam's Razor" from season 1 and "Lines in the Sand" from season 3). But House might care a little bit more about this outcome. The main patient suffers from mirror syndrome, in which he mimics the dominant person in the room. Unfortunately for House, just a few scenes before, that dominant person was Wilson. House may not be consciously aware of it at the time he pops into the clinic, but he's got something to prove.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Afterlife -- Episode 403, "97 Seconds"

Clinic patient:
Car accident victim who sticks his knife into a wall socket in an attempt to recapture his near-death experience.

The connection:
In a nutshell, the clinic patient and the main patient (with a little bit of Wilson thrown in) lead House to zap himself as part of his own personal experiment to test the theory of an afterlife.

It starts with House trying to figure out why clinic guy stuck the knife in the socket. Clinic guy explains what happened after the crash: "I saw these headlights. And I saw ... Paramedics said I was technically dead for 97 seconds. It was the best 97 seconds of my life." House dismisses the visions as chemical reactions in the brain, but clinic guy dismisses that, saying he's done every kind of hallucinogenic drug, and it wasn't the same. "This is way bigger than that," he says. "There's something out there. Something more." And House's interest is piqued.

Now it's the main patient's turn. After being confined to a wheelchair for most of his life, he's just learned that he has cancer and will have to spend his remaining months in a hospital bed, puking and in pain. He chooses to die instead:

Main patient: "I've been trapped in this useless body long enough. It'd be nice to finally get out."
House: "Get out and go where? You think you're gonna sprout wings and fly around with the other angels? There is no after. There's just this."

Afterward, Wilson berates House for squashing the beliefs of a dying man. House is stubborn as always:

House: "He shouldn't be making a decision based on a lie. Misery is better than nothing."
Wilson: "You don't know there's nothing. You haven't been there."
House: "Oh, God, I am tired of that argument. I don't have to go to Detroit to know that it smells."
Wilson: "Yes. Detroit, the afterlife. Same thing."

So House decides to go there. He zaps himself by sticking the clinic guy's knife into a wall socket in his office. When he comes to, he's eager to talk to clinic guy, who unfortunately died just an hour before. Wilson wants to know why House needs to talk to him: Did he see something?

We get our answer in the last line of the episode. House, all alone with the body of the main patient, looks down at him and says, "I'm sorry to say, I told you so."

It seems pretty cut and dried, but I found myself asking this question: Would House, without anyone to overhear him, lie to a dead guy?

Faith is probably House's biggest nemesis. It's an annoyance because it's the opposite of reason and because he's frequently confronted by it. But as convinced as he is in his atheism, it seems that every time faith rears its ugly head, there's always room for doubt. There was a moment in "House vs. God" when it was possible the young faith healer's touch shrank Wilson's cancer patient's tumor. When his patient in "Human Error" miraculously came back from the brink of death, House looked up in futility. At the end of "One Day, One Room," he seemed swayed by the main patient's case for eternity.

House eventually found the medical explanations for the anomalies in "House vs. God" and "Human Error," but in order to disprove God as a factor, he had to acknowledge the possibility of his existence. It's the same in "97 Seconds." If he didn't think there was the chance of an afterlife, he wouldn't have had to test it.

In House's hospital room, Wilson mentioned that House had already had two near-death experiences. The first, when House's heart stopped in "Three Stories," was accompanied by visions. (Then, as now, "They're all just chemical reactions that take place when the brain shuts down.") Same with the second, when he was shot in season 2's finale, "No Reason," although those visions were described more as hallucinations. Was there really nothing the third time around?

My point is this: There's really no reason House would lie to a dead man -- unless he's lying to himself to keep faith from winning.