Photo Courtesy Paul Drinkwater/FOX
(L to R Adam Rothenberg, Laura Prepon, Olivia Wilde and Hugh Laurie)
This is my first House review and I just want to define my parameters right off the bat. First, there will be spoilers. If the most recent episode is waiting for you on TiVo or if you figure you’ll just watch when it comes up on a USA Network rerun in a week or you plan to download it later or whatever your problem may be, now would be a good time to bail. Plot elements, including the mystery disease, will be revealed. That’s just the way I roll.
Second, I am not a particularly objective reviewer. I have a bias. I love House. I wouldn’t be watching it if I didn’t and certainly wouldn’t be reviewing it. If there comes a time when I think the show is horrible, the writing’s gone down hill, the producers have gone out of their minds and Hugh Laurie has forgotten how to act, blah, blah, blah. I’ll stop watching… and writing. Fickle, I know, but I don’t get off on wallowing in misery or telling people that a show they enjoy is rubbish. If that were the case I’d be reviewing Two and a Half Men.
Third, I will never use portmanteaux when discussing characters and/or relationships. I’m not even going to give specific examples here. You know, it’s smushing together the names of two characters with the main goal of promoting a romantic relationship between them. I think it’s lazy shorthand (and way too fangirl) when applied to characters and slightly nauseating when applied to real people.
Fourth, I don’t give a crap about medical accuracy. House has got at least three full time medical consultants on their staff. When they ignore the reality of the medicine it’s usually to advance the dramatic narrative. I know in real life there are valuable and highly skilled professionals doing most of the tests and procedures and lab work, but they can’t and shouldn’t bring in a bunch of extras to portray those valuable and highly skilled professionals when they already have a bunch of valuable and highly paid actors who can just as easily pretend to do the test or procedure or lab work while at the same time reciting dialogue that advances the plot. They are under no obligation to show you how a tracheotomy is actually performed. If you’re stuck in an elevator with Olivia Wilde and you go into cardiac arrest your chances of survival still suck. It’s entertainment, not a documentary. If you have a problem with the type of scalpel they use for fake heart surgery I don’t want to hear about it.
That’s more than enough of the ground rules: on to the actual review of “Private Lives”, the fifteenth episode of House‘s sixth season, which debuted just about a month after the last new episode. That’s quite a wait, but I suppose they have to run the Winter Olympics when it’s still pretty cold. This episode is much more in keeping with the traditional House formula than the last outing, “5 to 9″, but like that episode, which focused on Cuddy, “Private Lives” devotes the majority of the time to exploring the secondary characters: Chase, Wilson and a little dash of Taub. House is relegated to a somewhat smaller role in the background. He is, as the patient describes him, the Wizard of Oz for the episode. He sets into motion Chase’s speed dating induced introspection and Wilson’s film career revelation. They’re each given a thread that ties into the overarching theme of the episode. Privacy is part of the theme, but it’s primarily about appearances: how we present ourselves publicly and the contrast with who we really are or think we are.
Despite all the time devoted to the regular cast, guest star Laura Prepon, that girl from That 70s Show (only now her hair is blonde instead of red) puts in a solid performance as Frankie the blogger. Her character is relentlessly honest and blunt. In a way she mirrors House. She wants to say it like it is, disregarding the usual social conventions of what should be kept private about other people, but like House she does hold back a personal part of herself. He judges her harshly, declaring her a hypocrite, when in fact his own secrets are much more significant than hers.
What with the speed dating and the porno film players, the guest cast is huge, but I also liked Adam Rothenberg as Taylor, the annoyed/devoted boyfriend, Gonzalo Menendez as the angry neighbor and Christina Vidal as Sandy the Nurse. She really only gets one line, but she knocks it out of the park.
As usual it’s a very enjoyable, strong episode: not only is the audience relieved that the puzzle is solved and the patient cured, we’re invited to explore our own concepts of privacy versus community, appearances versus reality, and the possibility that we’re spending to much time blogging.
“I write about my life”
Late at night Frankie (Laura Prepon) is blogging about an argument she’s just had with her live-in boyfriend, Taylor (Adam Rothenberg). He interrupts to argue with her about blogging their argument. They awaken the perpetually grumpy neighbor (Gonzalo Menendez) who shows up at the door to complain. When Frankie steps into the light, Taylor and the neighbor both notice that Frankie has a large bruise on her face. The neighbor calls 911 while Frankie examines herself in the mirror, something she does figuratively all the time with her blog, A Considered Life. She sees her mouth is filled with blood. (The episode has very little blood. No further spewing or gushing ensues later. I guess that was a lucky break for their guest star and for Jesse Spencer who mentioned in his show night tweet-fest that “the blood getting dry on the gloves” was his least favorite thing.)
“You mean you’re dating on meth? Count me in?”
The next morning at their condo, House and Wilson discuss the potential activities for the evening. Wilson suggests that House go speed dating with him, as an alternative to watching porn, enticing him with the potential of a “happy ending.” The most interesting aspect of this scene is Wilson’s reaction to the DVDs. It’s not obvious on the first viewing, but on the second viewing it’s clear that he recognizes the DVD with the performance he’d like to keep secret. The speed dating invitation is, at least in part, an attempt to distract House from watching it long enough for Wilson to get rid of it.
Later at the hospital House is reading a book in his office, again bringing home the you-can’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover/appearances-can-be-deceiving theme of the episode, The Golden Bowl by Henry James. (Why that dust cover? And is it significant that it was Cameron’s favorite book? Did she give to him? If I recall correctly it’s a story of adultery/deception. That sort of fits roughly into the theme.) Let the light doctoring commence. They fill him in on the patient and offer up a couple of bad guesses. House wants to know, “What does she blog?”
Chase doesn’t get blogging about your life online, which is understandable considering the HUGE secret he has. Taub pipes up, in a bit of a non-sequitur, that privacy is a modern invention and you couldn’t have secrets in small towns. (I have to take exception to his basic premise: people keep secrets in small towns. Hasn’t he seen Peyton Place. I agree with Sherlock Holmes who observed “It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”)
House doesn’t challenge the concept directly. He just extols the virtues of privacy by pointing out, with the example of The Scarlet Letter, that small towns can be small minded. It’s interesting that he chooses that example, since he now knows his own conception mirrors the situation in that novel: a clergyman who’s impregnated a married woman. Guess it was on his mind.
He sends Thirteen and “Tiny” to do the weekly B&E chore. As they search the patient’s home, Taub, feeling guilty about I’m not sure what (didn’t he already get past his adultery crisis?) continues to standup for a lack of privacy by asserting that “people make bad choice when left to their own devices” (Seriously? It seems to me that people can make equally bad and infinitely more damaging choices in groups.) Disturbed by the noise of their search and conversation, the perpetually grumpy neighbor returns. Taub’s not so instantly enthusiastic about this guy’s display of community spirit, although the neighbor does give them what turns out to be a not so vital clue about rat poison.
That evening House, looking understandably wary, shows up for the speed dating. Wilson is already there and he’s brought Chase. House objects. “You go to a bar, you bring your ugly friends.” Chase doesn’t think he’s that good looking, but even Wilson admits, “You kind of are.” (He kind of is, but they’re all a cut above what you’ll probably find on a real speed date.)
House bets Chase that women would still go out with him even if he pretends to be unemployed, stupid and sans accent, which makes the evening much more palatable and ultimately profitable for House. While Wilson deals with oncologist-related fall out on his “dates” (dead aunt, dead male relative, dead cat), House barely makes an effort and Chase plays the clueless American slacker. As House predicts Chase still gets the most call back requests, presumably on the strength of looks alone. The entire sequence is delightfully comedic while still underscoring the theme of appearances versus reality.
Taub and Foreman treat Frankie for rat poisoning even though she’s sure she washed her hands after handling it. She continues to blog as Taub looks over her shoulder. She’s characterized Foreman as conceited. He objects, but really that’s pretty much right on the nose. Frankie also thinks a lack of privacy leads to better behavior, but then she’s preaching to the choir with Taub, who’s all for it until the next time he wants to commit adultery. Frankie goes to pee and has no qualms about letting the doctors know it’s brown. (Which means?…. Come on House peeps, you know this one…. That’s right kidney failure, which apparently cannot be explained by rat poison.)
“The quiet ones are always deeply repressed.”
Now they have two symptoms coagulopathy and kidney failure. Back in the office the team makes a few more bad guesses while House confronts Wilson in the hall about his missing porn DVDs. Wilson admits that he returned them to the store. House is perturbed and unsatisfied by Wilson’s explanation.
Later that night when Wilson drops by the office, House reveals that he has discovered his secret. A much younger Wilson is featured with some clever sleight of film in one of the porn DVDs, wearing antlers. Wilson tries to explain that it was an innocent college film project that has since been re-cut using a body double. He warns House not to tell anyone. Too late. As Wilson brushes past Thirteen in the hall, she quotes his big line from the film: “Be not afraid.”
In the outer office Thirteen finds Chase reading the patient’s blog and contemplating his own good looks. “How good-looking am I?” When she admits that everyone is a physical being to some extent, he has a House-ish epiphany about the patient and dashes off to run a test on her. He and Frankie have a heart to heart talk while he prepares the test. He instructs her to lie flat on her back, but she resists. Apparently this is a reaction Chase doesn’t get too often.
A little later back in the office he tells the team Frankie needs heart surgery, which he know because she’s uncomfortable on her back and he did a cardiac echo which revealed a weak heart valve. House is impressed. “God, you’re pretty,” he tells him.
“I guess I should thank whoever taught you how to please a woman. Maybe it was the forest nymphs.”
Taub and Chase go over the heart valve surgery options with Frankie and Taylor. Pig or plastic? Pig is better for future babies, which her boyfriend wants and Chase knows that because, like almost everything else, it’s in her blog. Frankie wants feedback from her audience, but Taylor objects. This should be their decision.
As he walks in his office Wilson signs off on a chart for nurse Sandy then turns to discovers his wall has been covered with posters promoting his porn appearance. Sandy can’t resist teasing him (and neither can anyone else.) He demands that she bring back his Vertigo poster. In the cafeteria Wilson asks for Chase’s assistance in finding something embarrassing on House. Chase remembers the book that House wasn’t reading. Whatever it is, he’s ashamed of it.
Frankie, after consulting her blog readers, decides to go with plastic. Taylor disagrees with her decision to use her audience as a lifeline. He thinks she taken an unfortunate step from community member to performer. “You’ve turned our lives into their entertainment.”
Chase and Wilson search House’s office for the book and find it: Step by Step Sermons for Everyday Life, a very un-House-like reading choice. Chase wonders how they can use it against House, but Wilson instantly loses interest in the revenge aspect and gets caught up in the puzzle that is House, which for him is partly sincere concern for his friend and partly a compulsive curiosity.
As they prepare Frankie for surgery she admits that she hates that Taylor has no blog and she doesn’t know what he’s thinking. (I think she spend too much time on line, because it’s pretty clear he thinks she’s being an idiot.) He doesn’t want to argue with her. Her appendix bursts and the surgery is off.
“Book club. Oprah was going on and on.”
Foreman and Chase deliver the bad news/wrong diagnosis: lymphoma. They tell Frankie she has a year to live and they want to try a new experimental treatment that Cuddy’s already approved (and I was beginning to think she’d taken a few days off.) She takes it pretty well, matter-of-factly authorizing the treatment, and once they leave the room they speculate that she may be in denial.
Chase, still trying to test the limits of his new found good-looking super powers, approaches Nurse Sandy and asks to borrow her car. Apparently she agrees and Chase tells Thirteen about it. She tells him a boyfriend story and advises him to take people as they come.
At home Wilson reads the book of sermons he swiped. When House arrives Wilson confronts him. He can’t make sense of it. House tries a few lies that Wilson isn’t buying. He wonders if it’s the pain. “Are you so out of options that you’re looking for answers in what you consider irrationality?” House assures him he’s fine. “Are you alright because you’re back on Vicodin?”
“Trust me,” says House and he takes the book back.
“Read chapter six, entitled ‘Shut the Hell Up’.”
The next day Chase has bought copies of the book and distributed it to the team. They tease House about his apparent spiritual awakening, but from his reaction it’s clear that the book itself is not the secret. Everyone’s pagers go off in unison. The patient has had a bad reaction to the treatment and she’ s spiking a fever.
They discuss the new development in Cuddy’s office, which makes this her one and only scene (apart from a few seconds at the end). Thirteen’s revelation that she woke the patient up for her last treatment and a quick examination of her blog time stamps, lead House to conclude that Frankie suffers from day/night reversal, which equals a new symptom, which equals liver disease, which equals not lymphoma which equals “go get a biopsy.” Since it is Cuddy’s only scene House also finds the time to squeeze in an inappropriate suggestion: “That was pretty cool what I did, right? Wanna make out?”
Chase and Foreman tell Frankie the good news/bad news. She doesn’t have lymphoma. She’s dying in a few days unless they figure out what disease she has.
“Underneath the God stuff? More God stuff.”
Now it’s serious. Back in the office they toss around more incorrect theories and decide to go with broad spectrum antibiotics. Alone in his office, House studies Frankie’s blog, desperately looking for a clue. Wilson comes in. After getting his hands on a copy of the book with its original dust cover, he’s recognized the author’s picture. It’s House’s biological father. Wilson wants to know why House is reading it. “You can’t suddenly turn around and build a whole new world view based on crap,” he tells him. Maybe not, but you can base a diagnosis on it. “Crap” is the clue House has been looking for.
He runs off to confront the patient. “Do you poop?” he asks, upbraiding her for not blogging about her bowel movements. (Really? Is the onus on her to have piped up with that info on her blog? Shouldn’t they have asked for a stool sample at some point? Had she known it was significant she probably would have written something in depth on the topic. She apparently did tell everyone about the mud-colored pee. Do patients without blogs get no treatment at all now?) Apparently her poo indicates that nutrients are not being absorbed into her system and everyone knows what that means, right? Well, Thirteen and Chase do at any rate. It’s Whipple’s Disease. Hurray! Let’s hear it for Whipple’s disease finally getting a chance to step into the spotlight after a brief moment on the stage last year as a misdiagnosis. House prescribes the correct antibiotic and saves the day/patient once again. Frankie reconsiders and decides to go with the pig valve which pleases her boyfriend, who rewards her with her computer so she can blog all about it.
Later Chase and Thirteen continue to discuss how good-looking he is. He wonders if Cameron was really in love with him or if he just fooled himself into believing she loved him. Thirteen says she did love him and that Chase is being paranoid. (Not exactly. More like poor self esteem.) “Can I borrow your car?” he asks and she obligingly turns him down.
On their way out of the hospital House and Wilson, mostly Wilson, continue to discuss the book. Wilson gives his theory: House is looking for a kindred spirit, a meaningful connection to another human being and he was hoping to find it in the writings of his biological father. That apparently did not happen.
Cuddy orders the large display in the lobby, advertising Wilson’s risqué film debut, be removed.
That’s just my own take on the events of the episode. Many times on repeated viewing something pops out at me which changes my interpretation. That’s what’s so fun about House: lots of layers, interpretations and opinions to be had by all.
Tags: House, Hugh Laurie