“Black Hole” is the 16th episode of the season and it seems very much like a continuation of last week’s episode “Private Lives.” The stage turns slightly in this one putting the spotlight on Taub with his guilty conscience and trust issues. House is still pulling the strings: Wilson’s and Taub’s this time. To some extent that’s always been his MO, but his fascination with Taub’s private life (and Wilson’s also to some extent) seems more thoughtful now, as if he were searching for an answer not only to their motivations and characters, but to his own. Themes of betrayal and forgiveness echo in the patient’s story and Taub’s, then in Wilson’s brief scene with Cuddy. Excellent performances by the regular cast all around.
I also enjoyed seeing Dennis Boutsikaris, who plays Nick’s dad Artie, the patient’s boyfriend’s father/patient’s illicit parasite infested one night stand. He is a favorite character actor of mine who specializes in playing slick lawyers and evil doctors. I had an “a-ha” moment as soon as I saw his face. It wasn’t difficult to put the clues together. Clue number one: he has a lot of frequent flier miles. Clue number two: the father of a patient’s boyfriend wouldn’t be at the hospital unless he was significantly involved, especially not if he’s Dennis Boutsikaris.
So it turns out, at least for me, that the medical case is not much of a mystery. That doesn’t detract from the episode. I think the case is primarily meant to parallel Taub’s quest for his wife’s trust and forgiveness. And all of it echoes House plea in last week’s episode: “Trust me.”
“A little more vodka and you might find out some more things you didn’t know about me.”
The episode opening at the planetarium looked pretty cool. (Although I have to admit that the silence of space screwed with my head a little and I futzed around with the volume a while before I figured it out.) I was pleasantly reminded of the “Planetarium” episode of South Park. (In fact I can’t hear the word planetarium without thinking of it. If you’ve seen it, I think you know what I mean.) Abby (Cali Fredrichs) and Nick (Mick Eversman), two senior honor students are surreptitiously drinking vodka in the back row and discussing their future. He’s Stanford/West Coast bound. She’s worried that he’ll be too far away. After the instructor (Sunil Malhutra) questions her about drinking in the theater, Nick observes that Abby is a good liar. (He doesn’t know how well yet.) A moment later, Nick notices that Abby is not breathing and she’s literally foaming from the mouth. He calls for help.
The scene has some very nice touches. Off of the teacher’s dialogue “95 billion light years across” Abby comes in with “You’ll be so far away.” Off of “We can only observe 4% of the Universe. The rest of it is unaccounted for.” Nick says that Abby’s a good liar. He only knows one side of her. The rest is unaccounted for. I also think the sound effect, which they usually use for those cool shots where they zoom inside a patient, is interestingly used to zoom out at the end of the scene to a shot of the solar system and then into the main credits.
“Buy some furniture or admit you’re empty inside.”
At the still sparsely furnished condo, Wilson complains about House eating on the couch. (Judging from last week’s episode, he’s done much worse than that on the couch.) House tells him to get a table. Wilson doesn’t seem too keen on furniture shopping. House thinks he’s afraid to do it, and even though Wilson dismisses the idea, he insists that Wilson should buy furniture.
At the office, before House or Taub have arrived, the rest of the team discusses Abby’s case. When House gets there he’s somewhat more interested in Taub’s whereabouts than he is in the patient’s well being. He assumes, rightly, that Taub is at home fighting with his wife, even though Taub has called in with a flat tire excuse. One thing we can almost always be sure of in the first differential, nobody has the right answer and somebody’s going to suggest drugs/alcohol and an MRI, which they do while Taub is in his bedroom arguing with his wife (Jennifer Crystal Foley) about yoga couple’s classes. She thinks they should spend more time together. The subtext, which Thirteen later spells out for him, is that Rachel thinks given enough unsupervised time he might cheat on her again.
Eventually Taub makes it into the hospital and before he’s had a chance to familiarize himself with the new case, he’s confronted by the patient’s boyfriend, Nick who is accompanied by his father, asking about her condition. He says they’re running tests. Nick asks him to tell Abby he loves her. He seems touched by the request and he delivers the message, after apologizing to Chase for being late. She also seems touched and happy when she gets the message even though she’s in a big scary MRI machine. It’s really a nice moment and establishes a bond between Taub and the patient, who he’ll later learn shares his guilt over having been unfaithful.
Taub tries to run his marital problems past Chase who doesn’t think he’s qualified to give advice. (Anyone else notice Chase is growing a stubbly beard very much like House’s? Is he fulfilling Cameron’s gloom prophecy and turning into House?) During the MRI they notice a dark spot in her heart. This leads to another differential where they speculate that the spot might be fungus. Foreman says that blood tests rule out fungus and parasites (that’s because it’s parasites but not parasites.) House is still more concerned with Taub’s marital problems.
I have a theory on why House finds Taub’s rather prosaic domestic situation so fascinating. He wants to know if Taub can change enough to successfully give up adultery. If so, then there’s a chance that he too can change enough to stay off the Vicodin permanently and find a little happiness. His philosophy has always been that people don’t change. He wants that not to be true.
Thirteen suggests that they do a Transeosopha… watchamacallit to get a better idea of what they’re dealing with, because it wouldn’t be right to go through a whole episode without shoving something down the patient’s throat. Thirteen has no problem giving Taub marital advice (“It’s not about the yoga”) while they do the echo. Predictably, the test goes horribly wrong and Abby’s heart valve ruptures. They rush her into surgery and shock her a few times before Thirteen’s heart massage does the trick and brings the patient back.
“Not my fault. I was busy judging Taub.”
In the next differential, Thirteen suggests that Abby may be having an allergic reaction to her boyfriend’s semen. They run with that. They ask Nick for a sample when he admits that under very particular circumstances he didn’t use a condom. His father is there and seemingly concerned about Nick and his love life. They run a scratch test. Abby is not allergic to Nick’s semen, but she does begin to writhe in pain and pee blood. That can only mean one thing. That’s right: kidney failure.
House shoots down a few more theories before he agrees to do a full body scan even though, “We hate full body scans.” Taub and Foreman do the scan. Taub seeks advice from Foreman on how to make his wife trust him. Foreman? Really? How desperate is he? Although, this exchange does lead into a nice segue: “You don’t think I want my wife too be happy?”
“Sure, as long as it makes you happy.”
House enters the condo and finds it completely furnished. Wilson thinks it’s “not bad” and he wants to know what House thinks. “Not bad at all,” he says, clearly meaning he thinks it’s not good.
Abby’s scan is going badly. She hallucinates falling into a black hole.
“We know nothing. Brain knows all.”
They have yet another differential back in the office, during which both House and Taub do a little multi tasking. In an effort to spend more time with his wife, Taub is texting her while he’s working. House is watching him while the rest of the team bats around theories. From Rachel’s perspective at a grocery store the texts continue and become more risqué. Back in the office we see House has taken over the phone and the texts in an effort to “help” Taub. “You’re texting does not prove you’re faithful. It just proves that you know she thinks you’re unfaithful. You can’t force trust.”
Now that he’s delivered that bit of wisdom it’s down to business. “What did she hallucinate?”
He thinks the content of her hallucination may give them clues to her illness. He wants to try the Cognitive Pattern Recognition Program. Everyone looks at him likes he’s nuts. Foreman calls it science fiction (a “mind reading machine”) and suggests they do an MRA with contrast instead. (You’d think a neurologist would be just a tad more excited about playing with this kind of cutting edge neurological equipment. Go figure.) House agrees, but thinks it will fail at which point he gets to do his “Crazy, but possible” test.
Wilson comes back from a run and discovers all the furniture is gone. He later confronts House in the cafeteria. House admits he returned it because he figured out Wilson had just rented it. “No clue what it even met,” he tells him. Wilson wants to use a decorator, but House insists he buy at least one thing.
Nick is by Abby’s bedside when she regains consciousness. They kiss and he proposes to her, but she begins to hallucinate. She sees her younger self admonishing her about a secret she should tell Nick. “Your secret is killing you,” says the younger Abby. She has a seizure.
“Also I’m going to need to check your spare.”
So now that the MRA has failed, House gets to do his magic trick, the CPR Program. He has Foreman, who’s the only team member clearly not on board with the idea, ask for consent from the patient and her mother.
Taub uses this time to take his wife to his car in the parking lot for a quickie. They kiss and he asks her to trust him. House interrupts, tapping his cane on the window, and invites Taub to the “real cool magic show”. They attach electrode-ish stuff to Abby’s head and flash a bunch images on a screen and then ask Abby to visualize a single image. She thinks of Nick playing baseball and sure enough an image comes through on the screen, effectively reading her mind.
Most of the team is very impressed. Except Foreman. “Does anything get you excited?” asks Chase. (Nope. He had a hot bisexual and he blew it. I guess it’s hard to bounce back from that.)
“Anyone ever tell you, you can be a real buzz kill?”
Wilson goes furniture shopping. He’s very bad at it. Funny stuff. The whole process is very reminiscent of the bed shopping he did with Amber in season four. When asked to please himself, he’s lost. He’s just more comfortable pleasing who he’s with: in this case House.
At the hospital Abby is hooked to machine for phase two. They watch her dream. House is now in attendance. Her subconscious is dominated by images of the moon and the stars and the sky. Foreman points out that it’s not unusual that a physics student would think of those things. She also sees a male figure in her dreams who they guess is her dead dad. They’re no closer to the right answer.
Wilson goes to see Cuddy about his furniture shopping dilemma. Not too smart, since he’s furnishing the condo he bought out from under her. Lucky for him she’s willing to let bygones be bygones. “I know you bought the place I wanted. You’re a jerk. Let’s move on. Hire a decorator,” she tells him and adds that “You know what says even more about who you are than your furniture? The fact that you are letting House tell you how to buy furniture.”
Bless her heart: she said just what I was thinking.
House is studying Abby’s brain images when Foreman enters with the latest failed test results. There are signs of an allergic reaction, but no allergy. Foreman starts to give basically the right answer: “There’s this Middle Eastern parasite….” but House shoots it down, because Abby hasn’t been to the Middle East and they haven’t found any parasites. Two objections he’ll be able to get around soon.
“You’re going to have to buy your own cape.”
Alone in the X-ray room, House contemplates the case. When Taub drops in to say goodnight, House cuts straight to the chase and asks him if he’s been having an affair. Taub denies it and denies wanting to have an affair. House wonders is it “because you now really are old enough to be their…” He doesn’t finish expressing the thought before a major medical epiphany gets in the way. The father figure in the patient’s visions is her boyfriend’s dad. He confronts Nick’s father outside Abby’s hospital room and asks him if he’s traveled abroad. When he admits he’s traveled to the Mediterranean area for work, House explains that Abby is having an allergic reaction to the itty bitty shells of an Egyptian parasite that was in his semen. He says unless Nick’s dad confesses he’s had sex with Abby she’ll die. To his credit he does admit it rather than let that happen. (I’m pretty sure had he not House would have gone ahead with the treatment in any case.)
House returns to the now refurnished condo. He can tell Wilson used a decorator and accuses him of wussing out. “You can’t keep letting other people define you.” Considering what an overbearing presence House is in Wilson’s furniture shopping in particular and his life in general, that’s deeply ironic. House sees a piece of furniture covered with a sheet. There’s a nifty bit of camera work with Wilson going out of focus in the background and House sharply in focus in the foreground. House pulls the sheet away to reveal an organ (the musical kind: not a kidney or a liver.) He knows Wilson picked it out. He knows Wilson picked it out for him. “I like what this says about you, Wilson,” he says as he plays it.
He plays the beginning strains of Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” which we then hear over the action as Abby is being treated, Nick is talking to his dad, and Taub and Rachel look at their wedding album. Taub takes the opportunity to tell her she’s the love of his life and he proposes. She points out that they’re already married “I want to be better at it,” he tells her. Later we see Taub talking to Nick who than goes into Abby’s room.
House wants to know what Taub said to Nick. He told him that it (infidelity) didn’t mean she didn’t love him. Taub thinks she does. House asks Taub if she (Rachel) said yes. She did. “Good for you,” House tells him with very rare genuine sincerity, but when he sees Taub talking to an attractive young female doctor moments later, he still seems to doubt that Taub is faithful.
Regarding this final scene: I don’t think that we’re supposed to think that Taub is actually cheating with the young woman, just that House thinks that he might potentially do so. Despite Taub’s apparent sincerity House isn’t sure he’s overcome his baser instincts. He’s not sure it’s possible for anyone.