House: “Charity Case”
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House: “Charity Case”

Generally speaking, empathy is a good thing. It helps us understand the people around us, allows us to connect with our loved ones, and stops us (hopefully) from hurting strangers just because we can. But too much empathy and it becomes impossible to function in the real world. There are millions of people right now who are having a worse time of it than you are. To get through a day, an hour of your life, you have to forget the starving children, the dying freedom fighters, the tortured, tormented, mutilated, and depressed. There is a certain level of brutal pragmatism required of each and every one of us, every waking moment, because, sure, you can give more money to charity, you can vote more responsibly, you can volunteer your time at soup kitchens, but at some point, you'll have to draw a line. You have to accept that you can't save the world, because if you can't, you'll go crazy. This is simple truth. It just gets complicated when you try and figure out exactly where your line is. (My line is wherever it needs to be to let me play video games and write reviews of TV shows. It's a good line, and I'm sticking with it, and I just wish the orphans on the street outside wouldn't press against my window so much because they leave poverty tears on the glass.)

Tonight's episode, "Charity Case," has a patient of the week who may or may be unhealthily altruistic. (SPOILER ALERT: He is.) We meet Benjamin Byrd (Wentworth Miller, who was on Prison Break, a show I've never watched but have heard things about) in the cold open as he's donating a million dollars to a clinic that helps people find work. He collapses on the street outside, and the next thing we know, we're in Plainsboro, and House is plotting to get into Benjamin's good graces. The reason? House wants his old team back, but he has no real department and no funding to pay three doctors to work for him. If he can convince the PotW to give another million, this time to Plainsboro, and have it earmarked for Diagnostics, House is all set. The problem is, Dr. Park is convinced Benjamin's altruism is a symptom of a larger illness. Which presents House with a dilemma: either assume the PotW's giving nature is just the sign of a truly noble human being and take the cash (thus satisfying his need to recreate his old environment), or treat the altruism, cure it, and lose the donation (thus satisfying his need to be right).

Really, it's not much of a question. Once it becomes clear that Benjamin's Giving Tree impression is part of what's wrong with him, it's not like House could just let that slide. But it's fun to watch him squirm as his greed struggles against his puzzle addiction, and "Case" is an overall fun episode, continuing the season's welcome trend of minimizing the angst and getting down to basics. With Cuddy gone and focus on the non-House elements of the show kept to a minimum, the series has shed a lot of what dragged it down last year, keeping a light tone while still delivering the expected levels of trickery, sabotage, and psycho-babble. Tonight's episode marked the totally un-surprising return of Dr. Pretty Doctor (Adams, but that's the nickname I'm sticking with), and what's presumably the last we'll see of Thirteen, unless Olivia Wilde decides to come back for the series finale or else wants a shot at an Emmy with her very own death episode. The new team isn't finished forming yet, as House ends the episode without the money to hire Dr. PD on for good, but for right now, that uncertainty works. 

What else works? House and Wilson are back in friendship mode again, without any mention of his car wreck or betrayal or anything. Hell, House is even indirectly responsible for the death of Wilson's patient, and Wilson doesn't seem to mind much. Which could be a depressing sign of Wilson surrendering to despair, but if so, I'll take it. We've gone through the "Wilson tries to break up with House" story what seems like half a dozen times already, and as much as that might make sense from a character perspective, there's no need to run through it again. Wilson's part in the debate tonight had him first telling House he couldn't take the money because the PotW was compromised, but then fighting for the kidney when it was offered; that's Wilson all over. Life trumps all. I'm also digging Foreman as House's boss. Him guessing that House poisoned Benjamin was arguably too much of a jump, but I dig how mellow he is about everything. It's probably the best way to short circuit House's craziness at this point. Give him an opponent who gets angry, and he'll try and push to see how far that anger goes. But give him someone who's just shrugs it off? Well, okay, House is still going to push, but at least it won't be quite so unpleasant to watch. 

The in-team sparring match between Dr. PD and Park was the usual House-style, as Dr. PD kept giving Park increasingly extravagant gifts just to make her squirm (Park doesn't like charity); the pay-off, in which we learn that Park and House plotted against Dr. PD to get her to pay for fixing his car, was fun. And Thirteen's send off was fine. There was nothing spectacular about it, but when this show does spectacular, it's almost always forced. Better to have a low-key, not particularly convincing goodbye, than some flashy, overblown tragedy. It's something of a shame to see Wilde go. She was an interesting presence on the show and one of the few characters who managed to stand up to House without either fading into the background (Foreman as we have him now isn't much of an impression) or sleeping with him (ala Cuddy; also, thank God). Dr. PD is clearly being positioned to take her place, but while Odette Annable isn't terrible, she doesn't have Wilde's aggressiveness. Really, though, I'm not expecting miracles. All I want is some fun House quips, a moderately interesting patient, and a minimum of tedium on other fronts. "Charity Case" delivered all of these things, and nothing more, and that made for an enjoyable evening. 

Stray observations:

  • Well, Miller didn't put in a whole of time on this one, did he? We've had an "Is the disease changing their personality?" plot before, and I think we've even had one that focused on generous or excessively kind behavior. 
  • I may be imagining things, but it looks like Odette Annable keeps throwing flirty eyes at House, and no. Just no.
  • We got a scene of House doing clinic duty! And a good one, too, because it had a joke about masturbation.
  • This was also a funny episode; the scene when Thirteen asks the PotW for his other kidney was a hoot. 
  • "Ladling kittens, spaying soup."
  • "What is this, Canada? All we do is take money from sick people!"
Filed Under: TV, House

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