B

House: "Joy"

Nearly missed out tonight; I figured the postponed Game 5 would give me the evening off, and then the ole Tivo red eye popped on. Game 5 was post-postponed. Baseball is weird.

But hey, new House, good times for all. Except for poor Cuddy, of course. She gives the episode its name, "Joy" (for the daughter she plans to adopt), but it seems like she's the only one who isn't feeling it by the end credits. Well, her and House, but who the hell knows what's up with House.

Let's get the broccoli out of the way first, shall we? Our PotW this runaround is a father whose been experiencing some deeply unsettling black-outs. It's a suitably trippy cold-open; Deran Sarafian directed the episode, and the style he brings to Dopey's (sure, they give him a real name in the ep, but is it a funny one?) loss of reality is pretty cool. After PotW gets shuttled to Plainsboro, the team goes through the usual steps. 13 and Taub do the leg work this week, which involves investigating Dopey and his daughter's home (Bland R Us), staking out Dopey while he sleepwalks, and ultimately buying the low-end cocaine Dopey's been, well, doping while on his unconscious wanderings. Of course the crack doesn't have much to do with anything, but it gives the writers another chance to remind us that 13 is street smart. Bully for her.

Once again, the PotW plot comes off more as an obligation than a necessity. The PotWs were never the flashiest element of the series, but the first few seasons at least made an effort to lend their cases a sense of urgency. It would be nice if Dopey and his daughter's illness didn't feel quite so casual. Problem is, House doesn't care, so we don't. He's too busy obsessing over other things to do much beyond lead his team by the nose, occasionally remind us that the patient is dying, and finally come to a brilliant deduction that saves the day. The danger is gone. The show used to have a rough honesty about the uncertainty of medicine, and how deeply unpleasant the whole process could be for everyone involved. In "Joy," I kept forgetting about Dopey no matter how many times I got told he was dying.

So far season five has been all about the soap opera. We've had House struggling with Wilson, House's pet dick, House and Wilson making nice, and now, we have Cuddy adopting a baby. And man how fast that one passes us by. In the space of a teaser ending last week and, what, twenty minutes worth of "Joy," we go from decision to acceptance, to meeting the baby donor, to freakin' about her health, to delivering the baby prematurely, to finally the original mom taking her child back. Cuddy wanting kids isn't new, but this latest twist needed more time to sink in. As it was, the only way to get invested in the storyline was to follow Lisa Edlestein's lead. She's a good actress, and she does excellent work here, but in a weird way I felt cheated.

But then, Cuddy's always been a difficult character to get a bead on. I love House to pieces, but sometimes you get the sense that the writers don't know how to deal with women in the medical profession; we're not talking season one of 24 levels of misogyny here, but it can be discomfiting. Cuddy is too often reduced to a straw-woman to react to House's antics, and unlike Wilson, we're never given enough reason to understand why she does what she does. She's a generally ineffectual maternal figure, to be pranked or humored as needed. There have been moments when she's stood up for herself that let you see what she should be, but then House is back to making cheap jokes about her shirts and her ass, and it's all forgotten.

Her quest for a baby isn't exactly the most original choice in the world, but it's better than nothing. There are some heartbreaking moments in "Joy," all the more so because Cuddy and Becca, the surrogate mom, are both trying to make the best choices they can in an impossible situation. While House takes his usual array of cheap shots, Cuddy agonizes over the right medical care to push on Becca; and when Becca decides she can't give her baby up, it's for good reasons that break Cuddy's heart. The impact is muddled, though, because it's all over too fast. At this point, I don't care if the writer's strike is to blame or just bad choices. I'm not big into the baby thing, but if you're going to do it, you owe the character to do it right. This was just a waste.

And then there's the House/Cuddy kiss. Bleagh. I mentioned before, I've been watching old episodes of the show (Fun Fact: "Three Stories" is surprisingly good to jog to), and I still don't get where all this chemistry between House and Cuddy is supposed to come from. There was a little something when she started dating, and he got jealous, but that always seemed more a function of House's obsession with stability than a romantic gesture. And I can't imagine there's anything healthy she sees in him. I'm willing to keep an open mind, and if they do decide to push a relationship on us, we'll see where it goes. But the make-out tonight was bizarre. It was like a decision was made that House had to hook-up with somebody, and Cameron was in a relationship, and 13 was too young.

But there is something deeper there, regardless of how clumsily it was handled. House's detachment has been a focus since the first episode, and it could be that face-sucking with Cuddy is an attempt to re-connect with something. Dopey and his daughter turn out to be suffering from "familial Mediterranean fever"; it explains their sleepwalking, their blood-sweating, and more interestingly, their inability to feel happiness. Maybe their problem does connect to our hero in the end. After all, their empty lives came from bad genes and disease; apart from the damn leg, what's House's excuse?

Grade: B

Stray Observation:

--I like that 13 stands up to House, but I'm getting tired of her fighting him every step of the way. What's that line from The Kindly Ones: "It has always been the prerogative of children and half-wits to point out that the emperor has no clothes. But the half-wit remains a half-wit, and the emperor remains an emperor." Or: just because you're clever doesn't mean we care.

--Hasn't Wilson used the pig-tails and inkwells speech before?

--So, any House/Cuddy-shippers out there? Was it everything you'd hoped for?

Filed Under: TV, House

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