Just how hard is it to be kind? And what sort of person are you if you can't manage it? "Joy To The World" is all about the little things–underage drinking, teenage pregnancy, virgin births, and bullying–but what it really comes down to is how being a decent human being is maybe not that human after all. Kindness takes effort; and as House has shown us again and again, even the best of us can use the occasional push in the right direction.
The PoW, a sixteen year-old girl named Natalie, is living proof of the damage cruelty can cause. In the cold open, she's tricked by a pair of Mean Girls into humiliating herself during a chorus concert; but it gets worse for her when she starts hallucinating, vomits, and collapses to her knees. In House's office, we get the usual pattern of theories and sarcasm; the theories are tested, they fail, the patient gets worse, rinse, repeat. Generally, PoW's fall into one of two types: either they serve as the main focal point of the ep, the planet around which all other stories orbit, or else they maintain a roughly equal balance with everything else. Natalie's struggles are in the latter category. Despite the presence of Sherilyn Fenn as Nat's mom, we never get to know her or her family particularly well; it's not a bad PoW (and it gets surprisingly tragic by the end), but the medical stuff is largely rote.
More interesting is Cuddy's immediate connection to the patient. House thinks she's projecting after the loss of her baby a few weeks back, but to the writer's credit, Cuddy's relationship with Natalie never becomes too heavy-handed. Cuddy even gets to solve this one(I liked House talking over her epiphany for a moment before recognizing the look on her face); too bad for Natalie that she's got eclampsia, a disease that hits pregnant women and essentially gives the poor girl a week-or-less death sentence.
But before we get to the end of that, might as well check in on "World"'s other two plotlines. After House's attempts to manipulate his staff get prematurely bud-nipped (New Coke by and large was a treat this week, and I dug the hell out of Taub's fake-out), he needs a new game; an argument with Wilson sets him back on the track of trying to be a better man, so he puts in some clinic time to spread some love in the world. This has mixed results. House's idea of "decent" is probably his biggest problem when it comes to not being a jerk; he seems to think it's just bland politeness combined with an almost embarrassing over-eagerness to please. It's not an act he can maintain for long, so it's not surprising how quickly he breaks character. In a decent twist, he reverts back to his old manipulative self to save a marriage by convincing a couple that they've been blessed by the heretofore unproven medical miracle of parthenogenesis; to wit, Mommy (who's supposedly a virgin, and whose fiancé actually is) is gonna have her very own virgin birth.
This is, of course, utter crap, and it's not all that believable that it wouldn't backfire; at the very least, an actual case of parthenogenesis would get some attention, especially if the tests came back around Christmastime. Still, it was fun seeing House once again confirm his world view, and show Wilson up to boot.
Third plot has 13 tracking down the woman she talked to last week at the Huntingtons trials; her name is Janice, and there's no real surprise that we're seeing her again, since it's doubtful Lori Petty would've signed on to do a background character no matter how much her career's tanked. 13 finds out Janice quit the trial because Foreman was dismissive of her physical complaints; she confronts Foreman with this, he doesn't see what he did wrong, and she accuses him of being like House. Unsurprisingly, this sets him soul-searching, and he ultimately gets back in touch with Janice and proves that he's not a bastard after all. As a reward, he and 13 end the episode making out in front of a Christmas tree. Like I said, I'm curious to see where this goes; unlike Cuddy and House, the power levels between 13 and Foreman seem basically equal, and the evolution of their friendship has been one of the pleasant surprises of the season.
Overall, "Joy" was a satisfying way to close out the fall; more of an ensemble ep than we generally get, everybody got a few good moments (well, aside from Chase and Cameron–when she asked Kutner about Natalie's status at the end, I was surprised she even knew what was going on), and nothing dragged. And we even got a bit of tragedy; medical shows can't have every patient living, but killing off the poor, picked-on teen is pretty dark. Natalie's monologue about giving birth–about hiding her pregnancy, and then delivering in an abandoned house and leaving the baby to die because she didn't know what else to do–was particularly harsh.
It got a little lighter, though, when Cuddy tracked down the house and found that the baby survived; the kid was rescued by a couple of druggies. This leads to a final development that brings back Cuddy's baby-obsession–since child would be too painful a reminder of their daughter's death, Natalie's family is putting the baby up for adoption, and Cuddy's going to swoop in to the rescue. It's a disappointingly neat conclusion to an otherwise pleasantly messy episode; one could argue that Cuddy is finding life in death, but what it really feels like is a convenient way to get her a kid with no strings.
Ah well. I'm sure we've got lots of parenting antics coming up in January.
--Kutner being a bully was a nice touch.
--Wilson's "Irene Adler"–awesome.
--Seriously, Taub kicked some ass here. "This is a good experience for me, as my parents never got divorced."
--See y'all next year!