The man who raised House (played memorably by R. Lee Ermey) died a couple seasons ago. The funeral episode was a lot of fun, and it was one of the last times on the show where House seemed to reach a moral or emotional epiphany that had actual ramifications for his behavior. He came to grips with something that had been troubling and puzzling him his whole life, and while that didn’t suddenly make him a noble, well-adjusted human being, it did give a clearer sense of him as someone with more depth than just a lot of wise-cracks and in-the-moment reversals. The only reason House still works as a character these days is that Hugh Laurie makes him work, providing a consistency in his performance that isn’t always there in the writing. It’d be nice if tonight’s episode, “Parents,” had some of the directness and honesty of that earlier episode. It’s about the things our parents do to us, and how being screwed up is the natural state of humankind, whether we like it or not. Very traditional House topics, and the show runs with them about as you’d expect. Unfortunately, House doesn’t get any particularly intense moments, and while the episode does have a surprisingly dark twist, it’s not one that comes early enough (or is well earned enough) to be more than a shock reveal. But hey, as we’ve established, this is what House is now, and it’s not terrible, so why complain?
Sad to say, “Parents” did mark the return of one of my least favorite on-going subplot, Taub and his Wacky Relationship Adventures. He’s currently estranged from the two women he managed to impregnate, and now one of those women, his ex-wife Rachel, is intent on leaving the state with her new man and her new baby daughter, effectively ending Taub’s visitation rights. Ruby, the nurse (who can’t be more than 16 years old), is stressing out because she can’t have a life now that she has a little girl of her own to raise, and it’s all a big old pointless mess. Taub spends most of the episode going back and forth on what the right choice is, and while it’s not exactly the stuff of great drama (given that Taub’s only been back on the show for two episodes, it’s hard to care that much about a baby he just met, especially when we know he has a back up), it’s less aggravating than many of Taub’s plotlines. I still like the character—he’s entertainingly put-upon—I’m just not that interested in his troubles with women. But hey, Rachel wasn’t actively annoying (in her two scenes), and there was something almost charming about Taub’s resolute selfishness in his final scene. He knows letting Rachel take one daughter away would be the best thing for the child, but knowing something and letting it happen are two different things.
Apart from Taub’s woes and this week’s patient (whom we’ll get to in a second), “Parents” was given over to the usual ethical debates, this time about whether or not parents always mess up their kids, which led to House badgering Dr. Adams until she revealed her big dark secret: She has no secret to reveal, and because of this, she ran away from home, which makes her look fairly ridiculous. There was also a running plot about House trying to find a way to leave hospital grounds so he could go to a boxing match in Atlantic City, and it served as a nice example of how the show has managed to find ways to go through the usual “House is a tricky bastard” motions without making the character as alienating as he has been in the past. In the end, Foreman and House team up to trick Wilson out of the tickets, and while it’s hard not to feel a little bad for the perpetually put upon oncologist, the sight gag of Foreman and House at ringside was both absurd and pretty darn funny. Oh, and John Scurti from Rescue Me stopped by as a clinic patient who thought he had diabetes, but actually had cankles.
All of which is well and good; problems arise, however, when we get to the patient of the week, a teenager named Ben who wants to be a clown. For most of the episode, this is as passable as every other storyline, seemingly following in the line of a half a dozen PotWs before it, and livened up somewhat by Ben’s determination to follow his dream of becoming a circus clown. (Because apparently, his biological dad was a circus clown, and clowning is genetic?) It takes a turn for the worse, though, in the final reveal, when after hours of arguing with Mom, Mom’s new husband calls Ben’s biological dad to the hospital, and House realizes that the biological dad molested his son and gave him syphilis. The timing on a story like this, coming in the middle of the seemingly endless revelations of abuse pouring out of Penn State right now, isn’t the series’ fault, but “Parents” can be blamed for treating such a horrific, awful reveal with the same cavalier attitude it treats all of its plot twists. We find out a dad raped his kid, the mom covered it up (and pretended the dad was dead) to protect her son, and she still couldn’t save him completely. And five minutes later, it’s time for a gag about boxing tickets. I still laughed at the gag, but that doesn’t make the earlier reveal any better handled. If the show wants to keep on this even keel of undemanding plots and decent characters, it needs to realize you can’t do that and bust out an incest/molestation twist. The two don’t work together, and that one bum moment, at least for me, dragged down an otherwise agreeable hour of television.
- I hope this comes across as clear in the review, but I’m not making the argument that shows shouldn’t tell this kind of story, or that there’s a taboo line that can’t be crossed, or something equally ridiculous. My point is merely that every dramatic moment has a cost, and that cost has to be earned. I don’t think House earned that cost here, and the imbalance this created threw off the rest of the episode.
- Man, House’s new office looks comfortable.