B+

House: "The Down Low"

I recently moved in with an old high school friend. We're both guys, both single, both straight, and while it's been pretty great so far--I'd forgotten how much fun it is to live with a buddy--I won't deny that there haven't been a few awkward moments. Because you feel like you have to tell people you aren't a couple, and then you feel weird because telling someone that, it seems like you're protesting too much, right? There's local bar we've been to, and some cute girl gets friendly, and you wonder, is she being friendly because she's attracted to me, or because she doesn't think I'm anything to worry about? There's gotta be signs, right. Or maybe hand signals, or name badges.

It's all terribly silly, and "The Down Low" handles the awkwardness just right. After getting back to quality with "Wilson" in December, I expected this new episode would drop back into the middling levels I've come to expect from the last couple seasons; Hugh Laurie would be great, the rest of the cast intermittently so, the case would be boring, and any hints of Cuddy and House would fall flat. Thankfully, this is not the cast. "Low" isn't as dramatic or resonant as "Wilson," but it's the kind of solid, thoroughly entertaining drama that House used to deliver week in and out. The PotW was satisfyingly twisty (and sad), the House/Wilson sequences were hysterical, and Coke Zero's antics weren't actively annoying. This is the show I always used to love, and I'm delight to see it back again.

If there's a theme connecting all three plots this week, it's the idea that the information we chose to convey about ourselves can be powerful stuff, in ways that we don't always understand. Playing roles is a necessary part of life, but those roles can limit you from what you want. The relationships you build with others are defined by the kind of person you are when they're around, and different approaches can get you different kinds of access. So we've got a drug dealer who's so stress out by his job that he's on beta blockers; we've got Wilson trying to convince the cute neighbor in 3-B that he and House aren't a couple, while House tries to play the gay angle as a way to con her into sex; and we've got 13, Taub, and Chase lying about their incomes to Foreman to make him insecure. In each case, pretending to be one thing gives these characters a level of power and access that they couldn't have as their "true" selves. But it also makes them vulnerable to someone else's lies.

Actually, it doesn't work out quite as neatly as all that. Our PotW is a cop working undercover, and while that means he has to Donnie Brasco his best thug friend, his undercover work is not directly related to his illness. A fatal illness, turns out, and while the bad guys do get caught thanks to the PotW's police work, he still dies in a hospital bed while his wife looks on. House lets its leading man save the day more often than not, but the occasional fatalities are effective, and this one was well-handled. The only real lesson you can take from it is that at least he was pretending to be someone else for unselfish reasons; that pretending cost him time with his wife and loved ones, but, unlike the cast, he's not playing games just to pass the time.

Having House and Wilson living together is a smart move--it undercuts House's bitter loner image, but that's a small price to pay for a more regular dynamic from the two of them, especially if it gives us storylines like this one. House's plan (which, apparently, would've worked) resulted in some hilarious moments; just the first meeting between him and 3-B, when he opens the huge Chorus Line poster was genius. But even that paled in comparison to Wilson's eventual "victory," one-upping House's game by proposing to him in a restaurant. I guess it'll be more grist for the 'shipper mill, but anyone who watched tonight's episode really hoping the two would give in to the passion was missing out on the fun.

Other than that, well, the Great Foreman Gaslighting was passable, if predictable. My question is, how quickly did Foreman figure out what was going on? And how stupid was it for the rest of the team to offer to pay for his raise? They've been working for House for a while. You'd think they'd be more suspicious of, well, everything. Still, it's nice to see the magic isn't gone from the show, just resting. Also nice to see how easy it is to get things to where they should be; the new team is a decent mix (so long as we don't start spending too much time with 13 and Foreman), House's mental problems have gone back to non-very-special-episode status, and the whole Cuddy/Lucas mess is out of sight, out of mind. We'll see in two weeks if they can keep this up.

Stray Observations:

  • "I NEED THE DRUGS!" No response. "Huh. Works much better for Jack Bauer."
  • Chase has a new haircut. "Did Cameron get your hair in the divorce?"
  • House, to Chase, on their new, apparently criminal patient: "You're okay with that, right. You're not gonna put a pillow over his face."
  • Having 13 drug Eddie was goofy, but her annoyance when he didn't fall for the trick made the bit work.
Filed Under: TV, House

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