House: "The Social Contract"
B+

House: "The Social Contract"

B+

House

"The Social Contract"

Season 5, Episode 17
B+

House

"The Social Contract"

Season 5, Episode 17

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They say "Honesty is the best policy," but what the really mean is, "Honesty is the best policy, unless it makes me feel bad." House has got a lot of mileage out of the way its title character's blunt conversational approach can shock people out conventional assumptions; it's also done a fair bit on the way House's unwillingness to compromise corrodes even the strongest relationships. Thing is, while our hero has a habit of saying the worst possible thing at any given moment, even he has his limits--and more importantly, he's still in control of what he tells anyone. What happens when you get a person being open without any control is the subject of tonight's episode, "The Social Contract." It starts off funny, but it gets nasty real fast.

Our cold open--a writer at a fancy dinner party celebrating his new book--is stiff enough that you welcome it when Nick (Jay Karnes) starts slinging mud around. (Side note: Are parties for authors really like this? If so, is there anything we can do to stop them? Apart from not buying any more books.) Nick is the writer's editor, and while his first few comments are safe enough (anyone who thinks their short story collection is going to be a bestseller is either Stephen King or insane), soon enough he's getting into the "I'm going to get fired" range. Thankfully he has a nose-bleed before that can happen; it's off to Plainsboro where our resident mad bastard and the New Coke Players can try and figure out what can turn a normal man into, well, House.

The preview last week made a lot of that particular comparison, enough to put a bad taste in the mouth of anyone who's watched the show for a while. The "have we found the true nature of House?" episodes are nearly always lame, because we know the true nature of House; whenever the writers feel the urge to comment on that nature, it comes off as artificial and forced. (I'm not talking about eps where House questions who he is; more like that crap when he convinced his team he had herpes, and that somehow made him a jerk.) Surprisingly, though, "Contract" is actually rather good, easily one of the best episodes we've had this whole season. This is for two reasons: 1.) the PotW's case is fairly compelling and 2.) we get to spend more time with the one relationship that the show has still managed to not fuck up, House 's friendship with Wilson. What starts off as an unpromising "Wilson's lying, gotta screw with his life" subplot actually develops into something a lot more resonant and affecting. There are a few off notes with the medical stuff, but for once this was a pleasure to watch, not a chore.

Okay, so Nick's all messed up and House eventually figures out a really clever way of explaining everything, but what you really need to know is, because of whatever, Nick has no conversational inhibitions. He says whatever is on the top of his mind. Which means, comically, he says Taub has a big nose, Kutner is creepy-cheerful, and 13 and Cuddy are both physically attractive women. (This scene in particular had me laughing my ass off; it's a tribute to Karnes as an actor, whose unsurprisingly terrific throughout the episode, that his comments come off more goofy than sketchy.) Less comically, it means telling his wife what he actually thinks of her job, and saying he thinks his daughter is "below average." This leads to some family friction, with the wife questioning if their whole relationship is built on lies, and Nick growing increasingly desperate to get cured and avoid causing more damage.

Things comes to a head when New Coke thinks they've solved the problem; but while they can keep Nick from getting worse, the only way to cure his brain damage is an incredibly dangerous surgery that no surgeon in his or her right mind would perform. Nick makes a desperate plea to House, and House, who completely understands the difficulty of a life spent alienating the world, actually goes the extra mile to get the surgery done. He convinces Chase to help (nice arty shot of him in the mirror), and Nick gets the offending bits removed from his brain. Too bad our heroes screwed up--when Nick comes out of surgery, he's fine, except he's still got the whole Emperor-has-no-clothes-and-I-don't-respect-my-wife disease.

During all of this, House is doing some investigating into Wilson's personal life; Wilson cancelled a Monster Truck date, and House isn't buying his excuse. There's a lot of digging, a lot of subterfuge, a bit of mocking Jewish sports heroes, and eventually House figures out the truth. Like he always does. I can't decide if Wilson just enjoys playing the game (and in this case, it probably served as a welcome distraction) or if he honestly believes House will ever let anything go once he knows there's a puzzle to be solved. Either way, the resolution here surprised me: Wilson's found his long-lost, schizophrenic brother, Daniel. We've never seen him, and I believe he hasn't been mentioned in a few seasons, but Wilson's connection to him is strong enough to have changed the basic nature of his life.
 
We got some really great work here from Robert Sean Leonard; as always, he and Laurie play off each other beautifully, and I was actually kind of moved by the end. Wilson says he values that he and House have no "social contract" because he spends all his time obsessing about how he'll affect other people, and it's a relief to not have to worry about that for once. The complete honesty between them is also of huge benefit dramatically, because it means that whenever there is some sort of connection, or decency, it's never forced or faked.

In the end, Nick gets cured, and while medically, the problem wasn't hugely interesting (I liked that we were told multiple times how dangerous the surgery Nick was asking for would be, and apart from crashing right afterwards, he was fine; the odds of him being okay and the surgery not fixing him seemed  pretty high, even if the two aren't directly connected), the ramifications were. I was initially annoyed with Nick's wife and her constantly surprised reaction to Nick's bluntness, but I guess it makes sense she'd be shocked; any healthy relationship has to have at least a few lies mixed in to keep things moving along, and to have those lies suddenly stripped away would be upsetting. What made it work for me is that, in the end, after everything, she came back to pick him up. Despite everything, there was still enough there worth saving.
Same with Wilson and House. Previous seasons have put so much emphasis on what a dick House can be that the one thing I can say I've unreservedly enjoyed about the current season is that it's done a great job of showing why they're still friends. The Cuddy/House romance is idiotic, Foreteen is nearly as bad, but House and Wilson? They make sense. That's one thing, at least, to be thankful for.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations:

  • The song for the ending montage was "The Shining," by Badly Drawn Boy. I haven't listened to The Hour of Bewilderbeast in years.
  • Nick on Kutner: "Should I want a doctor who's excited about how sick I am?"
  • Nick's disease is "Doege-Potter Syndrome." So if you had that in the pool, you win!
  • Oh, and Jay Karnes is the man. That is all.

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