What would a showdown between House and Mulder be like? Would Hugh Laurie caustic win over David Duchovny sardonic? “Cane & Able” feels almost like the promise of such a showdown, with the case of a little boy who’s terrified of being abducted by aliens, then, before our very eyes, seems to become a guest star on The X-Files, presumed anal probe and all.

While I didn’t believe for a second that House, a show that’s a valentine to science, would have alien abduction as the resolution to a case, it was fun to see the clues build up towards that result and wonder what could possibly fit the symptoms.

So, yay, the fun as well as the funny are back to the show, after a disappointing season premiere. House was back making gleeful fun of his underlings and Cuddy’s breasts. He believes in his patient’s UFO theory: Unidentified Flowing Orifice. When they discover a chip at the back of the boy Clancy’s neck, he tells his team the lab couldn’t identify the metal, or confirm that it’s terrestrial. “Really?” ever-gullible Chase asks. “No you idiot, it’s titanium, like from a surgical pin,” House replies. When Clancy ends up having “alien” DNA – genetic material that doesn’t match his own – well, House is more stupefied than jokey, but then that’s just weird.

I still found the Wilson-Cuddy plot to trim House’s wings preposterous. Last episode, they decided not to let House know that his theory had cured a patient because he just “got lucky” and they didn’t want it to go to his head. If I went through all the transcripts of the past two seasons, I would be demonstrating that I have way too much time on my hands. But my real point is that I would find he “gets lucky” nearly every time, with a diagnosis so crazy, three or four or five doctors disagree with him until he’s proven right. We’ve even heard the exact phrase “he got lucky” more than once before. So, I find the plot not so much ill-conceived of Wilson and Cuddy, though it is that as well, but ill-conceived of the writers.

Anyway, like Cameron, I am all about the forgiveness and love, so I’ll just go with it. The contrived drama (oops, right, I’m going with it starting now …) of whether House has gained a leg at the expense of a brilliant brain is played out in “Cane & Able,” and it starts to seem like he’s going to be left with neither. Despite writing his own prescription for Vicodin last time, he’s experiencing worsening leg pain and beginning to limp again. He even has fun with that, though, taking advantage of Cuddy’s concern to fake her out with a pretend stumble.

Cuddy and Wilson debate over whether they’ve done the right thing (here’s a clue: no) when they wonder if the pain is psychological, a symptom of his depression over not solving his last case, and therefore something they could alleviate with the truth, or a sign that the ketamine treatment is not going to last. He refuses to be tested in order to determine the truth, so hypocrite Wilson, the hider of knowledge that doesn’t make himself happy, accuses House of “running away from knowledge that won’t make you happy.”

Then, when Cameron encounters last week’s formerly vegetative patient in the clinic (looking for “a bucketful” of Viagra – it’s sweeter than it sounds, really), she’s in on the secret and pushes them to tell House the truth. When Cuddy tells her they’re trying to teach him a glimmer of humility, Cameron objects. “Why does he need that? Because other people have that? Why does he need to be like other people?”

It’s a good question. I’d like to know, too. But at least in this episode, it was clear without us being simply told so that House wasn’t attacking the case with his usual reckless abandon. Cameron was the only one throwing out the brilliant theories, as Foreman pointed out, taking malicious delight in pointing out House’s not-perfect track record every chance he gets. And instead of testing out his atrophied bedside manner, House is back to hiding from the patient and his family, who, by the way, are nicely realized people, with little touches of characterization that last week’s patients lacked.

A more disturbing sign that House isn’t House is that after determining Clancy suffers from a clotting disorder and hypertensive episodes, and zapping the alien DNA that’s causing most – but not all – his symptoms, House is going to discharge the still-hallucinating, seizing patient without having solved the puzzle completely.

That’s enough to make it seem like he’d been turned into a pod person, so Cuddy finally steps in to tell him he had, in fact, solved his last case. When she confronts him in the parkade to convince him to continue diagnosing the boy, House continues with his persistent jokes about her being pregnant (she denies it – do we believe her, or the master diagnostician?). That’s when he has the kind of medical epiphany that makes him House.

Clancy, who was conceived through in vitro fertilization, has a twin absorbed into his body, not a teratoma – old hat to medical show watchers – but something called chimerism. Though he solves the case through his own brilliant deduction, his leg pain gets worse, to the point where he digs his cane out of the closet. Episodes like “Skin Deep” last season implied that the pain has always been at least partly psychological, and interestingly, we still don’t know if his relapse is psychological or physical. We do know that he’s preserving his own lie about being drug-free, and refusing the test that would distinguish between the two.

These last two episodes helped me define the line where I lose all sympathy for House. I love him while he tortures patients, displays shocking insensitivity, treats patients against their will. And maybe that’s wrong, but … OK, it’s just wrong and I’m a bad person. But as in last season’s “All In,” I have no patience with the suggestion that he can’t psychologically handle not solving the puzzle. If his self-worth hinges on him being infallible … well, sorry, House, that’s where you lose me. Besides, as he said so astutely in the season ending “No Reason,” he’s “almost always eventually right.” That doesn’t sound like a man who thinks he’s God, despite his occasional fun with that concept, so I refuse to believe he believes it.

And it turns out, he doesn’t, really. He spots Wilson’s influence on Cuddy’s decision to hide the truth from him, and confronts him. “What was the plan? That I’d feel so humble by missing a case that I’d re-evaluate my entire life, question nature, truth and goodness, and become Cameron?” Wilson explains that it was for his own good: “I was worried your wings would melt.” House’s reply: “God doesn’t limp.”

So House doesn’t believe he’s God, or even a god, and unlike Icarus, he’s aware of his physical limitations. And he’s back to being a medical genius, though far from an emotional genius. While there were rumours it had returned last week, now it seems that both House the show and House the character are really back.

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