TV Review: House – "Cane & Able"

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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14 Responses to TV Review: House – "Cane & Able"

  1. Suldog says:

    I’m not sure if my theory about this season being a continuance of what’s going on in House’s head following the shooting has been weakened or strengthened.

    Last week the patient, an invalid, was cured by one hypo. House expects the Ketamine, a one-off treatment, to work a miracle. This week, we have alien pieces of stuff in the body. A piece of metal in the neck? One of the places House was supposedly shot. Earlier on in the episode, if I remember correctly, the boy also complained of something in his side or ribs.

    In all honesty, I think I’m probably searching too hard for connections. However, I’m still not willing to totally rule it out.

    Of course, I think Elvis and Hitler’s love children are living in Bolivia…

  2. Silverwings says:

    Well, I for one am actually getting tired of the silly sexual humor and the perpetually grumpy House. There just isn’t much character development going on.

    House goading the boy during the final operation was a nice touch, and I can imagine an endless stream of these sort of Housisms… but as for the meat of actually letting the character grow, things are getting too stale.

    As a master manipulator, observer and wordsmith, House is uncharacteristically easy to manipulate. Or perhaps that’s the dichotomy of his character, but either way, it seems we only get to see how deeply flawed House is, without seeing much to redeem him, aside from his medical genius.

    So maybe that is truly all that definese him. I was encouraged by the first episode of season three, in that House seemed to start to lean something from the wheelchair patient’s wife. Or, more accurately, from his Housian ham-fisted analysis of her motives.

    That’s the sort of moment we need more of, letting the House character evolve and grow. Cutting the sexual tripe for some real character development would go a long ways to making House more watchable.

    Otherwise, it runs the risk of becoming just another medical drama with a series of medical oddities, but little else to recommend it. Characters drive story, and while homeostasis is a good thing in the human body, when it comes to a character ensemble, it’s a dangerous path to boredom.

  3. Julia says:

    Diane Kristine: Todavía no ha llegado a la Argentina la tercera temporada (season), ni ha terminado la segunda, así que tendremos mucho que esperar por aquí. Pero es un gran alivio ver que tus dudas sobre la season’s premiere (totalmente convincentes) se hayan convertido nuevamente en alabanzas hacia el show. Sin haberlo visto aún, ya estaba preguntándome cómo iba a seguir adorando un show que nos había desilusionado. La verdad es que me ha dado tantas satisfacciones en las temporadas anteriores que seguramente seguiría siéndole fiel (for old time’s sake), pero no sería lo mismo si ya no le tuviera el mismo respeto… ¿Suena demasiado como un matrimonio? Y bueno… a veces parece ése el tipo de relación con un show preferido. (But perhaps it’s just me-)
    Nuevamente gracias por tus reseñas, siempre es un placer leerlas!

  4. Diane Kristine says:

    Suldog, I kinda think you’re reaching, but you never know. Bolivia’s got lots of hiding places.

    Silverwings, I don’t agree, but it’s a matter of perspective and opinion. I wouldn’t want to watch the character you describe either, but it’s not how I see it, obviously.

    Gracias Julia, y espero que no te moleste si traduzco tus palabras, porque tienes una idea muy interestante.

    Julia and I had agreed in a previous post we’d each write in our native tongues in order to get our ideas across better, though I’m sure her English is better than my Spanish. But I figure I’ll translate so non-Spanish readers don’t think we’re making rude comments about others, and you get the benefit of her nice analogy:

    “The third season still hasn’t come to Argentina, and the second hasn’t finished yet, so we have a lot to wait for here. But it’s a great relief to see that your doubts about the season premiere (totally convincing) have been converted again to praise towards the show. Without having seen it yet, I’m already asking myself how we continue to love a show we’ve been disillusioned with. The truth is that I’ve had so much satisfaction from past seasons that surely I’ll continue to be loyal (for old time’s sake [well, that was in English anyway]), but it wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t already have such respect for it. Sound too much like a marriage? Well, sometimes it seems that’s the type of relationship I have with a favourite show (But perhaps it’s just me).”

    Not just you, though I know there will come a day when I discover I’ve gradually become disinterested in the show and want a divorce. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a show regularly for more than 4 or 5 years, and new things always come along to compete for my attention. But for now, it’s still got me hooked, and I enjoy a bad episode of House more than a good episode of almost anything else. Plus any time I don’t like a particular episode, or don’t like a particular direction, I’m confident it will bounce back – I have faith, because it’s been true in the past. That might change in the future, when I gradually realize I’m losing interest the show, but we’ll always have … well, not Paris, but the first few seasons, at least.

    Please don’t ask me to translate that into Spanish!

  5. Missy says:

    Maybe you’ve touched on this in the past, but it struck me in this episode that Wilson really needs to work on his OWN God complex. His need to attach himself to needy women (and House) in order to help them, his constant needling of House and trying to teach House a lesson or actually change him (doesn’t he know people rarely completely change???). He’s probably projecting some of his own issues onto House. But like you, I also feel that the writers are a bit off with this whole idea.

    Also, on a completely different note, sometimes I get annoyed by the show’s obsession with the psychological issue (especially with this episode). Sure, it makes for interesting and smart dialogue that leads to great discussion, but House has a legitimate medical problem. Chronic pain is real. Psychological issues can contribute to it and make it worse, but the thought that it could be purely psychological is almost insulting. I understand that this episode and the last are dealing with “special” circumstances involving the sometimes cure of ketamine, but I feel that overall they seem to push this issue somewhat erroneously.

    On a positive note, I too am happy to see House get back into the right groove after the first episode. I also loved the X-Files angle. It was fun.

  6. wcdixon says:

    I was sort of turned off by the XFiles element, and thought it dragged, and groaned when House began to limp again…but then thought the last act and wrap up was good. So was left sort of on the fence. But have since had several friends say they really liked it…so will watch again and see if it grows on me.

  7. Diane Kristine says:

    Missy, did you see House vs. God? The Wilson neediness discussion was a big part of that episode. Part of the problem I had with Wilson’s plot here is that he already plotted against House in Detox for a much better (if still misguided) reason, and this one just seemed random. I like that he feels this duty to watch over House, but … not like that, not to change him (like you said, always futile).

    I’m not sure there’s the suggestion that his pain has been completely psychological, just that there’s a component of that. And he’s messed up enough psychologically in other ways that I think it fits the character pretty well to think he’d convert some of that emotional pain to physical pain. The only doubt I’ve had that it’s not at least partly physical was last episode and this one, when we’re not quite sure if the ketamine’s worn off or if he’s just depressed. I think we’re supposed to believe it’s worn off, but because he didn’t get the test, there’s room for doubt.

    Will, I quite liked it, but I think it gets some unintentional bonus points from me for not sucking as much as the last one (but, um, I say that with love). I did really like the X Files thing, and the medical story overall, though, down to the mini family drama we had going on. It was some of the residual psychology of House crap left over from the premiere that I’m not buying.

  8. missy says:

    I did see House vs. God, although it’s been a while. I agree with you that Wilson’s plotting seems irrational here, and that was probably my only reason for searching for something that might explain it. Maybe Wilson’s still going off the deep end from the divorce and his neediness issues are being magnified as a result. Of course I know the writers have possibly taken a wrong step here, but I guess I’m still hoping that they might have a reason for making both Wilson and Cuddy extremely annoying in the last two episodes.

    Personally I still have doubts that his current pain resurgence could be purely psychological. Of course it could be contributing to it. He’s obviously in more pain than he’s letting on to the others, but I think he’d have to be really depressed in order for it to manifest itself into that much pain. He’s confused and worried and has gone through a major change, but they haven’t portrayed his depression as being that consuming. My only thought is that his taking Vicodin too early might have switched something on, since opioids have been shown to disturb the brain’s natural pain relieving functions (which sucks for the millions of chronic pain sufferers out there), but I still hate to believe that the switch could have been that quick or that severe. He does definitely have psychological issues, and any chronic pain patient would have fears of the pain coming back. So the question is drowned in shades of grey and we might never know the real answer to the psychological aspect of it. It’s such a huge issue that I’m wondering if the writers have dug themselves in too deep, which could explain why the first episode was so off. Or not. I think I’ll stop running around in circles and just hope that the rest of the season reverts back to its normal near-brilliance. This is tv after all, and if I can accept that he can run 8 miles after only 2 months with a hole in his leg, then why should I be worrying about this? 🙂

  9. Julia says:

    Gracias por la traducción gratis, no quisiera darte más trabajo del que ya tienes… Pero otra vez MUCHAS GRACIAS (la traducción estuvo perfecta)
    Y es verdad mientras escribía mi analogía del matrimonio pensaba justamente en cuántos divorcios televisivos he tenido, después de algunos buenos tiempos de romance tórrido! Pero mientras estamos “enamorados” nos parece imposible creer que en algún momento ese show nos va a resultar indiferente.
    Pude ver en Youtube el primer episodio de la 3ºseason. Solo una aocotación a la discusión anterior sobre Wilson: creo que resulta muy interesante que se desarrolle más su personalidad tan manipuladora y arrogante (cree ser el dueño todas las verdades) como la de House. Todos los que disfrutamos de esta serie somos concientes de que siempre es más atractivo un personaje imperfecto y complicado, al que podamos tanto odiar como amar, según las circusntancias.

  10. Webs says:

    Pardon my self-absorption, but I told my wife “He’s a chimera” as soon as the doctors discovered the mismatched DNA. I’m not sure if that a tribute to my sense of story (the alien abduction allegory) or my biology background….

    I hope y’all have this episode on tape or electrons. Go review the scene of the brain operation, when the kid’s hallucinating that the aliens have him. There’s a foreground alien who becomes Chase, but check out the alien in the background. That alien is carrying one hell of a manly anal probe. Holy bull! We cracked up when we noticed it.

  11. Diane Kristine says:

    De nada Julia! More from our Argentinian commenter:

    It’s true that while I was writing my analogy of marriage, I thought about how many television divorces I’ve had, after some good periods of torrid romance! But while we are “enamored” it seems impossible to believe that at some point, this show will leave us feeling indifferent.

    I saw the first episode of the 3rd season on YouTube. I just have one addition to the previous discussion about Wilson: I think it’s very interesting that they’re rolling out more of his personality, so manipulative and arrogant (he believes he’s the owner of all truth), like that of House. All those who enjoy this series are concious that what’s always most appealing is an imperfect and complicated character, one we can hate as much as love, depending on the circumstances.

    That’s so exactly how I feel, I wouldn’t be insulted if you think I’ve mistranslated just to get my own view across!

    Webs, I’m impressed – I’d never heard of a chimera before, but also, I tend not to anticipate solutions when I watch TV or movies, so it has to be really, really obvious for me to guess before they reveal it. I think of it as a deliberate process of letting my brain just go with the story as it unfolds, though others might call it stupidity 😉

  12. Emiy says:

    I see where Wilson and Cuddy were wrong to deceive House, but I can only think that they were trying desperately to save his life. They were there for post infarction House and now they are trying to head off an out of control post shooting House. It’s really a thankless job…

  13. Diane Kristine says:

    I don’t get how they were saving his life by teaching him humility?

  14. Julia says:

    Absolutely! You don’t teach humility by lying. I love Wilson, but obviously he’s just being pretentious.
    (Thanks again , DK for your translations; this one was short, I hope I made my english comprehensible)

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