Episodes that leave me feeling lukewarm, like “Informed Consent,” are the hardest to write about. It was fine. There was a lot thrown out there to think about, though the episode did most of the thinking for us. There were some funny moments – including a volleyball joke, cementing my already-cemented love for Dr. House – though not enough for my insatiable sarcasm thirst. There were some nice moments, along with a way-too-nice moment. But three episodes into season three, and I’m not quite feeling my usual love for the show yet. Hang in there, though, doctor – we’ll get through this together.
And three episodes in, we’re already back to the same old House with no real character take-aways from the sudden cure and uncure of his leg, which he doesn’t want to talk about, or the epiphany that reason isn’t the only master. He’s still all about the puzzle, and can’t rest until it’s solved, damn the patient’s wishes, and yeah, we get it already.
One thing the show does extremely well, and demonstrates again here, is making a persuasive case for the adorability of rodents. Except when they’re being vivisected. Or chewing on the man doing the vivisecting. But then you can’t really blame them for that, can you?
Our patient of the week is Dr. Ezra Powell (Joel Grey), a researcher House admires – so we’re told, anyway – who collapses during his rat experimentation. Before the gang can find out what’s wrong with him, he begs them to end his suffering. It lost some impact by coming so early in the episode – and by being the one-line description of the episode. At only 15 minutes in, with the character barely defined, it just didn’t seem that dramatic, insufferably swelling music aside.
What follows is an example of one of my least favourite types of scenes, which the show uses too often for my taste. The team gathers in the conference room, and each picks a side to an ethical issue and gives their 30 second PSA, just so we understand the issue involved. In this case, Chase believes in helping patients end their lives with dignity, Foreman is adamant that he could never condone euthanasia, and Cameron objects but can see both sides to the issue. The fact that whatever he has might be curable, if they can only figure it out, makes the euthanasia arguments more tenuous and therefore less interesting.
David Foster, the doctor writer, wrote season one’s “DNR” as well as this one, which pales in comparison to that earlier exploration of patient rights. Both have House promising to help a patient end his life if he can’t solve the puzzle, but here, he has to actually act on his promise. Of course, being House, that action isn’t what the patient expected. When the self-imposed deadline arrives, House injects him with enough drugs to put him in a coma and intubate him so that he can continue experimenting on him against his wishes.
A morally outraged Cameron refuses to work on the case further, though she does hang around enough to glare a lot. “You do know you can’t really pierce me with your stares?” House says at one point, and the drama king calls her a drama queen. As Foreman points out, though, she’s running away from the situation rather than standing up for her point of view – because she doesn’t quite seem to know what it is, except disapproval.
Cuddy finally appears in this under-Cuddied, under-Wilsoned episode to be minimally supportive about House’s stunt (or is that assault?). Maybe she really is pregnant, to be so mellow about something that would have her blowing a gasket in another episode, or maybe House is right – she can’t lie to him to teach him humility and then object to him lying to a patient to keep him alive. (Lie, experimentation without consent, same thing, right?)
Cuddy: We’re doctors. We treat patients, we don’t kill them.
House (speaking into Cuddy’s breasts – that is, make-believe wire): Right you are Dr. Cuddy, and we also don’t pad our bills, steal samples from the pharmacy, and fantasize about the teenage daughters of our patients.
Cuddy: True, better be true, and you’re a pig.
House points Cameron to journal articles that prove Dr. Powell experimented on babies without their parents’ consent, probably causing cancers … but in the process discovering techniques that saved other lives. Hey, that rationale sounds familiar. Cameron even throws out a couple of examples – Tuskegee and Willowbrook, but wisely stays away from the Nazis, who just ruin every argument they get injected into. She rebukes House for thinking that she’d think more of House’s methods if she thought less of the patient, but then, acting in anger, she ends up taking a skin sample against Dr. Powell’s wishes, with no anesthetic. Remember, she’s the nice one.
House’s lesson seems to be more than that, though. If Cameron believes that patients have a right to have control over what happens to their bodies – that informed consent is a golden rule – then that should also apply to Dr. Powell. “You either help him live, or you help him die,” House says. “You can’t have it both ways.”
The key to the case comes from the panties of the daughter of House’s clinic patient. I love that Hugh Laurie has chemistry with every woman on screen, some of the men, and the occasional inanimate object. But do I really want to see him flirting with a 17 year old? No, no I don’t, thanks anyway. It was almost worth it for the scene where Cameron finds House befuddled by the attention of someone even younger and arguably hotter than she is, but … not quite. Besides rats, the show also has a thing for red thongs. This time they’re not Cuddy’s, but the teen’s, and they make House think of Congo red, a dye test that proves Dr. Powell has terminal amyloidosis.
So once he’s diagnosed as terminal, the idea of euthanasia seems less unlikely, and sure enough, Cuddy demands to know if House knows why his patient died suddenly overnight.
The reveal of who administered the lethal dose was telegraphed in advance, with shots of a pondering Cameron loitering in the change room, so the final scenes lost some impact. House finds Cameron-the-apparently-non-atheist in the chapel and places his hand on her shoulder – at which point I was getting a little choked up at his uncharacteristic but well-placed empathy. But then he ruined the moment by saying “I’m proud of you,” with no sarcastic chaser. Stay tuned next week, when House buys a puppy. And, apparently, deals with a 17-year-old with a bad case of puppy love, if the calendar marking down the days until a certain girl turns 18 is any indication.
The case helped Cameron discover which side of the euthanasia issue she comes down on in reality, not just theory, but the episode’s path to that discovery wasn’t particularly compelling. It’s an interesting concept, that we may not be aware of our own beliefs until they’re actually challenged, but most of the interest of this episode was unfortunately in concept, not execution.