TV Review: House – "Informed Consent"

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.

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12 Responses to TV Review: House – "Informed Consent"

  1. Ibrahim Ng says:

    Ali (the seventeen year-old) doesn’t strike me as possessing any sort of “puppy love” for House. It seems to be sexual attraction, pure and simple. She wants him. Intends to ride him madly. I’ll give her points for being amused by House taking shots at how children live on parents’ sufferance. But her advances aren’t in the interests of getting to know him as a person, admiring his perceptive nature, or appreciating his blunt approach to human interaction. She dressed and interacted with House to arouse him. Which, I have to say, makes for a much less interesting teenybopper girlfriend, but I suppose for a three-scene running gag, is just about right.

  2. Sara says:

    I have been a House fan since the beginning. It’s one of three must see shows for me.
    For the first time, I didn’t even watch all of last night’s episode. Is anyone else disappointed with this season.

  3. Suldog says:

    Well, I’ve given up on my pet theory of it all still being in his head, if that’s any consolation…

    I thought the exploration of ethical questions was somewhat intriguing, even if certain parts of them had been done before. And I’ve always been a big Joel Grey fan, so that was a plus.

    On the other hand, I’m starting to notice a maddening consistency of hanging details in the writing of this show. The shooter just being written off with a one-line “He got away”; The neurological problems suffered by Foreman just disappearing; House’s leg muscles somehow regenerating (or now, not). The writers take something juicy, run with it for a week or two, and then drop it without adequate explanation.

    The overall quality of the show is so fantastic, I’m willing to cut slack. With all its faults, I still think it’s the best show on TV. However, it’s not as firm an opinion as it once was.

  4. Nancy says:

    OK, I’ve got to chime in for the other side. I liked the the show and thought it felt like a good House episode. Snarky House back on his cane, yay! The minions back arguing with House. Joel Grey was great. There was that great Cuddy exchange (I didn’t mind that she wasn’t outraged at House; it was a pleasant change and I’m glad to see her humbled by the lying-to-House affair).

    I cringed a bit at the 17-year-old, but I think it’s within the character of House to respond as he did. It’s mostly her I don’t like. I was surprised at the “I’m proud of you” line, but House slips up and acts human every once in a while.

    I found with the first two seasons that I didn’t always agree with the plot lines, but the writing of the characters carried the show. I think the same could be said for this season so far.

  5. missy says:

    I’m on the other side too. I thought the show was back in normal form and executed well. I felt that they tackled the issue on all sides and showed that there are no easy answers. I also thought that the patient’s early request was their way of “shaking up” the so-called weekly formula of the show. The show won’t always be perfect but I still feel it’s one of the top 5, if not top 3, shows on tv right now.

  6. Sara says:

    I didn’t see all of last night’s show. I enjoyed the first two seasons so much, I’m not willing to give up yet. I keep toying with the idea that House is still hallucinating-but I guess not.

  7. Annie says:

    This was the worst episode ever. I love this show madly, and Sara I did watch the whole thing but have to say it was more out of loyalty than enjoyment. Or maybe hope the episode would somehow redeem itself. It was meandering, way too Cameron-focused (enough of her already, she’s one of a threesome after all) and FULL of hypocrisy all round. I’m more than willing to stick with it but it hasn’t been a super start so far.

  8. Elizabeth M. says:

    I’m not sure if I’m on this side or the other side??? I’ve lost track of which is which.

    I’ve loved House from the beginning, thought Season Three was off to a slow and unfamiliar start and felt like Informed Consent was a highly anticipated reunion with an old and beloved friend.

    I didn’t mind the “I’m proud of you.” I though it was tempered by the total lack of eye contact between the two of them and the fact that it stopped where it did. No hugs. No tears from House. Just the hand on the shoulder and one sentence.
    As for Cameron in the chapel – that didn’t bother me either. After all, if she really is an atheist, the chapel has no special significance to her – it’s just a quiet room, with little foot traffic and mood lighting.

    Anyway, the great thing about House fans is their willingness to agree to disagree. For every episode I’ve loved, there have been a hundred people out there saying it was the worst one they’ve seen so far. Hell – there are even some terribly misguided people out there who didn’t love Three Stories…

  9. Diane Kristine says:

    It’s funny, people often assume I have a problem with something if I mention it. I wasn’t complaining that Cuddy was mellower about House’s transgression, or that Cameron might not be a true atheist (we already know that – she’s said she is, but she’s also said she believes in a higher power, just not one that concerns itself with the daily lives of people). They’re just comments about the characters’ reactions I find interesting.

    Similarly, if I say I don’t want to watch House flirt with a teen, that doesn’t mean I think it’s uncharacteristic. I also don’t want to see him have sex with hookers, even though I think that’s not uncharacteristic either.

    I thought the “I’m proud of you” was just one line too much. They’d already conveyed the same thing more economically before having him speak the words. It didn’t add anything, just made the scene a bit too schmaltzy for me, and that’s unusual for this show. Usually they give audiences credit for following with them without too many signposts (well, except for the medical jargon stuff). Like the time they hinted that House was having sex with a hooker. Hints are good. Sledgehammers are bad.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this episode as I did the two preceding it. I feel that “House” status as the top drama on TV today has not altered. I am even growing to enjoy some of the Cameron scenes, though I wish that we could have fewer of those overall. Joel Grey did an astounding job in conveying a full range of emotions with only his eyes and halting voice. This episode’s writing was superior to most of last seasons in that it gave fair treatment to highly complex and emotional issues.I loved Foreman’s snark to Cameron,”Make up your mind, Senator!” and House hit the mark in calling her a “drama queen.”

    I’m not the least bit worried about the teenage vamp storyline which mainly serves to highlight how much House has defined himself as outside of normal human parameters. As usual the scanty scenes between Cuddy and House just flashed with rare and elegant chemistry. I hope that the final chapel shoulder touch signals the reafirmation of the Pupil/Teacher relationship between Cameron and House which has been the true hallmark of their interactions since season one.

    Carol

  11. Steve says:

    I also really enjoyed this episode. It felt like the House of old, the one we left behind so long ago, last season. I was actually surprised by the amount of negativity about it.

    No, it wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely the best episode of this season. Yes, faint praise I know. I love a show that can have rats chew on a guy’s face for no other reason than the writers just thought it would be creepy.

    Dr. Powell reminded me of Grandpa Marsh from South Park: constantly begging to be killed. Ya, it was a little much a little early.

    And I love to see House back experimenting on unconsenting people.

  12. Diane Kristine says:

    This episode has provoked the most mixed reaction so far in the comments – the Blogcritics version has lots more. I’m more surprised that some people seem to think I hated it. I thought it was fine (hey, didn’t I even say that?), but I actually liked last week’s much better, even though there were parts of that one that bugged me more. I’m just still waiting for the episode this season that hits all the bases for me.

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