TV Review: House – "Lines in the Sand"

“Lines in the Sand” is one of those beautiful House episodes that fits together like a jigsaw puzzle, with the overall picture right there in the title.

Ten-year-old Adam is the patient of the week, and the episode opens with some nifty direction and effects to give us his autistic point of view. His weary parents have even more to stress over when he starts choking and screaming. It’s probably not a happy time for him, either.

That part’s not funny. The rest of the episode is, with House at his theatrical best, spouting witty remarks and pop culture references, facing a litany of stupid clinic complaints with a look of utter desolation on his face, and even talking in couplets, though not quite the kind that would make Shakespeare proud: “Go up his rear and get a smear.”

As usual, best line reading of the night goes to Hugh Laurie, in a small voice after trying and failing to get all Dog Day Afternoon on Cuddy: “Attica?”

House is rebelling against her horrifically cruel decision to replace the blood-stained carpet in his office, and he refuses to work in there until she relents and puts the old one back.

“You think you can get me to do anything you want no matter how stupid it is?” she asks, thinking – not unreasonably – that it’s one of House’s games. He plays along by doing the differential diagnosis meetings in the clinic, in Wilson’s office (where he plays with one of those Zen sandboxes – CLUE!), in an office Cuddy had booked for her own meeting.

The TV guide description makes the connection between the case and House explicit for us, though the episode lets the connection build slowly. Oh well, at least the show treats its audience like they have a brain, even if the marketing department doesn’t. Though Cameron’s first guess is that the carpet obsession is a power play, she starts to wonder if House’s actions aren’t just a little autistic. Wilson eventually reveals to Cuddy that House’s unusual connection with the boy is rooted in his belief that House might have Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism that makes people socially inept and uncomfortable with any change in routine. Wilson believes House is trying to help himself through the kid, but dismisses it as an actual diagnosis:

“You’re not autistic. You don’t even have Asperger’s. You wish you did. It would exempt you from the rules. Give you freedom. Absolve you of responsibility. Let you date 17-year-olds. But most important, it would mean that you’re not just a jerk.”

Yes, one of those lines in the sand House would like to cross is the jailbait/only-inappropriate-age-difference line, since his teen flirtation, Ali, is back this episode, trying to convince him that the line between 17 and 18 is arbitrary and meaningless. She has definitely crossed the line into stalkerdom, but House’s withering putdowns seem to wither in the face of 17-year-old breasts.

Cuddy points out the girl called 15 times, which is not quite normal:

Cuddy: Your mother’s not that interested in you.

House: Maybe I’d be better adjusted if she was. …

Cuddy: She’s dangerous.

House: She’s not dangerous.

Cuddy: She’s pretty.

House: She’s pretty.

Cuddy: Men are stupid.

House: I’m with you so far.

So he knows it’s stupid, but he’s having fun, and House is all about the fun. Except when he’s about the misery and the crushing of hope and the solving of puzzles.

This time, the puzzle fits together through a collection of symptoms that, of course, don’t add up – because if they did, this would be the shortest episode ever.

Foreman, the neurologist, starts out with a solid theoretical understanding of autism that makes him dismissive of any other explanation than simply that. He then demonstrates a complete lack of practical understanding of autism when he ignores the parents’ warnings and take the kid’s electronic game away from him in order to do the MRI House requests. Having learned his lesson the hard way, he sweet-talks Wilson into doing the subsequent lymph node biopsy, forgetting to mention the patient’s tendency to writhe and scream.

That gives House the opportunity to connect with the kid while actually being in the same room with him. He demonstrates the anesthesia mask on himself in order to get Adam to follow his lead – and leading to a hilariously dopey and flirty House in the next couple of scenes.

He dismisses the parents’ hopes that their son has made a human connection with a curt “Monkey see monkey do. Your kid is just as messed up as when we admitted him.”

The crucial piece of the emotional puzzle is filled in afterwards, when House explains his connection with the kid in his own terms to a pitying Cameron:

“See, skinny, socially privileged white people get to draw this neat little circle, and everyone inside the circle is normal and anyone outside the circle should be beaten, broken and reset so they can be brought into the circle. Failing that, they should be institutionalized or, worse, pitied. … Why would you feel sorry for someone who gets to opt out of the inane courteous formalities which are utterly meaningless insincere and therefore degrading. … Can you imagine how liberating it would be to live a life free of all the mind numbing social niceties? I don’t pity this kid, I envy him.”

Wow. Can you imagine a House who is living free of all the mind numbing social niceties? Now that would be a cable show.

When Adam’s case eventually starts to look like poisoning, House explains in unsentimental terms why the parents might be driven to poison their own child. “They are everything you’d want in a parent. Unfortunately, their kid is nothing you’d want. When a baby is born, it’s perfect. Little fingers, little toes, plump, perfect, pink and brimming with unbridled potential. Then it’s downhill. Some hills steeper than others.”

It’s a nice tie to last season’s “Daddy’s Boy,” where we discover that House keenly feels his parents’ disappointment in him, and confides that in Cameron. Here, he’s both more and less revealing, since afterwards he dismisses her with: “My parents love me unconditionally. Get out of here.”

When the usual suspects – the parents – seem to shockingly not be poisoning their child, House realizes the kid might have eaten something poisonous by accident. So he tries to get Adam to communicate by choosing from pictures of things in the back yard, including a Polaroid of the weed they suspect.

This is where the title was a detriment to the story, because when Adam’s hand wavered over the images, I realized it must be the sandbox. I thought House got that, too, especially when Adam actually picked the sand. So the next scene, where House hilariously preaches to his diagnostic disciples in the chapel, confused me a little, until I cleverly realized he hadn’t been quite that clever. Someone should have told him the title of the episode.

House is finally convinced to speak to Ali to crush her crush, so he goes into melodramatic Casablanca mode – “the problems of two people don’t add up to a hill of beans” – and she eats it up, crying for her noble lost love until her milky tears become a clue. House realizes that she’s infected with spores that are affecting her brain. It’s a mirror image of a senior citizen clinic patient from season one, Georgia, who fell in love with House due to syphilis.

While he’s moping over that – and, maybe, the case – a glimpse of the squiggly lines Adam had been drawing clue House in to the final piece of the puzzle. Worms in the sand Adam ate have been causing his symptoms. After he’s cured, House watches the family being discharged.

“First tongue kiss, an 8 on the happiness scale. Child being snatched back from the brink of death, that’s a 10. They’re clocking in at a very tepid 6.5 because they know what they have to go back to,” he tells Wilson.

But then, as Wilson points out, they hit a 10 when Adam thanks House in his own way, by handing over his game and making eye contact.

The guy who can’t see the value in Wilson’s keepsakes from former patients can not only see the enormity of Adam’s gesture, it’s the perfect language between the game-obsessed, socially withdrawn boy and the game-obsessed, socially withdrawn man. He can’t dismiss the wordless thanks the way he did the parents’ effusive thanks, and maybe – but probably not – sees that hope is not, after all, futile.

Still, it’s obviously a blow to the poor man’s ego that he was a symptom rather than a cause of Ali’s condition, but at least he’s still got Cameron. She watches with him as his old, blood-stained carpet is reinstalled – Cuddy finally relented, after facing the fact that House is just that screwed up – and gazes at her boss meaningfully. “All change is bad? It’s not true, you know.”

“Lines in the Sand” was either a great way to enter the baseball hiatus on a high note, or a mean way to enter the baseball hiatus by making us wait with even more anticipation for the next one.

House returns on Tuesday, Oct. 31. I’m uncomfortable with the change in routine.

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24 Responses to TV Review: House – "Lines in the Sand"

  1. Elen says:

    Great review, as always 🙂 I love reading your anaylsis of the episodes, and this:

    “The guy who can’t see the value in Wilson’s keepsakes from former patients can not only see the enormity of Adam’s gesture, it’s the perfect language between the game-obsessed, socially withdrawn boy and the game-obsessed, socially withdrawn man.”

    was especially brilliant, to me.

    And this change in routine is messing me up, too. My roomate just vaccuumed some dry mud off of the carpet, so I’ve refused to go back in until she replaces it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Diane, good point as always. I think this was the best episode of the season so far, a reasonable return to form after all the ups and downs of the last few episodes.
    One thing hat I’d like to add though is that Cameron is starting to mimic House in terms of lack of social niceties and formalities. She crosses a social line in the way she treats Chase and she crosses a professional line with her obsession with House taking precedence over the patient (& she’s doing this increasingly in the episodes, being a doctor seems to be almost irrelevant to her in Lines). Unfortunately she doesn’t have the saving grace of a sense of humor and no one calls her on how she behaves in the way they would if Foreman or Chase had behaved that way.

  3. Annie says:

    Thanks, Diane, I think you got this episode spot on. To me this one is a candidate for ‘top 10 ever’ status. So many different threads woven together so well, and Hugh Laurie was perfection (yet again, but this was especially great material.)

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’m not convinced that House was a “symptom” of the teen’s troubles. Sure, she was sick… but it’s hard to say that her overly active libido is entirely the result of some spores.

    Beside the medical improbability of that (though sure, it could happen), it just seemed to me that House maintained his Casablanca act during the diagnosis… leading me to think that he was blowing it out of proportion to play on her acceptance of his medical authority. His “reaction” was not quite Housian, but was perfect for his Casablanca character.

    Sure, House’s ego might take a bit of a blow thinking the attraction was just a brain bubble, but I think he was just happy to have a real medical reason (albeit exaggerated) to blow her off, and he took it and ran with it.

  5. Namaste says:

    Great revieew. (I usually lurk and don’t comment. Bad me.) Personally I like the idea that the “power play” on the carpet was just House trying to reassert his normal relationship with Cuddy. They fought the way they usually do, and not once did she ask him about his pain, or his leg (first time this season there hasn’t been some element of doctor-patient relationship between them). And at the same time, he got Wilson to do his bidding for him, re-establishing the normal boundaries of their relationship.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I love your review and loved the episode. You will seemed to get it.

  7. Diane Kristine says:

    Thanks all, and Elen – roommate?! You’re in college! How quickly they grow up … sniff!

    And hey Namaste the lurker – it’s like a TWoP reunion. I like the idea that the carpet thing was House resetting the relationships, but I don’t quite think the episode wanted to lead us there. I think he’s clinging to the familiar, or even the reminder of that event and what he learned from it? It’ll be interesting to see if they do anything more with it or if it’s just his one autistic episode and now he’s all better. I haven’t thought he was all that resistant to change before. He seems to change apartments enough.

  8. Auditrix says:

    Running with the TWoP theme, I like Lizzim’s idea (IIRC) that he wants the carpet back as a reminder that it really happened (since the relief from the ketamine treatment’s gone away.)

  9. Sara says:

    Diane, what a great review. This was the first episode of the season that I enjoyed. Guess I’ll keep watching.
    Is it just possible that House just likes having his own way:)

  10. wcdixon says:

    Good episode —

    So what’s a FILF?

  11. Diane Kristine says:

    Bad, bad, man, you made me blush. You’re joking, right? But if not, think of the opposite of M, and think of what gender I am, and then … yeah. It was a joke. (And for anyone else, it was a joke on another blog, so don’t be thinking you missed anything in the House review.)

  12. lestockt says:

    I am a lot older than most you and I did recognize the movie quotes. But I also believe the preacher’s voice House used is also from a movie. The voice is so familiar, but I can’t place it. Anybody else watch old movies???

  13. Diane Kristine says:

    To me it just sounded like a caricature of the southern preacher that’s in every second movie, and I can’t remember any specific quotes from that scene that weren’t medicalese. Any lines that particularly stood out as being potential quotes from a movie? You could try googling them if you’re really curious.

  14. Julia says:

    Excelente episodio, pude verlo hace un rato. Todo vuelve a encajar perfectamente y podemos seguir adorando la serie, como hasta ahora. Absolutamente hilarante la actitud de House en su última escena con Ali, y hay que decir que ésta terminó siendo una historia muy bien desarrollada por los guionistas (a pesar de las dudas que nos generaba al principio cuando ella aparecio.
    Una duda: ¿Wilson fue a engañar a Cuddy sobre el supuesto autismo de House enviado por éste mismo? ¿no es cierto?
    Genial tu reseña, como siempre… ¡Muchas gracias!

  15. Diane Kristine says:

    Hi Julia!

    The translation for anyone else reading this: Excellent episode, I was able to see it after a while. Everything fit perfectly and we can continue to adore the series like before. House’s attitude in his last scene with Ali was absolutely hilarious, and I have to say that it ended up being a very well developed story by the writers (despite the doubts they caused when she first appeared). One doubt: Wilson was tricking Cuddy about House’s supposed autism, sent there by House himself, right?

    You’re right, after doubting the whole Ali story, it ended up being worth it in the end. That’s what I get for doubting the writers! I’m not sure about Wilson being part of a plot by House to trick Cuddy – it’s a reasonable explanation, but it’s not what I thought when I watched it. I thought Wilson was being his usual House interpreter, figuring out why House identified with the case and the little boy so much, then letting Cuddy know how important it was to House and why, while also letting House know that he’s wrong to see himself in the boy, or to envy him his isolation. But I’d say it’s open to interpretation for sure.

  16. Julia says:

    Gracias Diane, otra vez, por traducirme (perfectamente, debo agregar). Lamento seguir insistiendo con el español, pero realmente no me animo al inglés…
    Para interpretar que Wilson concientemente engaña a Cuddy y que toda la idea podría provenir de House, me baso en que primero vemos la escena en su oficina donde dramáticamente le dice que House “doesn’t WANT this, he NEEDS it” basándose en la definición del libro de texto. Inmediatamente después, vemos a Wilson encontrarse con House con el mismo libro de texto en la mano y, tirándolo a un costado (como devolviéndoselo), le dice que él no tiene Aspergers más bien “Your’re just a jerk”, como si estuviera rebatiendo una idea del mismo House. Es gracioso pensar que House se haya dado cuenta de todo lo que estaban pensado sobre sus similitudes con Adam (especialmente Cameron) o que él mismo lo haya considerado y que lo haya usado para conseguir lo que quería. Aunque, claro, esto no quiere decir que no existiera una verdadera conexión con el niño autista, puede ser cierto que en algún punto y enfermizamente de verdad necesitara la alfombra manchada.

  17. Diane Kristine says:

    Ack, sorry, Julia, I totally forgot to respond after saying I would. I think you have a perfectly valid argument for believing that House used Wilson and his supposed connection with the boy to manipulate Cuddy – it’s just not how I saw it when I watched, and I haven’t rewatched to see if I feel differently after hearing your reasoning. But I will … some day!

  18. FourTeller says:

    First of all Diane, great blog in general and House stuff in particular. I admit I’m not a regular visitor and haven’t read all the episode reviews, but that may change. Part of the problem is that some elements of the fandom really turn me off at times and I go through long stretches when I don’t want even to see anything House-related online – a big reason why I have yet to find a “home forum” after all this time.

    Forgive me then for being so late in this post, but I’ve been taking time during the current baseball hiatus to evaluate my overall feelings about the show and especially this season to date. I totally agreed with your analysis of the first two episodes (particularly the disappointment with the premiere) but not the last couple of reviews. “Informed Consent” was, to me, a return to form for the series, while “Lines in the Sand” was a mild disappointment at best.

    The funny bits felt mostly forced – the initial “Attica! Attica!” chant and the southern preacher spiel in particular both went on for too long – while the poignant ones also didn’t ring true. Interestingly, I considered the PSP moment at the end which you found so touching to be much more OTT than House’s line to Cameron at the end of the previous episode. I admit that the latter was probably unnecessary given that his hand on her shoulder alone spoke volumes, but a severely autistic boy giving away a prized posession to a practical stranger was overkill IMO.

    In fact, that has been one of my biggest problems with the series of late: that it doesn’t seem to trust its audience enough to resist hammering home every “emotional” or “important” moment for us, just in case we couldn’t recognize it otherwise. House can’t just be relieved of his cane and pain, he has to walk fluidly and run for miles! A man who’s been paralyzed for almost a decade can’t just move parts of his body within moments of being administered a “miracle” cure, he has to literally stand up and attempt a faltering step or two so the viewers can really believe it!

    Anyway, the point is that even with some of its drawbacks, I too remain a fan of House, and still appreciate honest examination of both its strengths and weaknesses. What I don’t like is when people quickly jump on one sub-par episode as evidence that the show is doooomed or, OTOH, think that “true” fans should either recognize the greatness of each and every episode or else keep their opinions to themselves. Not to mention the character assassination that conveniently ignores current or historical context when taking shots at someone’s onscreen actions or motivations.

    Thankfully, your reviews reflect most of what I love about House fans and none of what I’ve come to loathe, so keep up the good work! Even the opinions and feelings I didn’t share were eloquently expressed in a way I could relate to and understand where you were coming from, which is all I really require from a critic.


    P.S. Julia, the little English you have written so far looks perfect to me 😉

  19. Diane Kristine says:

    Thanks fourteller, and I understand where you’re coming from. House was the first (and still only) fandom I’ve been a part of, and it’s been a rocky relationship. There’s a reason I’m an ex-TWoP poster. Some day when I really feel like getting flamed, maybe I’ll write about what I’ve thought of the whole fandom experience.

    Interesting to hear your thoughts on this episode – I don’t necessarily agree, but it would be a minor (albeing boring!) miracle if two people agreed on every single facet of every episode.

    I do agree with this:

    In fact, that has been one of my biggest problems with the series of late: that it doesn’t seem to trust its audience enough to resist hammering home every “emotional” or “important” moment for us, just in case we couldn’t recognize it otherwise.

    However, I think it’s still rare, I think House still does trust the audience to a larger degree than most shows. And I feel like I’ve seen too much evidence that a lot of people can’t recognize these moments to really beat up on TV writers who succumb to the temptation to hammer home a point now and then.

    And yeah, Julia, your English is pretty much perfect (she’s written more on previous posts) but I also understand that it’s so much easier to make your exact point in your native tongue, instead of a close approximation in your second language. Next time it won’t take me so long to translate or respond, I promise!

  20. Julia says:

    Thank you both (TF & DK)! Pero mi inglés sirve para “distancias cortas”. Soy demasiado perfeccionista para usarlo fluidamente. Espero que me disculpen por esto…
    Especialmente para TF: comprendo perfectamente tu punto de vista, y es quizás la única falla que le encuentro al show, pero ¿no es cierto que sigue siendo fantástico de todas formas (hasta ahora, al menos)? (Más allá de que también detesto a los fans absolutos y sin criterio…)

  21. Diane Kristine says:

    So I don’t get sick and then forget to translate for ages this time … italics is Julia:

    Thank you both (TF &DK)! But my English serves as a shortcut. I’m too much of a perfectionist to use it fluently. I hope you’ll excuse me for that.

    I totally understand, Julia – I think I’d have become far better at Spanish and before that, French, if I wasn’t too much of a perfectionist to not want to speak it because I couldn’t speak it perfectly.

    To TF: I understand perfectly your point of view, and it’s maybe the only fault I find with the show, but isn’t it true that it is still fantastic, anyway (up until now, at least)? (Apart from that, I also hate fans who are absolutist or with no critical judgement) [Correct me if you think of a better way to put that in English, Julia … or anyone else. It’s literally “no criteria” but I can’t think how we’d say it in a few words in English … you mean what TF did, fans who must believe everything about every episode is great, right Julia?)

    Um, and of course I meant “albeit being” in my previous comment instead of “albeing being” … speaking of perfectionism.

  22. Diane Kristine says:

    Oh good grief … two typos in a row on the same thing? I meant: “albeit boring.” Now if there’s a typo in that, just make up for yourself what I might have meant.

  23. Julia says:

    That was perfect, as always… Discúlpame por darte trabajo extra. Veo, además, por tus traducciones que sabes mucho más español que yo inglés (¿y tu francés es aún mejor? ¡Admirable!)
    Saludos y gracias desde Buenos Aires.

  24. Diane Kristine says:

    Julia, no te disculpes, me gusta practicar la traduccion! Puedo entender, pero no puedo escribir (o hablar!) con facilidad. Escribes ingles mucho mejor que yo escribo espanol.

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