TV Review: House – "Top Secret"

“Top Secret” answered the question House fans have been dying to know since the series premiere over 2 ½ years ago: Just how much urine can one episode contain? The answer: A lot.

In this episode, we – and he – are seeing that the negative consequences of House’s Vicodin dependence are not just social and psychological, but physical too. In a series of lovely bathroom scenes and shots of Hugh Laurie’s grimace when confronted by sloshing liquids, we see House’s torture resulting from the fact that he hasn’t been able to urinate for three days, likely a side effect of his pain medication. Yet he holds onto the Vicodin like a baby with its blankie – no other will do.

Cameron asks about his pain, Wilson futilely tries to convince him to stop taking fistfuls of Vicodin in order to relieve the pain that the Vicodin is causing, but House appears to have burned up a lot of the energy anyone’s willing to devote to sympathizing much. Faking rehab and brain cancer does that, I guess.

But back to the beginning. The teaser shows a Hummer full of soldiers singing and joking before an ambush we get in full shaky cam glory. Because of my general cluelessness about anything to do with the visuals of a show, I’ve gotten pretty proud of my ability to spot the work of frequent House director Deran Serafian before the credits roll.

The usual pre-credits bait and switch applies. Not only are we not seeing the injury of this week’s patient of the week, not only are we not being set up for a Housian take on the war in Iraq, but we’re not even in the show’s reality. Throughout, the camera has been following the point of view of one of the soldiers, one who was being treated by his Hummer-mate, when it pans away to reveal the injured soldier is a fatigues-clad House, gun in hand and leg blown off. Yes, that leg. That’s gotta hurt.

He wakes up to Cuddy tossing him a file of his new patient, and he’s stunned to see that the picture in the file matches the face of the soldier who saved his life in the dream. Spooky.

The rest of the episode serves as both a medical mystery, as House tries to prove that his Gulf War Syndrome is actually nothingswrongitosis and then to discover what the somethingswrongitosis actually is, and a mystery about the patient’s identity.

House can never do something the easy way if that would involve human interaction, so he doesn’t actually asks the guy. Instead he gets his team to investigate whether he’s been on TV, among other leads. “His problem could be neurological. Everyone knows TV rots your brain.” In desperation, while the patient is deteriorating on the operating table, House asks the crucial question: “Have you ever appeared in any pornos?”

With all the toilet humour and the opening blow-em-up war scene, this House tilted toward the 12-year-old-boy demographic that consists not just of 12-year-old boys, but most men as well. In doing so, it found new and interesting ways to disgust squeamish me. Did I really need to see House catheterize himself? Just to be clear: I really, really didn’t.

The epiphany to both mysteries comes to House in yet another dream, and the episode has cleverly prepped us for surreality by playing with what’s real and point of view, including in an effective scene where we cut from John’s deaf perspective to the minions arguing loudly over his bedside. However, I have to admit I didn’t follow the medical epiphany in the dream at all, so House’s instadiagnosis of the patient didn’t hold together for me. Maybe I was just distracted by the Cuddy-related epiphany. Or by all the urine.

When House’s nose begins to bleed, and the TV screen starts to resemble a funhouse mirror, and Cuddy seductively says “I’m always here,” it’s not much of a surprise when House wakes up in bed. Covered in urine, naturally, but with a satisfied smile on his face. Well sure. It’s all crystal clear now.

After going through diagnoses including sleep apnea, an STD, several kinds of cancer, and uranium toxicity, and symptoms including loss of hearing and paralysis, the patient’s pallor and blood loss – did he have blood loss? – and the news of his grandfather’s nosebleeds and father’s shin splints bring sleeping House to the conclusion of a disease I’ve never heard of and am not even going to begin to try to spell. (Though the FOX website kindly posts information like that, all that cutting and pasting would wear me out.) Somewhere in there was the dream image of House’s self-catheterization being exposed by a leak in the collection bag, and inordinate amounts of urine spilling from his pant leg. Have I mentioned all the pee?

House has also clued in to who his patient is. Turns out, he accompanied Cuddy for all of 10 minutes to a hospital function. Those who can’t swallow the idea that House dreamed about someone he saw two years ago minutes before being forced to take him on as a patient (my hand is raised here) are given the more rational solution by Wilson: he inserted the face into the dream in retrospect. The combination of Cuddy throwing him the file and the picture of the patient in that file triggered the niggling mystery in House’s subconscious. Wilson also reveals his disturbingly in-depth knowledge of the Village People as he pop psychologizes that House’s dream was inspired by a desire to mend his relationship with his father, an ex-Marine.

When House indignantly confronts Cuddy over her secret connection to the patient, a sly smile creeps onto her face. “Get over me,” she taunts. Besides answering the pressing question of pee, “Top Secret” also gave one of the most satisfyingly juicy revelations yet. It seems there is not, in fact, a great wall of China between love and hate; there was a night of passion in House and Cuddy’s past. This piece of information makes me want to think back and re-evaluate previous interactions to see what the new perspective adds. I see a DVD marathon in my summer.

House: Give me a break. You hired me …
Cuddy: … because you’re a good doctor who couldn’t get himself hired at a blood bank, so I got you cheap.
House: You gave me everything I asked for because one night I gave you everything …

She finishes it off by pointing out “that ship sailed long ago.” And though she appears to have bested him in this exchange, he smiles ruefully, obviously enjoying the tease. As do I.

In “Top Secret,” yet another secret is exposed. Cameron has been enjoying her little arrangement with Chase perhaps a little too much, ignoring the patient in the process. Or, as Chase suspects, is she trying to get caught? “I’m over House,” she protests a couple of times. Yeah, right, and clingy and jealous Chase is successfully keeping his emotions out of the uncomplicated sex agreement.

Foreman catches them playing hooky when they’re supposed to be monitoring the patient’s sleep patterns, though Cameron craftily uses the truth to distract him – that they were having sex in one of the sleep rooms.

Foreman: House’d do Wilson before you’d do Chase.
Cameron: No, you’ll do House and Wilson before I’d do Chase. Now can we get back to work?
Chase: She did me once.
Foreman: She was stoned!

Poor Chase. To make things worse for him, House, who’s guessed their secret, “accidentally” catches them in a supply closet, saying he was looking for a larger garbage can. “Since when does he clean anything up?” Chase moans. In an episode full of expressive smiles, the one on House’s face as he walked back to his office was the evil smile of future tormenting possibilities. If she was hoping to get caught to make House jealous, Cameron’s hopes might have been dashed to see it.

So House ends by saving his patient, fixing his pee problem, blissfully ignoring the possibility that the Vicodin is harming his health, and gathering ammunition against Cuddy, Chase, and Cameron. All in all a good day’s work for him, if you ignore the fact that the Vicodin is harming his health and he continues to have social skills a 12-year-old boy might be appalled at.

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13 Responses to TV Review: House – "Top Secret"

  1. Housetango says:

    Diane, thanks again, for another clever & insightful review! After the extraordinary brilliance of Lawrence Kaplow’s “Half-Wit,” I was hoping there would be more follow-up & continuity in “Top Secret.” Instead, I felt like I was getting figuratively “pissed on,” due to Thomas L. Moran’s inability to capitalize on & continue all the great developments that Lawrence Kaplow had introduced. For continuity’s sake, I think that Lawrence Kaplow should have written both episodes #315 & 316, considering how pivotal & important “Half-Wit” turned out to be. So, “Top Secret” should have been treated more like the 2nd half of a two-parter.

    Your reviews are always a pleasure to read!…

  2. Elen says:

    “Did I really need to see House catheterize himself? Just to be clear: I really, really didn’t.”

    Yeah, I’m gonna have to agree with you on that one. I’m fine with most of their graphic surgeries, needles in the eye, etc., but that? *shudder*

  3. Diane says:

    housetango, I don’t think it’s fair to lay that kind of thing on the individual writers. For one thing, each writer isn’t holed up in a bunker deciding in a vacuum what they’ll write about. For another, the show’s never been very concerned with picking up all the loose threads and resolving dramatic arcs instantly. I suspect we’re building to something by season’s end.

    Elen, I’m pretty squeamish anyway, but … yeah. Ugh.

  4. Nessa says:

    What I really want to know, and forgive me if it has been addressed already, is why on Earth doesn’t House have a pain specialist? You would think that if his friends were so worried/disgusted by him they’d send him to a professional instead of writing prescriptions for him and then chastising him for taking too much pain medication.

    Oh, and I think the needles in the face freaked me out more than the cath, simply because my suspension of disbelief broke down at the idea of House self-catheterizing.

  5. Diane says:

    Nessa, how on earth do you think anyone could “send” House to a pain specialist? They’ve tried to persuade him, but they can’t physically force him. He’s stubborn and doesn’t want to try anything different, because he found Vicodin after experimenting after the initial injury and it works. House knows what a pain specialist would say – get off the Vicodin – so he’d never go to one.

  6. Kate says:

    Hello, Diane! Thank you for the review, I was waiting for it. You know, it occured to me, that it would not be easy for you to watch all these hmmm… embarassing scenes. )) But you came over them with dignity. )
    As for me… of course, to tell the truth, it *was* unpleasant, but… in fact when such things happen to us or our relatives or loved ones – it’s not such disguisting.
    You just want to help.
    So I had *this* feeling while watching the episode. When House returnes home with a paper bag I just thought: ‘Please, tell me there’s a catheter there!’ It was and I felt relieved. So I just… wanted him to help himself.
    But yeah, visuals in this episode were… unusual.

    P.S. And may I ask you a question? My native language is Russian, so I didn’t understand the joke (?) about Village people. Who are they supposed to be?..

  7. Diane Kristine says:

    Oh Kate, you’re going to be sorry you asked: these are the Village People. Big in the disco era. A large gay following. They dressed in costumes – cop, construction worker, American Indian, navy guy (or as Wilson points out, only after their song In the Navy was released – before that he was just a generic military guy).

    I wasn’t embarrassed by the scenes – I’m very squeamish. Usually from blood, but any bodily fluid will do it.

  8. John says:

    Thanks for the review, well-put as always.

    As for the episode itself… I have mixed feelings. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. Scenes like Cuddy/House, Cameron/Chase, Cameron/Chase/Foreman, Cameron/Chase/House, these were fun. Especially the first. I also loved the direction and the physical side-effects of the Vicodin.

    I did not have a problem with the cathetere scene, even though I was a bit distracted by the fact that he popped half a bottle of Vicodin, despite the fact that that’s what was causing the problem. What I did have a problem with was the peeing itself. Drinking coffee while watching the episode didn’t exactly help either.

    My biggest problem was the actual medical mystery. It ended up being more of a nuisance than essence. Not only did I not understand what the hell happened in the end, I didn’t even care rewinding to find out. Much like that fireman in 3×11.

    On another note, I don’t buy the post-Tritter Cameron. She took a leap from compassionate to bitchy and the transition didn’t sit well with me. It’s showing in this episode more than the others. She’s not over House and ultimately Chase seems to be the only loser. Poor Chase.

  9. Kate says:

    Thank you for the Village People, Diane. =)

  10. Freudian Slip says:

    I just think that House is running out of steam. I loved the first season though!

  11. Bill says:

    Diane, I’m a long time reader first time commenter type and I’ve been enjoying your reviews for a while. Again this one is well written and gives a good, thorough recap of the episode.

    However, that’s not why I read your reviews, I’m interested more in your opinion. I thought this episode was somewhat lacklustre and my hope in reading this review was seeing if you agreed, giving me some indication of whether it really was a rather poor one or if I missed the point somewhere.

    Once again, I love your reviews and make a point of reading them as part of the whole “House experience” but if I may offer some advice on what would make me enjoy your reviews more I would advise a little less recap (given anyone reading the review has probably seen the episode) and a little more of what you thought about the different scenes and the episode as a whole. All I found out about your reaction from this review is that you were mildly disgusted by urine.

    Feel free to take my opinion on board or not as you see fit, I’ll keep reading either way since I still find your reviews enjoyable to read and thankyou so much for writing and posting them.

  12. housetango says:


    As unfair as my opinion may seem, I’m still willing to lay most of the blame for character inconsistencies, medical blunders & mostly unbelievable plots, at the doorstep of the individual writers. Also, the script editor, Sara Hess & the executive producers can share in the blame for possibly allowing the individual writers too much autonomy & freedom to change the characters, to suit their story’s purposes. After viewing this latest aviation disaster,”Airborne,” I’m even more convinced that certain writers should only be allowed to write for the show, if they’re forced to follow a stricter character “bible,” that would insure a sense of continuity & quality.

  13. Diane Kristine says:

    Blame who you want to blame – who cares about the reality of making a TV show when you’ve got an opinion. What I’m saying is David Shore is ultimately responsible for planning the season and approving outlines of individual episodes, and takes the final pass on all scripts. If he’d wanted Top Secret to follow on the themes of Half-Wit, it would have.

    Did you notice the two parts of Euphoria were written by two completely different writing teams? Do you know what a story editor is? It’s the lowest title for a staff writer. It means Sara Hess hasn’t yet progressed to Executive Story Editor or Producer or Co-Producer or on up the chain.

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