I love an episode title that bodes well for juvenile antics from House. Though I suppose any episode title bodes well for juvenile antics from House. “Act Your Age” is full of fun character moments and reinvention’s of relationships, and brings us a phrase coming soon to a t-shirt near you: “Never is just reven spelled backwards.” However, although there were satisfying twists along the way, the medical mystery’s final unraveling, related to the father’s use of a male enhancement cream, left me as limp as … well, I won’t go there. I’ll be a mature adult.
The episode takes its title from the miniature patient of the week, six-year-old Lucy, who has the symptoms of a much older woman, including heart problems, arthritis, and a stroke, stemming from her abnormally thick blood. Her older brother Jasper would seem to be your typical eight-year-old boy, at least one who recently lost his mother to brain cancer and is therefore acting out, getting into fights at school, disobeying his father, picking on his sister, and developing a Chase-sized crush on Cameron, complete with stolen flowers for his beloved.
Cameron and Chase could take a lesson from the episode title. After Cameron abruptly ended their no-strings-attached sexual arrangement once Chase started developing strings, they can’t stop sniping at each other. Who would have guessed that a friends-with-benefits arrangement could go so badly between coworkers? Anyone with a brain, that’s who. House of course loves the latest development, since it allows him to torture the ex-lovers further by throwing them together at every opportunity.
An even greater non-surprise is that House isn’t immune from the childish antics in “Act Your Age.” He and Wilson get into a twisted mind game involving Cuddy that I’m not sure either of them won. It all begins when House offers Wilson tickets to a play, a gift from a grateful patient who apparently decided a lawsuit for emotional distress wasn’t the way to go since House saved his life, after all. House refuses to go with Wilson: “You thought this was a date? … Dudes only go to plays if they’re dragged by women they want to see naked.” Wilson drags Cuddy, which fuels House’s puerile mischievousness and his suppressed jealousy.
There’s a lot of badly suppressed jealousy in “Act Your Age,” an indication that the root of the age-inappropriateness in the episode comes down to sex – something that’s never particularly surprising on this show. Wilson toys with House, letting him believe he slept with Cuddy, watching House’s tortured reaction, then admitting he was kidding. House toys with Wilson, but in doing so, is the author of his own barely hidden jealousy.
He sends Wilson flowers and a suggestive note under Cuddy’s name, then encourages him in his plan to barge into her office and kiss her. After all, as Wilson says, he’ll either gain a girlfriend or lose a job. Shrug. But immediately after making his grand exit to sweep the lady off her feet, Wilson barges back into House’s office to berate him for letting him go off to make such an obviously idiotic move. Their use of reverse psychology reversed is enough to make your head spin, but it’s a pleasantly loopy feeling.
Chase is pathetically jealous of the eight-year-old, and Cameron just as pathetically encourages that jealousy. She’s also unreasonably pissed. When they’re forced to search Lucy’s home for evidence of environmental reasons for her symptoms, Chase points out: “You dumped me. You don’t get to be mad.” It’s sort of a sweet scene as they’re poking around under the girl’s bed, lying side by side with the dust bunnies as they try to fix things between them. Cameron replies almost kindly: “We had a really good thing. You broke the rules. I’m angry. I’ll get over it.” They not only take a step towards rapprochement, they find what could be a key to the case: a bloody t-shirt stuffed in a vent.
The first theory is abuse, though the father denies it and an examination of the girl doesn’t quite substantiate it. When it turns out the blood is menstrual blood, and the cuts Cameron found were caused by Lucy trying to shave her precocious pubic hair, the answer is that Lucy has been exposed to massive amounts of hormones that have led to her symptoms. As for what’s causing the massive amounts of hormones, the team can’t quite get 2+2 to equal 4.
Foreman is exasperated with Chase and Cameron for bringing their personal lives into his work place since he hasn’t yet learned to embrace the fun surrounding those personal weaknesses, like his mentor has. He also thinks Chase is an idiot for taking Cameron at her word, that she has no feelings for him. “She’s either emotionally detached or she’s lying. Which sounds more like Cameron?” Chase confronts her in another sweet scene that is interrupted by the next medical twist that offers the team a clue to solving the case. Jasper bites Chase in a fit of jealousy, allowing House to make the connection that the boy has too much testosterone in his system, so is afflicted by the same problem as his sister.
Cameron proves Foreman’s point by exercising her empathy skills on Lucy’s father. All of the team’s theories on an environmental or genetic source of the hormone imbalance have been eliminated, leaving brain surgery on the pituitary as the only option, in her opinion, though adamantly not in House’s. He’s appalled that she plays “the dead husband card” to get the father to agree to a treatment before they’ve answered the question of why both siblings would be affected.
Fortunately, House uses his deductive reasoning and snooping-into-personal-lives skills to figure out that dad is having an affair with the kids’ daycare teacher before the surgery proceeds. To keep up with his younger woman, he’s been using something he might have bought from a spam e-mail, a cream whose hormones have leached through his skin and into his kids. It was a bit of a reach for me, and the turns to get to the end of the road seemed more interesting than the destination itself, but it did allow for another great Housian moment.
Dad: If I stop using it?
House: You’ll be floppy. They’ll be fine. [Sees Jasper picking on his sister.] He’ll still be eight.
Since their heart-to-heart moment was so rudely interrupted by a teeth-to-arm moment, Chase decides to continue his conversation with Cameron by leaving her (unstolen) flowers. She is touched, but reiterates her position that she doesn’t want a relationship with him. “I know,” he says. Considering the guy’s dad died, and he’s had money issues, and he’s been horribly picked on by House, this seems wrong, but I’ve never felt as much compassion for the guy, and never rooted for him as much. He’s using his brain rather than his floppy parts, and laying some long-term groundwork in the pursuit of what he wants. And who can resist a guy bearing flowers, after all?
House has not quite as many social skills as Chase, but that doesn’t prevent Cuddy from trying to talk seriously with him about how hard relationships are, especially when you add the May-December aspect, as they watch dad, kids, and young girlfriend walk out of the hospital.
After telling Wilson that men only invite women to plays when they want to see them naked, and after his hilariously conflicted jealousy over Wilson asking Cuddy to a play, and after “Top Secret” where we learned what we learned about House and Cuddy, there’s a lot behind House’s final invitation to Cuddy: “I got tickets to a play.”