TV Review: House – "Act Your Age"

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.”

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13 Responses to TV Review: House – "Act Your Age"

  1. Anonymous says:

    loved this episode and all it’s childish fun…not to mention seeing House’s rare smiles and the look of absolute amusement when Wilson was talking about kissing Cuddy! as always, enjoyed reading your reviews. the bit about the cream isn’t all that much of a stretch actually, maybe the consequences of it was, but certainly the way the kids got sick weren’t. i was sitting in with an endocrinologist once and right before he handed over the prescription for testosterone cream to the patient, he asked if the guy lived with any girls, and to make sure he didn’t touch them too soon after putting on the cream or before he washed his hands. so, yeah.

  2. Darius says:

    yeah, if House had made it more clear about maybe the father not washing his hands enough or something like that, it would have made more sense. Instead, they kind of told the viewer “It’s the cream, stupid. Duh!”

    This was one of the first episodes where I noticed the “hint” before it happened. As soon as the girl was diagnosed with too much testosterone, I told my wife that the boy had the same problem and once they realized that, the case would be nearly solved. She didn’t believe me 🙂

  3. Suldog says:

    Enjoyable, but I guessed the outcome much earlier than usual.

    (Well, usually I don’t guess the outcome at all.)

    As soon as the boy charged and bit, I knew it was some sort of ‘roid rage. Combine that with the somewhat unsubtle hint of House watching wrestling on TV…

    As always, a fun review. Thanks!

  4. wcdixon says:

    “Seriously?”

    Called the mystery early on but ‘loved’ the House&Wilson schtick.

  5. Diane says:

    Yeah, except the problem is that the medical mystery wasn’t resolved with the epiphany that it was hormones, or that the son was also affected – I think everyone watching guessed early, plus those were revealed early. The resolution was that the father was dating a younger woman and so using the cream. And that was pieced together very undramatically. That’s the reason the medical part of it wasn’t that satisfying and the resolution was a reach for me. It’s not good when the aha moment is less interesting than the turns along the way before that.

  6. DMc says:

    Aha!

    You’re right. That’s totally the moment.

  7. Eric says:

    I agree that the medical mystery was somewhat ho-hum this week, but House and Wilson were at the absolute top of their game in their scenes together. Pure joy to watch those two.

  8. Dave C says:

    No review is complete without mention of the 8 year old kid coping a feel of Cameron’s perky butt.

    Epic television. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more smugly satisfied look in my life.

  9. atara says:

    As you said, there’s a lot of jealousy in the episode, but I think House and Wilson are jealous of Cuddy. She’s the traditional vehicle for the subtextual/unspoken feelings of the two guys for each other–a role of the woman in many love triangles on TV and in movies and novels. W/ House and Wilson, their “love dare not speak its name” both b/c a maintext gay relationship would be too threatening on such a popular series (although the series creators have talked about deliberately playing w/ H/W subtext) and b/c of the types of guys House and Wilson are.

    Even if there were no societal TV restraints, they both lack the communication skills to admit their feelings, and Cuddy becomes a useful substitute. Their “jealousy” that’s not really about each other creates some form of passionate energy b/t them, and I’m sure neither one would object to sleeping w/ Cuddy–she’s sexy, funny, smart–why not? But she’s still the substitute. Wilson seemed genuinely hurt when he asked why House wouldn’t go with him to the play and House recoils against such a naked expression of feeling that’s expressed directly to him, so he snaps, hurtfully, that this isn’t a date. When Wilson plays w/ House about whether he slept w/ Cuddy he’s getting his own back by stirring up House’s feelings for him via jealousy.

    Granted, not everyone will agree w/ me, but I see so many subtextual clues in their relationship that regardless of their feelings for the woman-of-the-week-or-month (gotta get some release somewhere), it always comes back to the two of them. To get them to admit/express/act on their feelings would take both of them being really drunk or in a typical slash situation: hurt/comfort. And it would have to be some version of the two guys trapped in a cave on an isolated planet for three weeks, esp. when one of them goes into a once-every-7-years sexual frenzy (Kirk/Spock), or the guys in a violent men’s prison, one protecting the other by claiming him (Paris/Kim in an actual ST: Voyager ep that led to heaps of h/c slash). So you need the isolation (no one else around to provide help or see what’s going on), you need one of them injured or traumatized so severely that the other one has to provide care and comfort, and, gee, eventually the comfort somehow involves sex as long as they aren’t rescued too soon. 🙂

    Ain’t gonna happen on this TV show, but the hints are there as well as the approach/recoil pattern. In “Son of Coma Guy” House makes about as direct a statement as one could expect to Wilson, “there are some things I don’t want to break.” And then there’s the massive Tritter arc/rift b/t House and Wilson. But they made up even if they need a stand-in for the post-make-up sex.

  10. DMc says:

    That’s the great thing about subtext.

    It’s the ultimate rorschack test for the viewer. You see what you want to see.

  11. Diana says:

    Gosh, what a dope I am. I didn’t realize until you pointed it out that the adults were acting like kids while the kids were acting like adults.

    Of course, in this show, the adults are always acting like kids, so I’m excused.

    “Dudes only go to plays if they’re dragged by women they want to see naked.”

    I seem to remember that House said “someone” and not “women.” The theatre audience in NYC is heavily gay. I think House was saying that a man who goes to a play is either gay or a straight guy who wants to get laid. But my memory could be faulty. Did you record it?

  12. Diane Kristine says:

    I did record it and just double checked (because my quotes aren’t actually always exact) – but he did say “women.” I’m sure that makes the House/Wilson shippers sad.

  13. atara says:

    Not in my case. As in my excruciatingly long post, it just reinforces my conviction of an H/W attraction if not an actual ‘ship. 🙂

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