TV Review: House – "Fetal Position"

Freaky Friday nearly meets House in the heartstring-pulling but never cloying “Fetal Position.” It’s mostly a one-way role reversal. Cuddy channels House in her zeal to cure not only the patient of the week, but the fetus of the week as well. As she retorts when House says that if she’s going to be him, he might as well be her: “You don’t have the cleavage for it.” That sounds awfully like a Housism, but it’s not the entire truth, since House isn’t entirely unaffected by the Cuddy-House personality switch.

The patient of the week is Emma (Anne Ramsay of Mad About You), a pregnant photographer who self-diagnosis herself when she collapses while at a photo shoot with Tyson Ritter of All-American Rejects (Tyson Ritter of All-American Rejects).

When a patient declares “I’m having a stroke,” that would seem to leave little room for House and his team to do their magic. However, he finds a symptom her other doctor missed that thankfully helps prolong the episode beyond the teaser.

House actually visits this patient, maybe because Cuddy told him Emma was important, maybe because she’s famous once removed, maybe because there’s flirting potential while he ridicules her profession.

“People are always hiding things. I just keep shooting until I can see what’s really inside them,” she says. That sounds familiar. No wonder she and House have a nice rapport.

She snaps photos to document her time in the hospital, which would annoy me, but the easily-annoyed House surprisingly takes it in stride. His team is comically befuddled while staring at one of her gorgeous black and whites of that craggy, conflicted face. (I’m suppressing the nitpicky voice in my head that wonders how and why she got her photos printed so quickly. Shut up, voice.)

Foreman: This is definitely different.

Chase: It looks almost like …

Cameron: … he’s caring.

The progression in the last few episodes has been puzzling. I suspect we’re building to another angst-filled season finale (pleaseohplease not a cliffhanger), but we’ve gone from the self-destructive House who will do anything for a high to a moderately well-behaved House who’s playfully planning a vacation. Or is he? The Galapagos, Cambodia, the Andes … I suppose that’s more House-like than lying on a beach in Puerto Vallarta, even considering the women in bikinis.

Cameron is less than sanguine about House being completely sanguine after discovering her relationship with Chase, and she can’t stop fretting about it to her poor friend with benefits. “Maybe he just doesn’t give a crap,” Chase suggests unhelpfully after ridiculing the suggestion that House’s vacation plans have anything to do with her.

When House rats them out to Cuddy, Cuddy and Foreman both assume Cameron is going to be the one to get hurt. Emma and House see the truth, which is that Chase is the one in danger. Emma captures a “glowing” Chase, staring at a photo of his friend with benefits.

When Emma’s kidneys start to shut down and all diagnostic possibilities have been exhausted, House comes up with the solution: maternal mirror syndrome. Something’s wrong with the fetus, and that’s affecting the mother’s health.

Cuddy and House stake out their ideological differences with Cuddy insisting on referring to Emma’s child as a baby, and House referring to him as a fetus.

“If there’s anyone I would trust to save my baby, it would be Dr. House,” Cuddy comforts Emma at one point, much to House’s surprise. “Fetus,” he exaggeratedly mouths, before the shot cuts from an ultrasound of said fetus/baby to a CGI of the fetus/baby to an actual baby in the maternity ward, where Cuddy is staring wistfully at the little tykes.

House may have exposed his caring to the camera in an unguarded moment, but Cuddy’s the one who cares to the point of unabashedly identifying with the patient. That makes her very House-like in her tenacity and willingness to take risks, but not in her lack of objectivity.

Emma is a single 42-year-old-woman who endured miscarriages and in vitro and sees this pregnancy as her last chance for a child. Cuddy is a single I-have-no-idea-how-old woman who endured a miscarriage and in vitro trying for what she sees as her last chance for a child. She also sees the fetus as a patient, while House clearly does not. He quickly comes to the conclusion that abortion is the only way to save his patient’s life.

It’s not the first time the show has dipped into the contentious abortion issue, and it’s not the first time it’s refused to turn into a morality lesson, which is refreshing.

Cuddy is not even remotely capable of being House, and her desperation and self-doubt is a clear sign of that. But she does use House’s methods and recklessness to get to a House-like diagnosis and cure of both patients, to avoid trying to use her empathy to persuade Emma to consider the abortion. Cuddy even starts fidgeting with random objects before zeroing in on That Damn Ball and making peculiar metaphors to explain her position.

When Cameron, Chase, and Foreman worry she’s out of control, Foreman points out, “Somebody’s got to be Cuddy’s Cuddy.” That’s Wilson apparently, though I was expecting House.

He’s about as effective as House’s Cuddy, inspiring her to get even more radical, pursuing a treatment that nearly kills Emma and the fetus/baby but also gets her close to the solution.

Though she’s sent him on his vacation early, she goes to House for help with the next steps, and he obliges. The lure of the mystery, or the lure of the Cuddy? The next step is just as radical: surgery on the fetus.

I’m not one to get all gushy over fake TV babies, but when the tiny hand reached out of the womb and grasped for House’s finger … sniff. I mean, my heart’s not made of stone. Neither, to everyone’s surprise, is House’s, as he takes several precious seconds to process the moment. “Sorry. Just realized I forgot to TiVo Alien,” he says when he shakes off the awe of the moment.

Thankfully the moment isn’t turned into a turning point where he realizes all life is precious and he’s been so very wrong. Seconds later it’s original-recipe House moving in to cut the umbilical cord and spell the death of the fetus/baby when Emma’s heart rate plunges. Cuddy forces him to step away by refusing to stop shocking the patient, even if it means electrocuting House. She’s probably wanted an excuse to do that for years.

While I love that this show is willing to risk a tragic conclusion now and then, like in “Forever,” I’m grateful Cuddy didn’t fail in the end. For one thing, we’ve seen that before, in “Humpty Dumpty” – where her medical skills were called into question – and even more devastatingly in “Finding Judas.” Because of that, it’s nice to see Cuddy win over House, even though the win is debatable.

And debate they do. When she congratulates him on trying to have a life and girlishly presents him with a ticket to Vancouver Island, since he had to cancel his vacation plans – or did he? – to help her with the case, she gets his “you got lucky” lecture that sounds like he’s channeling Cuddy. I could side with either one of them, which means I would make a bad Cuddy’s Cuddy. One the one hand, Cuddy was doing what the patient wanted, the patient should have autonomy over her body, and it’s hard to argue with success. On the other hand, House is right that Cuddy wasn’t doing the math.

House: In a case like this, you terminate, mom lives 10 times out of 10. You do what you did, mom and baby both die 9.9 times out of 10.

Cuddy: Sometimes .1 is bigger than 9.9.

House: No, it’s smaller. Exactly 9.8 smaller. Always is, always will be.

Cuddy: Well not for Emma. And not for her son. Now go away and be happy.

That’s too tall an order for House, though.

There were enough Canadian references in this one to make me suspect episode writers Garrett Lerner and Russel Friend were currying favour with the boss, or that David Shore couldn’t resist throwing in lines about his hometown of London, Ontario, and the Tiger-Cats, which may or may not be a reference to nearby Hamilton’s team, and Vancouver Island, which is nowhere near London, Ontario, but it is Canadian (and the home island of Bones creator and Shore’s friend Hart Hanson. Coincidence? Probably.)

We end with House at home, ripping the ticket in half (Hey! But who doesn’t like Canadians?) and demonstrating his own brand of fetal position: Vicodin popped, leg propped, TV tuned to images of the exotic destinations he can’t quite bring himself to visit. But he’s not unaffected by the events of the case, having referred to Emma’s fetus as a baby, and now apparently marveling at the memory of the fetus’s touch. It’s a baby step, but a step toward … something.

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16 Responses to TV Review: House – "Fetal Position"

  1. sgr11 says:

    “(I’m suppressing the nitpicky voice in my head that wonders how and why she got her photos printed so quickly. Shut up, voice.)”

    I’m assuming her camera was digital, because early on in the show, they showed Emma’s bedside table had photo paper on it and one of those photo printers… hence, the printing of the photos so quickly…

    sgr11

  2. Diane Kristine says:

    I assume that too, but it feels a lot like a contrivance to give us the nice photo moments. But they’re nice enough moments that I’m suppressing the voice that says – how and why would she have all that with her in the hospital? She wouldn’t have been likely to need her printer with her for the photo shoot. A little too convenient for my inner nitpicker.

  3. John says:

    Heh, I love these reviews. It’s like debriefing after a successful mission… I guess so, anyway.

    You know, I happen to agree with House when it comes to such sensitive issues -this one included-, but I have to admit that this scene of the fetus grabbing his finger was just beautiful. Few hours since I watched the episode and I still go back to that moment.

  4. Anonymous says:

    House has gotten worse and worse since Faux Spews discovered that an intelligent show could actually be popular, and turned it into just another rightwingnut propaganda tool. Really, people, that scene with the “baby’s” hand reaching out a la the “hand of god” was purest nonsense. A non-viable fetus is exactly that: NOT VIABLE.

    It was stupid enough when Cameron went around trying to get it on with House all the time, but presenting Cameron and Chase as sex fiends unable to keep their hands off each other just ruins any credibility in the characters or the show. Why do rightwingnuts, who are so hypocritical about sex, make all their shows center around sex?

  5. lovin' it says:

    “rightwingnut propaganda tool. Really, people, that scene with the “baby’s” hand reaching out a la the “hand of god” was purest nonsense. A non-viable fetus is exactly that: NOT VIABLE.

    If anything, I’d say House is more leftwing and pro-science-logic-reason than god-faith-etc. And when they were talking about the viability of the fetus, it was in relation to it’s ability to survive outside of the womb. It was completely within reason that the fetus’ hand moved during the operation.

  6. Suldog says:

    What I’m seeing, with this episode, is that most people are reacting according to their own strongly-held views, and accusing the writers of holding the opposite views. I’ve found this in casual conversations with family and co-workers, also. Interesting.

    Thanks, Diane, for your time in doing the reviews. I look forward to them.

  7. Eric says:

    Don’t mean to rain on “anonymous”‘s parade, but the thing between Cameron and Chase has been setting up for a LONG time. Was it all the way back in Season 1 (I guess I could go read your reviews to check!) where Cameron admitted to Wilson that she once wanted to sleep with her dying husband’s best friend, but “I couldn’t have lived with myself”?

    Wilson’s reply, “you’d be surprised what you can live with” was the beginning of the writers setting up the Cameron we have now. (It continued as she experimented with drugs, started to treat patients more the way House does, etc.) That’s a long, well-considered character arc, not just a “hey, sex sells!” whim of the producers.

    The viability of the fetus issue is perhaps a valid complaint, honestly I don’t know what the “make-the-lungs-grow-faster” drugs they gave the baby would really do. But I don’t buy for a minute that they’re abandoning their character consistency. Seeds of the team we have now can be traced back through everything they’ve done before this point.

  8. Silver Turtle says:

    The first thing I thought with the fetus/baby hand was ALIEN!. Then I realized it had only 3 fingers + thumb, like a cartoon character. It’s no wonder that I have zero desire for children (or for any of them to be around me much).

    I also thought it was interesting that the characters were all wearing blue except for Cuddy, who was wearing pink. I think Cameron had a pink-ish shirt on in the first few scenes, but also switched to blue. House + ducklings kept oppossing Cuddy, the unified front in blue, while Cuddy stuck to her guns, the sole heroine in pink. Or maybe I just read waaaaay too much into that.

  9. jimhenshaw says:

    I’ve never been a fan of “House”. Just me. Don’t really find the characters honest or interesting and often feel the medical dramas are fake because so many of the procedures just have no basis in actual medical practice or basic medical ethics.

    And I hate to pop the “moving moment” bubble for you, but the baby grasping the surgeon’s finger bit is an urban legend long ago outed on snopes.com — with the show playing it right down to the faked photograph that became a symbol to the Pro-Life movment and for all I know led to abuse or worse of people who work in abortion clinics and likely convinced a few women to bring unwanted children into the world.

    Whoever mentioned a growing right wing agenda above might be correct.

    A fetus in surgery is anaethetised. It can’t “reach” or “grasp” or silently communicate “I’m here and please don’t kill me”.

    Any doctor would know that and hence all of House’s reactions etc. exemplify the growing claptrap that permeates the series.

  10. Diane Kristine says:

    Immediately after that moment, House tried to cut the cord and kill it. Hardly a right-wing ideology. The image was therefore turned on its head.

    I think Suldog nailed it – people want to look at what was in the episode as black and white based on their own ideologies. Despite the positive outcome, the final conversation with House and Cuddy showed he was clearly in the right.

    And lovin’ it is right, not viable means it can’t live outside its mother yet. Ask any pregnant woman – a fetus can move. It would be anesthetized during surgery – in the famous photo, the hand flopped out, it’s not a deliberate grasp – but in the real world, a diagnostic expert would not be performing surgery and nurses would do many of the tasks the ducklings take on. Yup, the show cheats in the medicine, but calling it a right wing conspiracy is a little ludicrous.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, Deekay, for another spot-analysis of this show. Somehow David Shore succeeds each week in giving us a program that surpasses the previous one. In “Fetal Position,” whose themes included the power of visual imagery, after one year of contemplation House can finally picture Cuddy’s baby as a reality rather than a hormonally inspired abstraction. Her ferocious drive to save the photog’s baby were so extreme as to be scary for House and for us viewers, but this overwhelming emotionalism illogically results in a favorable outcome: House and Cuddy as mirror images of their usual selves. House also concludes that the turkey baster is not the right way for Cuddy’s baby who deserves to be conceived with affection and emotion. This year-long arc of House (abetted by Cuddy) in search of meaning is amazing and moving.

    Carol

  12. Elen says:

    With regards to the pictures, I had to shut up the little voice in my head, too. It’s funny, I can accept all sorts of huge medical inaccuracies, but the printed photographs I have trouble with! Whatever, brain.

    I wish we had gotten a little bit more background on House’s failed vacation. There seemed to be no presented reason for House ripping up the tickets. I can come up with a ton of them on my own, but it seemes rather abrupt.

    I love reading your reviews! They’re by far the most thoughtful and insightful I’ve seen.

  13. Suldog says:

    My own feeling was that House realizes that, wherever he goes outside of the USA, he’ll be subject to search and possible seizure of his drugs. Therefore, he won’t go. And all of the talk about going was just a cover so that he can sit at home, popping pills and whatever, and know for a fact that nobody will bother him.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Rightwingnutjobs? The same rightwingnutjobs that had a 42 year old single woman getting pregnant via a turkey baster and her gaymale friend?

    Right.

    One thing I really appreciate about HOUSE is that the show is not afraid to tackle controversial issues – like religion, sex, drug use, and abortion – and yet, it does not seem to come down on EITHER side definitively. Different characters share differing view points, and no one is necessarily “right” or “wrong”. The show allows for shades of grey – there are no simplistic answers – Gee, kind of like real life, huh?

    And even more shocking, even when they disagree the characters still manage to work together civilly and respectfully (Well, with the exception of House, but he’s House….)

    Imagine that…

    P.S. I much enjoy visiting your House reviews. I don’t feel I have really experiences an episode fully till I read what you have to say…

    Thanx

  15. Diane Kristine says:

    The same rightwingnutjobs that had a 42 year old single woman getting pregnant via a turkey baster and her gaymale friend?

    But whatever do you mean? Is that not the kind of family the “family values” people keep talking about?

  16. Anonymous says:

    Diane,
    Let me first say that I agree with the comment that watching the episode isn’t complete until I read your review. We pick apart every detail and line at work, but you ALWAYS see something we don’t.

    All of the medicine is based on fact, albeit sometimes exagerated, and no, House and the ducklings wouldn’t perform surgery or do many of the procedures they do. But, who watching wants to see somebody else do it?? It’s those particular characters we’re invested in. BTW, there are drugs that are given to mature the lungs of the unborn so they become viable faster.

    House never had any intention of going on a vacation.His “vacation” is being left alone in his misery. The ending left me very sad and sorry for House. The baby grabbing his finger left me exhilirated that it affected him so, and that he does indeed care. I can hardly wait to see where the rest of the season takes us. I hope, too, it’s not a cliffhanger.

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