This week House treats a precocious 16-year-old boy who wants to be a clown, which is fitting because House is nothing if not a clown with advanced skills. More below, but first a spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen this week’s episode, “Parents,” remove your ankle bracelet and then watch before reading on.
“Parents” is the first episode in a while to return us to the complex territory of how a boy named Gregory ended up as the addicted, acerbic, talented anti-hero we know as House. House M.D. writers have always treaded carefully around this subject matter, presumably because they didn’t have an end date for the show and so couldn’t give away the secrets of his personality too soon. But now, during season eight–and how many more seasons could there be?–we see House grappling again with an upbringing that he considers to be a complete failure. All parents screw up all kids, he says over and over during the episode.
Frustratingly, we don’t hear more than generalities about how he, in particular, was screwed up. What we know from previous episodes is that House was the product of an affair between his mother and a minister. His mother’s husband, John House, was a distant military man who carted his family around from one Marine post to the next (which partly explains House’s multilingualism).
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The vehicle for House’s sorta-disclosures this week is the Patient, Ben, who presents with a clean tox screen but—the first House-endorsed diagnosis, from Taub—possible endocarditis. House orders an echo to confirm.
Meantime, this week’s House-Wilson subplot involves a boxing match they want to see in Atlantic City. Because House is still wearing an ankle bracelet, he can’t go. The episode finds some comedy in his various attempts to find a way around the bracelet. He hires a classified-ad electrician to remove the device—which fails. He also tries to fool Foreman into allowing him to speak at an Atlantic City medical conference—which also fails. And he tries to remove the bracelet himself (again, he fails).
Back to the DDX: Ben’s immune system is going wild, and Adams thinks Sjögren’s syndrome might be the cause. But a new symptom appears: Ben starts bleeding from his nose and mouth. Taub diagnoses disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC, a common disorder on the show), but House settles—as he often does—on paraneoplastic syndrome, an array of disorders triggered by a faulty immune-system response to cancer. In this case, House thinks Ben has paraneoplastic anemia, which would require a bone-marrow transplant.
Back in his office, House and Adams continue to build a relationship that looks almost precisely like the one between House and 13 (Olivia Wilde). He tries to extract details of Adams’ private life, and she evades—until she doesn’t. The difference between 13 and Adams is that the latter isn’t a terminal patient and a bisexual but a fairly ordinary (and, um, boring?) character. We discover that her parents are not only wealthy and decent but that her infatuation with bad people like House—and her job as a prison doctor—were simply forms of youthful rebellion. As a kid, she had friends with real troubles, and she got jealous of their authenticity. So she manufactured her own crisis by running away from home. House’s diagnosis: “It’s normal to be screwed up. It’s really screwed up to romanticize it.”
As Ben continues to decline, his parents have their own admissions: his biological father never had fatal melanoma, as we were told early in the episode. Instead he was a drunk who now lives under an assumed name. It turns out that Ben also has a symptom you would expect in those with alcohol dependence—liver failure. When the biological father shows up with a limp, House gets the A-Ha Moment: the dad has late-stage syphilis, which can damage the joints (and cause a cascade of other problems). In front of everyone, House accuses the father of sexually abusing Ben years before—thereby transmitting the syphilis—and when the father doesn’t deny it, House offers our Final Diagnosis: Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction. It’s treatable, which means Ben will be fine—”apart from the whole daddy-rape thing,” as House says.
I liked “Parents” fine—it was another B-minus episode—but I find myself wishing that Foreman, Wilson and Taub don’t all have to play fools against House. I want to fast-forward through almost all the Foreman scenes; Omar Epps just can’t pull off the boss role. For this season to work, House is going to need a stronger opponent than Adams.
Please comment below and correct any of my misdiagnoses. Thanks, and see you next week.