House Watch: Please, Please Bring Back the Old Team

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I’ve been watching House M.D. since it first aired in 2004, and I can safely say that last night’s “Risky Business” was a steaming pile of place holding. Or that the writers were dulled by Vicodin. Whatever the case, the episode proved that, as fantastic an actor as Hugh Laurie is, he alone cannot carry the show. We need the old Team back. Please.

More grumbling ahead, but first a SPOILER ALERT: If you missed “Risky Business,” I’ll stop you with my cane if you try to read on.

Here’s the problem: Park was a cute addition to the first few episodes, and Charlyne Yi seems to be growing as an actress. But whether it’s her ridiculous haircut or—sorry to be House-like—her weird, lisp-ish voice, she is starting to grate. Adams (Odette Annable) is better—she works well as the pretty foil that House always wants and needs. But it’s difficult not to see her as just another Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) or 13 (Olivia Wilde, whom you can see, if you are supremely bored, in the middling film In Time; she plays Justin Timberlake’s mother, which I would explain if it wouldn’t put you to sleep by the end of this sentence).

A quicker-than-usual recap for a worse-than-usual episode: Patient this week is Thad Barton, a CEO who is about to fire a bunch of Americans by moving his operations to China. Disgruntled employees have vandalized his yard–a stuffed version of Barton hangs in effigy from one of his lovely trees—but when his daughter stops by, he shows his first symptom: binocular vision. His daughter, who is within an arm’s reach, seems many yards away.

It’s not a hugely interesting case (a major flaw in a show that relies on titillating cases to keep its procedural mojo flowing), and House takes it mostly because Barton is rich. If he saves Barton’s life, House reasons, Patient will re-fund the diagnostics department at PPTH, and we can finally get the Team back. This is an awful idea for an episode for at least two reasons: the case turns out to be complicated but ultimately dull, and it’s only a vehicle to get to a place we know we’re already headed: House back in power.

The show moves briskly to a staggering array of diagnostic possibilities (very briskly: the Massive Attack intro is missing again). Park starts with Japanese encephalitis virus (Barton has spent a lot of time in Asia preparing to move the company), but House points out that Barton has been vaccinated.

Park then offers central serous choroidopathy, which causes fluid to build up under the retina. The disease affects middle-aged men more often than other populations and can cause objects to look farther away—or closer—than they really are. Which is exactly what happens to Barton: his binocular vision reverses so that everything seems huge. Central serous choroidopathy sounds perfect, but House (and House M.D. writers) always wants something weird, so he suggests Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, which is actually a real disease that causes the same kinds of visual misperceptions.

Having “diagnosed” Barton–never mind that it’s way too early in the ep for Alice in Wonderland Syndrome to be correct—House then hits up Barton for money. House threatens to put Barton in a mental institution if he doesn’t pony up. He tells Barton—in Mandarin (I’m sorry, when did House learn to speak Mandarin—and why??)—that the Chinese won’t do business with someone who had been institutionalized because of the pervasive stigma against mental illness in China.

A side plot continues the now completely overblown saga of Park’s disciplinary hearing for slugging her boss, chief neurologist Mark Andrews, who either grabbed or slapped her ass. It turns out that Andrews not only touched her inappropriately but had been drinking before going to the hospital. So, I’m sorry, there was simply no way Park was going to be fired at her hearing. House ensures she will stay by urging the board to fire her—everyone on the board hates him, as Foreman points out, so they will naturally do the opposite of what he recommends. So he did something nice, sort of. But the stakes were so low that the whole plot line seemed like wasted time. We get it: House likes to screw with his Team to the point that they go nuts, but he usually protects them from others who threaten them.

After Barton starts puking blood, House, Adams and Park have a DDX in Foreman’s immaculate gray-green office. Adams says an angiographic exam has shown bleeding in Barton’s heart. Park suggests Factor V Leiden deficiency, which could explain blood from Barton’s mouth. Just then, Foreman walks in and kicks them out. He also rips up the check Barton wrote for House’s department because Barton gave the money only under duress.

There’s more diagnostic back-and-forth. Barton starts itching and then stops. Is that a symptom? We never really find out. We do learn that Barton’s wife died a few months before of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but Adams suggests that Non-Hodgkin’s could have been wrong. Maybe the lymphoma was really caused by a sexually transmitted virus called HTLV 1. House orders radiation to treat and then goes off to clinic duty.

And finally, in the clinic, we get one truly funny scene and the only Halloween reference on a Halloween-night episode: a man has come dressed as Cheng and Eng, the first conjoined twins to be called “Siamese” twins. The clinic Patient has become stuck (presumably with super glue) to the mannequin he used for the costume. Dripping with sarcasm as he cuts away the mannequin, House says, “The best Halloween costumes are always the ones that need an explanation.” (I laughed out loud at this line even though I went dressed this year in a bow tie, top hat and suspenders that had fake money stuffed in them. A card on my hat said “1%.” Get it?)

To wrap things up: House connives to get Park to disobey an order he knows is wrong so that she will learn to stand up for herself. Her “mistake”—she puts Barton through a tilt-table test—puts the Patient in a coma, but that’s exactly where House wanted him, so that he could rule out a spinal-cord problem and prove that the wiring between Barton’s brain and his heart are faulty.

House also has some confrontations with a guy in the orthopedics department, which is still occupying House’s conference room. At one point, the ortho guy plaster-casts pretty much every one of House’s office items, which makes for a funny visual. When House goes to slug ortho doc, he has the A-Ha moment: he sees an X-ray showing what I think was a hip-replacement device. You can need one of those when you get rheumatoid arthritis, which in rare cases can cause—Final Diagnosis—hyper viscosity syndrome, which House explains this way: “Your blood was getting thick and syrupy. Complexes of large, Y-shaped antibodies were clotting your blood vessels, causing your organs to shut down one by one.”

I think I actually yawned at this point. Couldn’t it have been Alice in Wonderland Syndrome?

Barton is thankful, though, and he gives House the money. And finally–SORT OF MAJOR SPOILER ALERT FOLLOWS–we get to see Chase and Taub next week. For my part, I can’t wait. The final scene tonight had Adams smashing up the ortho department with a bat that House provides. It turns out she was recently divorced from a cheating husband. House loves for his Team to show their anger because anger and pain are the only emotions he is skilled at feeling. I get that. But I’ve also known that for years. What are they going to do about my anger and hurt? My diagnosis of “Risky Business”: D-minus. I would say F if it weren’t for the 20-sec. Cheng and Eng scene. Anyway, see you next week.