House Watch: Who’s the Rat?

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Last night’s House M.D. set up a potential way to end the series next month, although one I suspect would enrage fans. More below, but an unusually strong spoiler alert: Watch “Blowing the Whistle” before reading on.

First, the real spoiler: This episode was my least favorite of the season and one of the worst-written episodes in the series. Loose ends were left untied, the Team conspiracy idea has been done at least once before, and the plot was ragged and confusing.

A brief recap: The Case this week was based on the story of PFC Bradley Manning, the young soldier who uploaded a gazillion military secrets, making him a hero to some.

The Manning stand-in, Brant Macklin—get the initials?—has uploaded top-secret video of a U.S. Army massacre of Afghani civilians. The military police take him into custody, but he suffers seizures.

At the first DDX, House seems unsteady to Adams, who thinks that years of Vicodin abuse have ruined his liver, leading to a brain dysfunction called hepatic encephalopathy. Her evidence is…virtually nonexistent in the scene. So Taub pushes back with a joke: “Right, I’m thinking either massive brain tumor. Or his soap got cancelled, and he’s distracted.”

In Macklin’s room, Adams offers the First Diagnosis: blood clots that formed in Macklin’s one of his legs on the long flight home.

While they wait to see if the diagnosis is correct, Park takes the opportunity to criticize Macklin for uploading the video, which has apparently inspired many to join the insurgency. Macklin argues that his father taught him never to follow rules blindly—a point that his brother disputes. We learn later that the father was an alcoholic who died in a drunk-driving incident, although I was confused about how that refuted Macklin’s point.

The only interesting scene in the episode was a House-Wilson exchange that’s worth repeating at some length both because it was funny and because it’s emblematic of their relationship:

Wilson: “I think you’re sick.”

House: “What because I’m sleeping in the clinic, like I always do?”

(Wilson then throws a bottle of Vicodin at House, who misses the catch.)

Wilson: “Slow reaction time.”

House: “Because I just woke up from sleeping in the clinic, like I always do.”

Wilson: “You’re forgetful.”

House: “Sorry, what did you say?”

Wilson: “You forgot that we were supposed to have lunch.”

House: “I didn’t forget. I was sleeping, in the clinic—“

Wilson: “—I’d like to run some tests.”

House: “For what? Where’s this coming from?”

Wilson: “Hepatic encephalopothy.”

House, who loves exotic diagnoses explaining routine symptoms, is silent for a change. Wilson goes on: “I’ve watched you destroy your body with Vicodin for years. I’m surprised your liver has lasted this long. I’ll do the examination myself.”

House comes back with a typical bit of indirection: “While having you juggle my jewels sounds interesting, there’s no such thing as friends with benefits. It always gets weird.”

Shockingly, it turns out House faked his symptoms in order to see which Team member would “rat” out his apparent illness to Foreman. (Turns out to be Chase, who has betrayed House before—to Cuddy a couple of years ago.)

The word “rat” leads to the A-Ha Moment: Macklin got rat lice in Afghanistan when he visited poor villagers. The lice gave him (Final Diagnosis) typhus. House says the typhus might explain what he sees as a psychiatric problem: releasing the videos.

Clearly the writers themselves are distracted by the massive task of bringing the series to a close. “Blowing the Whistle” did offer an intriguing idea for ending the series: kill House with liver disease so that the show doesn’t seem to endorse opioid usage.

The show has always had to tread a line between letting House be House—Vicodin, motorcycle, bad-ass humor and all—and showing the medical reality that no one could function for so many years with such a raging addiction to opioids. True, House has been to rehab and prison, and he even stopped taking Vicodin for a time. And yet the writers will have to thread a needle to close the series: if they kill off or even diminish House, fans will howl. But if they show him in the final scene merely sitting at his desk and throwing that rubber ball against his wall, what—if anything—has his character taught us besides a lot of funny jokes?