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House Recap: ‘The C-Word’ (Season 8, Episode 19)

Posted By Holly Hunt On May 1, 2012 @ 9:43 am In Movies & TV,Television | 4 Comments

Six-year-old Nell is being treated as her physician-mother looks on.
©2012 Fox Broadcasting Co.

That wasn’t as bad as I feared. Wilson’s alive (for now) and it looks like next week he buys himself a shiny red corvette. The other patient of the week is a little girl with a genetic disorder that will eventually kill her, and while the team can’t fix that, they do cure her current illness, and her feuding parents are able to make at least a temporary peace. All in all, this was a sweet – at times almost saccharine – and fairly low-key episode, not the grim horror I feared. If you saw Wilson suffering in the previews, you’ve pretty much seen the worst.

The opening sequence made me worry that the show’s creators had declared all-out war on the audience’s heartstrings. Not only does it feature a cute 6-year-old girl with a fatal illness, it actually takes place on a merry-go-round. Dad and daughter are at the park, and he gives in to her pleas to ride the merry-go-round by herself, if she promises not to tell her mother. The over-protectiveness cues us in that not all is right; not only does Wilson have cancer, our patient of the week is Little Nell [1]. As Dad films her on the merry-go-round, she develops a bloody nose, then disappears from sight.

OK, nobody’s watching (or reading about) this episode for the little girl and her screwed up genes. And as soon as the credits are over, we find Wilson waiting to meet with his oncologist. House joins him, explaining that since Wilson always showed up when House insisted on being left alone, he’s now doing the same for Wilson. He’s taken some time off to support Wilson, and the team will have to deal with the patient on their own. Wilson immediately sets about proving that doctors do, in fact, make the worst patients, interrupting and dominating the doctor, demanding the most aggressive course of treatment available, and walking out in search of “a doctor with balls” when the doctor hesitates.

The team’s having their own experience along these lines – the medical expert who is sitting in on the case is also the girl’s mother, apparently because she’s on “Eric” terms with Foreman. Mom is deeply freaked out that her daughter was allowed on a merry-go-round. She and the girl’s father have split up, largely due to tensions over the girl’s illness, as we learn when Mom blames the girl’s latest crisis on heavy-metal poisoning picked up in Dad’s run-down apartment. The little girl’s familiarity with hospitals shows when Adams lamely explains that MRI stands for “Magic Really-Cool Images,” and the girl promptly corrects her. Just how familiar the girl is with medical procedures is revealed when Chase decides to check out Mom’s home first – she has a medical lab in the basement with a fridge full of an experimental drug and play area for the girl nearby.

For what may be the last time, someone says it could be lupus.

Back to House and Wilson. House finds Wilson in his (Wilson’s) office, complaining of a headache. House says that they don’t have to have sex, sometimes it’s just nice to cuddle. And I think that line works because it’s not just a shout out to fans’ fantasies, but also the way House would actually talk about this relationship. (Note – the headache probably has something to do with the shots they did the night before.) Wilson is adamant about pursuing the most aggressive form of chemotherapy, even though House points out that it has about a one in three chance of killing him. This really freaks me out – while I am fortunate to have had very little experience of anything cancer-related, I’m actually as much or more afraid of the treatments as I am of the disease.

But Wilson is determined to destroy the village in order to save it, and he’s obtained the necessary drugs, and stockpiled supplies. He answers House’s arguments by showing him the souvenirs he’s kept to remind himself of patients he’s lost, while reciting the allegedly hopeful recovery statistics for each form of cancer. He’s determined not to die slowly in a hospital. House tells him he’s an idiot, but if he’s going to do this, they’ll do it at House’s place.

Before we get there, we see Adams and Chase with Foreman, confronting Mom with the experimental drug. She says she tested it on herself before dosing her daughter, and she’s kept up with all the research. Foreman points out that drug trials contain more than one person for a reason, and that the researcher who was about to publish has cancelled because it seemed the drug was causing renal failure in rats.

Which actually works quite well as a segue, raising the issues of home treatments born of desperation, and the dangers of even helpful drugs. Wilson and House toast Wilson’s chemotherapy with martinis, as jazz so vintage it may actually be ragtime plays on House’s stereo. He’s also made soup. Wilson has something to tell him. “If it’s that you’re secretly gay for me, everyone’s always assumed that,” replies House. No, Wilson is just grateful House is taking this risk while still on parole. House explains that he’s scouted out places to dump the body “if all this goes south.” “I’ve always enjoyed Trinity Park,” notes Wilson. And the gallows humor here works for me. Wilson notes he always expected it would be his wife or kids with him in a situation like this. House: “Are they holding the life support cord or thumbing through your will?” As the drugs kick in, House serves up a syringe full of morphine, and changes the jazz to a classic Afro-Cuban beat.

We spend some time back at the hospital watching the parents fight over the girl, then come back to Wilson waking up, sick and disoriented, to find a boy with a vaguely familiar face watching him intently. The robot in the boy’s hand identifies him as the thyroid cancer patient who died at eight after Wilson assured him and his family the disease had a 96% survival rate. It’s a classic little horror-movie sequence, ending with the boy turning into House as Wilson’s hallucination fades.

Back at the hospital, the mother finally excuses herself from the case, and everyone thinks it’s Lyme disease. If Mom was upset about the merry-go-round, wait until she hears about the trip into the woods.

House is out of morphine, but is willing to share his Vicodin. He claims to have plenty on hand, but out of sight of Wilson, he counts out the remaining capsules and switches to bourbon. In the depths of his pain and humiliation (adult diapers are mentioned, but I won’t go into that), Wilson starts raging against the universe. If he’d known this would happen to him, he’d have been like House – a misanthropic ass who brings pain into the lives of all around him. Wilson brings some pain into House’s life with that line, judging by his expression. It gets worse. If he’d been like House, he’d have known he deserved this. Ouch. But that’s one of things that I’ve loved about this show – its willingness to show the damage people do to each other unawares. House, at least, is aware of what he does.

At the hospital, Chase seems to have emerged as the team’s leader, and he gets this week’s lightbulb moment, realizing that the girl has a tumor in her heart. He even gets to explain it in voiceover as we get computer-animated corpuscles swooshing by for what may be the last time. Again, do we get the animated body-cam when the diagnosis is especially interesting, or when there’s time to fill?

In House’s apartment, the camera lingers on Wilson’s deathly-pale arm until we finally see his fingers twitching. House wakes up and gets him a glass of water. Wilson awkwardly raises the subject of things he may have said the night before. House tells him to “turn the bromance down a few notches” and assures Wilson he stopped listening after Wilson confessed his fear of dolphins. Wilson wonders if he’s now experienced the kind of pain House lives with all the time.

A short time later, we see them stepping off the elevator at Princeton-Plainsboro, looking fairly normal, parting with a vague promise to meet for lunch. But, alone in his office, Wilson opens his laptop and the strains of Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” fill the room. House has created a slideshow depicting the unconscious and/or delirious Wilson dressed in funny outfits (leis, sunglasses, a sombrero), posed with House and two hookers in bikinis. Which for once is really, really, sweet.

Nicely done, I thought. House’s deep concern for Wilson, and his willingness to act as his friend’s caretaker for once, came through without being over the top, or occasioning any massive transformation of House’s character. It showed he has it in him to be caring, but that doesn’t mean he’s suddenly going to be that way all the time. And morphine, jazz, and gallows humor are exactly what House would use to express that caring. I also always like seeing Wilson’s carefully hidden dark side. As someone who’s temperamentally more like House, I’m always intrigued to see what’s really going on in the minds of apparent saints.

Next week, a Corvette, and a guy who wants to cut his own head open.


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[1] Little Nell: http://victoriancalendar.blogspot.com/2011/01/february-6-1841-death-of-little-nell.html