The first House episode in a month (thanks FOX, my withdrawal symptoms are starting to ease) was Tuesday's "Failure to Communicate," written by another newcomer to the writing credits, Doris Egan, who shows no signs of failure here.
While House and Stacy are away defending his Medicaid billings – a daunting task in scenes that show House's flair for digging his holes even deeper, and Stacy's flair for getting him out of them - journalist Fletcher Stone is admitted to Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in the absence of the teacher.
After passing out and hitting his head, Fletcher has started to speak like a random-word generator for spam subject lines, in sentences such as "Why disqualify the rush?" The "kids" take on the case, but the attempt by Foreman, Chase, and Cameron to work together towards a consensus diagnosis proves that maybe House's dictatorship is better than their sad attempt at democracy, and their tendency to be shockingly polite to patients demonstrates that maybe House's extreme methods work best given the extreme cases he takes.
This episode also has far more fun than the previous one with the concept of Foreman at the helm of the diagnostic department, part of House's punishment in "The Mistake". He antagonizes Cuddy like the mini-House he aspires to be ("House is easier" she says in exasperation at one point) and tries to herd the flock towards a more radical, if less likely, diagnosis that would better explain all of Fletcher's symptoms, just like House might do. He even orders them to break into the patient's house when all else fails. His shaky leadership, however, dissolves to the point where he admits to Chase that it's easier to be confident when House is around to overrule him.
Though Wilson and Cuddy get very little screentime, this is a rare episode where all the characters had at least a shade of depth added, whether it was Wilson being the shoulder to cry on for a woman who's not his wife, or Cameron's softness and slyness used to great advantage to crack the case.
The show has used the catchphrase "everybody lies" in what seems like every conceivable way, until they come up with ways I hadn't conceived. With suitably twisted cynicism, "Failure to Communicate" tests the hypothesis that the more Fletcher loves his wife, the more he's lied to cover up his failings ("That gives us another lie. He must be really devoted"). Of course unravelling those lies holds the key to his current condition. And even more of course, House is the master of unravelling lies, even if he has to do it by speaker phone in the deserted airport, retrieving a kid's lost ball to replace his favourite office toy/nervous energy releaser, and using Stacy's makeup on a wall in lieu of his beloved whiteboard.
The case itself is interesting enough to hold the show together, with the episode beautifully balancing the patient's story with the House-Stacy relationship, which in previous shows has sometimes been oddly in the far background, sometimes overwhelmed the medical story.
Stacy and House had already reached an uneasy detente in their relationship, having previously admitted their feelings and the difficulty of working together. Now, trapped in the Baltimore airport during a snowstorm, when he isn't fielding phone calls from his proteges or Wilson about the case, House turns his detective skills on the people around him, including the mystery of Stacy's missing cross pendant. "It's an anomaly. Anomalies bug me," he explains his curiosity to her.
But he's not malicious, he's - I can't believe I'm typing this - almost nice. And she finally cracks, because she's actually bursting to confide in him. She had a fight over nothing with her husband, Mark, left the house without it, and is certain he is pushing her away – symptoms she recognizes from her failed relationship with House. And there House is again with the niceness. It's spooky. And yet, he's still cranky and caustic House. It's beautiful.
When their flights are even further delayed, she is nice enough to invite him to the hotel room she booked in case of that eventuality ("Mark knows when things are bad I always like to have an escape route planned"). Between the lines of much of House and Stacy's dialogue is the subtext of their desire to be together, but he finally raises it to the surface by asking what her intentions are (but in a much less Southern-belle-demanding-a-proposal kind of way). This leads to her absolutely hilarious and also a little heartbreaking diatribe on how her attraction to him is like Vindaloo curry. There's no way I can do justice to it by paraphrasing, so just trust me, it works. And just when she's admitted she misses curry, we – and they – finally get the kiss we've been expecting since Sela Ward joined the show as a guest star.
In the same review where I say that House is "nice," I have to say it: House is sweet here. No, I mean it. Really, I'm not being sarcastic. He's sweet, and it's a sweet kiss, with some passion and longing and mutual respect. And then the phone rings, and it's back to work for House, and back to craving curry for Stacy.
As he sits in that deserted airport, bouncing his ball, staring at his white wall, with Stacy keeping him company and eventually fending off the security guard who is going to force him to board the plane, the phone conversation House has with the patient holds shades of a conversation he and Stacy should be having. Fletcher tried to reform for his new wife. He quit drinking, quit recreational drugs, and – the key to solving the case – had experimental brain surgery to try to cure the bipolar disorder he hid from everyone because when he met his wife, he "wanted that life." The camera cuts from House saying those words, to a shot of Stacy watching him say those words. "And all you had to do is change who you are."
Fletcher, it turns out, has cerebral malaria from his trip to a third world country for the unproven surgery. House, it turns out, is still the man Stacy broke up with. "Give her time to miss you," Fletcher's editor comforts him after his wife leaves, in words that echo Stacy's and, since we've learned that the missing isn't enough, are therefore a satisfyingly melancholy ending to both the patient and romantic plots of the episode.
Here's your interesting House factoid of the day: It's in the running – one of five nominees announced today - for best drama in the NAACP Image Awards, which "celebrate the outstanding achievements and performances of people of colour in literature, television, motion pictures and recording arts." In celebration, House made no deliberately over-the-top racist remarks to Foreman this entire episode. Damn. I bet I could have got a good joke out of it, somehow.
American Idol takes over the airwaves for the next couple of week, so look for the next new episode of House on [sad edit:] Feb. 7.
(Cross posted to Blogcritics)