(Spoilers for the episode that aired Nov. 7)
An episode title taken from a Doris Day song allows me a moment to reflect on the ways in which Dr. House and the singing actress are similar. Um, they're both carbon-based life forms. Except strictly speaking, I guess the fictional House isn't, though it's safe to assume his portrayer, Hugh Laurie, is. Yeah, it's a tenuous connection, but it's all I've got. In "Que Sera Sera," House and his patient of the week obstinately stick to the philosophy that whatever will be, will be, and turn it into something just a little less sunny than Day's tone would suggest.
Pruitt Taylor Vince is George, a 600 pound man who lapses into a coma and, when he mysteriously revives a couple of days later, insists that whatever is wrong with him has nothing to do with his weight. All the tests seem to indicate he's right - at least, the ones the team can feasibly do on a man whose weight prevents him from being put in a CT scanner, causes him to break the MRI machine's table, and makes him unable to undergo a lumbar puncture.
Vince faces a nearly insurmountable acting challenge with his face nearly obliterated by the fat suit, and with a symptom of twitchy eyes that even take those away as a clear form of expression. Still, he manages to give George a sense of dignity and humour that charms Cameron. Of course, Cameron is charmed by the uncharming Dr. House, too, but George is an instantly likable guy who knows his flaws and refuses to apologize for them, or be defined by them. It's that first and last part where he distinguishes himself from House.
After spending a night in jail as a result of his encounter with David Morse's Detective Tritter, House shows up to work later than usual, and even more disheveled than usual - yes, apparently it's possible. He sends his team off to run tests after he declares he's run out of clever names to call George. Yeah, it takes a sharp mind to call a fat guy a hippopotamus and Shamu. A night in jail has dulled House's insulting wit.
He's even mean to Chase with no apparent punchline. Early on, House tells him to sit on his ass while the others perform diagnostic tests, and that's the last we see of him. Next week's patient of the week: the inexplicably invisible intensivist? I've been puzzling lately over why Chase gets so little to do in most episodes - not that I really want more of him - but this one is particularly puzzling.
Before pulling a disappearing act, Chase demonstrates some character consistency by being as much of a fat-o-phobe as he was in season one's "Heavy." "Did you get beat up by a gang of fat kids when you were in grade school or something?" Foreman asks when Chase gets nasty over George's weight.
After seeing his tasteful apartment full of books and musical paraphernalia, Cameron begins to see the parallels between George and House. When a neighbour points out that a revolving door of young, attractive women visit George, adding "there can't be many women who want to be with a guy like him" - translation, they're prostitutes - Cameron gets that contemplative look on her face that says that's made her think about House's inappropriate comments about hookers, and her inappropriate crush on him ... which is shared by several female characters who have appeared on the show, and at least 90 percent of those who watch it. But "Cameron sees a clump of dirt and thinks of me," House scoffs, and I laugh and nod and try my best not to ponder over a clump of dirt.
Cameron not only has compassion for George, she acts as his advocate when she's reminded that they can't do the MRI he needs because of the machine's weight limit.
Cameron: "He still deserves the same standard of care as anyone else."
Foreman: "And you believe the machine is going to act on principle?"
Cameron demonstrates some consistent inconsistency and shows how far gone House is when this selectively ethical woman is his ethical nemesis. In order to force George to stay in the hospital when he wants to check out against medical advice, she slips him some tranquilizers, making him crash through a plate glass window along with the one-sixth-his-size Cameron. After she confesses while nursing a sore and cut arm, House says "Nice audible, Peyton." Her face nearly audibly says "I hate sports metaphors," as do I. I guess that means he approves of her methods?
It's a quibble, but while patients usually reflect some aspect of House's personality, or his thoughts on an issue, this seems a little close to another episode where overt connections were made between patient's personality and House's. Where the easy parallel might have been to draw the connection between what people do to insulate themselves from others, whether it's layers of fat or layers of misanthropy and pills, House doesn't draw the easy line here. George and House may both be in denial about what their deeper issues are - or whether they even have deeper issues - and they may have impressive abilities to rationalize their actions. George likes to eat and cook, therefore he's morbidly overweight. House's leg hurts, therefore he needs a boatload of Vicodin stashed away.
However, the heart of "Que Sera Sera" is George's philosophy that his actions have no foreseeable consequences, and that the consequences he does face are not directly attributable to his own actions. He thinks he's not self destructive. George knows he overeats, but he refuses to consider that's why he's sick, and thinks he's no more at risk than people who skydive. Besides, better a heart attack while enjoying a gourmet meal than one on a running track to nowhere. Whatever will be, will be.
George seems to be vindicated. He might be at vastly greater risk for diabetes, heart disease, and a number of other obesity-related illnesses, but he's dying of lung cancer, though he's never smoked. House has a difficult time reaching that diagnosis, though, because it wouldn't be House if it were that simple, and because the doctor actually does believe that causes have effects. At least, for others.
Both House and George are, as Wilson diagnoses, "selectively rational." House doesn't share George's philosophy, and tries to reason him out of it, but he doesn't subject his own actions to the same scrutiny. Whether he believes in the philosophy or not, he's living it.
House is as cooperative with legal system as the noncompliant George is with the medical system, refusing to believe that he's in any serious trouble, refusing to believe his prescription forging, pill-popping, cop-pissing-off ways could have those consequences.
The more Tritter pokes at House, the more stubborn House gets. And the more House digs his heels in, the more stubborn Tritter gets. One of them has a rectal thermometer. One of them has a gun and a search warrant.
At Cuddy's nearly sympathetic urging, House finally hires the most tactful lawyer ever, who encourages him to consider a plea bargain: "I'm beginning to think your particular charms may not be immediately apparent to a jury."
It's not only House who's in serious trouble, though. Tritter confronts Wilson with a boatload of Vicodin prescriptions, including a couple where the signature looks suspiciously like House's scrawl. House's only friend again proves his devotion by claiming he sometimes gets bored and signs his name differently. Oh, Wilson. Lying to a cop is bad enough. Lying badly to a cop is worse. Lying badly to a scary cop is as bad as it gets.
Tritter has House's number, no question: "What an unprofessional, unethical, arrogant ass you are." Well sure, but he's funny. And sad. And he protected Cuddy after slipping up and revealing that she's trying in vitro fertilization. That's nice, right? And he's House. You gotta love him, even when he doesn't quite deserve it.
I was a little wary to hear Morse was joining the show for an extended story arc, after being burned by the Vogler arc and feeling up and down on the the Stacy arc. For me, the show excels with its more self-contained episodes and doses of regular character revelations. Maybe because he's quite possibly just as insane as House, but Tritter has me hooked so far. Obviously I know House isn't going to get thrown in jail or have his medical license revoked for any extended period of time, unless this is the beginning of the spinoff: House, Ex-MD. But this the first time I've been on the edge of my seat, thinking, man, House is screwed.
He's done more than enough to cause the worst possible effects in his life, by forging prescriptions, recklessly popping pills, toying with patients, and pissing off a cop. Yet I don't want him to have to pay the consequences, and not just because it would turn the show into that spinoff. Whether House admits it or not, we know his actions aren't always completely rational and that there's some emotional demons causing them.
Cameron knows that too, which explains her dogged determination to find the softer side of House. This episode gives the impression that while the writers seem to hate Chase, they love Cameron. She gets another layer of mystery added to her tragic and layered past. To explain her empathy for George, House believes she must have had a relative who was obese, or that she herself once was. "I like damaged people, remember. That explains everything I do," she mocks, before telling him nothing's ever that simple, and leaving the mystery - if there's an answer beyond simply compassion - unsolved.
House tries to end on a sunny, if not Doris-Day-like note, assuring her that his legal problems are taken care of. He seems to believe it himself. After all, he doesn't know Tritter is suspicious of the forged prescriptions, and his arrogance and perception probably let him know Wilson would lie for him.
"Good. You get to keep going the way you always do," she says as a double-edged congratulations. And whatever will be, will be.
I'm sure we'll find out more of whatever that is on the next episode, Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 9 p.m.