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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

House: “The C-Word”

Illustration for article titled House: “The C-Word”
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There is one hard and fast rule about House: You put House and Wilson in an episode together, and it’s going to be good. I’m sure there are exceptions (maybe sometime in the dregs of season three when everything got really serious and dark and Wilson was convinced he had to gaslight House into sobriety or something), but as the show has gotten older, and as its plotines became increasingly wonky, House and Wilson basically made sense. Partly, this is the strength of the actors, as Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard are unquestionably the strongest performers on the series; partly it’s the way the show is smart enough to realize that some friendships build off of dysfunction in a surprisingly healthy way. And partly, it’s just because it’s fun to watch two guys hang out even when the rest of the world keeps letting them down.

Keeping all this in mind, it was reasonable to be optimistic (cautiously, of course) about this episode. Yes, the setup is ridiculous, and it betrays all the over-the-top silliness that the show has embraced in the last few years, depending on drama that is more about coincidence and bad luck than character. But with the setup out of the way, this was a chance to have House and Wilson hang out and get really sarcastic, then really dramatic, then kind of heartwarming with each other. At this point, so long as the writing is even barely adequate (which it was here), these guys are going to deliver. Thankfully, they did not disappoint, but if we’re going to talk about “The C-Word,” we’re going to talk about all of it, and that means dealing with the Little Girl Who’ll Die.

If the show ever needed an excuse to abandon the patient of the week format, Wilson’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent decision to go for some extreme treatment at House’s apartment would seem to be that excuse. Sadly, we still had to sit through Chase and the others fumbling to save lives, and it made an excellent case in point as to why this show really, really needs House around. It’s not just that Hugh Laurie is good at his job; it’s that House’s snarkiness helps to undercut the natural tendency of a medical series to go for the melodrama. It’s not enough that the patient is a 6-year-old girl (who is a complete sweetheart), or that she got sick while riding a carousel for the first time by herself. She has to have a genetic condition that practically guarantees she won’t live to see her 20th birthday. Even if the team can figure out what’s giving her nose bleeds and dizzy spells, she’s still doomed. In a better episode, maybe this would’ve made her case more poignant, emphasizing the fragility and beauty of life that has value even in brevity. Here, it was just another way to needle us. The various actors tried their best, but the story of a doctor mom who cares too much and a dad who wants his little girl to experience the joys of the world never gets past the “Are you crying yet? Now? How about now?” stage. There’s even a scene when Emily (the patient) asks if her parents will get back together when she dies. Yes, it’s heartbreaking, but it’s just too much manipulation, from characters we barely know, to be effective.

Worse, it distracted from the legitimately good part of the show: Wilson’s eXtreme cancer treatment. The writing here isn’t always great—Wilson’s hallucination of a dead boy he once treated makes it look he like did the world a favor by letting the Omen die young—and, again, the whole idea is basically ridiculous. But Leonard and Laurie sell it like nobody’s business. It’s great to see House being the reasonable one and Wilson being the idiot for once, and it’s great how you know right off as soon as Wilson says he wants the hardcore treatment, they’re going to do it at House’s place. The machinations that made all this happen don’t matter so much, and the realism of doing all this in an apartment over a couple of days also isn’t important. What works here, and works very well, are two guys who really have nothing left in the world but each other. Given how low the character was last week, “The C-Word” also gives House a very important chance to remind us how great he really is, between his resolute refusal to let Wilson go ahead with his treatment without making sure Wilson knows exactly what he’s in for (the speech he gives during their toast is great stuff), to his willingness to risk his license and his freedom to help a friend do something he completely believes is a bad idea. Once you get past his brilliance and gift for medical deduction, that might be House’s sole redeeming virtue: He’s the guy you call when no one else is left. And he’s also the guy who hires a pair of hookers, takes photographs of them frolicking with your unconscious body, and sets a compilation of those photos to Journey’s “Any Way You Want It.” If you ever get a potentially fatal illness, there are worse people to know.

Stray Observations:

  • For Those Who Care About Grading: “The C-Word” splits roughly down the middle. Half of it, the standard patient of the week half, tries too hard, and I’d give it a B-. It’s not the worst ever, and it makes enough sense to avoid being completely awful, but it’s sub-par. The other half, with House and Wilson, would be an A-, my standard, “I really enjoyed that, but I’m not quite sure it’s an A” grade. The B+ listed above isn’t an exact average, but I liked the House/Wilson scenes enough to nudge the whole hour up a few points.
  • Hugh Laurie’s silent acting in the oncologist’s office is hilarious.
  • Drunk Battleship: Is this a thing? This needs to be a thing.
  • Wow, that promo picture is a complete lie.