As anyone who's ever found themselves on the wrong side of a stereotype can tell you, gender roles kind of suck. Don't like sports? You're not a real man. Don't like dolls? You're not much of a girl. Get born with XX and XY chromosomes? Um, ew. We've had sexually ambidextrous patients on House before, but "The Softer Side" adds a new twist: the PotW's parents had to choose whether he would be a boy or a girl at birth, and when Jackson enters into the care of House and the New Coke Players, he still doesn't know he's a shemale. In addition to figuring out what's giving him pelvic pains, the team is also tasked with keeping his identity on the down-low; given House's sensitivity in the past, this shouldn't cause any problems at all.

Weirdly enough, it does, but those problems have nothing to do with House's usual bluntness. Something's got the world's grumpiest doctor in a good mood, and as his friends know, that something is probably going to be pretty horrible. As we go through the usual trials and tribulations trying to figure out what's got "Little Boy George" down (funny how the next symptom always hits when the PotW is undergoing a test, even if that symptom has nothing to do with the test being given), we also get to watch Wilson and Cuddy figuring out that House is a little too chipper to be trusted. Putting House on the sidelines has been standard-operating-practice this season, so it's nice to have him back as a focal point; his supposed happiness seems less like a good mood than a depressive state, but it's something, at least.

Given the tricky relationship between Jackson and his parents, it's inevitable that somebody on the team screw things up. Since House isn't available (and given his proclivities, I could see him bringing the snark but not getting self-righteous about it), 13 steps up to the plate, to bring her usual sensitivity and tact to a delicate situation. Admittedly, Jackson's parents are messed up; stuck in a hard spot, his mom is terrified they made the wrong choice by making him a "him," forcing him into basketball and refusing to let him take dance lessons because, apparently, this would mean he was a big ole girl deep down. But 13's actions are selfish and unconscionable, as is her wont. After finding a depressing poem in the kid's room, she decides she has to force Mom and Dad to come clean on the charade—apparently forgetting that a.) two-thirds of all poetry is depressing regardless of the poet's mental state and b.) the PotW is a teenager, for god's sake. It would be more worrying if she hadn't found some proof of self-absorbed mopery. That it all turns out to be an English assignment is just icing on the stupid, stupid cake.

But what about House going all normal? The team tries out various hypotheses before Wilson and Foreman arrive independently at heroin. Wilson tries a test on House, House figures it out and gets annoyed, but the truth is still revealed; he's on methdone, not heroin, and he's currently pain free. Wilson and Cuddy freak out, and Cuddy lays down an ultimatum—either he quits the drug, or he leaves Plainsboro. He leaves. When Wilson visits him the next day, he finds a shaved (?!), nicely dressed House preparing to do a bit of job-hunting. This leads to a scene a long time coming, where Wilson and Cuddy finally start to question their obsessing meddling in House's life. Concern from your friends is one thing; having them treat you like a child who needs constant tending is another thing entirely. Which is why Cuddy hands House a list of "requirements" when he drops by for a letter of recommendation—she's willing to keep around, still on the methadone, if that's what he needs to live his life.

I liked this episode, probably more than I should have, since nearly everything felt like a slightly-less effective repeat of things we've already seen. Stiil, I liked it that Kutner and Taub figured out Foreman and 13 hadn't broken up—it was funny that they decided to screw around and even bet on the relationship. (I really liked Taub's imitation of Foreman.) I liked the ambiguity of Jackson and the choices his parents had made, even if 13 was as annoying as we've come to expect from her. That the parents' over-protectiveness led to the kid's health problems was a decent twist; he was brought to the hospital suffering from dehydration aggravated by the energy drinks he'd been downing, and if it hadn't been for the MRI Mom and Dad demanded, he would've been just fine. I also liked that for the first time in a while, House's general disengagement with everything around him had an actual explanation. Ever since Amber's death, House has been trying to puzzle through how he should live his life; if the writing this season had been stronger, this could've been powerful stuff, but what we've generally been getting is Hugh Laurie looking pensive and distracted, and then half-flirting with Cuddy every other ep. The methadone at least made sense as a step forward.

This is House, though, so the backwards stepping has to hit before the end credits. House decides he can't be on methadone because it makes him less of a doctor; if he'd been his usual cranky self, he never would've gone for the MRI, regardless of what the parents wanted. So it's the model we always get—House can't change because if he changes, he'd lose what makes him House, even though everyone around him really thinks it's a swell idea. Honestly, if anything we'd seen House do in "Side" had approached real happiness, I'd agree with Cuddy—but all I saw was a guy too dull to do anything but go through the motions. Just shaving and wearing a tie doesn't mean you're okay, and it's a little ridiculous that the two people closest to House aren't smart enough to realize it.

Grade: B

Stray Observations:

  • House on the patient: "Part girl, part boy. All 13's dream date."
  • It would've been nice if somebody had bothered to tell Jackson that it's possible to like dancing and/or have a crush on your male best friend and not be a girl.(And going the other way, that wanting to play basketball doesn't exactly prove your manhood.)
  • Holy crap, actual clinic duty this week!