House Watch: Bathtub Surgery Edition

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Timothy White / FOX

House gave new meaning to the phrase “Doctor, heal thyself” last night. He not only self-medicated, which he does usually does with epic amounts of Vicodin. This time he actually self-operated, cutting into that mangy leg.

Just a few more details follow — House Watcher is actually vacationing somewhere near Princeton-Plainsboro — but first a spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched “After Hours,” get in the bathtub and enjoy a terrific episode before reading on.

The episode begins with one of 13’s friends from prison, Darienne, arriving at 13’s apartment with a stab wound. Darienne makes 13 promise that she won’t take her to the hospital, where cops would be waiting for her because she’s back into the drug trade — which presumably landed her in prison in the first place.

Meantime, one of House’s hookers is reading the Kama Sutra to him and points out that one of its positions would require the man to have two strong legs. This underlines House’s ailment, but he tells the hooker he’s getting stronger — apparently because he’s now snorting that experimental rat drug from last week, the one said to regrow muscle.

House runs out of the drug and — like any addict — needs more. He revisits the lab where the rats are being dosed so that he can steal an extra supply. But it turns out all the rats are dead. The drug has regrown their muscles, but it has also grown tumors that have killed them.

Worried that he has tumors, House gives himself an MRI — best not to ask whether one person could really operate that machine — and discovers solid masses in his leg. Tumors, just like in the rats.

And so rather than admit that he’s an idiot and go to the hospital, House decides to operate on himself. Like any narcissist, he routinely discerns others’ idiocy but can’t reveal his own inadequacies. So he gets into his bathtub with a scalpel and various other surgical instruments. He slices into his leg and then holds the spot open with a surgical retractor. Then he goes at the tumors with pincers. It’s gruesome — and fantastic television.

House is a talented physician, and a man accustomed to pain, but suffice to say the operation doesn’t go well. He was smart enough to bring his phone into the bathroom, and he starts calling the few people who actually care about him. Wilson, of course, is his first choice, but the writers wisely chose to keep Wilson asleep when House calls.

13 is busy with her prison friend — this week’s Patient, and despite the theatrics a fairly boring one — and no one else answers. Except, of course, Cuddy.

When she comes over, House tells her she was last on the list of people to call for help. His leg is nearly amputated, and forgive me, but I thought it was rather lame (yes, a poor choice of words) that the writers didn’t cut it off. Everyone, including 13’s friend — did they have prison sex or not? — ends up surviving. Again, a bit lame. But the episode sets up a few important questions for the finale:

  • As House M.D. enters its eighth season, it might be suffering from an X-Files problem: the characters are well-developed, the writing is rich, the lines are well-delivered, and each episode is wrought with skill. But how can the game continue without something as dramatic as cutting off House’s leg? Do the writers believe cutting off his crippled limb will be jumping the shark, or are their Fox minders just hoping for ninth, 10th, and further seasons to milk the franchise for every ounce of blood?
  • Cuddy shows up at House’s place to help him survive, but she seems done with him. Will the writers try to please the shippers by reuniting them? Doubtful, but how to develop their emotional lives?
  • Can Wilson ever stop being a pussy?
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