House Watch: The Return of TV’s Most Important Medical Drama

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With its eighth-season premiere on Monday night, House M.D. graduated into an elite status of TV dramas that survive beyond seven years. Among the others are Law & Order, E.R. and C.S.I. — all of them procedurals.

Technically, House M.D. is also a procedural: each week Dr. Gregory House has to solve a complex case that only he can diagnose. But over the years the show has explored, at great depth, House’s addictions, vanities, and ultimate helplessness. And Hugh Laurie has played House with such range — the character can be evil, funny, kind, and caught short all in one episode — that the show still offers something you don’t find elsewhere on network TV: a mad, sad scientist who almost certainly does not have a heart of gold.

In last year’s finale, House drove a car into his boss’ home, finally severing his long, complicated relationship with that boss, Dr. Lisa Cuddy, and also preventing the eighth season from beginning at the hospital where they work, Princeton Plainsboro.

Instead, we find House in prison, where he has apparently been for a year. The opening scene has him in a parole hearing. “Are you sorry about what you did?” House is asked. “Yes,” he answers — but, of course, he doesn’t mean it. He then spins his assault on Cuddy’s house: he says he knew her toddler would be away and that the adult guests would be out of the car’s path.

The parole board is frustrated, but House gets an out: the prison is overcrowded. If House can keep out of trouble for just five days, he will be let free.

We then see House with a fellow-inmate who has joint pain. House — thinking he’s leaving soon — tells the Patient, who’s name is Nick, just to go to the prison clinic. But they run into each other there (House is a prison janitor). At the clinic, House also meets a new 13, the pretty young Dr. Adams, who wants to put the inmate on ceftriaxone for what she thinks is gonorrhea.

But House tries to dissuade her from this diagnosis: “There’s subtle eyebrow loss,” he says. “It’s lupus.” This is an inside joke: it’s never lupus on House M.D. House used to hide a secret stash of Vicodin in a lupus textbook because, as he put it back then, “it’s never lupus.” Lupus has been considered and then rejected in dozens of episodes.

House moves on to diagnosing the comely Dr. Adams as a liberal trust-funder. (She has a gold locket and a different pair of of shoes every day, which means she’s rich. The shoes are never leather, which means she’s vegan and lefty.) Dr. Adams is also smart: the only time she hasn’t seemed bored is now, when she and House are discussing a diagnosis. And she apparently went to Johns Hopkins.

A side plot has House bargaining for Vicodin with a prison heavy who wants part of House’s ration. “I should be on six a day,” House whines. “I get four, and I give you two.” But the heavy wants all of them.

Meantime, House is reduced to doing DDXs on the wall beside his bunk. “Crystal disease?” he writes, almost plaintively. He also shows Adams how to find an acoustic shadow, which can indicate cancer in the chest. Adams is so impressed that she eventually shows House the case file and asks why he’s doing time even though he had no priors. “I had a bad lawyer,” he says — unconvincingly — and we later discover that House had no lawyer at all. In fact it seems he wanted to be imprisoned.

As usual, House discovers the final diagnosis — mastocytosis, an inflammatory disease — on a rare hunch: Patient had been drinking hot coffee. But to confirm masto, Nick will have to take five aspirin, which will throw him into anaphylactic shock. Arguing against the risky confirmation procedure is the prison’s all-too-upright chief of medicine, Sykes, a clear stand-in for Foreman. (House even says to him, as he would to Foreman: “You’re a moron and a coward.”)

The episode ends with House in solitary confinement. He was apparently wrong about masto, and House seems to be in misery. But he gets an anonymous note with his meal saying “You were Right!” (The note was in a girly script—has to be Adams.) [An earlier version of this post missed the note. Sorry--it was late, and I had taken five aspirin. Thanks to various commenters for setting me straight.]

Some questions before the next DDX:

- Hugh Laurie has gained weight, but his hair is dyed. A bad prison diet could explain the first, but what about those blond locks?

- How do we get back to Wilson — which is to say, to the show’s humanity? Lisa Edelstein has left, so PPTH won’t be run by Cuddy, so is Wilson the new boss?

- How far will the show go this season in exploring House’s addiction? In prison, he has been forced down to just a Vicodin or two per day, but does that mean he will stop after getting out?

- The team is presumably running the diagnostic department in House’s absence, but will we see a rival boss who has been in charge since he went to prison?

—Finally, Adams was fired for helping House give Nick the aspirin. Sykes says she’s “un-hirable anywhere,” but I’m guessing PPTH will have a spot for her when House returns.

See you next week!

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