Welcome to Dissecting House: a blog dedicated to the television show House MD, where analytical reviews of season 8 episodes are posted weekly.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

7x08 "Small Sacrifices" - The Almighty Lie

I wrote this after the episode aired (22.11.11). I'm not exactly sure what possessed me to write something so long, but it was an incredibly interesting episode. So here it is:

One of the predominant themes throughout the episode which is aptly named ‘Small Sacrifices’ (for more reasons than one) is Religion. How it is perceived is contrasted by faith and atheism. Continuing the flow of last week’s “A Pox on Our House” the opening scene refers to a very prominent historic event. The score used creates the tension we’ve come to expect of House. The scenes are almost graphic and the anticipation of waiting for the stake to be driven into the man’s palm results in a sharp intake of breath. The difference from last week is that the scene takes place in the present and pays homage to the past. When the cross is raised, the silhouette of the cross and the man’s back is raised against the backdrop of the city, looking down upon it, as Jesus himself is said to have done. 

The hospital opening scene sees the contrast between the work and personal relationship between House and Cuddy. “What you got against chickens? One got choked last night thanks to you!” (And the chicken as a euphemism for sex metaphor begins…) House refuses to accept he was wrong for lying to his boss (creating a division between work Cuddy and girlfriend Cuddy). The constant back and forth is realistic, entertaining and true to both their characters. The play for power and having the last word keeps the relationship fiery. 

The patient’s circumstance (not the patient himself) attracts House’s attention so much so that we see him visit the patient straight away, which is very unusual. The 'House vs God' scenario begins... The crucifixion was not atonement but bargaining. This closely parallels the five stages of grief we know so well from [H]ouse. The patient bargained for his daughter’s life (which ironically sounds more like a deal with the devil). He has gone through denial (that his daughter only had two months to live), anger (that his wife left him), bargaining (to keep his daughter alive), depression (he is afraid of dying but must die to honour his deal), acceptance (to accept treatment [while being lied to]).  House’s atheism propels him to mock the POTW and he talks about ‘causal determinism’ and explains that “we are hardwired to need answers” . It is a battle between science (medicine and intrinsic self preservation) and Religion (unwavering faith). House believes Religion is the fall back answer rather than the rational one. Interestingly, Chase seems uncomfortable with what House is saying (as although he was/is Catholic he has renounced his faith a fair few times). 

The meeting between House and Wilson takes the format of back and forth lying and probing. Their personal relationship intertwines their business one (talking about cancer while talking about Wilson’s lie). This in fact counters House’s argument that Cuddy should accept to keep personal and business life completely separate.

Wilson, who is usually the moral compass in House, advises him to lie as it will pacify Cuddy’s feelings. House interprets the advice in his own Housian way, and embarks on an ‘I have to make Cuddy lie to get even’ escapade. 

The lab scene provides the opportunity for the audience to find out about Master’s history (her parents and their marriage) and the fact that Taub is anxious about his wife and her fidelity. Chase says the “chickens are coming home to roost” when Taub reveals his wife has a meeting at a hotel. 

Again there is a breach in House’s theory that private life can be kept separate from work. He asks for confidential patient files as “tat for tit”. She asks him to concentrate on “work thoughts” and when telling him she doesn’t like what he’s wearing she becomes suspicious that he is trying to make her lie. 

When Wilson’s office door is locked House also becomes suspicious. He admits to Wilson that he lied and forged Cuddy’s signature. Wilson (the usual moral compass) lies again and says he is busy because he is the Head of Oncology when he is in fact helping Sam. He reveals to propose at the wedding. House mocks Wilson about love and suggests “a Buddhist aquarium” as a perfect place to propose. The darkness of lying and betrayal throughout the episode is countered by mockery, irony and humour.  

Taub ironically has trust issues about his wife’s fidelity. The irony is amplified by the fact that she is possibly cheating with a man in a support group for “people with unfaithful spouses”.

House presents a “33 year old carpenter presenting with narcissism, delusions of grandeur, hallucinations”. However, he is not describing the patient, but “HIM with a capital OMG”. House continuously mocks the POTW about Religion. House suggests the neurological problem is to blame for his ‘delusions’ and suggests an MRI to find God (of course implying that there is no God). 

House’s admission of her forged signature to Cuddy only serves as an entry into the honesty/lie equilibrium. House brings up her DOB that he read in the HR file, believing she lied about it. However she lied to HR, not to him. He wants her to “embrace the value of lying”, which she will not.  

When the diagnosis turns to MS, House asks where the POTW’s friends are. He says all he asks is that they pray for him. To which House replies “always sacrificing, very inspirational”. House does not believe in self sacrifice. The irony is that one could very well argue that he himself suffers from narcissism and delusions of grandeur. The POTW claims that “faith is not a disease” and that medicine will not turn him into an atheist. House counters with “…but [faith] kills a lot of people”. 

The irony and mockery of House with the tailor in a Christ-like pose is overwhelmingly good. He stands over his ‘children’ (always refers to them as ‘kids’) as Jesus did and as the patient did (over the backdrop of the city in the opening scenes). 

Religion comes into play once again with the diagnosis of Marburg MS. He will die in a few days and stem cell (embryonic) experimental treatment is the only option. However the patient’s Religious beliefs will prevent him from accepting treatment. A criticism perhaps, of Religion preventing Science from evolving. The patient believes that accepting treatment is an insult to God.

Masters then wants to use the daughter to persuade the POTW to get treatment in an “honesty is not all bad” policy, which counters House’s beliefs. However he uses it. When the patient refuses the daughter says “If God could do this I hate God”. Religion is constantly the source of disagreement. 

At the wedding Chase’s womanising rampage counters Taub’s belief that his wife is betraying him emotionally by revealing intimate thoughts. When he asks her stop, she does not agree. The tables are very much turned. 

House uses humour constantly when dealing with Cuddy, as he is still slightly uncomfortable with allowing himself to love her. He tells her she looks “simply stunning”. However, she wants is an apology not flattery.  When House asks her “What would you wear?” referring to getting married, the dulcet tones of love in fact hide an ulterior motive.  When she says “I may not be young but I’ll be first time” House catches her in her lie as she was married before in 1987 for 6 days (which he uncovered when he became suspicious she knew too much about divorce law). His entrapment backfires. 

Wilson’s proposal to Sam also backfires. His claim to love her work and her sense of morality negates the fact that she insists she was telling the truth about the radiation levels on the five cases she is being audited on. She leaves him because he has not changed, or better, evolved. 

House once again lies to the patient to save his life. He says he did a PET scan on his daughter and tells him she still has Neuroblastomas and that the CT scan had missed the tiny tumours. “Looks like God broke your deal”. Is morality therefore a relative concept?

When he tells the patient the truth and that he is not being punished for breaking his deal with God; and that therefore there is no God, the POTW replies that God is truly merciful and does exist. “Punishment is proof of God and no punishment is proof of God, ingenious argument”. “Faith is not an argument”. This prompts House to re-evaluate his stance on his stubbornness to prove a point. Masters realises the patient would be dead if House had told her the truth. However she still believes in the absolute value of truth which helps counter House’s theories. 

The turning point in the ‘Huddy’ relationship takes place in Cuddy’s office. He truly believes that if everybody lies, trust is unfounded and fictional. However he has learned that trust is not an argument that can be won or lost. He must suspend cynicism and believe. He then takes a “leap of faith”. “I won’t lie to you again” he (more likely than not) lies to Cuddy. He admits to Wilson that “I lied” and took your advice. He knows he will lie again, but so does she. 

House sacrifices his rationality and reason to appease her. Cuddy sacrifices her moral ground that lying is not acceptable, as she understands that it is his small sacrifice which is of value, and not the fact that he promised never to lie to her again. It was in this lie, in fact, that a middle ground was found and a compromise made.

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