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

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Better Half Episode Review

We finally see the end of the hiatus with the airing of Better Half, episode 9 of Season 8. This week's POTW suffers from severe early onset Alzheimer's disease and struggles from moment to moment to understand what's happening and where he is. He begins to cough up blood while awaiting to be OKd for an Alzheimer's drug trial. Enter Dr. House and his fortune telling index cards. I was glad to see his mischivous ways in action, always manipulating Foreman to get his way. In order to get his ankle monitor removed House plots to make Foreman feel superior and in control.

The wife of the POTW has stayed with him for ten years, giving up her job to look after him round the clock. Weariness sets in and she begins to break. As Chase says, it's not only the sick who needs looking after. However, she begins to plan her future with another man and it's implied she sleeps with him when she takes a night off from her husband's bedside. She is racked with guilt when her husband then disappears to be found at the soccer training ground where he used to coach a team of youngsters. The interesting notion here is whether he ran away because of habitual routine many years ago or whether he wanted to run away because he believed his illness was a burden to his wife and he no longer wanted her to suffer. This parallels Chase, whose mother drank herself to death, but not before Chase had to look after her and his baby sister for years as a teenager. Chase would rather her have killed herself with a gun and ended the misery they were all living through. A hard pill to swallow. Chase can't forget and the patient can't remember.

The POTW suffers from a moment of paranoid aggression and punches his wife in the face. We see just how hard the disease is on family life. The patient begins to regress and loses his ability to speak English and starts speaking his native Portuguese, leading to a very touching scene in which House translates for his wife. He speaks of how they met and how he knew she was the one. He would always say "There she is" when he saw her. The poignant blow comes at the end when the patient doesn't recognise his wife and we see just how heartbreaking the disease can be. The symptoms from the other mysterious disease merge with his Alzheimer's, making it hard to diagnose. In the end the patient suffers from Reye's syndrome which swells the brain and liver. Usually it's only found in kids but is aggravated by asprin which the patient takes continously (because he forgets he's already taken one) because of a sore throat. Foreman is the one to solve the case because of a vase of flowers which have not wilted in his office, linking to the patient's wife being a former botanist and keeping asprin in the house. It made me think whether House let Foreman present the correct diagnosis as he had done earlier in the episode or whether Foreman really did diagnose it himself. After all the "nurses hate" Foreman, so who put flowers in his office? My guess is House. Also, the flowers not wilting is perhaps a metaphor that all is not lost for the patient, who begins to recognise his wife again when he starts getting treatment. It could also represent the notion that people pretend they are ok. Instead of wilting when it seems they should, something keeps them going and they fight instead of giving up.

The clinic presented an asexual woman who would definitely not have featured in "Fugliness Weekly". Wilson is perplexed by an attractive, healthy woman who appears to have no sex drive. He tells House, which of course means a bet is on. House suggests that Wilson would only have told him about her if he didn't believe the patient himself. $100 dollars and House can't examine or talk to the patient. Rules were meant to be bent so House examines the husband instead who says he is also asexual. It turns out the husband has a tumour in his brain which decreases his libido and that the wife was lying in order to make the marriage work. This parallels the wife of the Alzheimer's patient keeping up appearences to keep her marriage from crumbling.

House uses his $100 bill to light cigars with Wilson. Throughout the episode we see friends who, despite the outward appearance of seeming so different (the contrasting view of the patients), fundamentally share a deep understanding. The light hearted scene at the end when they put their feet up and share a smoke appears to mean things are good between them.

The contrast between the humour throughout the episode (House/Wilson, House/Park/Adams) and the Alzheimer's patient and Chase works wonderfully. It's interesting that we don't know whether the wife stays with her husband or not as it makes us project our own ending and think about what we ourselves would do. Great episode to kick off the second half of season 8.


  1. It is always a pleasure to read your opinion after watching an House episode. I agree with your general appreciation of the episode. Your theory about the flowers makes sense and I hadn't thought about it. Yes, probably was House who put the flowers there, we will never know. It is also very well thought the link that you make between the flowers and the case.

    Like you, I loved the translation scene. And the last scene between House and Wilson. I also liked the interactions and power play between House and Foreman. And House is free again! No more ankle monitor.

    Ana (ana_m_q)

  2. Thank you for your comment. So happy to have House back on our screens. I also loved the power play between House and Foreman and how House playfully teases him at the end by knocking his pencil holder over, in his way saying thank you and letting Foreman know he can't push him around. Looking forward to next week already!

  3. Like Ana I also hadn't thought of the idea that it could've been House who put the flowers in Foreman's office. Nice idea Steph! I'm in favour :P
    I was a little bit surprised that Chase has a sister, but that's ok with me. I was really disappointed though that we didn't hear anything from the date between Chase and Park (CHARK!). I've wondered about that during the hiatus and now they don't even mention it :/

  4. House suggests that Wilson would only have told him about her if he didn't believe the patient himself.

    I loved that insinuation because I believe it's very true. What I love about Wilson is that yes, he genuinely is a good guy and does wish them well and everything, but then there's also this more cynical and less socially acceptable side which only ever sees the light of day when House is involved. Really loved their scenes together.
    The unfortunate side-effect of that storyline was that it appeared to negate asexuality if taken as a general statement instead of a "in this case" event which it was supposed to be. But I've always loved that House doesn't actually present an opinion to be believed, but a topic to discuss and think further about, to investigate, and this story certainly raised awareness - I know that if I asked anyone in my family, they wouldn't even have heard about it.

    The contrast between the humour throughout the episode (House/Wilson, House/Park/Adams) and the Alzheimer's patient and Chase works wonderfully.

    Yes. There have been episodes where that contrast didn't work as well, but this time it did indeed. Don't know why, but I have a special fondness for the lab scene with House and the two girls alone. That was just great somehow, to see him do the work and share ideas with them and I loved Hugh's acting in this scene so much.

    Apropos humour: I did indeed have to stop the recording for a moment at the "chirping birds" line because I didn't want to miss anything due to laughing so much.

    Final note: the House/Foreman stuff continues to be awesome. Absolutely great.

  5. Thanks Anna! Glad you like the idea. I also really hope we find out more about Chase's sister, and I have a feeling that storyline might develop in the 'Chase' plot (spoiler free speculation), if it does at all. Esther, that line made me burst out laughing, as did the fugliness weekly one I mentioned. I saw comments on Twitter referring to the asexual portrayal. It must be hard writing about anything without ofending people, I understand that how it was intended contrasts with how it was perceived.

  6. Siempre me emociona leer tus comentarios por la perfección con la que escribes. Ojalá pudiera decir lo mismo de los episodios que he visto en esta temporada.

    En el caso de Better Half, debo admitir que me gustó, pero no tanto como yo esperaba. Los casos médicos me parecieron enormemente interesantes y curiosos (dado a que algunos otros programas se vuelven repetitivos), pero siento que le faltó algo. Tal vez un poco más de soltura o fluidez o un enfoque distinto, aunque con esto no quiero decir que no me gustó. La forma en que Kath examinó el Alzheimer muestra su gran talento, el cual queda más ejemplificado cuando notamos la atrapante y emotiva historia de la esposa Natalie.

    Por otro lado, amé enormemente el comportamiento centrado entre Foreman y House. Las tarjetas fueron solo parte de la diversión del episodio, pero definitivamente la actitud de Foreman fue lo que terminó por capturarme. ¿Será que siempre sufrirá frente a House?

    La hermana de Chase y su peculiar historia me tomó por sorpresa, pero eso no significa que no me hubiese gustado. De hecho, me gustó que tomaran en cuenta el pasado de Chase.

    También me reí un poco con los 30 novios de Park y la intención de Adams por saber cual era la cantidad correcta. Park diciendo "Everybody Lies" fue sencillamente gracioso.

    El desenlace del episodio fue algo que me gustó también. House finalmente se libera de su monitor de tobillo y Wilson le paga la apuesta luego de haber descubierto la verdad detrás de la pareja asexual.

    Adicionalmente me pareció implecable la parte del portugués en el paciente. Lo digo porque me pareció relativamente más fácil entenderlo en comparación con el inglés, debido a mi idioma nativo. Obviamente hubiese preferido que hablase en español, ya que House ha demostrado que lo hace bien, pero ni modo, igual me encanta.

    La llamada que le hace Chase a su hermana luego de rehusarse por años abre puertas para lo que se espera en la temporada. ¿Tendrá algo que ver con el episodio Chase? Y la liberación de House de su tobillo nos muestra que pueden venir episodios divertidos.

    Dejando atrás los comentarios del episodio, me pareció formidable tu interpretación sobre las flores. En serio. No sé si te lo he dicho antes, pero, ¿por qué no te dedicas a escribir algún libro? Yo sería el primero en comprarlo.

    Estoy más que impaciente por ver el siguiente episodio. Y por supuesto, también estoy esperando tu siguiente artículo.

    Hope you're having a wonderful day.
    Best regards,

  7. Fantastic commentary, thank you Cesar. As usual I must also thank you for your extremely kind words. In relation to your comment about Foreman, I do think that he will always be in House's shadow, despite being the boss. Although, it's nice to see that they are beginning to build a relationship on mutual understanding rather than a battle for superiority. I really enjoyed their scenes together. I think everyone was a little shocked to hear about Chase's sister. I do believe they have opened doors to a what could be an extremely interesting storyline, I hope they pursue it.

    Ps. If I ever write a book, I'll be sure to let you know. Thanks for that comment, it made me smile.

    1. Oh, your words are so sweet. I know we'll have interesting storylines about Chase and the characters.

      Please, yes. I will buy your book if you write... haha.