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House 3×03 – Informed Consent

My overdue review of Informed Consent.

Have mentioned previously that House’s new timeslot this fall was going to cause slight scheduling issues with my weekly tube radiation alottment, specifically because it now plays head to head with CBS’ “NCIS” which is a show I’ve enjoyed since it’s start four seasons ago. This didn’t come into play until last week when NCIS had it’s season premiere, so I opted to watch NCIS. Now I’d be lying if I denied that this was in part of due to the second episode of House this season, which is only a C+ on my arbitrary mental scale. It’s only September and I wasn’t expecting mind-blowing sweeps high drama. That was my mistake.

A few technical notes because credit is certainly due: the two Davids get the writing cred, Shore and Foster, with acuminate direction from ER alum Laura Innes. However, the tour de force of the episode is really guest star Joel Grey as Ezra Powell. (Briefly worth the mention that Mr. Grey has been in everything ever since the 1950s, including Buffy, Oz and Alias.)

Okay, so the short version is- the episode rocks. Like I said, unexpected, with gravity and high calibre acting. I’ve watched it twice now and what strikes me most is the subtlety in execution. One of my favorite descriptions is “the medical cases became the instrument instead of the focus of the storytelling” and it’s done well in this episode.

Starting off, the thing that is so deftly established about Powell in the opening scene, is the contradiction of the character. Dark lab, serene cello piece, working with the lab rats is this nice looking elderly gent, who seems quite frail but is still keenly sharp. Grey is earnest, even as he’s oblique.

There’s nice cinematography in the lab, as the drama of the moment kicks in juxataposed with cello music, dissected and avenging lab rats- makes a really weird, tangible irony.

But enough of that, for next House marches in with cane, disarming the concern- completely nonchalant, deflecting. Light. But the clothing is more dark than usual- he has a private little grimace, is it the pain or is he pushing the emotion down? Maybe a few months of freedom was worse than if it’d never gone away? He’s got to work for what used to be involuntary and he’s totally bandying the word ‘cripple’ around more so than usual. Poor Snarkmaster-General.

The kiddos run off to test Powell, starry-eyed after a little expostition, because apparently Ezra’s the Snoop Dogg of Experimental Medical Authors. Cameron particularly buys into Ezra’s ‘frailty’ schtick- and not that it’s a put on, but as eventually becomes clear, Ezra is anything but frail.

At one point I even wonder that maybe he’s done all the tests already and knows what he has, but he’s really only come to House to help him die. This idea will bother me throughout the episode.

In the Clinic, House sharpens his snark on a teenager, perhaps because he’s feeling out of practice, and teenagers are generally impervious to such. This is because teenagers are dumb, with no perspective on reality. But unfortunately aforemented teenager is also hawt, so everything turns into flirting. I suspect House drops the papers on purpose and Cameron makes the most perfect entrance and line delivery. Hilarious!

And then the giant neon sign of PARALLELS lights up- Powell has never given up without an answer. Sound familiar? As House delivers this fun little tidbit he does so quite interestingly… Does he loath Powell or loath himself for the attributes they share?

And this is really where the episode turns into something heavy. The morphine fakeout. If you’re a big House fan, you buy into it, this is not beyond the Greg House we know and love. But he’s refrained from broad daylight thus far. Now, informed consent and euthinasia, I imagine, are way the hell on up there in the top ten of medical controversies. One of the phenominal things about this episode is that it all plays out is the trio of younger doctors- Foreman draws his line quick and firm, Chase takes the opposite (which I wonder about given the faith backstory) and poor Cameron gets bitchslapped with whatever ‘lesson’ it is House it trying to deliver.

The repartee’ between House and Powell really abolishes the idea that Ezra has, at any point, been frail. He calls the “lungs slowly filling with fluid” bluff, points out what is quickly becoming House’s fatal flaw- “not giving up without an answer,” (which Wilson comes along and hammers home) and less we’re totally enamored with facades (House’s OR Powell’s) oh yeah, he totally irradiated some babies. It’s an Emmy performance by Joel Grey- Such a dark twist wrapped up in that force of personality and offset by his ‘frailty’. But it’s very subtle because he’s so earnest, just awfully honest and sincere.

Which is what drives Cameron nuts, to the point of unhinging her. She falls apart of the course of the episode: makeup, hair, no sleep. She will not help. They strip that character down- House does it to her, he throws out the Journal article, completely offhand which is lovely, to make a point. Why he’s picked only Cameron for this lesson… well, I think Foreman gets it a little at one point, when he calls Cameron out for running away from principle and Chase turns it around on him, but it’s really nice that it’s coming across differently.

Of course I suspect House has a veiled reason for bludgening Cameron with the lesson and I think it’s the big reaction on the “withhold treatment without killing him” comment seals it. He yells, he yells a lot this episode, and of course he should, because of what’s been happening with his leg. He’s raw. Doesn’t seem raw, but Darwin in action- he’s got to survive. Which I think, is part of the lesson- Cameron, of all of them, needs it the most. She gets so personal there’s a very real danger she’s going to destroy herself.

Stepping aside for as second, I want to point out that House gives Cameron a present in this episode. When Lolita-girl appears the second time, House buys a candy bar from the newsstand. Flirts… he figures it all out because of the underwears, and he gives Cameron the candy bar… did he buy the candy bar for HER? Or what?

Anyway, there’s also a mini lesson for House- the similarities between him and Ezra come out under the contradictions but in the end Ezra calls it and whether he’s known with all certainty from the start, House has to deal with the fact he’s prolonged the hell out the guy’s pain. And pain is huge in his world.

So everything ends with everyone traumatized, including the viewer who is treated to the most creepy dead dude shot of all time. And whether House is proud of Cameron or not, I still can’t get over the fact that he DID this to her and it was a helluva thing to do, whether it had to happen for her to be an effective doc, or it was just him trying to communicate his own experience to her. The river of character subtext and prejudice runs deep on House and that’s what makes them real and entertaining.

Phenominal overall, and one of my favorite episodes to date. Thanks for all your hard work Davids, Laura, Hugh, and everyone! You rock hard.

One Comment

  • pooks on Sep 26, 2006

    I’m about to watch it for the second time tomorrow. I have a couple of comments but I want to refresh my memory before I make them. But — great comments. Love ’em.