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'House' recap: The Cuddy System

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Ah, the long-fabled Cuddy episode, the one I so hoped would give us magical emotion-generating insight into her character, the one where House and his neediness took a backseat to Cuddy’s development and depth. If “5 to 9” was supposed to put us in Cuddy’s shoes, boy did it — and yeah, they’re impractically tight and tough to maneuver in. House took a break from cool life-saving techniques, snarky back-and-forths, and interesting collaborative reasoning for all the edge-of-your-seat drama of insurance negotiations.

Cuddy woke up at 5 a.m., much like other parents of toddlers, to do some yoga. Her morning routine seemed pretty crazed, though I can’t help but think she could have spent a little more time on outfit selection; must the bosom always be so exposed? Lucas, who was on a stakeout all night, showed up as Cuddy was already running late, but convinced her to stick around for a quickie, which turned out to be a little too quickie. “Now I’m late, stressed out, and frustrated,” she complained. Gee, if only there were some way to take matters into one’s own hands, Cuddy. If…only…

At the hospital, she was already behind: The budget is in crisis, there’s a problem with the pharmacy because someone over-ordered the drug, and the temperature in the OR is too cold because of House’s shenanigans. Smarmy Insurance Guy and Cuddy bickered about percentages of something, money something, coverage blahblahblah — let me just say, there’s nothing more interesting or dramatic than the fine print of healthcare-cost coverage. (That sound is me banging my head against a wall.) There’s a reason we have doctor shows, lawyer shows, cop shows — and so few insurance shows. Cuddy threatened him, he left, things were huffy, she told the board about it, they were nervous, she almost cried in the elevator afterward. Me too, sister!

A guy at the clinic asked for a prescription for breast milk to treat his cancer, because that’s totally how prescriptions work, and a lawyer threatened to sue because his client’s insurance didn’t cover Chase’s thumb-reattachment procedure. Apparently hospitals no longer have legal departments. No wonder Cuddy is so stressed out.

The pharmacy problem turned out to be a pharm-tech pilfering ephedrine, which she weepily confessed was for weight loss. Cuddy had no choice but to fire her, because apparently the hospital no longer has an HR department, either.

Wilson suggested Cuddy turn to House for advice about negotiating, which she lamely resisted only to discover House, duh, sitting in her office, giving her advice whether she wanted it or not. Lucas brought her lunch, admitted to bragging about their sex life (kill me) to House, and helped her track down the CEO of Obnoxious Insurance Company at a fancy lunch. Boy, was he ever obnoxious! She threatened Obnoxious Insurance Company with bad press, which has to be the most idiotic, least effective way to hold that company’s feet to the fire: Oh no, a smear story about an insurance company that was only looking out for the bottom line, not its patients. Pick up a newspaper, Cuddy: Isn’t that how most stories read?

Then Cuddy grabbed her superadministrator cape and got down to business. She threatened thumb guy! She broke up an actual fist fight between Chase and the grumpy chief of surgery! And the pharm-tech wasn’t stealing for herself, she was part of a drug ring! Oy, poor Cuddy, wearing so many hats: lawyer, security guard, DEA agent….

Her tough negotiating tactics worked after all, and Smarmy Insurance Guy, on behalf of Obnoxious Insurance Company, caved to her wishes. And in a bizarre turn for a series whose tone is usually so controlled and on-message, Cuddy let out a primal “yeeees!” that echoed (?) through the hospital.

I guess it was nice to see Cuddy in the spotlight for once, but her lack of confidence was just baffling. She’s not incompetent — everything she wanted to happen in this episode did — but she’s hanging on by a thread. On some shows, I guess that would be sympathetic, but on House, self-possession is a requirement; watching her flail wasn’t endearing, it was pathetic. That “yes” at the end didn’t feel like much of a triumph, it felt like a cop-out.

Good lines

Predictably, they were both from House:

Cuddy, walking in on House getting a massage: “She’s not massaging your leg.”

House: “She will. Eventually.”

House, explaining to Cuddy what his plan is: “Talk to Wilson about something completely unrelated and see what happens.”

Other thoughts

++ Cuddy was called a bitch by practically every character in the episode.

++ Yes, that was Mark D. Espinoza, who played Andrea Zuckerman’s husband Jesse Vasquez on 92010

++ I really doubt this was intentional, but there were a few Chicago Hope allusions on this episode. First, Cuddy said “we’re the best” re: Princeton Plainsboro. That was the catchphrase on Chicago Hope, most frequently uttered by, yes, the chief of staff. Second, House kept chattering about intentionally giving a patient malaria, which totally happened on the first season of CH (“Freeze Outs”). Third, Cuddy called in a favor from a doctor she had some dirt on. Dirt like she left a sponge in a patient, wondered the nurse? Oh, you mean like how Dr. Kate Austen totally left a surgical clamp in a patient (“The Ethics of Hope”)? I’m 99 percent sure I’m the only person alive who still has a working memory of Chicago Hope episodes, but I have to use this skill sometimes, or else it just rots up there in my brain.

++ I wasn’t crazy about the episode, but Lisa Edelstein is pretty fantastic.

Okay, PopWatchers, was “5 to 9” all you wanted it to be? Did you think Cuddy’s spotlight was as effective as Wilson’s from earlier this season?

Image credit: Mike Yarish/Fox