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The tense and sombre “Euphoria” was not designed to induce giddiness, other than through the elation of having two episodes of House in a single week – good news both for fans and for sweeps-conscious FOX, who lately have seen the show reach ratings high after ratings high.

There are comedic moments, of course, especially the injection of a clinic scene in the second hour of this two-part episode that fills in any gaps Roget’s Thesaurus might have left under “masturbation.” And for a final bit of William S. Paley Festival trivia, “Euphoria” contains the line that a few cast members said was their favourite, after a hushed consult with creator David Shore to make sure they weren’t inappropriately spoiling anything: “Get out of my temporal lobe, House.”

When the patient of the week is the doctor of every other week, we see a radically different dynamic among our Department of Diagnostic Medicine team. In what could be seen as a sign that breaking and entering is perhaps unwise, even when performed by a physician, Foreman contracts a mysterious disease after searching the disgustingly filthy apartment of a cop who suffered from symptoms of euphoria, blindness, pain, and finally the ultimate, incurable symptom – death – all while a newly ill Foreman watches in horror from the same isolation room.

We’re given obvious signposts to indicate the effect Foreman’s illness is having on House. When Cameron tries to comfort him by saying it’s not his fault Foreman got sick, Chase points out that risking one of their lives to see what Foreman missed in that apartment would, in fact, be House’s fault. Wilson pops by to admonish House for playing it safe, pointing out that House doesn’t visit patients because if he gives a crap, he gets cautious.

But mostly, we know that caring is House’s kryptonite and he has been stripped of his superpowers simply by the torment on Hugh Laurie’s face. House’s deeply buried compassion and empathy come to the surface on that face, especially when he and Foreman discuss pain, the fear of pain, and disability. “Sure, I make it look oh so sexy, but it’s actually not as glamorous as you might think,” says House, desperate to stop Foreman from risking a white matter brain biopsy. House even demonstrates that he values Foreman’s life over that of his pet rat, Steve McQueen, when he tries to expose him to the same toxins in order to get another brain to biopsy. In happy news, both Steve McQueen and Foreman survive.

Foreman is often portrayed as a mini-House with a far better bedside manner, and there are hints of parallels here, not just in those discussions, but with the prospect of a chemically induced coma and medical proxy handed off to someone who may not be able to make the tough choice echoing House’s “Three Stories” backstory. But Foreman is no House, the similarities aren’t overdone, and they are even overturned a little.

Cameron is still annoyed that Foreman “stole” her article (I have to finally say: he didn’t steal the damn article; he scooped the article, so get over it already, Cameron), and that he refused to apologize and lectured her on the distinction between friends and colleagues (equal opportunity sniping: get over yourself already, Foreman). When Foreman stabs her with a needle he used to test his blood in order to give her a personal reason to return to the cop’s apartment where Foreman likely contracted the illness, it seems desperation brings out the worst in him.

Despite the new apartment search, the illness is still a mystery, and Foreman deteriorates to the point where he needs to be put in that coma. He gives Cameron his medical proxy over his visiting father (Charles Dutton, in a powerful but quiet performance), deciding her caring and caution are good if you’re the patient, and pointing out: “We expect family members to make decisions about their loved ones after a 10 minute briefing.”

Initially refusing to accept his possible-death-bed apology and the proxy, Cameron relents on the second front and fights for what Foreman wants when he’s unconscious – though House returns to the apartment himself and discovers amoebas in the water at the same time as she has the surgery done. It’s not much of a victory for House, since it came to late to save Foreman from the biopsy, and it’s made even worse by the mini-cliffhanger ending that shows Foreman may have a few wires twisted in that brain of his because of it.

The show has so much more going for it than Hugh Laurie’s performance and the character of House, but those two factors are such hugely overshadowing assets that when he’s not on screen, the energy of the show can often lag. But “Euphoria” demonstrates that with the right script, the supporting characters can help lead the show, and even an impotent House can support it in a much quieter way than usual. Which isn’t to say Laurie was relegated to a supporting role, but Omar Epps was the hero this time, taking anguish, rage and questionable actions and adding new dimensions to Foreman.

Foreman had been a bit of a blank slate before – or a black slate, House would say, the constant target of over-the-top racial taunts, the one with the criminal background. His parents and religious affiliation were question marks, and his self-serving arrogance combined with affability was intriguing. With “Euphoria,” some of those blanks have been filled in. He’s distanced from his devoutly religious father, his mother is deteriorating, and in these most extreme circumstances, the arrogance crumbles into desperation and fear.

Jennifer Morrison and Lisa Edelstein were stellar in quieter ways. Edelstein’s Cuddy is the naysaying authority figure who has to tell House that an autopsy on the dead cop’s brain has to wait for the CDC, since the biohazard risk is too high (“Did you call Jack Bauer?” asks House). But she’s more than that. When House brings Mr. Foreman to see her to plead for the autopsy, she gives an impassioned speech that demonstrates that while House fights for his patients, she has to think about the risk to others – convincing enough that the elder Foreman, if not House, sees her point. But as usual, the show isn’t giving us an easy answer, and both sides have valid points of view. Cuddy visits Foreman, who tells her he can’t forgive her for not risking whatever punishment she’d get for breaking protocol in order to save her life, and Cameron snipes at her (then feels immediately guilty for it) for the same thing.

“Euphoria” gives us a complex look at strength versus fragility. Strong-willed, self-assured Foreman can’t hold on to his strength when it’s his life and death he’s facing – he manipulates Cameron as shamelessly as his “manipulative bastard” boss, only with the added element of putting her life in danger, too. It’s doesn’t make him admirable, but it does make him interesting. The parallels with House disintegrate at some point in the second part of the episode, partly because it’s hard to picture House sacrificing someone else’s life for the sake of his own, but also because House was willing to die rather than be disabled, except the decision was taken away from him; Foreman says the exact opposite, and picks a proxy who acted on the decision he chose.

Cute, petite Cameron, who looks like she’s constantly in danger of being knocked flat by the hot air emanating from House, shows a strength of character not always apparent in her “do you like me” or bad-news-avoiding phases. House, never mind the physical damage, the pain and the limp, is psychologically held together with little but that hot air. So when he calls Cameron weak for going back to the cop’s apartment to save the life of a man who stole (I’m sure he meant to say “scooped”) an article from her, it’s with puzzlement more than venom. “What does the guy have to do to make you hate him?” he wonders, and I wonder if he’s thinking of himself and her seemingly unshakeable crush, too. House, who’s floundering because he’s too close to the case, can’t understand the kind of strength that leads someone to be fearless and tenacious because the life of someone she cares about is at stake.

The acting wasn’t the only thing that stood out. I rarely notice direction or lighting – I know nothing about them, so my brain pretends they don’t exist – but even I noticed the camera motions and lighting contributed to the highly charged atmosphere. Several key scenes were blue, green, or red-tinged, adding mood to such disparate settings as the morgue and the chapel. Both episodes were headed by frequent House director Deran Sarafian, with a distinctive style that is kinetic and anxiety-inducing.

The next episode is back at its regular time, on Tuesday, May 9 at 9 p.m on FOX.