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I was chatting with a friend after we’d watched this latest House episode, “Finding Judas” (which makes House Jesus? Talk about your ironic titles). She loved it, I hated it. (Well, “hate” here is defined as “loved slightly less than most other episodes of this show.”) When we got further into the discussion, it was obvious that our overall impressions were virtually identical, until we got to those opposite conclusions. Sometimes there really is a fine line, not a Great Wall of China, between love and hate.

I love bastard House. I defend bastard House. I’ve never thought the bastardliness was hiding a man who really loves puppies and sunsets, and I think it’s more interesting that he’s not only a bastard on the outside. But this House, the House who is hitting rock bottom in “Finding Judas,” was not fun, or funny, or sympathetic, and all that candy coating is what makes bastard House go down so smoothly.

I thought I’d really enjoy watching Chase getting punched, as he was at the end when he provided the medical epiphany moment after House botched the case. Foreman is right, Chase is hardwired to kiss ass, and that doesn’t endear him to me. But it turned out I wanted Chase to get up and beat House senseless with his stethoscope so he’d quit his bloody whining. Your leg hurts? Do something about it. Try something else for pain management, like all those doctors around you are pleading, like the cop who is making your life and your colleagues lives miserable is demanding.

Yeah, I know that’s not House’s M.O. (And I know he’s a fictional character and my hectoring will have no effect.) That’s why I can appreciate what the episode is trying to do without necessarily enjoying it (remember the silent “as much as most other episodes” at the end of that sentence).

I can’t believe I’m agreeing with scary Tritter, but we keep coming back to this: apparently everyone but House believes he is taking too much Vicodin, yet no one will actually do anything to stop him from practicing medicine in what they think is an impaired state. Maybe he’s impaired when he’s taking too much Vicodin, or maybe he’s impaired when he’s in too much pain to focus on the case. Either way, in “Finding Judas,” little Alice, the six-year-old patient of the week, almost lost her limbs because he was too busy focusing on how mean Cuddy was for rationing his Vicodin. (He hides his secret stash in a lupus textbook, because “it’s never lupus.”)

Alice was brought to the hospital in excruciating abdominal pain, and her bickering parents can’t agree on consent for surgery. Instead of threatening to cut the girl in half, House goes before the wisdom of a judge who rules in his favour – and, incidentally, the mother’s. When mystery rashes start appearing and treatment doesn’t work, it’s the father who wants to refuse House’s treatment, so back to the judge they go. In a surprise move – for those who hadn’t read the episode description – she awards temporary guardianship to Cuddy in order to make medical decisions.

House’s position is that Cuddy’s middle-of-the-road approach, in Alice’s treatment and in his own pain management, is cowardly, and that her medical decisions are only resulting in her getting sicker. He thinks his team is cowardly for not ratting him out, and barely listens to their medical opinions because they interfere with his complaining about his Vicodin being rationed. But he’s the biggest coward here, taking the head-in-sand approach to his legal problems and the impact those problems are having on the people closest to him. Even I want to smack House, and my bank accounts haven’t been frozen. Last I checked.

He’s always been an advocate for people doing what they think is right, even if it means standing up to him, and he’s no different here. But even though he’s goading them to do the right thing here, they believe that loyalty supersedes the law, medical ethics, and, if they do believe he’s out of control, House’s own well-being. He’s goading them to take action because he won’t, or can’t, or wants to make a game out of it, or isn’t thinking of the consequences because all he can think about are drugs. None of those options are admirable in a guy who does the right thing – in his own wrongheaded way – in professional circumstances, but rarely does the right thing in personal ones.

The gang refuses to talk to Tritter, but the way he puts pressure on each of them, and the reasons why they don’t talk, are revealing.

Tritter offers Foreman a deal – the truth about how many pills House takes each day in exchange for parole for his previously unheard-of brother, who’s locked up on drugs violations. Foreman refuses, even after Tritter points out that juvenile car thief Foreman has had two chances, House has had a thousand, and his brother is stuck at one. Foreman has written off his addict brother, and suddenly his pragmatism about House being an addict, and his hardness about people who can’t overcome their weaknesses or upbringing, has a context.

The cop presses the love angle with Cameron, pointing out that she’s changed under House’s tutelage: “You used to be someone who did the right thing.” She denies she’s in love with House, though she’s fooling no one.

Chase, the one who ratted on House during the Vogler era, is set up by Tritter to look like a rat this time, even though he refuses to divulge any information. He’s the only one whose accounts aren’t frozen – though he lies about it – and Tritter arranges a friendly, public meeting so they look cozy. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, right, Chase?

Their blind loyalty is not appreciated by House, and he gets meaner and meaner to prove it. He saves his most unforgivable viciousness for Cuddy, confronting her after she carries the sick girl into a shower in desperation to cool her fever.

I like mean House, when he’s funny, or making a point – even if that point is that someone is stupid. But his attack on Cuddy was deeply personal: “It’s a good thing you failed to become a mom, because you suck at it.” If he weren’t a fictional character, I’d gouge his eyes out for her. When Wilson tries to comfort her, especially after she admits to a miscarriage, she points out that House knows how to poke where it hurts, and expresses her own doubts over her maternal fitness.

Wilson is the designated shoulder this episode. He also encounters an upset Chase after he’s been punched for trying to stop House from maiming Alice for no reason. House doesn’t want to hear that his own medical decisions have led to the wrong conclusion, that she has flesh eating disease and needs her arm and leg amputated. As Chase pieces together, Alice is actually allergic to light, a condition that will limit but not end her life, and definitely not end her full-limbedness. After the punch, House finally seems appalled by himself, though not enough to do anything drastic like apologize.

Wilson tells Chase: “Beckett was going to call him play Waiting for House’s Approval, but decided it was too grim.” But Chase declares he’s not waiting for approval, and Wilson translates that correctly. Before Chase can potentially ruin his career by becoming a rat for a second time, Wilson goes to Tritter to ask for his “30 pieces of silver.” And we’ve found our Judas. Except Judas might not have been acting in everyone’s best interests.

It seems House needs to hit bottom before he can be redeemed, or at least scraped off the floor. I like that we’re seeing more of the dynamics between all the characters, and how they demonstrate their loyalty, and where their cracks are. But I didn’t find it fun to watch a bastard House with no redeeming flashes of humour or decency. And without the House I love at its centre, the show is as interesting and complex as ever without being nearly as compelling.

I know he’ll be back soon, but I don’t want my funny, sympathetic bastard House to ever go away. Next episode better be “Finding House.”