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(Excuse the delay on this week’s review. I was out having a merry little Christmas on Tuesday. A real one, not the House kind.)

Take one cup Vogler and two cups “Detox,” sprinkle with a case of the week that for once I wish had taken more airtime from the character drama, and we have “Merry Little Christmas.”

That might not be a very generous description, not fitting for the holiday spirit, but there is an air of familiarity to the Detective Tritter/withhold the Vicodin/define House’s addiction storyline the last few episodes have been milking. The patient story and the more-stunning-than-usual performance by Hugh Laurie redeemed this one for me, but only after I shut off the logic centres of my brain that were challenged by the rest of it.

This episode starts with House striding to his office to the cooler than cool sounds of “Zat You Santa Claus?” and jolly Detective Tritter (David Morse) starting things off with an ominous “Merry Christmas.” “And a happy go to hell,” is House’s rejoinder. Wilson and Tritter are bestowing a lovely gift on House: a two-month stint in rehab in exchange for a guilty plea for that thing he’s guilty of, with no jail time and no sanctions from the medical board.

“I did this to help you,” Wilson insists. “Next year, get me a sweater,” House replies.

Tritter tries to sell the deal with the choice: “Your principles or your life,” but I can’t quite figure out what those principles might be. The principle to break the law, implicate his best friend, not take responsibility for any of it, and then decide on the one means of reparation that will ruin the career that means everything to him and will still result in withdrawal from Vicodin. Unless they hand out unlimited pills in prison? But in any case, at least he’d have his principles. Whatever they are.

House runs to Cuddy, who’s examining the patient who will distract him momentarily from his outrage – so you know it must be an interesting case. Abigail is a young dwarf recovering from a collapsed lung. Cuddy has no idea what caused it, and after a snarky sparring match with 4’1″ mom Maddy (Meredith Eaton-Gilden), which involves many short jokes from House, take-no-guff sass from her, and a whole lot of sexual innuendo that ends with House proposing they “go for a spin,” House determines to find the cause. That was fun. This episode could have used a little more fun and a lot more Maddy.

Cuddy is not impressed with her “best doctor,” but she’s possibly even more unimpressed with Wilson, pointing out that House will never take the deal “because he’s a child.” Wilson’s solution, since there’s no way to undo the past, is to treat him like a child and take away his candy until he takes the deal. Cuddy warns that House needs the pain medication to function. “That’s the point,” says Wilson.

I feel like I need an Excel spreadsheet programmed with some highly complex formula to make sense of the characters’ ethical stances, so I’m not even going to try to untangle them with my tiny little brain. Yeah, yeah, he needs pain medication to function. We get it. We got it two years ago. But is that the point? If he’s out of control, which the forged prescriptions and every one of the other doctors’ suggestion that he’s taking too much Vicodin suggests, and no one did anything that made any difference, the outrage at Wilson now seems pretty hypocritical.

Cameron and Foreman debate the merits of withholding the pills to force House into rehab instead of jail.

“It might not work, but it’s not wrong,” Foreman says.

“Just because it’s effective doesn’t make it right,” Cameron counters, saying the ends don’t justify the means. Huh? Was that a non-sequitor or did I miss something there?

All the moral outrage in this episode was pretty outrageous. Jennifer Morrison in particular hits the tone of moral superiority waaaay too hard for my taste. When Cameron aired her grievances with Wilson, the logic centre of my brain just about short circuited.

“It was the right thing to do,” Wilson says about telling the truth to the cops and forcing House’s hand.

“You pretending your motives are pure is why I have a problem,” Cameron says in that voice dripping with superiority.

But … wait. Isn’t the stronger argument that she doesn’t think it was the right thing to do? Let’s hear that argument, because that’s what’s missing in this episode. Why on earth are his motives the most important question to her, and not the question of what’s best for House, whatever she thinks that is?

Wilson later tries to back out of testifying, since no one is allowed to have the courage of their convictions in this episode.

Wilson: No matter how much of an ass he is, statistically, House is a positive force in the universe. The pills let him do that.

Tritter: Vicodin does not make House a genius. Whatever he does on the pills he can do off.

Tritter menacingly informs him that he’ll be subpoenaed and his statement admitted, so not testifying isn’t going to make House’s choice go away, and could result in House and Wilson being cellmates.

The show, not usually known for playing it safe, is particularly brave to write a story arc where there’s no one to root for. As much as I want to appreciate the daring, I prefer it when I can root for House at least on some level. While he continues to insist “I’ve done nothing wrong” despite forging prescriptions on his best friend’s pad, I continue to think rehab or jail is the place for him.

This episode definitely proves House is out of control now, if he wasn’t before (but, c’mon, he was). Cuddy cuts off his Vicodin completely and cuts off his privileges at the hospital until he agrees to rehab. While Abigail gets sicker, the team operates as usual, bickering over the differential diagnosis and breaking into the patient’s home.

In addition, the ghosts of Christmas detox visit House to get information on the case. Foreman trades a medical clue for breaking into Cuddy’s desk drawer, which sadly doesn’t end up holding his precious pills. Cuddy visits him in desperation, pleading for the patient’s life, only to have House slam the door in her face. Cameron wrings a clue out of him and bandages up the arm he’s been cutting to relieve the pain of his leg and the detox.

Cameron gets the diagnosis of Still’s Disease from him, but after a brief period where it looks like he’s solved it, Abigail gets worse. The team argues whether it’s cancer or an autoimmune disease. Maddy wants House on the case because she recognizes that idiot though he is, he’s the one doctor who can solve the mystery.

Her saviour, however, is insulting Wilson and a grieving widow so he can steal pills from the body of her dead husband. When that doesn’t work, he steals that patient’s OxyContin prescription from the pharmacy, signing the log book in a scene that screams “bad move, House.”

Vicodin might not make House a genius, but Oxy apparently does. Cuddy confronts him while he’s bantering with a little girl who has spinal muscular atrophy – hey, it’s the disease House writer/producer Garrett Lerner has raised awareness and money for, finally making an on-screen appearance.

The little girl’s insistence that her stuffed bear is a dog results in House’s epiphany. Calling a bear a dog doesn’t make it a dog, and calling a girl who has cancer and an auto-immune disease that results in suppressed growth doesn’t make her a dwarf. Not only can they cure her illness, they can give her growth hormones and allow her to grow to near-average size.

When Abigail balks at taking the hormones out of fear of losing her identity and what makes her special (shades of House earlier this season), House and Maddy have their long-awaited sparring reunion.

House: You and I have found out that being normal sucks, because we’re freaks. The advantage of being a freak is it makes you stronger. How strong do you really want her to have to be? You told her what you had to tell her. Now you tell her you lied. Even if you didn’t.

She does a great job of convincing her daughter that she’ll always be special and will be able to have what Maddy didn’t, and the adorably rueful smile she gets from Abigail makes me wish we’d seen more of actress Kacie Borrowman in this episode too.

After that heartwarming scene, we get the anti-heartwarming scenes of Wilson inviting House for some “people over pills” on Christmas Eve, House calling his mom for an uncharacteristically nice “merry Christmas,” and then downing some pills with a very large chaser of alcohol.

Wilson still cares, and still knows House pretty well. He storms over after not getting an answer to three phone calls. When he finds his friend half passed out on the floor next to an empty pill bottle, he walks right out again. Cold. But I suppose the pile of puke and the fact that House was conscious were his clues that he wasn’t in imminent danger. Maybe he even did some math to figure out how many pills House would have ingested, since it was his patient’s prescription, after all. And it’s not like House hadn’t put him through enough to earn his disgust. I can come up with many justifications for him walking out with his friend dazed on the floor next to an empty pill bottle and a pile of puke, but still. Cold.

That finally does seem as low as House can go, inspiring him to go to Tritter to accept the rehab deal. Only, what a surprise, Tritter wasn’t really acting in anyone’s best interests, he was after an eye for an eye all along. The deal is off the table now that he has the pharmacy book evidence of House’s narcotics theft.

“Jesus walks, huh?” he smirks. And as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” plays ironically in the background, he ends as he began: “Merry Christmas.”

Merry frickin’ Christmas to you too, depressing House people. Not that I’m complaining about that. The year the show tries to do a House version of A Christmas Carol is the year I root for the original Scrooge to prevail.

House is scheduled to return Tuesday, January 9.