HOUSE: The Social Contract - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

HOUSE: The Social Contract

March 10, 2009 by  

As a reformed high school debate nerd, I was overwhelmed with flashbacks after seeing the title of this episode. For eager young minds who are desperate to assert their intellectual superiority, few topics brought out more first class blowhard behavior than the various theories regarding the Social Contract. Though many of history’s most admired thinkers offered their own provisions of this imaginary agreement, my personal favorite came from an English philosopher named John Locke. Though he lacked the experiences of being confined to a wheelchair and participating in a walkabout, Locke possessed enough wisdom to prescribe an individual’s role within a larger society. While Locke believed in the freedom of each person, he theorized that rational people would curtail some of their liberties in order to resolve conflicts in a civil manner.

This week’s House delved into the broad landscape of how we treat each other in routine social situations. Faced with a patient who had surrendered the ability to reconcile his selfish thoughts with his familial discretion, the good doctor was thrust into a strenuous renegotiation about the pact signed by best friends. Writer Doris Egan threaded these stories into an impassioned exploration about the schism between one’s duty to self and duty to others.

My “blogmance” with House & Wilson’s chemistry has been blatantly obvious all season. Television friendships are rarely compelling to watch in both subtle and heightened moments, but Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard have mastered those scenes, along with all points in between. After learning his homeless brother Danny had resurfaced after thirteen years, Wilson took elaborate steps to keep House out of the loop. Using Taub as a racquetball alibi was a fun device for generating comedy, and likely served as the first time a TV show has ever presented a racket sport inside of a morgue. Once the laughs had subsided and Wilson’s true story emerged, the rest of the story gave us two men, stripped of any pretext, trying to express their concerns in patently different ways. Though House may never know the right thing to say, he appears to have a knack for being where Wilson needs him to be. Rather than accept the conventional wisdom that we are all supposed to follow the same rules, Wilson welcomes the dysfunction of his best friend, contract or no contract.

Princeton Plainsboro’s patients are often incidental plot devices, but I was riveted by the painfully awkward tirades offered up by Jay Karnes as Nick, a husband and father diagnosed with Frontal Lobe Disinhibition. The inability to filter one’s words, regardless of their target, is a sickness that has been played for laughs on TV through the years. By taking a hard line with the emotional consequences of the patient’s words, I thought the House team made a credible choice. After giving us the room to laugh as Nick held court on Taub’s nose and Thirteen’s “pistons,” director Andrew Bernstein brought things full-circle by showing the anguish on the face of Nick’s wife and child as he lambasted their career path and academic acumen, respectively. When House & Nick finally met face-to-face, and the patient described the tenuous balance between whether a life with his condition was worth living, the concept of the Social Contract took center stage. Are humans really capable of being fully realized if we do not connect with others in a loving and meaningful way? If I were Hugh Laurie’s agent, I would submit this episode for Emmy consideration, as House’s poignant speech to Chase alone deserves a statue. Once again, we saw a patient’s battle with an unimaginable fate humanize House in an impactful way.

This episode held its own against the very best of Season Five. My opinions about each chapter of House’s story are usually gut feelings, unbound by a particular formula or expectation. The actors held my full attention with their performances, and I was moved by House & Wilson’s interactions in New York City. More importantly, I believe this was a story that can be judged by merit, rather than by the percentage of screen time allotted to Foreteen or Chase & Cameron. We can always get back to that next week!

Was this episode worth waiting an extra week for? How did the emotional core of Wilson’s story strike you? Can you think of a time when you wished that you had Frontal Lobe Disinhibition? With only a few moments of Foreteen to dissect, was anyone else put off by their flirtation? What was your favorite outburst from the patient of the week? I am looking forward to discussing this one with you!

How does Erik combat writer’s block? He indulges in Adam Carolla’s new daily podcast at and reads Bill Simmons’ columns on The GMMR House scribe is an active participant in the economic recession, and is working on a pamphlet outlining the etiquette of handling Facebook requests from old boyfriends/girlfriends.


7 Responses to “HOUSE: The Social Contract”

  1. geebs on March 10th, 2009 11:33 pm

    Strange, one day down and no comments yet?

    Well, this is the first time I have heard the term “social contract” per se but the way the entire episode revolved around it, I think I wouldn’t need to read a lot about it.

    This episode would be equivalent to a home-coming celebration, with House & Wilson at the helm of the episode, Taub & Kutner’s mutterings in the background, a brief but cute scene of the ol’ with Cuddy, couldn’t get better!!

    Well if you think H.Laurie deserves an award, then both him and R.S.Leonard deserve the best acting-duo award.

    The scene where House finds about one Dr.Gonzalvez, with Taub offering an ominous suggestion and then House totally dismissing Taub was one of the scenes, I felt, stood true to the friendship of House and Wilson. (Made any sense?)

  2. robertas on March 11th, 2009 4:07 pm

    Oh I so loved this week’s episode 🙂 And I agree with you Erik this is by far the best I have seen this season.

    And not only because we saw much more of Wilson (although I loved that too).

    I remember some things about social contract (very vaguely though since it has been ages I read Locke, Mill, Kuhn, Popper and the others at Uni) but I think Wilson described their relationship brilliantly – he doesn’t have to pretend around House,play nice or be what he needs him to be.
    House accepted him and he accepted House. Sure Wilson tries to nudge him in the right direction from time to time, but I think when you boil it down to the essence, to the heart of Wilson-House you get respect and acceptance. That is why (to me at least) this is the central relationship of this show. And we got to see that this week.

    I don’t know why we have to wait so long into the season because there were plenty of avenues to explore, but what do I know?

    Btw anyone else thinks its great when Wilson looses his rag with House? 🙂

    And before I forget – I loved the speech to Chase.

  3. Erik on March 11th, 2009 6:55 pm

    Geebs: I am in the process of moving this week, so the recap did not get to Kath until late yesterday afternoon. Today will be everyone’s first chance to offer their opinions during regular work hours, so we’ll see what happens.

    There were a number of scenes that emphasized the playful nature of the veteran cast members, including House’s hilarious Wizard of Oz prank to boost Cuddy’s ego. I love the two of them exchanging sarcastic barbs that are layered with lustful intentions. That rings more true than the heartfelt moments that have been inflicted on us this season. A TV romance does not have to be traditional in order to be effective.

    I echo your feelings about House & Wilson’s chemistry, and keep finding that my favorite episodes are those that feature the two men dealing with consequential issues, be they personal or professional.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and keep coming back to see what the other regulars have to say!

  4. Erik on March 16th, 2009 8:15 pm

    robertas: I love reading your comments, because you have a knack for honing down the key points of an episode to their core.

    It is almost remarkable that the writing team has kept House & Wilson’s friendship authentic through over 100 episodes. Without the battery of twists and turns that can be used with characters of the opposite sex, they are left with the challenge of maintaining a relationship built on mutual respect and intellectual curiosity. Do you think that would be possible on Two & A Half Men?

  5. Kate on April 15th, 2009 1:13 am

    Erik, it’s always nice to see your enthusiasm for the show.

    I vaguely remembered that the Social Contract was Locke but all I could find was Rousseau’s version and that didn’t seem to fit the show at all. Thanks for confirming the Locke version.

    I was disappointed in this episode because I think the show has been doing too much recycling of certain characters and plot lines and not enough of others. (I’ve had enough of Thirteen, Foreman and Taub and wish we could have more of Cameron and Chase who have only had roles on three episodes all season.) It was nice to see Wilson back to doing more than being Cupid to House and Cuddy but during one of the scenes of House doing his convoluted thought processes to try to figure out what Wilson was doing, going over the same old stuff he has many times before and at least once in every Doris Egan episode, I realized that I was bored with House himself. HL does a wonderful performance but House never changes, never evolves, never grows up. I was overcome by the impulse to smack him upside the head and say “Just grow up already. You’re not five years old and this isn’t cute any more.”

    But that’s not why I came back to this episode. It was actually to ask you a question, you as a man. The scene where House calls Cuddy down to the patient’s room so he could tell her struck me as the sort of scene which worked so well when House and Cuddy were sparring partners but doesn’t work now that they are supposed to be in a romantic relationship. For a female friend, it’s a nice thing to do to have a stranger confirm how hot she is. But for someone a guy is seriously interested in having a relationship with, would he really be inviting other men to comment on her like that? I thought guys didn’t like to share.

    It also bothered me that Cuddy said that she was 38. If that’s true, then she couldn’t have known House when she was in university (from Humpty Dumpty) because he would be almost 12 years older and long gone when she was an undergraduate, or be the doctor in Three Stories since she would still have been doing her endocrinology residency. If she’s giving her age as younger than she really is, what happened to the strong Cuddy who didn’t feel the need to lie about her age to make herself feel better? As a continuity glitch, it bothered me.

  6. Erik on April 16th, 2009 3:55 am

    Kate: Thanks for taking a second look at this episode, as I found it to be one of the most thoughtful hours of TV in recent memory. Though I often worry about shaping the first paragraph of each recap to attract more readers, I remember being struck by how well the concept of the Social Contract was explored in each thread of the story.

    Your question is right on point, and I am happy to offer my two cents. In my experience, the idea of offering up my intended or significant other in a forum that would objectify her is abhorrent and unacceptable. From a sociological standpoint, I could not reconcile House’s behavior with that of a well-educated person of means. The instances where I have seen this type of display have fit the stereotype of an uneducated or unsophisticated macho type who lacks a basic understanding of how to treat women.

    The scenario we are discussing had two potential outcomes. Since Thirteen can clearly be described as a woman with significant aesthetic qualities, the likelihood that the patient would express a preference for Cuddy was 50/50, at best. Your question is best answered by how Cuddy would have felt if the patient had lusted for Thirteen and ignored her wholeheartedly. A man who feels true affection would never put his beloved in such emotional jeopardy.

    A gentleman named John, who frequently adds his opinions to our House discussions, offered this view during our discussion of “The Softer Side”:

    “I can’t fathom the interest in a House/Cuddy relationship. I like both characters, but I really can’t see House in any relationship deeper than his occasional hooker hook-ups.”

    I think John speaks for a large percentage of male viewers, who prefer that House’s extracurricular activities are limited to those involving a financial transaction. The character is not ultimately intended to appear virtuous, and his attitude towards the opposite sex is the chief argument to support that theory.

    Thank you so much for continuing to chime in, and I hope we continue this dialogue through the rest of Season Five!

  7. Kate on May 13th, 2009 12:27 am

    Thank you so much for your reply. (And my apologies for coming back here so late but life intervened.) Too many people on the internet blog because they are indiscriminating fans who love every nuance good or bad, and I very much enjoy your more realistic outlook on the show. I also appreciate hearing things from a male point of view since the men in my life either do not watch House or cannot be brought to talk about it, and House needs a male perspective to put things into context.

    At this point, I’m not sure I will be back for season 6. What I got from Both Sides Now is that the House/Cuddy relationship will continue ( I prefer House/Wilson for a primary friendship relationship with a side of House/hookers), and that Cameron will continue to be marginalized next year. We’ll see but even if I do stop watching the show, I will continue to read your reviews because of how well-written and enjoyable they are.