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'House M.D.': Cuddy's long day's journey into night

February 9, 2010 |  7:17 am
House-Ep614_Sc46-cuddy-drops-atlanicnet_1170 One of my favorite episodes in this season of "House M.D." was "Wilson," which gave us a glimpse into what the show would be like if our favorite mild-mannered oncologist was the titular character.  Monday night's episode, "5 to 9," was similar, offering a walk through a day in the life of Dr. Lisa Cuddy.  Additionally, it showcased Lisa Edelstein's acting chops and her connection with her character. I'm thrilled that they gave this talented actress something to do other than sigh over House's antics or roll her eyes at his blatant sexual harassment.

As the title suggests, Cuddy's day begin at 5 a.m. when her alarm goes off. The attention to detail in this small moment of quiet is really fantastic -- I love that she reaches out to the empty side of the bed as if hoping someone will be there. I also took note of the book on her nightstand: Isabel Allende's "Ines of My Soul." It's a story of a Spanish conquistadora who had an invaluable hand in building the nation of Chile, though her contributions are often forgotten.

Apt, isn't it?

Cuddy can't seem to catch a break. She's running late, her daughter has a fever, and her morning quickie with Lucas is not only interrupted by an emergency page from House, which she ignores, but turns out to be a little too quick to be satisfying. 

On arriving at work, House casually drops the bomb that he and Lucas planned the mid-coital emergency page as part of a "who matters more to Cuddy" wager. She's impressively unfazed. 

Similar to the "Wilson" episode, this Cuddy-centric hour actually serves us a new perspective on Dr. House. When we're not invested in House's patients and team, it's much easier to see how his selfishness wreaks havoc on the rest of the hospital. In the first 10 minutes of the episode he's already made Cuddy late for an important appointment and endangered the life of a surgical patient by cranking the operating room air conditioning to arctic levels. The sheer amount of time she spends in this episode just doing House-related damage control is incredible. With her level of patience, she should qualify for sainthood.

As hospital administrator, Cuddy actually does have bigger fish than House to fry. Cuddy spends most of her day renegotiating Princeton Plainsboro's contract with AtlanticNet Insurance. It sounds boring, but it actually felt rather like watching a high-stakes game of poker. AtlanticNet insists that Princeton Plainsboro is too small to be so expensive, but Cuddy maintains that the hospital's excellent track record lends credibility to AtlanticNet. 

I was so impressed by her staying power in the negotiations. She doesn't budge on her demands, even when it appears that AtlanticNet may have called her bluff and that she may be walking a plank toward coerced resignation. Ultimately, however, the AtlanticNet rep gives in to her demands. House's smile at her reads an awful lot like "I knew you could do it all along," which serves as a reminder to the audience that despite his antagonizing, he has always been on her side.

Of course, that doesn't mean that she shouldn't still be on her toes around him. When an error is made in the pharmacy, resulting in a doubled shipment of medicine, Cuddy automatically assumes that the medication is Vicodin and that House is responsible. It's not surprising that even after several months of his sobriety, Cuddy still doesn't trust House. It turns out that Gail, one of the pharmacists, has been stealing ephedrine from the hospital. 

Cuddy initially suspects that Gail is using it as a weight-loss drug, but it's revealed that Gail has actually stolen over $50,000 worth of medication and is likely running a much larger operation. Gail may have been high for most of her employment, but she knows the chink in Princeton Plainsboro's armor: House. She threatens to tell the authorities that House forced her to steal the drugs, with Cuddy helping to cover it up.  For the first time this season, I'm glad Lucas is around -- his private eye gear came in handy for recording that conversation and getting Cuddy, House and the hospital off the hook for Gail's habit.

Elsewhere, Cuddy has to deal with a patient who ... doesn't want his thumb? Apparently Chase -- who wears far too many hats at this hospital -- reattached a patient's severed thumb when he was actually just supposed to stitch up his stump. Now, if you ask me, I'd take a thumb over a stump any day -- after all, I hear that opposable thumbs are a pretty big deal in the animal kingdom. However, thumb reattachment surgery is far more expensive than stump-prettifying surgery, so the patient is suing Chase for malpractice. 

Cuddy, who should really start demanding that people call her Superwoman, not only gets the patient to call off the lawsuit but has him turning in his first payment to the hospital by the end of the episode. In another sainthood-worthy move, she tears up his $850 check, apparently letting him off the hook for his debt to the hospital.

Despite this episode's unusual format, the show is still called "House," and Cuddy spends her fair share of time wrangling with the diagnostics department's usual high jinks. This week, the team is diagnosing a boil-ridden cancer patient, who House thinks will be cured if they can just infect him with malaria ... which will, incidentally, win him a $50 bet. No, seriously. Once House gives up the malaria game, there's a ridiculous power struggle with the head of surgery. The whole situation can best be summarized as: "My surgeon is better than yours; nyah-nyah-nyah." Cuddy manages to remain cool and collected, even when it degenerates into an actual physical brawl over operating room space.

As if her day wasn't busy enough already, Cuddy gets stuck with House's clinic duty -- a patient looking for a prescription for breast milk. Meanwhile, House is napping. It's only logical. After all, he's got to rest up for the candle-lighted massage he later gets in his office.

Personally, I loved this episode. It shouldn't have taken six seasons to arrive at this closer look at Cuddy's life. She's been a rather one-dimensional love-interest figure this season instead of a strong, capable doctor, so it's nice to see that role reversed. In this one day alone, Cuddy was called the b-word four separate times. After seeing what it takes to get through Cuddy's 5-to-9 day, if I were her, I think I'd take that slur as a compliment.

My favorite parts of the episode were the quiet moments Cuddy stole for herself. Watching her whisper, "You can do it," to her reflection in the morning gave the viewer great insight into just how much determination it takes to get started. Her distraught stairwell pacing and the hide-out in her car only made the weight on her shoulders more obvious. Along that same vein, House's constant interruptions show us not only how well he knows her, but how well he understands just how hard it is to be Cuddy. He may not sympathize or attempt to ease the load, but he's aware of it, and that can't be said for everyone else in her life.

Make sure to leave me your thoughts in the comments! I'm looking forward to hearing whether you guys enjoyed this break from the usual "House" formula.

-- Carina MacKenzie (catch up with me on Twitter @cadlymack)

Photo: Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) addresses the hospital regarding AtlanticNet. Credit: Fox


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