House M.D.: Season 5, Episode 16

The Softer Side (23 Feb. 2009)

TV Episode  -   -  Drama | Mystery
8.8
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House's team resents being made complicit in a web of lies parents have told their son when he's brought in for treatment that may be related to his intersexuality. Meanwhile, no one's content that House is happy.

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The Softer Side (23 Feb 2009) on IMDb 8.8/10

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Storyline

An intersexual boy has collapsed on the basketball court. His parents have never told him he has both male and female cells and they (that is, the overprotective mother, who seems to be wearing the trousers) don't want the team to tell him either. For Thirteen, withholding the truth from the kid is easier said than done. To everybody's surprise, House acts kind and actually seems to be... happy, which makes everyone think something fishy is going on. Written by Marco van Hoof <k_luifje7@hotmail.com>

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Drama | Mystery

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TV-14 | See all certifications »
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23 February 2009 (USA)  »

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Goofs

As "13" and Foreman are inspecting the room at the beginning of the episode, the window beside the bed goes from partly open to closed and back again several times. See more »

Quotes

Dr. James Wilson: Cuddy, he's happy.
Dr. Lisa Cuddy: House doesn't do happy. Pain or no pain.
Dr. James Wilson: Okay, maybe... But he's our friend. And this is his one chance to not be miserable.
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References Vertigo (1958) See more »

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$300
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Performed by Soul Coughing
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User Reviews

Better than the reviews might have you think
17 May 2014 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The episode opens with a couple being told that their newborn baby has ambiguous gender and both male and female DNA. We then see a young teen boy collapse during a basketball game, and the team gets a new case. The parents are scared it is due to the gender issues at his birth (a blind uterus), but when an MRI rules that out, things get more complicated. The team quickly gets frustrated trying to diagnose and interact with the boy because the parents are too afraid to address the gender issue with him, and have kept it a secret all his life. 13 finds out that the boy's mother has strictly enforced gender stereotypes by forbidding him from taking dance classes and instead making him do sports like basketball or hockey. She empathizes much more with the boy than with the parents, and gives him just enough information to force the parents to be honest with their son.

Meanwhile, House is behaving unusually and when he passes out in his office, Cuddy and Wilson begin to suspect he is using heroin. Foreman and 13 are still seeing each other, but pretending they've broken up. The fact that Kutner and Taub have figured them out but House hasn't is a red flag for Foreman and he joins in suspecting that House is using illegal narcotics. What's really happening is very dangerous but also very effective, and they have to decide how to address the situation professionally.

Many aspects of this episode are emotional and dramatic, causing some people to feel that the series was continuing toward a more soap-opera format. However, I think this is a solid episode addressing a gender issue in a new way. (And I also feel that by season 5, if the show had stuck with a strict medical detective format, most fans would be quite bored with it. They're there for the characters and relationships, not just the mystery, right?) And sure, there was an episode in previous seasons which dealt with a beautiful female model having male DNA, but this is a very different approach to gender and something that is rarely explored in fiction. The previous episode didn't explore the gender construct at all, it ended with the reveal that the girl had internal testicles. There was no follow-up on the way the girl felt about her gender or how her father dealt with the news. This episode is about gender from the beginning, not just landing a surprise 'you're a boy!' at the end.

What makes it compelling is the the parents, who know about their son's gender complications but have kept it hidden from him, and are overly sensitive to any potential gender issue because of it. They enforce gender rules more than most parents, ever concerned that they made the 'wrong choice' when he was born. They create far more distress in him by scrutinizing his every interest, making him believe that just because he wants to take dance, he's not a 'real boy'. It's an important thing to give attention to for a lot of reasons, and there's a good message behind the episode - even if your kid doesn't know there's something different about them (and even if there ISN'T anything unusual about them), they'll feel like a freak if you treat them like one.


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