House celebrates its 150th episode with the long-awaited return of Thirteen (Dr. Remy Hadley, played by Olivia Wilde). In last season’s finale, she took a leave of absence, presumably to participate in a new Huntington’s study in Italy (her mother died from the disease and she has tested positive for it). That the study turned out to be a fabrication came as no surprise to anyone familiar with the show: Thirteen has always nurtured a carefully honed air of mystery.
As the trailers for “The Dig” reveal, Thirteen has been in jail for six of the last 12 months she’s been missing. The episode opens with House (Hugh Laurie) arriving at the Middlebury Correctional Institution as Thirteen is released. Structurally, this is a departure from the show’s usual opening moments, which present a medical enigma for House and his team to unravel (the best example by far being Season Seven’s “Out of the Chute”). “The Dig” begins with no dialogue, as House offers Thirteen a post-incarceration martini and the two size each other up in an epic stare-down, he all blue-eyed, stark curiosity and she all cheekbones and indignation. House fans will be delighted.
Then again, maybe this set up isn’t a change, after all. Seasons Six and Seven have ventured further into House and his team’s personal and emotional discoveries. Though an actual diagnostics case does emerge here, in the form of a blood-spewing hoarder, Brian (Terry Maratos), House only participates in that one by phone: Thirteen is his case. He is determined to discover what she did to land herself in jail, regardless of her pleas for him to drop it. “I really wish I was the type of guy who could do that,” he answers.
We know that, and so does Thirteen. Unlike other House staff members—Foreman (Omar Epps), Chase (Jesse Spenser), and even this season’s medical student Masters (Amber Tamblyn)—who fret they might become “like” House (misanthropic and megalomaniacal), she has always known exactly how to play him to get what she needs. As she has alternated between resistance and compliance, indifference and dependence, Thirteen intrigues House. And it’s clear that he fulfills some emotional or psychological need for her.
As they face off, the episode makes much of its titular metaphor. The physical dig through the hoarder’s house is the most obvious allusion, as Masters suggests approaching Brian’s house as an archeological site. The team must excavate, catalogue, and analyze what it finds to uncover the psychic cause. And Foreman does some digging of his own, resolved to uncover the secret to Taub’s (Peter Jacobsen) romantic success.
More intriguing than the show’s routine of revealing secrets, however, sorting out how those secrets formed in the first place, and then be covered over. Some cases, like Brian’s hoarding or House’s addiction, have been facilitated by those who love them. Others seem driven by the opposite sentiment—selfishness: House fuels Foreman’s arrogance, for example, for the sport of watching the rest of the team struggle for power or, better, for the pleasure of occasionally knocking Foreman down a peg.
But the women of House are, as ever, troubling in their masochistic enabling of the men around them. Taub’s lover allows him to repeat his bad behavior, Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) puts up with House’s cruelties. Masters subjects herself to incessant mockery in hopes of acceptance. Thirteen is more complex: she reduces herself to series of ciphers, partly to keep House from controlling her, but also knowing this makes her valuable to him and affords her some measure of power.
As we expect, throughout the excavations, House’s story is most compelling. In the last few episodes, we’ve seen his relationship with Cuddy collapse and his relapse into Vicodin dependence. The softer, gentler House, the one who admitted to vulnerabilities and tried really, really hard to be a grown up, has been buried again in a landslide of recklessness and self-destruction. House might be hell-bent to dig up the dirt on Thirteen, but he recovers some of himself along the way.