'House': Ethan Embry guest stars as 'House' returns for the new year

house-320.jpg"House" can be smart and moving, but it also has the potential to be ridiculous and irritating. Tonight we were treated to a little bit of both, with a well-acted, interesting A-plot, and B- and C-plots that I'd probably have fast forwarded through if I weren't tasked with writing about them for you lovely folks.

The episode was carried by great guest acting from Ethan Embry and Nick Chinlund (who fifteen years later I still picture as Donnie Pfaster on "The X-Files," and am accordingly creeped out). The writing, well...maybe they were burned out and ready for a holiday break when this one got dropped in the hopper, because the tank must've been empty when they decided to devote a significant portion of the episode to House pretending to be gay in order to seal the deal with his cute neighbor before Wilson does. But I'm getting ahead of myself - let's focus on the good stuff first!

The Case - Nick Chinlund and Ethan Embry play Eddie and Mickey, drug dealing partners in crime. Mickey collapses during a particularly...exciting...deal, an event that's repeated when House bangs his cane on the hospital bed. That's a pretty cool magic trick. It's called noise-induced vertigo, apparently.

House is thrilled with the challenge of getting personal information out of a patient who won't talk, to the point of bugging his hospital room and interrogating his partner (who confirms that they sell "culottes," ha). They even manipulate Mickey into discharging himself (dangerous, much?) so that Thirteen and Chase can follow him home and test for environmental factors. But Thirteen runs a light and gets her car impounded, leaving Mickey to come back from his day on the town with a fever of 105.

When he treats a lumbar puncture like a gentle massage, House figures out that Mickey is taking beta blockers to control the stress from his job. "Job" meaning doing bad things to good people. But don't worry, House ensures that Chase isn't planning on putting a pillow over Mickey's face before leaving them alone together. Good thinking.

The interference on House's bug leads them to discover another bug in Mickey's room. Seems he's a cop, preparing after 16 months of undercover work to bust a huge deal going down the next night. A deal that will get called off if the doctors start poking around the area. Mickey, used to risking his life for his job by now, insists that they hold off for 24 hours.

Luckily, Eddie is a much better friend to Mickey than Mickey is to him (though yes, there is the small matter of his being a murderer and all), and he takes Thirteen to the dry cleaning facility that's serving as their HQ. But the visit doesn't accomplish anything aside from proving that Thirteen can think on her feet: when another dealer showed up she pretended to be a prostitute.

As Mickey begins to develop pulmonary embolisms and cough up blood, Eddie sweetly wipes his mouth, and shrugs off the fact that he risked his life bringing Thirteen to the facility - he had to do it, because Mickey is his friend and would've done the same for him. He even offers to skip the big deal and stay with Mickey, but Mickey insists that he go. He apologizes, and not just because he can't go, too. Two thumbs up to Nick Chinlund for this scene.

The final diagnosis, unfortunately, is terminal: Hughes-Stovin, an immune disease that will kill Mickey in the next day or so. He finally calls his wife, who's with him as he dies. At the same time, the big bust goes off without a hitch and Eddie is arrested along with the other dealers. I really liked the complexity of both Eddie and Mickey's characters - this plot worked for me.

Hilson: So close, yet so far -  Wilson meets a cute neighbor at his new building, and asks her out to dinner. Neighbor: "Sure! As long as you bring the cute-looking guy with the cane." Ha! Also, snap. Wilson: "You mean House?" Neighbor: "Your boyfriend's name is House?" Double snap. She doesn't even believe him when he corrects her. Which seems a little rude, honestly.

House's reaction: "We're two tigers away from an act in Vegas. They'll figure it out eventually." Though not before he tries his best to get into cute neighbor's pants by pretending to be gay (and thus nonthreatening) in order to lure her in. Sigh. Really? A "Chorus Line" poster and an "Evita" listening party are apparently all it takes to get into backrub territory, much to Wilson's dismay. And the louder he protests, the less she buys it.

Finally, he crashes a romantic dinner where House just convinced her that he was having relationship problems with Wilson and needed to sleep over at her place. And giving up on the denials, Wilson instead declares his love and proposes to House in front of the whole restaurant. Awkward pause, and cute neighbor excuses herself.

Of course, it was kind of a scorched earth move since Wilson can't date her now, either. Especially after House confesses to the whole thing, convincing her that they're both jerks. (One more than the other.) We close the episode with Wilson's lovely rendition of "One" from "A Chorus Line" as he tries to annoy House into getting rid of their couch. Just one word for this plot, really: Why?

Team shenanigans - Thirteen, Taub and Chase decide to take Foreman down a peg by convincing him that they all make more money than him. When Cuddy won't give him a raise unless he has a competing offer, Foreman tells Taub that with no competing offer, he'll just leave the hospital when the case is over rather than beg for the raise. And did anyone at this point NOT realize that Foreman was messing right back with them? They confess to Cuddy, even offering to take money out of their paychecks to give him a raise and keep him there, she busts Foreman, he gives them a big "Who's your daddy?" and we all go on our merry way.

How did you feel about the various plots tonight? Did you miss the House/Cuddy focus? Why is everyone talking about "ferberizing" all of a sudden? (See: "Modern Family" last week.)