Olivia Wilde, <EM>House</EM> Olivia Wilde, House

If you're feeling light-headed from the recent lack of House, fear not: The first of three original episodes airs tonight (9 pm/ET, Fox), and it promises to be a doozy. The episode, "It's a Wonderful Lie," guest-stars Janel Moloney (The West Wing) as a woman who injures her daughter because of a sudden, inexplicable paralysis; but it's her apparent inability — or unwillingness — to tell a lie that has Dr. House both puzzled and fascinated. "It's a Wonderful Lie" also happens to be a Christmas episode, the odd timing coming as a consequence of the strike-condensed season. "I think the fact that it is Christmas is sort of odd and funny, but in the vein of House humor," says Olivia Wilde, who plays newly hired Thirteen (her actual name has yet to be revealed on the show). "It’s something that House would do — throw Christmas late."

The next episode, airing immediately after the Super Bowl this Sunday, guest-stars Mira Sorvino as a psychiatrist trapped at the South Pole who must attempt to diagnose herself with House's help, via webcam consultation. "It’s a whole new way of working for him," says Wilde, "and he’s forced to confront a lot of his own fears, as far as confronting the patients themselves personally." In next Tuesday's episode, likely the last of the season, House and his team treat a Hasidic woman with a past. (This episode should be a treat for all you Wilsonites out there, as our boy comes clean about a new romance.)

Wilde, for one, is celebrating the fact that she's still on the show; in the first part of the season, the actors were "auditioning" to become members of the cast just as their characters were competing for three coveted fellowships. "It meant that we never took it for granted," says Wilde. But unlike on the show, the actors didn't go out of their way to undermine each other. "We decided very early on that the only way to deal with the competitiveness that was obviously in the air was to joke about it constantly." In the last episode that aired, way back in November, it looked like Thirteen was out the door after House fired her — until Cuddy, playing right into his hands, granted her a reprieve on the grounds that House had to have a woman on his team. "There was a moment when my entire family thought I was fired, because I don’t tell them anything in advance," says Wilde. "So I got this call from my father, who hadn’t even finished watching the episode, and he was like, 'What? What happened?' I had to assure everyone that they had to watch it through.”

The strike has put a damper on the season, of course. "I really, really miss playing [Thirteen]," says Wilde. "I think this separation from the show, because of the strike, has made me realize how much I enjoy being here every day." Working with Hugh Laurie has been another source of great enjoyment. "Watching Hugh and the way he behaves and how professional he is, and the risks that he takes... it ups the bar. They really are serious about making it one of the best shows on television."

As for some vocal fans' claims that Thirteen is nothing more than a watered-down version of Cameron, Wilde doesn't see it that way. "I find Cameron’s character to be so compassionate and emotional; she is just so lovable and a lover. I find Thirteen to be almost the opposite." But, she concedes, "[if] there are two girls on a show, people are always going to compare them."

There are still plenty of mysteries to unravel about Thirteen, not least of which is her name. "They actually tried to hide it," she says. "It disappeared from the call sheets. I think they’re not putting too much value on the secrecy of a name, but they like the fact that it established this sort of inside joke between House and Thirteen. He could easily look at her file and see her name, but he chooses to keep it up." Hopefully with the arrival of some new episodes, we'll be able to put a name to the number before too long.

Check out full episodes and clips of House in our Online Video Guide.

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