Let’s get one thing out of the way. As I feared — or was it hoped? — after the end of the previous episode, it didn’t take long for Thack to succumb to his inherent vices. And now here he is opening the show by taking his lady friend’s advice, using the cocaine to jazz up the heroin and the heroin to take the bite out of the cocaine. You’ve got to admire his commitment — why do none when you can do both? Thank God he’s got the chops to reduce those nefarious liquids to powders so he can avoid telltale track marks. Ain’t science cool?
This professional pharmacology seems to benefit the doctor instantly, erasing that harrowing, haunted look from the first two episodes and returning to us Thack in all his dapper, feverish glory. So now he can get down to business, more specifically research. Sounds boring? Well, let me tempt you with the promise of a syphilitic pig, which is not, I’m happy to say, a metaphor.
But let’s put that pig on hold for a moment, as it’s not the only subject of Thack’s scientific inquiry. First and foremost, he’s dedicated to curing addiction, although perhaps not his own. And what he needs are bodies, more specifically, OD victims. After a young and affluent woman (remember vis-à-vis Thack that addiction is not only a disease of the poor) dies of a heroin overdose, the doc makes a plea to her parents to let him take a look at her insides. The family is understandably resistant. But Dr. Thackery prevails, not least because he suggests that the mother too suffers from the same disease as the daughter. It certainly takes one to know one. And just like that, Thack has his first specimen. What he discovers remains to be seen.
Less exciting, though no less important, is the research into a new glandular extract called adrenaline being conducted by Dr. Zinberg’s team over at Mt. Sinai, where Dr. Chickering has signed on as the token goy. To Bertie’s dismay (he’s got a little more Thack in him than I’d imagined), Zinberg’s methods are slow, methodical, and reasonable. Although young Chickering gets prickly when Zinberg assigns him to lab work (and what tedious work it is) instead of surgery, it’s not all bad news uptown. He immediately piques the interest of Genevieve Everidge, a spitfire journalist who asks him out. It seems young Chickering might get over Nurse Elkins faster than he thought. Mazel! But it’s not going to be smooth sailing — I have a sense that the parental Chickerings will not be thrilled to learn that Genevieve’s real last name is Cohen.
And what of Nurse Elkins? How is she mending her broken heart? Through turning back to God, or at least that’s what she’d hoped. However, her decision to confess during her father’s prayer meeting backfires, bringing not forgiveness but wrath. It turns out her dad’s God isn’t all merciful — or maybe he is, and it’s just her dad who finds his daughter’s sins of drugs and fornication unpardonable. Once again, AJ Elkins provides the episode’s most troubling non-medical scene when he whips his grown daughter for the embarrassment she’s caused him and the transgressions to which she’s admitted.
As for The Knick’s move north, things are going slowly with the new building, which is exactly as Barrow wants it. He’s dragging down construction, drawing it out, ordering more expensive plans and material so he can get a kickback from the added expenditure. You would have thought Barrow had learned his lesson after extracting himself from Bunky Collier’s clutches, then coming out ahead with Ping Yu. But he can’t keep his hand out of the cookie jar. And just when I thought Barrow had finished digging himself into another unpleasant hole, here comes one of Collier’s former henchmen demanding he present himself at Tammany Hall for a reckoning of his accounts. None of this is going to work in Barrow’s favor, especially now that Dr. Mays has put him up for his club. (Thank God Mays is good for something.) Club membership and trafficking with underworld types just don’t jell.
And speaking of clubs, Dr. Gallinger is off to his medical-school reunion at the Penn Club (much nicer than the Yale Club, we learn). He leaves Eleanor at home — and a good thing, too. Her nerves are a mess, and her Tony Robbins chompers are certainly going to draw the wrong sort of attention. Unencumbered by his wife, Gallinger wanders the party, finally settling into conversation with two classmates who are bemoaning the current societal plagues — Italians, Jews, homosexuals, and worst of all, negroes. Lest anyone think these privileged doctors are simply spouting horrendous, baseless intolerance, they quickly explain to Gallinger that these are not just opinions, they are science-based facts. Lest anyone watching lose sight of the fact that rich white men want to keep their rich white world as rich and as white as possible, Gallinger’s classmates name-drop certain captains of industry, say, Vanderbilt and Carnegie, as the money behind the emerging field of eugenics. Gallinger is enraptured, thrilled to discover his dislike of Edwards isn’t foundationless. It’s scientifically ordained. In other words — eugenics isn’t racism, it’s research. This “science” is going to prove infinitely more horrifying than any of the gruesome procedures undertaken in the operating theater.
Although Gallinger doesn’t need any additional encouragement to devote himself to this unforgivable field of study, he certainly gets it when Thackery (yet again) chooses Edwards over him to assist with some real medical research. His “why him, not me” line of questioning draws sharp criticism from Thack, who tells Gallinger that his jealousy and poor work ethic aren’t really doing him any favors.
In a bit of a twist, we learn that it’s not addiction research Dr. Thackery wants Edwards’s help with, but rather a pressing need to cure syphilis. Thack’s old girlfriend (the one whose nose he rebuilt in season one) is in the latter stages of the disease, and he’s desperate to help. Thack’s pretty wired as he explains his thinking to Edwards — all his efforts to “kill that bastard,” by which he means the disease, in a petri dish came to naught until he accidentally left the specimen under a heat lamp, and bam, it died. You have an idea where this is going? Fever cabinet? Not so fast.
Edwards urges caution. He doesn’t want to braise a real, live human without exploring other ways of inducing a fever. Their solution — infecting someone or something with malaria, which is fever they think they can control. Which finally brings us to the syphilitic pig that must not only suffer the indignity of being infected with a human STD, but also a tropical fever. We’ll have to wait to see the result of this experiment.
Carrying out a little experiment of his own is Cleary, who ferrets some cocaine out of the hospital in order to juice up his lame-duck prizefighter. But Cleary has none of Thack’s talent for balancing narcotics, and his boy overdoses the second he hits the ring. Which is too bad for several reasons, but first and foremost to Cleary is the fact that he really needs some cash to pay the fancy Harvard lawyer defending Sister Harriet.
The former nun’s case is looking tough. The judge throws out her lawyer’s motion to dismiss the charges on the basis of entrapment and tells the Irish ex-nun that he’s going to use his courtroom and the “strength of his god” to show “real Americans what you are,” thus proudly waving the banners of both anti-immigration and anti-choice at once. And we think this country only recently went to hell.
Cleary is not the only one coming up empty-handed trying to cover the lawyer’s fee. After writing a note to Edwards to arrange an assignation, Cornelia winds up romancing her own husband instead and postcoitally hints that he help pay for Sister Harriet’s defense. (We see time and again that although Cornelia is a woman of means, she has no means of her own, since she is a woman.) Phillip’s response is only slightly less vitriolic than the judge’s.
And it looks as if Algie’s going to have a tough time keeping that appointment with Cornelia. (A quick kiss earlier in the episode cemented the fact that their affair is most definitely on.) It turns out he has romantic troubles of his own when a young lady presents herself to his parents at the Robertson townhouse claiming (and rightfully) that she’s Edwards’s wife. This is the last thing Edwards needs, what with his bum eye, his racist board of overseers, and his rekindled affair with Cornelia. Let’s hope he holds up better than his boss might under such pressure. After all, he’s got that sick pig to look after.