The Knick Recap: Hail, Henry

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Photo: Mary Cybulski
The Knick
Show
The Knick
Episode Title
Whiplash
Season
2
Episode
5
Editor’s Rating
5/5

Well, hello, Henry Robertson. I knew you were around. I saw you cruising by in your fancy automobile. I noticed you had one of those newfangled moving-picture cameras. I applauded your unfaltering defense of your good friend Doctor Edwards. I understood that you wanted to bring your family’s fortune into the 20th century with some more modern and aggressive investments, such as in the subway. But I didn’t really notice you until this week, you debonair, dashing, and democratic playboy. It’s no wonder, to borrow Nurse Elkins’s words, you ran through the nursing staff, “like Grant through Richmond.”

But we begin with disaster — a dynamite explosion in a subway tunnel that lands nearly one hundred and fifty patients in the Knick. It’s a gruesome, gory display of gushing blood, spilling intestines, and mangled faces. But it’s also a chance to see the the Knick in action — a well-oiled machine, a place of efficiency and innovation, a hospital, not a circus. While Thack might take advantage of this crisis to invent a method of using electricity to search for embedded shrapnel, it’s Henry who steals the show by refusing to bill the subway construction company for treating its workers. It’s the Knick’s “civic duty,” he tells a rather displeased Barrow, for whom every patient is just another dollar.

If Henry is worried about his investment in the IRT he hides it well, even when he learns he’s going to be on the hook for over a quarter of a million bucks to the people whose homes were destroyed in the blast. Seems like Henry’s got other things on his mind — other distractions, let’s say. And he’s not one to let a few niggling financial problems get in the way of pleasure. First, there’s his little naughty movie habit, which would certainly make a splash down on the Bowery. Then there’s Nurse Elkins, whom he whisks away to one of the city’s toniest restaurants where he exhibits his taste for fine wine and rather obvious come-ons. Did Lucy know that the glass they are drinking their Martinez cocktails out of was fashioned after Aphrodite’s breast? Probably not. But she’s charmed, I’m sure.

However, this is the not the same naïve country girl who easily lost herself in Doctor Thackery’s beguiling madness. Lucy (who continues to immerse herself in gynecological textbooks) has taken to heart a bit of wisdom imparted to her by one of Ping Wu’s girls during one of her monthly exams. “When he’s in my hand I can control him,” Lin Lin explains. “I can get anything I want.” And from the way Lucy looks at Henry when he drops her off in his automobile after their dinner, there’s a chance he’s going play into her hands relatively soon.

There is definitely something in the wintry New York air — Henry and Lucy aren’t the only folks feeling a little frisky. Things between Bertie and Genevieve are progressing nicely. Genevieve easily charms the elder Chickerings, neither of whom seem particularly bothered that she is Jewish, which is a good thing for young Bertie because this woman is definitely a keeper — smart, compassionate, and a whole lot of fun. She even joins Bertie in a little B&E to steal a paper on the use of radiation to treat malignant tumors in the hopes that the research will help cure his mother. (Zinberg quickly rains on that parade which keeps me hopeful that we’ll get a Bertie/Thack reunion sooner rather than later. And if not Thack, then perhaps Doctor Edwards who is the one who urged Bertie to get his hands on that paper in the first place.)

As for Algie, love, or whatever it is that he feels for the wife he ignored for months, continues to benefit him. I’m not sure why Opal is quite so forgiving of Algie’s behavior while they were apart, but she seems happy to stick around in a country where she’s certainly granted fewer freedoms than she was in Paris. She takes Algie to a lecture on “The State of the Negro in America,” where Doctor Edwards swiftly moves from passive observer, and a frustrated individual, to contributor to the collective anger.

While it appears that love might be instrumental in inspiring Algie to consider deeper and more profound issues, the same can’t be said for poor Barrow, who always escapes one pickle just to fall into another. You see, Barrow is in love with a hooker. And he thinks Junia really means all those things that she says to him when it’s his turn in her boudoir. So what does he do the moment he finally pays off his debt with Ping Wu? He makes a bid for Junia’s freedom, promising Ping two thousand dollars. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Barrow goes house hunting for his unwitting mistress, dropping even more cash that we can only assume he’s skimmed from the construction of the new Knick.

Even Doctor Thackery isn’t immune to that loving feeling. Since he successfully cured Abby’s syphilis by way of malaria, he’s been spending the night at her house. At her request, he even abstains from snorting his little cocktail in her presence. Can she succeed where Gallinger failed? Probably not. But still, there’s a little spring in the doc’s step that doesn’t come from his Bolivian marching powder.

With Abby on the mend, Thack can return to his addiction research. Remember how he used electricity to search for shrapnel in the subway blast victims? Well, it seems like the electric current is the doc’s new favorite tool. In a nice little bit of luck, Thack has been presented with a patient who has both suffered a head trauma and who happens to be a morphine addict which gives him the perfect opportunity to probe around in the man’s brain.

So we find this man sitting in the operating theater, prepped for Thack’s demonstration. His scalp is peeled back like a banana with a bunch of clamps weighing the skin down so it hangs over his forehead in a gory pageboy cut. His brain is just sitting there, exposed, jiggling slightly like a bowl of gory Jell-O. And what Thack’s trying to show his audience is that he can stick his electric probe into different areas of the man’s brain and inspire various involuntary reactions both physical and emotional. Since this man is an addict, he believes all he needs to do is spend a little longer probing until he isolates the part of the brain that controls desire. Cut that part out and he’ll cure addiction. Simple.

So after making the man kick his leg and thrust his arm, cry and laugh, they sew him up so Thack can poke for a while until thinks he’s solved it. A few days later, they’re back in the theater, the man prepped and ready. They open his scalp and Doctor Thackery cuts out bit of his brain and holds it up to his peers, “the source of addiction.”

Well, as we know, if only. That’s the problem with turn of the century medicine — you lose more often than you win.

All Thack has done, it turns out, is lobotomized the poor man. Which would please Gallinger, who told Thack that the proper cure for addiction is sterilization. And Thack’s treatment comes pretty close. (Naturally Gallinger made this comment in front of Edwards who doesn’t have to work too hard to extrapolate his colleague’s interest in sterilization doesn’t stop at addicts and degenerates.)

While Gallinger’s idea sounds barbaric, he gets his chance to put his “cure” into action when he volunteers to treat a group of boys who are about to be released from “the idiot house” on Randall’s Island. And that’s where we end, with medicine at its worst, its most cruel. In an episode that hinted at hope — a little bit of love in the dreary winter, we conclude with hopelessness and helplessness, those with no voice and no recourse suffering at the hands of the corrupt and the powerful. I wonder what will happen when Henry (and Doctor Edwards) find out what Gallinger is up to.