Well, the charity ball for the new Knick is coming right up. But before we treat ourselves to a decadent night out with New York City’s philanthropic elite and the doctors they fund, we must see to some business.
First up is Lucy, who has become something of an expert in mixing the two — business and pleasure, that is. Now that she has secured her invitation from Henry to the ball, the question remains: How is she going to afford a suitable gown? Well, this former good girl has learned a lot since she came to the big city and is certainly able to buy herself one hell of dress after letting Ping Wu perform his Golden Lotus routine on her — the one where he uses her toes as poppers while he indulges in a little “quality control” with one of his girls. (And boy, is this a far cry from Bertie and Genevieve’s innocent coupling, which is about as erotic as a Saturday-morning cartoon.)
Back at work, Thack’s up to his old tricks, snorting his cocktail of heroin and cocaine in preparation for separating the conjoined twins. He should ease up on this drug combo, as it’s clearly causing him gut pain, which he’s treating with big swings of turpentine. Lets hope he figures out how to harness hypnosis to cure addiction sooner rather than later, because his insides are growing more toxic by the day.
But on the morning of this groundbreaking surgery, not even his trusted drugs give Thack the confidence he needs to head into the OR. It’s refreshing to see the limits of both his mania and his hubris, and to know what he requires is human, not chemical. For it is not until he phones Abby that he receives the reassurance he needs to do what he does best — attempt the impossible.
Bolstered by Abby’s belief in his talents, Thack heads into surgery to give the waiting audience exactly what they have gathered to see: a masterful procedure that is as risky as it is visionary. Everyone’s on hand — Edwards, Gallinger, and Bertie are on the floor, while Genevieve is in the bleachers with her notebook and Henry with his motion-picture camera, poised to record history. And in a welcome respite from the usual unflinching display of the gory and the gruesome, we get to relive the success of the surgery as replayed on Henry’s celluloid (a material in which Thack seems quite interested).
While Thack’s just wowed the board with his medical derring-do, the powers that be at the hospital are certainly less impressed with Edwards’s latest move — admitting D.W. Garrison Carr without their approval. Not that this was Edwards’s idea precisely. In fact, he didn’t have much choice after Carr and Opal showed up at his work ready to check in. Once his hand is forced, Edwards stands by his action, telling Thack, “This is the future. You think it’s here too early, and I think it’s here too late.” Either way, it’s here. And the least pleased of all — you guessed it — is Gallinger, who refuses to attend to Carr’s plea for assistance in making himself more comfortable in his hospital bed.
So we’re almost ready for the ball. Almost. Mrs. Barrow is all aflutter with last-minute anxieties about the place settings, flowers, food, and entertainment. And she can’t quite understand how Cornelia remains cool as a cucumber under such extreme pressure. Well, rather than admit the truth — that she just couldn’t care less about such things — Cornelia makes some excuse about last-minute touches of her own and steals back down to the docks to continue her sleuthing.
Let’s just say this is not going to be a great day for young Mrs. Showalter. Once she informs the immigration agent at the docks that one of her family’s ships is expected in port the next day, he mistakenly believes that she is there to honor “their usual deal.” And that deal is: The Robertsons are bribing the INIS to admit sick passengers to New York so they don’t have to pay the heftier fine of shipping the infirm back to Europe. Well, Cornelia’s family might run the hospital, but there are limits to their philanthropy.
And from there, it goes from bad to worse. As Cornelia prepares for the ball, Papa Showalter accosts her in her dressing room. Turns out, Cornelia’s sneaking around hasn’t been all that sneaky, and the man watching her from the shadows was dispatched at her father-in-law’s behest. Mr. Showalter demands that she stop her nosing around and make his son happy. In other words, get pregnant.
Well, if you thought this would give Cornelia and Phillip good reason to relocate from the Showalter mansion, think again. Apparently, now is not the time to further antagonize Showalter Senior. Little did Cornelia know, until Phillip tells her, his father is the only thing keeping her father afloat, and should Mr. Showalter wish, he could ruin Mr. Roberston in an instant. So the only thing left for Cornelia to do is put on a her game face, a great dress, and head to the ball in order to play the part of the dutiful wife who is only interested in promoting, propagating, and protecting the Showalter name.
Not everyone is invited to the party, of course, especially not the likes of Cleary. But he doesn’t let the fact that the bigwigs are celebrating without him get in the way of doing a little celebrating of his own. He arrives in his apartment, where Harriet is counseling a group of women about effective methods of contraception, laden with chops, whiskey, and cobbler. The booze and food get his gears turning, and soon he’s proposing that he and the ex-nun go back into business, not doing “the fix” this time, but stopping trouble before it starts — in other words, manufacturing condoms and sponges. It’s not illegal, exactly, more of a gray area.
And speaking of illegal, or at least gray areas, what is Dr. Gallinger up to at the Knick when one imagines he should be at the party? Well, he’s cooking up a little medicine in a test tube over a Bunsen burner, and I don’t like to think about the possible impurities of his intentions: more nonconsensual sterilization, or perhaps something even worse involving Carr, who is lying unattended in his hospital bed.
The rest of the medical staff is at the party, done up to the nines, although I had expected a little more out of Thack, whose plain tux doesn’t live up to his everyday duds. (Those white shoes and velvet pinstripe jacket are sublime.) But the sartorial finery and the decorous elegance of the event do little to mask the discomforts below the surface, not least of all our modern-day unease with the minstrel show put on by Williams & Walker. Then there’s a bit of awkwardness when Cornelia cautions Lucy (who looks great in that dress she earned the hard way) about not falling too hard for Henry since he’s a player, and their father harbors hopes of a more suitable match for his son than a southern nurse. But Mr. Robertson is certainly going to have his work cut out for him convincing Henry to stay away from Nurse Elkins after the post-ball bedtime show she puts on involving Thack's old cocaine-on-the-genitals trick.
Finally, there’s Opal accosting Mr. Robertson about Algie’s position at the new Knick. Sure, she’s right to do so, but maybe she’s overstepping her bounds by continually fighting her husband’s battles for him, especially in public. Edwards would probably have been significantly more angry with her had Mr. Robertson assured him that his job is secure. Problem is, it’s not, and there’s not a lot Mr. Robertson can do about it. Which means that Algie has much bigger problems on the horizon than his outspoken wife. He’s going to have to go above and beyond at work (not that he hasn’t already been doing this) to prove himself. And given what Gallinger is cooking up, this is going to be tricky.
So whether the board likes it or not, Algie is going forward with his surgery on Carr. It’s his patented hernia procedure, which, regardless of his patient’s race, draws a packed house, including Gallinger. Well, now we know what Dr. G. was doing at the Knick after hours. He switches Algie’s bottle of Curare (a paralyzing agent) for the more concentrated version he’d fired up over the Bunsen burner, which stops Carr’s heart. Initially, I’d thought that Gallinger was out to kill Carr, but his actual agenda is less bloodthirsty and more selfish. He leaps out of the stands, makes a spot-on diagnosis as to what Edwards has done wrong, and saves the day. Best of all, he gets what he’s wanted since he sprung Thack from the sanitarium: his boss’s approval.
Now, Edwards might be down, but I wouldn’t discount him. He’s got enough scientific chops to figure out what went wrong and why. But he just might have to conduct this investigation out of another hospital sooner than he’d thought.