The Knick Recap: Is This Really It?

Photo: HBO
The Knick
The Knick
Episode Title
This Is All We Are
Editor’s Rating

It was relentless and at times unforgiving. It was a season of death (but what do you expect in a hospital drama?), betrayal, and excavation of the basest sides of humanity. There was more failure than success, more devastation than joy. Some of our dashing, delightful friends turned out to be monsters. And some of those monsters seem to have gotten away with their crimes. Many who were trying to pull themselves out of despair failed miserably. For the handful who were afforded happiness, it came with a price. And now that all is said and done, we are worse off than when we began. But did I enjoy it? Strangely, yes. But now I’m worried.

Before we get started, let’s raise a glass to the forgotten, those overlooked characters whose promising stories died on the vine: Genevieve Everedge and Opal Edwards. I thought these women hinted redemption both for the men they loved and for the series itself. Unfortunately, they fell into the background. We could have used them.

But let’s start with some good news, almost. Cleary yet again offends Harriet by professing his love for her and proposing marriage. When she rejects him, he goes to confession and we learn that, although his feelings for the ex-nun are real, she was right to be suspicious of him. It turns out that Cleary had fallen for Harriet back when they were running their abortion business and he suspected she harbored feelings for him that she would never act upon on account of her faith. So he played a rather long and dangerous game to win her heart — setting her up to be busted by cops for doing “the fix” so that the church would have no choice but to excommunicate her, thus freeing her to love him. What he didn’t count on was that horrendous jail, that nasty judge, that pricey lawyer, and the tribulations she’d endure at the home for fallen women. Sure, he’s sorry. But instead of atoning he asks the priest to ask god to make Harriet accept his proposal. And perhaps this is the mysterious way in which god works, because next morning in comes Harriet wearing Cleary’s ring. I suppose we are meant to be happy for them, but it’s not without reservations.

There’s another hard-won wedding on the horizon. Lucy (no more Nurse Elkins for her I’m guessing) makes it clear to Henry that she’s dissatisfied with his invitation to the guesthouse of his Newport mansion. It’s the main house or nothing for her, and she’s not looking for any old casual invitation, if you catch my meaning. Her strident seduction certainly won the playboy’s heart because here she is, ready to go, suitcase in hand, greeting Henry in the Robertson townhome. Happy for her? Well, not so fast.

As we suspected, Cornelia did accuse the wrong male, Robertson, last week. It is Henry, not Captain August (deceased), who brought the plague, killed Speight, and burned down the Knick. When Cornelia confronts her brother about this he doesn’t bother to hide it. Instead, in a bit of charming familial affection, he grabs her by the throat, dangles her at the top of a precarious staircase, and explains why she will never come forward with such information especially now that he is the ruling patriarch of the Robertson fortune. So perhaps we should pity Lucy marrying this patricidal monster. But perhaps not, for she, too, murdered her own father, and relationships have been built on strange commonalities.

Although Henry is to blame for the fire, it’s Barrow who comes under scrutiny by the police. He is able to lean on the good old boys up at the Metropolitan Club to convince the detective in charge that the fire had nothing to do with Barrow, but was an accident. And thus our two criminals Barrow and Henry are cleared in one fell swoop. It’s frustrating that bumbling Barrow, who’s not the brightest Edison bulb in the room, is going to get away with his duplicity. Is no one but Effie capable of unmasking him? But perhaps the devil will get his due. Those nasty blackish spots that have popped up on Barrow’s hands? Well, he’s going to have one of his doctors X-ray them to check them out, which is no big deal really since he’s had dozens of X-rays before. Dozens.

And what of his doctors? Well, Gallinger, too, seems to have benefited from his side business in sterilization and accepts an invitation to travel the world preaching the gospel of eugenics. First stop? Germany, of course. Remember what I said about the things being worse off than when we began? Blame Gallinger.

But before we send him off, he’s got one more procedure at the Knick. And now we come to one of those electric scenes that make this show so dynamic — so edge-of-your-seat engrossing and viscerally repelling. Thack needs gut surgery stat to remove the necrotic portions of his intestines. The problem is, he won’t allow himself to be knocked out for the surgery since he blames the use of ether for Abby’s death. (I believe it was the interaction of ether and laudanum, and Gallinger agrees. For once we are on the same page.) Well there’s not a doctor in town who will operate on Thack while he’s conscious. His workaround? Use his patented spinal block — hey, any excuse to inject cocaine — then perform gastrointestinal surgery on himself using a mirror suspended above the operating table. I thought this was going to be another one of those clandestine after-hours jobs. But no, Thack requires a packed house for his foolish derring-do.

Without Abby to call to boost his confidence before surgery, Thack turns to a different trusty acquaintance — cocaine. He breaks into the hospital’s pharmacy and injects himself with enough of the drug to lift Grace Jones’s spirits. He’s coked to the gills when he enters the OR, drops his hospital gown, and makes a gurning speech about the dangers of ether and how he’s going to disprove its importance to surgery. Let’s not forget that despite his charm, Thack’s an arrogant addict and his drug of choice only exacerbates his deadly confidence. He hops up on the table and proceeds to narrate the procedure for his audience as he slices open his abdomen, spills his guts, and begins sorting through his intestine like he’s digging through a gory hip-pack. Turns out, his insides are in worse shape than he thought with at least six necrotic areas that will have to be cut away and reattached.

Bertie and Gallinger tell him to call uncle on this charade and allow them to perform the rest of the operation. But Thack is having none of it. He just keeps sifting through that length of intestine, working it like a nautical rope — thanks again, Dr. Gallinger. The odds are against him. Not only is he feeling the rather overwhelming effects of all that cocaine, but his only visual on his work is the inverse image in the mirror.

Zinberg and Algie (whose eye is too bad to be helping out — more on that in a bit) are in the stands and predict the disaster right before it happens as Thack cuts too close to a crucial artery. There’s a moment’s hesitation before they spring out of their seats and join Gallinger and Bertie, a moment when we see Thack’s blood flowing freely, saturating his exposed intestines, slicking his hands. Always the performer, Thack narrates this, too, telling the audience he’s losing sight on one side, growing cold, all the signs of, well, you know what. Thack suffers a few visions of those who have died on his table and then, in case you we wondering what is happening, he spells it out, “This is it. This is all we are.”     

Then all the doctors are working at once. Algie, bad eye and all, seems to take the lead. It’s hopeless, of course. Or is it? Because there goes Bertie sprinting away, skidding to a halt as he retrieves a bottle of adrenaline. Not even Zinberg protests as young Chickering plunges the needle into his boss’s heart. And then? Well, that’s it. We don’t exactly know. But I’m going to guess. Unless, unless, unless this is Bertie’s time to shine.

Because next we see Algie talking to Henry who’s back to being the suave customer instead of the vicious monster, telling him that because of his eye, which is a bloody mess, he will need to pursue a different avenue of medicine. (After Gallinger wouldn’t fight him, Algie clearly found someone who would.) He explains he owes it to Thack to continue his work in addiction — the work he and Abby were doing. And by owes it to Thack, we have to assume the doctor is no more, right? I feel this is the right answer, but I don’t want to give up.

We end with Cornelia sailing for Australia, the southern tip of Manhattan dwindling as she heads for the open ocean. And while I am keeping a quiet vigil for Thack, this departure, this closing shot of the disappearing city, has me worried for my favorite doctor and the rest of them, that this might be farewell. Is this really it?