I know you were worried, so I’m happy to report the syphilitic pig is on the mend. The malaria killed the syphilis and the quinine killed the malaria. Three cheers for Dr. Thackery’s mad genius. But before we start humans on this crazy cure, a word of caution. A pig’s resting body temperature is 102 and the syph died at 107, which means Thack only had to raise the pig five degrees to kill the disease. A human — well, she’ll have to be brought up at least nine degrees. Can the fever cabinet be far away? Needless to say, despite the increasing ravages of her disease, Abby is wary about Thack’s proposal. Let’s give her time to think.
Unlike this show’s previous episodes, this week’s offering doesn’t send us trundling deeper into the dark recesses of humanity’s infected soul, but instead suggests that, although the path may be risky and surprising, redemption, satisfaction, and even happiness are within reach for some.
Things don’t start out smoothly for Algie. Opal (his Paris wife, remember?) isn’t thrilled that he’s kept her existence a secret from his parents and Algie doesn’t do himself any favors when he admits that, yes, the reason he stopped writing to her was that there was another woman. But no matter. Opal is not to be deterred. Turns out, she knows a little bit more about Algie than he knows about himself.
Algie takes her to an impromptu celebratory lunch in honor of their marriage at the Robertsons — a rather stilted, stuffy affair, not least of all because Cornelia is struck dumb by the existence of a Mrs. Edwards. Opal is quick to notice that Algie’s patrons seem rather, er, patronizing and wonders why the Edwards parents aren’t invited up from the kitchen to join the festivities. “I guess we have different definitions of the term progressive,” she informs the Robertson clan, which pretty much kills what mood there was.
Algie might have left the luncheon angry with Opal, but her words seem to have penetrated the mirthless body armor he’s put on to cope with being the sole black man in an extremely white and intolerant world. He takes her dancing far uptown in an emerging neighborhood called Harlem where after few turns on the dance floor, Algie is transformed into a witty, charming, and passionate man, someone capable of having fun instead of cruising for a professionally administered bruising. Perhaps Opal is just what the doctor ordered to bring Edwards back to himself. It looks like his forgotten marriage might just agree with him after all.
The same can’t be said for Cornelia, whose strange behavior at the luncheon looks to have piqued Phillip’s curiosity. But before Phillip manages to question her, we learn that he’s shipping out to the Midwest for a month to shore up the Showalters’ kerosene interest. (That pesky Edison is apparently killing their business.) I’m not sure how this is going to play out, but if Showalter Senior’s icky endgame is to get his daughter-in-law alone under his roof, he’s certainly coming up aces.
Not content (for obvious reasons) to be confined to the Showalters’ dowdy mansion, Cornelia sneaks away to check up on the Speight family. It’s pretty clear something’s amiss at the health inspector’s former abode (not least of all because of the creepy man snooping on Cornelia’s snooping). The remaining Speights seemed to have skipped town without a word to their neighbors, leaving their house and possessions intact. Cornelia takes advantage of the abandoned house to do some more amateur sleuthing, rifling through cabinets and poking the charred papers in their woodstove. (While she’s playing detective, she might want to investigate why her brother is taking nudie pics of his girlfriend. But that’s a different matter.)
Sticking her nose in the Speights’ affairs is not Cornelia’s sole bit of devilishness. Since she was unable get Phillip to ante up for Sister Harriet’s lawyer, she helps Cleary round up a passel of society ladies who benefited from the sister’s services. Cleary makes no apologies for dragging these women far from their Fifth Avenue comforts and tells them Sister Harriet’s going to name names — their names — unless they can convince their husbands to get the charges against the nun dropped. It’s a brilliant bit of blackmail and charmingly executed by a Cleary whose benevolence toward Harriet is one of the best and most surprising developments this season. I’m not sure whether their relationship will ever become a relationship, but their mutual devotion is most winning.
Also trying to create an odd couple of his own is everyone’s favorite dirty grandpa, Doctor Mays, whom we find sweet-talking the young nurse assisting him in the OR instead of focusing on the procedure at hand. (And focus he should because he is literally reading an instruction manual as he works.) Naturally, the proximity of the pretty young thing passing him the scalpel is too much for Mays and causes him to butcher a vein. Turns out, he’s no better with the electric cauterizer than he is with the surgical knife. He lets the cauterizer’s tip touch the piece of metal holding open his incision, and poof, just like that Doctor Mays is up in smoke, walrus whiskers and all.
Barrow, of course, sees a silver lining in Mays’s demise and establishes a memorial fund in the doc’s name to raise money to fireproof (of course) the new Knick. He needs to spend, spend, spend so that his kickbacks keep rolling in, especially now that he’s beholden to Tammany Hall for fifteen percent of his take.
Another person benefiting, albeit in a much more positive way, from the incinerated Dr. Mays is Nurse Elkins, who assumes responsibility for the care of Ping Yu’s stable. Physically and emotionally battered by men (her father and Thack), it appears Lucy might find salvation and solace in the care of women and maybe, as her roommate suggests, become the first female doctor.
While Lucy is most definitely taking a break from matters carnal, Bertie is finally getting his feet wet and enlists a “professional lady” to give him a rather naughty anatomy lesson. I’m not sure that the elder Doctor Chickering is aware that his son has become a man, but for the first time he treats him like one, allowing young Bertie to share in the manly after-dinner ritual of scotch and cigars in order to break the news that Mrs. Chickering has an inoperable mass in her esophagus.
While Bertie still might not realize how much of Thack’s teaching he’s internalized — nothing is impossible — he vows to find a cure for his ailing mother.
(I have a feeling a consultation with Thack is in the pipeline.) Naturally, that careful killjoy Zinberg cautions Bertie not to let the fact that he’s looking for a treatment for his mother cloud his judgment.
I wished Zinberg would caution Gallinger about judgment — though, the way things are going Dr. Gallinger probably wouldn’t listen to someone named Levi. Sadly, Gallinger has gone whole hog for the quasi science of eugenics, enthusiastically agreeing they (the great, white “they”) need a medical solution to the problem of inferior races — namely, sterilization.
And while we’re on the subject of hogs, it looks as if what was good enough for the pig will have to be good enough for Abby, who has entered the final stages of her syphilitic suffering. A seizure lands her in the Knick’s ER, pulling Thack away from his continued addiction research, which has moved from the corpses of dead addicts to the minds of live ones. She’s ready to take the malaria “cure.”
The malaria makes Abby sick all right but doesn’t raise her temperature enough to kill her syphilis. She’s delirious, on the point of convulsing, when Edwards, who has been going along with Thack for most of this craziness, insists they pull the plug and inject her with quinine. And Thack is about to go along with it — about to. But this is Dr. Thackery, and he can’t attempt the seemingly impossible by doing the insanely extreme and, you guessed it, carries Abby’s limp body to the fever cabinet. What choice does she have, he reasons, maybe a little unreasonably—suffer until her illness kills her, or risk a cure that might cook her alive.
So this is his moment for possible redemption, not that saving one life necessarily corrects the balance of taking another. And watching, you have to hope it’s not possible that the same thing will happen twice, that Thack’s unhinged brilliance is going to fail him, killing a person he wants to save. Is it? Is it?
Thankfully no. The terrifying fever cabinet brings Abby’s temperature up to kill the syphilis. And in the end we are left with Thack curled up with Abby in her hospital bed, his demons momentarily dormant.