This week, we get a slight break from the madness — a respite from the horror of eugenics, the torment of addiction, and the torture of romance (except of course Barrow, who continues to pay for that particular pleasure). And like any good vacation with a little amusement, a quick trip to Huber’s Dime Museum over on 14th Street to check out the freaks, geeks, charlatans, and other curios of the Victorian age.
Of course, since it’s Thack in the audience, he’s not there simply to gawk along with the other customers. Or maybe he is — but can’t escape the ever-churning gears of his medical mind. He’s most intrigued by the hypnotist and the conjoined twins, all of whom he invites up to the Knick for further examination. And it’s not hard to see why these particular curios piqued his curiosity — the former as a possible method for treating addiction and the latter as a way to soothe his ailing conscience. After all, the only thing better than saving one girl is saving two.
Once Thack realizes that the twins’ only shared organ is their liver, it’s not long before he’s cooking up a plan to separate them. If only the twins’ “manager” Mr. Brockhorst would sign on. At the end of the day, all it takes is a visit from Cleary to set Mr. Brockhorst straight, or rather knock him out, which allows Thack to bring the twins to the Knick and round up his team of doctors. He’s going to need all hands on deck for this one.
But first we need to put this band back together. Which leads us to Bertie, who, with his father’s blessing, is going to attempt to cure his mother’s esophageal cancer using the radical (and untested) radiation treatment he learned about from Edwards. It’s a family affair after hours in the Mt. Sinai operating room with Mrs. Chickering on the table, the elder Dr. Chickering hovering in the background, and Bertie wielding the scalpel. He’s assisted by Edwards, whose eye is on the mend, but is still not strong enough for detail work.
Yes, we see Bertie slice open his mother’s throat revealing the tumor, and yes, we see him probing, poking, and injecting the bloody mass. And if you believed that this young doctor was going to be the first person to successfully pioneer radiation treatment for cancer, I’m going to have to disappoint. The tumor does not, as Bertie hopes, shrink right before his eyes, which is why he decides to perform a laryngectomy on the fly. And that doesn’t go well. Which is when Zinberg crashes the party, obviously irate that the Chickering family has illicitly commandeered his hospital for their renegade treatment. Nevertheless, Dr. Z rolls up his sleeves and dives into the fray. But it’s too late, and Mrs. Chickering dies on the table.
It’s a bad night for Bertie who loses both this mother and his job in one fell swoop. But he’s quickly welcomed back at the Knick, where he admits to Thack what we knew all along, that he’s a bit too reckless for Zinberg and missed the speed of his old job. Welcome home.
Also involved in a little family drama is Dr. Gallinger, who’s taking a respite from sterilizing immigrant children. He arrives home to discover that Eleanor has invited Dr. Cotton — remember him, the one who pulled her teeth? — to a nice family dinner to thank him for saving her life. Well, of course Gallinger is pissed. And for once, his anger is justified because the man sitting across from him at the table is an ignorant sadist. (Amazing that Dr. Gallinger manages, for once, not to be the most ignorant man in the room.) What’s more, his own wife can’t see that Gallinger was the one who saved her, not the nightmarish Cotton. This is just one more instance of Gallinger not getting the credit he deserves or believes he deserves. And since he’s already a powder keg just waiting to go off, I’m sure this won’t end well, especially when he discovers that his bugbear, Dr. Edwards, is going to petition the board of the Knick to allow him to perform his patented hernia surgery on D.W. Garrison Carr, the influential early civil-rights leader.
While there remain many unresolved issues at Chez Gallinger, the small domestic drama of Cleary and Sister Harriet finally seems to be resolved when the ex-nun accepts Tom’s offer to come and live with him. (Things were getting pretty bad for her at the home for fallen women.) It was clear from the get-go that it would only be a matter of time before these two wound up under the same roof. And while I’m not predicting they will become a couple, I have a suspicion they will resume being partners in some sort of crime. After all, Sister Harriet’s been counseling the young women at her former residence on all matters contraceptive. Perhaps she and Cleary will get back in business.
And speaking of crime, Cornelia still refuses to be tied down to the fusty mansion on Fifth Avenue and continues to investigate the connection between cases of bubonic plague, the docks, and the mysterious death of Speight. She visits an Italian immigrant suffering from disease, whose brother was the passenger whose ocean-liner ticket she found in Speight’s stove. Turns out, the brother died of the plague as well. And the plot thickens.
A visit to the docks begins to shed some light on the mystery. Seems like steerage and third-class passengers are sent for processing and stringent health inspection to Ellis Island where, if they are found to be sick, they are dispatched back to Europe, which incurs substantial fines for the shipping companies. (Don’t forget that the Robertson fortune is tied up in shipping.) Passengers in first and second class aren’t subject to such rigorous inspection because, of course, disease is always relegated to the poor. Clearly, no one learned from the typhoid epidemic last season and now Speight is not around to remind them, which I guess is the point of this little mystery. If Cornelia doesn’t get to bottom of this soon, there’s a chance the Knick’s wards will overflow with society types infected by their seafaring friends.
But for now, the operating room is prepping for Thack’s latest feat — his attempt to separate the conjoined twins he met at Huber’s. And while the Russian sideshow veterans aren’t exactly the Knick’s preferred clientele, they’re a step in the right direction. Remember how on his first day back on the job the board commanded Thack to work his magic in their circus instead of busying himself with addiction research? Well, the show is about to start.