Well, we’re certainly used to things going wrong at the Knick. That’s par for the course in the developing field of medicine where the best miracles are often followed by tragic failures. But I wasn’t prepared for this week’s heartbreak, especially since things were looking promising.
Once the board decides to shut down Thack’s addiction research project after one of his dipsomaniacs steals into another patient’s room, pops the guy’s IV out of his neck, and dies from guzzling whatever meds were flowing into the tube, our favorite cross-addicted doc takes a final stab at a cure. He tries out on his last remaining patient the one method that has somewhat staved off his own cravings — talking. More precisely, talking to Abby. He ushers his lover into the hospital for a counseling session during which she immediately gets to the root of the alcoholic’s problem. And that marvelous look Thack gives her — equal parts love, wonder, and admiration — remember it. It looks as if there’s a chance the doc is putting his grievous sins and bad behavior in his rearview.
Thack gets a chance at further atonement when the woman whose nose he operated on at his sanitarium in exchange for heroin shows up at the Knick with a nasty-looking infection at her surgery site. Turns out the gold ring he used (her mother’s) to straighten her nose wasn’t gold at all. He offers to repair the damage on the house. No payment in dope required. Progress, see?
This surprise bit of plastic surgery also gives him an opportunity to sharpen his skills in order to reshape Abby’s nose with — you guessed it — celluloid. Seems like an iffy material to have lodged inside your body permanently, but then again, so does silicone.
Therapy and celluloid are not the only medical advancements that take place this week at the hospital. Bertie demonstrates to his rather surprised boss how he can jump-start a dead rabbit with a shot of adrenaline right to the heart. Just as with the fever cabinet, it seems we are being teased with possibility.
So things are looking up, no? Even for Gallinger whose wife finally does seem to be doing better — a lot better, take it from her. Eleanor goes so far as to suggest they start getting to work on building a big family, if you get my drift. And to his credit, Gallinger doesn’t rebuff her, those mega-chompers notwithstanding. He’s even a little flirtatious the next day, dropping a few hints about the previous evening’s coupling, when the fun is interrupted by an Inspector Moorehouse who’s looking into the poisoning death of one Dr. Cotton whose was known to have dined at the Gallinger residence before he passed. Probably a coincidence, right? Unless Dr. Gallinger has become a killer in addition to everything else.
Well, you needn’t worry that another murder mystery is going to be woven into this season’s story line. Eleanor quickly confesses to her husband that she put rat poison in Doctor Cotton’s food, because you know, she isn’t well — she isn’t well at all. And next thing, Gallinger is committing his wife to a rather posh madhouse supervised by a stately European doctor where she will spend the rest of her days. And this frees her sister, Dorothy, to return to Philly and resume husband-hunting, something she’s been hinting she needs to do. But instead of catching the next train south, she winds up in Gallinger’s bed, thus keeping things very much in the family.
Eleanor is not the only wife whose heart is broken this episode. Let’s take a moment for the longsuffering and clueless Effie Barrow who is finally going to learn the extent of her husband’s treachery. As always, the moment Barrow gets himself out of one financial pickle he plunges right into another. Directly after he hands Ping Wu the final payment for Junia’s freedom, which has pretty much cleaned him out (that and the apartment), he learns from Mr. Robertson that his membership to “the club” has been accepted. The catch — all club members are being asked to cough up a whopping two grand to pay for renovations to their good ol’ boys lair. Well, Barrow’s skint. So what to do? Here’s an idea. Sell his house for some quick cash out from under his unsuspecting wife, then tell her over dinner that the apartment she’d accidentally found out about is not for her but for him and his new woman. And what of Effie? Well, she’s going to be installed with their children in a two-bedroom walk-up downtown.
As if this bit of family cruelty weren’t enough this week, onto the Robertson children who are discovering that their father’s fortune is both less than adequate and underhandedly won. Cornelia takes Henry out to lunch to fill him in on exactly what she’s learned about the dirty business at the docks and Speight’s death. So here’s what Papa Robertson has been up to. (We knew most of this already, but now we get the full picture.) To avoid sending sick steerage and third-class passengers to Ellis Island where they would be dispatched back to Europe, incurring a major fine for the Robertson company, Mr. Robertson has worked out a deal in which the ship issues second-class tickets to any lower-class passenger who seems ill. This allows the sick person to pass through the lax off-shore immigration reserved for more affluent travelers, then be ushered to land by INIS officers on the Robertson payroll, bringing bubonic plague into any city in which one of the family’s ships docks. And hey, once you’ve started a deadly epidemic, it’s probably no big deal to kill the man who uncovered the plot. I’m sure Cornelia won’t suffer Speight’s fate, but there will certainly be repercussions.
Mr. Robertson isn’t the only father whose secret is let out this week. Nurse Elkins is summoned to a rather down-at-heel brothel (nothing like Ping Wu’s classy joint) where her father has suffered a paralytic stoke. Apparently, A.J. didn’t head back south but has been lurking around these unsavory quarters indulging in his craven carnality. And it seems his god has smote him for it.
Not getting into any carnality — not for lack of trying — is Cleary, who has developed real feelings for Harriet. And it did seem that his flirtation was reciprocated in a delightful scene in which he tries on the condoms Harriet’s been fashioning out of sheep guts. But when he makes a move, the ex-nun rebuffs him violently. Although she claims she mistrusts his intentions, I get the sense it’s her own feelings of which she is wary.
Now Edwards is poised for a little more workplace heartbreak this week — and after last week, I didn’t think that was possible. A little after-hours digging through Gallinger’s desk leads him to a ledger in which Dr. Gallinger has logged his progress on his sterilization project — 52 boys so far. But when Algie presents this information to Thack, his boss tells him that although he doesn’t approve, there’s nothing he can and will do about it. Doctor Thackery’s apathy is curious and troubling. Perhaps his mind is elsewhere.
Now remember that loving look Thack gave Abby as she counseled his alcoholic patient? Remember how he admitted that she was the key toward his baby steps toward sobriety? Remember how he told her he loved her and that she was beautiful, strange nose and all? Did you think such happiness would be allowed to thrive? I’d hoped.
Yet it’s not to be. And this is the greatest heartbreak of all for its random cruelty. Before the surgery to reshape her nose, Abby takes a draught of laudanum. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned this year, whenever we get a close-up of a phial of meds, nothing good is going to happen. She’s wheeled into the OR where Thack, Bertie, and Lucy await. Before the procedure begins, her heart stops. I was sure, like 100 percent sure, that this was going to be Bertie’s time to shine, that he would plunge that needle full of adrenaline right into Abby’s heart and she’d spring off the table like his laboratory bunny. But her luck has run out. She’s beyond medical intervention. It’s too late for heroics. And I fear, as we approach season’s end, this is going to be Dr. Thackery’s undoing.