Due to a screening error we missed our recap of last week’s episode “There Are Rules.” But in brief, three major incidents transpired with one a deep tragedy. At the behest of his father, Dr. Bertram “Bertie” Chickering, Jr. (Michael Angarano) lost his mother. After trying to use radiation treatment therapy, Bertie attempted risky surgery to remove his mother’s cancerous tumor, and she died in the middle of the operation. His boss, the conservative Dr. Levi Zinberg (Michael Nathanson) was outraged and Bertie resigned before he could be fired. Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) continued his obsession with trying to cure addiction, this time exploring hypnosis, but also seemingly taking on the weight of the world in hoping to cure and better everyone. While attending a circus sideshow, he discovered a pair of female conjoined twins, and with the help of Tom Cleary (Chris Sullivan), kidnapped them away from their “guardian” Mr. Brockhurst (excellent character actor Frederick Weller), an opportunistic scumbag who also exploited them for prostitution. And Dr. Everett Gallinger (Eric Johnson) and his wife, Eleanor (Maya Kazan), had Dr. Cotton (John Hodgman) from the insane asylum where all her teeth were pulled, over for dinner. However, dinner got cut short when Cotton mysteriously fell ill.
Cut to “Williams And Walker” and Thackery is having success with hypnosis as an experimental form of addiction treatment, guiding an alcoholic patient to be revolted by the sight and smell of alcohol. As “There Are Rules” suggested — and much of season two thematically — progress isn’t really moving fast enough for everyone. During the last episode, lecturer Garrison Carr revealed to Algernon that he needed a hernia procedure and he wanted the surgeon to perform the operation. Algernon had reached out to Thackery in hopes of leveraging The Knick board to approve the procedure within the hospital walls, but Carr upends the not-yet-official-request by showing up unannounced and expecting to be admitted to the hospital. Rather than risk embarrassment, Algernon impulsively admits the famed lecturer into the hospital against the rules. When Thackery learns his fellow doctor has circumvented all chains of command, he essentially tells him he’s on his own and this isn’t going to stand well with the board that already simply tolerates his presence.
Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) is still up to his deceptive tricks. Hoping to leave his wife, move in with this prostitute girlfriend, and pay off his debts, Barrow, who continues outrageously skimming off the top of all construction jobs on the new Knick, is blackmailed by the hospital’s architect who has learned about all his schemes. But by the episode’s end, the conniving Barrow convinces benefactor Captain August Robertson’s (Grainger Hines) to fire the architect for “raising costs.”
Meanwhile, Cornelia Robertson’s (Juliet Rylance) investigations into the death of the health inspector and the shady dealings at the dock take a sharp and sudden turn. At the Bureau of Immigration she learns her own family and father is bribing the port inspectors so they can save on the expense of shipping immigrants back to their homeland. Presumably this finding will rock Cornelia to her moral core.
Concurrently, Thackery’s salvation complex is starting to reach a weird fever pitch, perhaps driven by his unchecked heroin and cocaine binges, and perhaps also bolstered by the confidence found in curing Abigail Alford (Jennifer Ferrin) of syphilis. Speaking of Abigail, last episode she wanted Thackery to leave her alone; the pain of an ex-lover staying in her home just as a friend was too painful. She believes she is just a charity case to the doctor, but Thackery doubles down and kisses her, cementing his commitment to their vague relationship. In this week’s episode, Thackery is leaning on Abigail even harder, using her soothing presence as form of his own therapy to deal with his addiction struggles. He even calls her for confidence boosting during a critical surgery.
The episode crescendoes with the separation surgery of the two aforementioned conjoined twins. It should be said that director Steven Soderbergh has been keeping things relatively simple and staying back in the pocket, as it were. Yes, there’s lots of long takes, but many of them more pragmatic than showy. But it’s as if the director is choosing his spots carefully where to stand out. And there’s a bold choice evinced in the middle of the surgery. Thackery is just beginning to start the operation and the scene jumps to the footage of the procedure that Henry Robertson (Charles Aitken) has shot with his newfangled camera. The abscission is a success and Thackery makes history while proudly presenting the footage to the packed house of the Knickerbocker theater. And one can’t help but think the combination of drug addiction and confidence is going to backfire at some point.
But Soderbergh isn’t quite done yet either. At the fundraiser ball for the new Knick, the filmmaker takes shimmering, complex choreographed long takes to a new level. One uninterrupted shot lasts for around three minutes and dazzles as it dances around the revelers, bobs and weaves amongst partygoers, and even seemingly gets up on a crane and back down — Soderbergh all the while manning the camera himself. These ball scenes also remind us of the extravagant locations and production values of the show; everything and everyone looks like the most opulent forms of high society and one can’t underestimate the beauty of “The Knick” on a costume, craft and production design level that’s just near immaculate.
The episode ends with a severe ethical betrayal. Algernon is finally going to commence the hernia surgery on Carr, but the jealous Gallinger, who he has been warring with all season sabotages the rival doctor by tampering with his Curare pain paralytic drug. When Algernon administers the drug, it nearly kills Carr and, of course, Gallinger— knowing full well what the problem is — runs in to save the day, making himself look like the sharp hero, and his antagonist a fool, in the middle of the Knick surgical theater.
– Harriet (Cara Seymour), now living with Tom Cleary in a purely platonic fashion, strikes up a business proposition spurned on by the ambulance driver: the development and sale of safe and proper contraceptives. She balks at first, considering what transpired with their abortion scheme, but Cleary eventually convinces her this is far less illegal or dangerous, and a service to the people of New York.
– After the ball, Captain Robertson admits the board may not have a use for Algernon in the new Knick.
– The creepy Hobart Showalter (Gary Simpson), corners his daughter-in-law Cornelia and has a gift: the earrings she sold in San Francisco. Trying to leverage all he can against her, he admits it’s he who has had her followed. Cornelia, in reaction, turns to her husband, Philip Showalter (Tom Lipinski), pleading to find their own home, but Philip admits to a precarious position they all are in: The Robertsons are in debt to the Showalters and offensive gestures could prove ruinous.