This season of The Knick could not have come along at a better time. In a year when we are faced with a field of Republican candidates and other right wing politicians who are so absolutely assured that their blinkered and dangerous way is the right way, these episodes remind us how little has changed in over 100 years. No matter the era, we are still stuck with men whose personal obsessions and backwards politics threaten to do serious damage to the people and world around them.
That’s why the re-appearance of John Hodgman’s awful psychiatrist—the one who yanked out all of Eleanor’s teeth in hopes of “curing” her—proved to be the key to unlocking this episode’s (and this season’s) overarching theme of male obsession in the medical world.
Unfortunately, this left at least one body in its wake: that of Bertie’s poor mother. His heart was in the right place as he tried to save her from the tumor that would have most certainly done her in if left untreated. But when his electrolysis failed, you wish he would have heeded Dr. Edwards’ calm advice to sew her up and weigh his options. Instead, Bertie dove back in, scalpel a-blazing, and wound up losing her and his job at the Jewish hospital.
This makes me fear, then, for the conjoined twins that Dr. Thackery is currently obsessing over. He’s convinced he can separate them and make them “normal” by bisecting the liver that they share. But their appearance and his own attachment to them came completely out of left field. All we know is that he wants the glory, and to put another coat of shine on his fading star. Doing so at the risk of killing two young women (or worse, only one of them), might not be his best play.
More than anything, it’s Thackery’s impulsivity that continues to hurt himself and those around him. There’s no way that forcing himself back into Abigail’s life is going to end well for both. Their desperate kiss at the end of the hour was perhaps the most terrifying moment of the episode.
What fascinates me is how the writers bring into the story the ways in which the women of this world respond by using the only power they have: their sexuality. Decades before a true feminist movement, it forces Nurse Elkins’ hand (quite literally) to use her sway to get an invitation to a fundraiser. And the soon-to-be freed prostitute does much the same, wiggling her bottom at Barrow so she can get a view of Central Park. She’s going to use him and cast him aside with the quickness, and there’s no way we should feel sorry for him.
The irony is that the people who have acted the most “immorally”—Mr. Cleary, the ambulance driver, and the defrocked nun, Sister Harriet—are the only characters that are the purest in spirit. And their scenes together are the lightest and most charming of the series. They want nothing from each other, but to help and protect each other. There’s no romance in the offing; just an unusual mutual respect. Of all the characters we are supposed to marvel at for their scientific brilliance and financial acumen, these are the two that leave the strongest impression.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste, and the author of Empire: The Unauthorized Untold Story, available in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter.