What was the bigger challenge for Clive Owen: portraying Thackery under the sway of a heavy dose of his beloved cocaine as he was last week, or bringing out the raw hunger of withdrawals when he is constantly denied his fix this week? The contrast between the Thackery of just seven days ago, and what we are confronted with now is startling, and only goes to underscore how much Owen has thrown himself into this role.
As we open up the episode, Thackery is acting like the lowliest of drug addicts by breaking into a pharmacy. Predictably, the police catch him on his way out, and the news of his addiction quickly spreads through the Knick and the city. From there on out, it’s a hunt for the drug, or at least something to get him through the withdrawals.
At first the task is taken on by Barrow who enlists the help of his gangster connections… and who winds up with a batch of salt water. It then falls on Nurse Elkins to find a solution, which sends her first to the opium den to score some of their wares, then to the German hospital where she bluffs her way in and steals a box of cocaine.
I also can’t decide is which part was more fascinating/depressing: the machinations that Thackery goes through to try and quell his withdrawals, or his insistence that Nurse Elkins is “the most resourceful, wonderful, beautiful girl” he has ever known solely because she brought him drugs. The former kept us transfixed as he cultivated what liquid he could from discarded bottles of Coca-Cola and tried to turn it into something injectable, but the latter obviously has the bigger ramifications. In the state he was in, he would have sold Nurse Elkins on the black market to get a bindle of coke. There was no truth in his words… just relief.
The other side of the episode partially fell on more clichéd habits. Couldn’t we all have predicted that Dr. Edwards would get Cornelia pregnant, forcing them to struggle with the notion of raising a mixed-race baby? The actors did a great job conveying the difficulty of the situation, but it was a dead end to a plot thread that added nothing to the series as a whole.
On the other hand, the family issues facing Dr. Gallinger just got more and more heartbreaking. His poor wife can’t find her way out of the mental break that happened following the death of their child, even with the introduction of a new adopted baby into the mix. Again, the fate of that poor youngster (drowned by Eleanor when she tried to “save” the little girl from potential meningitis) seemed inevitable, but no less heartbreaking. The same can be said for poor Eleanor’s commitment to a mental hospital (a scene which brought Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman into the cast).
Even with those inevitabilities, there’s no telling where the show is going to lead us as it heads towards its season finale next week. There’s little chance of a big happy ending to send us all off smiling into the fall and winter—just another cold chill on the back of our neck as further complications and drama befall the employees and owners of the hospital.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.