The title of tonight’s episode is a quote from Dr. Everett Gallinger, as he discusses the cornerstone of eugenics with some old University of Pennsylvania pals at a reunion. But what’s such a great slap in the face to The Knick‘s resident racist is the fact that when it comes to the events of the episode, breeding “the best with the best to get the best” requires quite a bit of race- and religion-mixing.
There’s the teaming of Dr. Thackery and Dr. Edwards, who have embarked on a new syphilis theory that, even if the experiments don’t pan out (they’re testing a hypothesis that entails raising a person’s fever to lethal levels), will still prove they are the best medical duo the Knick has to offer.
The Presbyterian Dr. Bertie Chickering is now mixing in with the Jewish docs at Mount Sinai Hospital, working with Thack’s season 1 rival, Dr. Levi Zinberg, on adrenaline research. He’s also one half of what I hope will be The Knick‘s take on the New York power couple: The other half is one Genevieve Everidge, a whip-smart, Nellie Bly-influenced magazine journalist who infiltrated a sanitarium in order to uncover its poor conditions (Bertie is seen reading her Collier‘s article in last week’s episode), and who is now writing about Zinberg. She’s also stylish, confident, and has no qualms about asking the bashful Bertie out herself. Oh, right, and her real name is Esther Cohn. “It seems we’re both swimming in each other’s ponds,” she remarks of their shared experience.
Also, not that we needed further evidence that keeping people with “their own kind” is hardly a one-way ticket to success and happiness, but “The Best With the Best to Get the Best” still drove that point home tonight via several peeks behind closed doors. There was that troubling bird’s-eye view into the Showalters’ marital bedroom. We got a disturbing look at A.D. Elkins’ true, abusive colors toward his daughter, Lucy. Even Eleanor Gallinger, once her husband’s perfect specimen of arm candy, is now a broken shell of a woman with too-big replacement teeth — and a social pariah for drowning their adopted baby daughter. But perhaps the biggest argument against eugenics and racial segregation in general (or rather, for Team Neely-and-Algie. Team Neelgie?), next to the ugly post-coital exchange between Cornelia and Philip, is made through tonight’s reveal of Edwards’ long-lost wife. She is a wife who, judging by the standards of 1901, would be considered “acceptable.” Except it looks like she’s about to wreak all sorts of havoc on her estranged husband, if Edwards’ terrified facial expressions upon her reappearance are any indication.
Immediately after his new dance-hall pal Kate enlightened him to the concept of taking equal amounts of cocaine and heroin, we find Thack rushing into his lab, high on this breakthrough. He cooks up both drugs — sending them right up his nose. Other than a couple of instances where we see Thack trying to get cadavers for his addiction research, his monumental project seems to have gone completely out the window this episode. In a later scene, he and Kate return to their special spot (a grimy back alley) to snort drugs and have sex, making the only real development here, surprise, surprise, is that Thack’s back on the smack.
But the capricious Thack has a new
obsession challenge instead, and in a partial way, it’s an altruistic one, because he’s determined to cure his old lover, Abigail, of syphilis (I say “partial” because his desire to save her comes out of his unwillingness to let her go). Following his multiple-vice session with Kate, Thack wanders over to Abigail’s home, where, having recovered from last season’s pioneering surgery, she now has a reconstructed nose. But her symptoms are worsening, and death seems imminent. Thack’s latest theory is that syphilis can be cured with heat, believing that by inducing a fever in a patient — meaning, temperatures of 106-107 degrees — he can “bake the disease to death,” and he wants Edwards’ help in the experimental stage. He seeks Edwards’ expertise because he noticed (in last week’s episode) that there is now a dangerous-looking apparatus called a “fever cabinet” at the Knick, courtesy of the Paris-trained doctor. Edwards, while initially skeptical, is intrigued by the idea, and given his ongoing eye trouble, he’s game for an endeavor where he doesn’t have to hide his condition. It’s a kick seeing these two working together again, even after last week’s failed eye surgery, and especially because the stronger the collaboration, the more of a hissy fit Dr. Gallinger gets to throw.
Gallinger’s resentment does indeed boil over as he watches Thack and Edwards from the scrubbing room — in a beautifully shot moment that captures both the WASPy doc’s reflection and the conferring surgeons in the surgical theater. When Gallinger attempts to guilt Thack for choosing to work with Edwards over him, giving him the ol’ “I saved your life!” argument, his colleague counters with a modern-day way of thinking that, sadly, is likely no match for the eugenics speech Gallinger heard earlier in the episode: “Since he started here, Edwards has invented and improved procedure after procedure, technique after technique.” Thack advises his friend to drop the jealousy act (read: jealousy=racism), but given Gallinger’s own issues, he’s ripe for further indoctrination into the growing eugenics movement.
NEXT: Lack of character