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The Knick recap: Whiplash

The Knick becomes Thack’s stage as he tries to turn an addict’s brain into his latest masterpiece.

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Mary Cybulski/Cinemax

The Knick

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
Clive Owen, Grainger Hines, Katrina E. Perkins, Andre Holland

Sometimes, when Dr. John Thackery plays God, he’s triumphant.

As a result, he’s feeling pretty good about himself these days. Confident that his abilities are back in top-notch form (thanks to a steady speedball routine), he’s refocused his attention on his addiction research, which, as he theorized on last week’s episode of The Knick, now centers on the brain. He takes a quick detour when a subway-line explosion throws the hospital into temporary chaos, but his genius still ends up prevailing after an x-ray-room overflow forces him to hastily invent a crude metal detector using a telephone and electrical wire. Also, the ethical repercussions of his drastic approach to curing Abigail’s syphilis notwithstanding, it appears love may be slowly blossoming again between the haunted doctor and his ex-girlfriend: After he stays over one night (just sleep, no sex), where Abby, to her credit, immediately puts the kibosh on any drug use in her home, he impulsively kisses her on his way out the door the following morning. “Sorry, old habit,” he confesses.

But while Abby seems to be okay, playing God does have serious risks attached to it, and if he could speak, I’m sure that Thack’s patient Sydney Carton would cry foul at the surgeon’s choice of dangerous experiment in tonight’s episode, “Whiplash.”

The rather Dickensian-sounding character of Sydney Carton (his Tale of Two Cities name was selected on purpose, I presume) was sacked with the rawest of deals this week: A morphine addict and accident victim, Carton became a prime candidate for testing out Thack’s newest theory. This meant unwillingly trading in his morphine addiction for a seemingly permanent vegetative state when Thack’s latest installment of Mystery Surgery Theater 1901 doesn’t exactly go as planned. The surgeon has barely sent a recovered Abby back home before he’s transformed Carton into a sideshow-esque oddity for a packed operating room, where he demonstrates via electric current how different parts of the brain can be stimulated to produce laughter, tears, or a foot stomp. (Carton’s exposed cranium with 10-15 scissors dangling off the sides is a disturbing sight on its own.) “But what about desire?” he asks.

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Thack determines what he believes to be the area of the brain most responsive to cravings via poking around Carton’s head with an electric-current-measuring rheoscope — and putting a vial of morphine within his patient’s sight (right, I forgot to mention, Carton is awake for all of this). But a few days later, despite an aside to Drs. Edwards and Gallinger about his concern that another part of the brain could be damaged in the process, Thack performs a lobotomy on Carton. Victorious, he announces to the gathered audience in the operating room that he has removed “the source of addiction.” Unfortunately, while Carton is in recovery, Thack’s overconfidence comes back to bite him in the ass in the worst way possible. His patient is unresponsive to even a finger snap, and his drawing board awaits his return.

After her emphatic declaration to change her life for the better, already we can see a very different Nurse Lucy Elkins patrolling the halls of the Knick this week. She’s detached when performing Thack’s scheduled needle-mark check (though she may want to take a little more notice, as he was snorting up cocaine and heroin seconds before she entered his office), and then she exhibits a cool grace under pressure during the subway-explosion sequence. She walks calmly down the corridor, giving informed orders to her fellow staffers, her blood-stained uniform a mark of pride. Hey, A.D. Elkins, who you calling a cricket now?

NEXT: “It tastes like cherry-flavored kerosene”