Psst! Hey, you — John Thackery — yeah, you, the one with the speedball habit. That thing you just did, pre-surgery? You know, calling your girlfriend on the telephone and confiding your deepest fears, while she reassures you that you’re, like, the best surgeon in the city? I think you might be onto something there with that whole addiction-treatment thing.
Before Abigail talked Thack down from the proverbial ledge on tonight’s episode of The Knick, he was an increasingly nervous wreck as he prepared to separate conjoined twins Zoya and Nika. Even his resumed sexual relationship with Abby wasn’t doing much to calm his nerves, so instead a restless Thack spent the early-morning hours preceding the surgery visiting the grave site of one Sonya Smyslov, the little girl who’s been haunting him all season long. But it wasn’t until the phone call to Abby that the ever-present clanging in his head stopped, and he found the confidence to put on the show his standing-room-only spectators were waiting for in the surgical theater.
Because it’s not just drugs that give Thack his high, it’s the command of an audience, especially when he flourishes in his medical endeavors. Dr. Thackery does successfully separate the twins, but, in keeping with the surgery-as-entertainment theme here, we don’t see it as it occurs. Following his grandiose opening speech about how “this is [the twins’] last day as a sideshow attraction,” Thack makes the first incision — and then we immediately cut to his post-op briefing. Here, the triumphant surgeon details the procedure for a second packed house using the motion-picture footage he had Henry Robertson film during the operation, rendering his earlier claim that Zoya and Nika were no longer a sideshow attraction a bit of a stretch. “This surgery proves how high we can soar on the wings of science and ingenuity,” he announces with more than a hint of cockiness.
Still, a victorious Thack is a happy Thack, allowing his rekindled relationship with Abby to thrive in tonight’s episode. He proudly escorts her to the Knick’s charity gala, though despite a lovely evening — which includes witnessing Clive Owen do a minstrel-show impersonation on the walk home (it’s 1901, yo) — Abby can’t help but feel self-conscious about her misshapen nose. Thack, blissful in the knowledge that he’s finally back with the only woman he’s ever loved, and confident in his abilities once again, promises to look into reconstructive possibilities. Director Steven Soderbergh’s exquisite close-up shot of Owen and actress Jennifer Ferrin kissing against the glow of a streetlamp perfectly denotes the conclusion of what was for Thack and Abby, an unforgettable night out.
The same cannot be said for Cornelia Showalter, who started off this episode making further headway in her investigative pet project, only to be pushed back into her gilded cage by her father-in-law, husband, and of all people, Lucy Elkins. A few hours before the ball, Cornelia nips downtown for a little meeting with the health inspector from her family’s steamship company. The inspector, who mistakenly thought Cornelia was in on whatever shady dealings her father had in place, lets his loose lips go wild: Robertson Shipping pays him to admit steerage passengers into the U.S., even if they have contagious diseases, in order to avoid the exorbitant fees that comes with sending them back — it’s way cheaper to do that (and to “upgrade” them to second-class). This new information, compounded with what goes down at the Showalter townhouse that evening, reinforces Cornelia’s confining situation.
Once again, Hobart Showalter barges into Cornelia’s bedroom while she’s in little more than her dressing gown, and, despite her protestations, won’t leave. Using intimidation tactics and flat-out inappropriate touching, Cornelia’s father-in-law chastises her for, in straightforward terms, not being a subservient wife to his son (“You should be pregnant!” he booms). We also find out that he’s the one who’s had Cornelia followed on her Inspector Speight quest. Soderbergh’s choice to only show Juliet Rylance’s face here, as she gets progressively more frightened and suffocated by Hobart’s constant reprimands, is brilliant here. Hobart is far more scary a character when we see what his actions do to others, and not the other way around.
NEXT: Lucy’s Fancy Foot Work