Season 1 finale features murder most foul—and, yes, also strange and unnatural.

By Debbie Day
Updated October 18, 2014 at 03:00 AM EDT
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  • Cinemax

Everything wrong with medicine in 1900 seems to show up in The Knick‘s season 1 finale, “Crutchfield”: back-alley abortions, primitive and misinformed medical procedures, uncontrolled drug administration, unsanitary conditions, a lack of coordination and cooperation in the medical community, and on. Looking back on the season, which touched on all of the above in one or another episode, it becomes apparent that this disastrous tornado of dysfunction was inevitable—that is, you can’t say they didn’t warn us. The Steven Soderbergh–directed series wraps up its first season not in a happy place, but instead with every character in jeopardy, which is pretty much exactly where a show with a season 2 order perhaps should end.

Dr. Thackery’s drug addiction has been escorted to the next level by well-meaning doctors administering a new drug as an answer to his cocaine addiction. Cornelia’s creepy father-in-law sees the newlyweds off, while the bride has arranged a payment (surely only a first installment) of abortion-related hush-money to Cleary. Dr. Edwards challenges the boxer who frequents his favorite bar and who he’s been told to not take on lest he find himself dead on the street; surely he survived, but he certainly looks mostly dead in his final pose in the episode. Ping Wu confronts Barrow with the knowledge that the hospital supervisor had owed definitely dead Collier $9,000, and now Barrow owes Wu. Dr. Gallinger is thoroughly broken by his wife’s mental health issues. Nurse Elkins incurs the wrath of Chickering over her relationship with Thackery. Even the hospital itself faces closure, a move uptown, and whatever upscale horrors await there.

Rewind.

CORNELIA

Cornelia’s fedora equals “furtive” at the head of The Knick finale, as she waits on a damp night. A carriage rolls up: “You,” she says, half question-half statement. It’s Cleary, who, no, won’t tell her where they’re headed. At a shabby apartment, Cleary reveals Sister Harriet. “Yes, I’m the one who does it. You don’t want this rhinoceros doing it, do ya?” Harry asks, nodding at Cleary. Cornelia gets the episode’s first tearjerker moment when she says, “We’re friends, Harry—you could have told me.” Harry gets the second: “So could you. But then neither of us could, could we?” Cornelia nods sadly. The series’ ongoing abortion storyline has led to this moment, in which a character we are invested in faces a heartbreaking choice.

Harry, of course, tries to talk her out of it and offers to act as midwife and claim that Cornelia was impregnated on her wedding night and the baby came early. Cornelia still does not reveal that the baby is Dr. Edwards’, but Harry understands her silence and leads her to the bed where the friends comfort each other before proceeding.

Later, Edwards drops in on Cornelia at home: “Are you all right?” She: “It’s done.” He: “Was it terrible?” She nods yes: “It was our child.” Cornelia says she thinks they made a mistake. He doesn’t give her a chance to elaborate, but barrels through a speech about how their affair was a mistake, she’ll marry her fiancé, bear him many children, and they’ll put the whole mess behind them. Cornelia tries to grab him and says, “No,” but Edwards won’t listen—he won’t stay for the wedding luncheon and please convey his regrets. At Cornelia’s luncheon, her wedding gifts include, as “something old,” stunning sapphire and diamond earrings from her fiancé’s family—notably, the gift was insisted upon by that creepy soon-to-be father-in-law.

NEXT: Edwards addresses the Thackery problem

EDWARDS

In addition to his Cornelia drama, Edwards deals with Thackery’s drug addiction—as best he can anyway. They attend a Zinberg demonstration of splenic anemia surgery. As Zinberg talks through the surgery, he announces that he and colleague Dr. Karl Landsteiner of Vienna (a true historical figure, who discovered blood groups in 1900 and went on to discover the polio virus and receive a Nobel Prize) will soon propose that people have three distinct blood types.

After the procedure, Thackery consults with Edwards and Chickering and decides to take on Zinberg’s work to beat him to the blood-typing punch. Edwards argues that Zinberg is far ahead of him. Thackery announces that Edwards will take the lead on all surgeries while Thackery focuses on the blood discovery. “Until when?” Edwards asks. “Until we win one of those new Nobel prizes,” Thackery says. Edwards takes a risk, telling Thackery, “You need to take a moment and consider yourself. You are—if I may say—acting irrationally, and I think the cause may be more pharmaceutical in nature than you realize.” Irate Thackery: “I did not ask what you think. I told you what to do.”

Thackery looks perplexed when later studying a selection of blood samples. He goes to Edwards, who’s in the middle of one of those surgeries and who, aghast at Thackery’s disregard for sanitation, asks Thackery to please sneeze on his patient to complete his contamination of the procedure. Thackery asks about coagulation during blood transfusions. Edwards suggests that his asking at this time and under these circumstances is unusual. “How much more evidence of your absurd behavior do you need?” Edwards asks.

In the end, however, Edwards’ story in the finale is more personal. When Cornelia’s wedding moves forward, the scene cuts between her nuptials and Edwards’ street fight, which he quickly loses. Cornelia goes through with the wedding, and the lovers are both left distressed.

NURSE ELKINS

Speaking of lovers, Nurse Elkins also attempts warn Thackery against his cocaine overindulgence, standing over him while he considers the blood-typing puzzle and offering to take him home. Thackery says Zinberg is too far ahead, that he could be getting ready to publish next week. He asks her to fetch him some of his “medicine.” She says she doesn’t like what it’s doing to him. He: “I don’t care what you like. I need to work. I need to concentrate, so please do as you’re told.”

Edwards stops her as she gets the cocaine: “You see what it’s doing to him.” Yes, she says, but the alternative is much worse—that is, until he kills someone because of his drug habit, which he does when, believing he’s found the blood-typing answer, he transfuses his own cocaine-laced blood into an anemic girl. To be continued in the “Thackery” section …

NEXT: Barrow’s Ping Wu plan results in a whole bunch of dead guys

BARROW

Barrow is responsible for four deaths in the season finale, when he engages Wu to kill Collier, who earlier had interrupted Barrow having sex with his favorite prostitute and bloodied his nose for missing a payment on his debt and instead spending his money on whores. Collier had his henchman punch Barrow in his erect penis, then added $1,000 to his debt and doubled his rent for the repeated offense.

Enter the Ping Wu plan, which Thackery—cackling in his drug mania—advises against: “You’re talking about bargaining with the devil, Herman.” On Barrow’s pretense that Thackery wants Collier dead, the assassin enters Collier’s den and slaughters the tenderloin district boss and three members of his crew. Barrow is glad to read about the deaths in the paper, but when he gets to his office, Wu is there. Wu looks over Collier’s accounts book and says, “A man who owes me $9,000 as long as you owe Collier would be fed to my pigs…This, my book now”—setting up a “the devil you know” regret-filled season 2 for Barrow.

GALLINGER

How did racist Dr. Gallinger become the most pitiable character in The Knick? And now, when he goes to see his wife in the sanatorium, he discovers the doctor has pulled all of Eleanor’s teeth, claiming that teeth are a haven for bacteria that disease the mind. He claims to have had no success as of yet, but also says that his colleagues are operating in the Dark Ages of medicine. He says that her tonsils and colon might also have to go.

Back at the hospital, Gallinger blows past Thackery, who follows and finds him attacking Edwards, claiming he destroyed his life. Barrow suspends Gallinger “until you straighten yourself out.” Gallinger runs, but Thackery gives chase and tells him to go home and come back a man who can outshine Edwards. “Go home to what? You were all I had left—now look at you,” Gallinger says to his pale, wild-eyed mentor.

CHICKERING

From the top of the episode, Chickering has been his reliably good-natured self; for instance, after Thackery performs brain surgery and then rudely dismisses Zinberg’s suggestion of a collaboration, Chickering reassures Zinberg that the New York medical community is becoming more open to collaboration.

Thackery later tasks Chickering with acquiring Zinberg’s research. When the young doctor visits Zinberg, the more experienced doctor says he won’t take a pupil from his mentor and says that their discoveries would have made them excellent partners. Chickering says he thinks Thackery didn’t think Zinberg was being sincere. “I only want to solve problems and help people,” Zinberg says. He muses on safe blood transfusions and then says there’s one final hurdle they can’t surmount and hands over his research, asking for Chickering’s help. He says if Thackery agrees to collaborate, the documents are his, but if not, “I will trust you to do with that what you think is right.”

Chickering’s good humor doesn’t last, however; he enters Thackery’s office, where Nurse Elkins sleeps while Thackery buzzes through his thoughts. Thackery hypothesized that the number of red blood cells per cubic millimeter is what differentiates people from each other, but then (incorrectly) deduced that it’s not the number, but the size. He asks Chickering to take a look, but Chickering says he doesn’t see it. Chickering says he thinks Zinberg is sincere about wanting to collaborate and that his findings are remarkable. Thackery exclaims that he’s going to be first and asks if Chickering was followed. “He’s got people—spies—everywhere. Maybe you’re one of them,” Thackery says. “Thack, I’m no such thing, and I think you need rest,” Chickering says. On his way out, he asks Nurse Elkins if Thackery enlisted her into this. In what must be a blow, she says she volunteered.

NEXT: Thackery’s negligent homicide

THACKERY

After not convincing Chickering of the red blood cell size “discovery,” Thackery tells Nurse Elkins that a particular anemic patient is perfect to test his theories. Nurse Elkins says the girl has been through a lot, is sick enough, and they should leave her alone. Thackery says they should give her this chance—a blood transfusion might be just what’s needed. In the surgical theater, he tells the young girl that it’s her lucky day. “When you wake up, you’ll be cured,” he says. Then he opens his own vein for the transfusion—as we mentally note that cocaine is streaming through his circulatory system. Nurse Elkins reports that the patient’s pulse is rapid, then erratic, then weakening, and finally that she has no pulse. Thackery quickly cuts off the direct transfusion: “What have I done?” He’s killed her is what.

Nurse Elkins retrieves Chickering from the wedding. When they arrive back at the Knick, they find Thackery in a near-catatonic state. Nurse Elkins tells Thackery that he has to stop using the drug. Chickering eyes the hypodermic needle and other paraphernalia and says, “So it’s all true then.” She begs for help as the disenchanted young doctor tries to leave.

Help comes in the form of Chickering Sr., who says he’s seen cases as bad as this before.

In a carriage, Thackery says he was so close. Chickering Jr. says no, he read Zinberg’s papers, it had nothing to do with size of the blood cells: “You were off by a mile.” They arrive at their destination, a treatment facility where they deposit Thackery. In the carriage ride back, Chickering tells Nurse Elkins that there’s nothing she can do for Thack now.

Thackery meets with the doctor, who says Chickering Sr. noted that Thackery should be listed under another name to protect his privacy. Thackery: “Crutchfield…my mother.” The doctor reassures Thackery, “You have been steered to the right place.” He says they’ve come to specialize in “cocaine madness” and that they have a new drug that can virtually eliminate the pain of withdrawal. As he administers it, he says, “It’s from the Bayer Aspirin company—safe as can be.” Thack will have to take treatments for only a month or two. “Time to start getting better,” the doctor says. As Thackery falls into a drug haze, the focus moves to the bottle, which is labeled “heroin.”

THE KNICK

In a board meeting, the members note that the hospital’s current patients can’t pay, Thack is gone, his predecessor killed himself, and the only person left with a scalpel is a black man. Another hospital has bid on the uptown land—it can’t be held indefinitely. Capt. Robertson: “In light of all that’s happened here, I think it’s time we bring this matter to a vote. All in favor of shuttering this place and moving the Knick uptown?” The ayes are unanimous. “Then, it’s decided.”

Shakespeare watch:

Thackery offered no Shakespeare quotes in the finale (that we noted), but perhaps, in anticipation of the second season, a little “until next time” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be appropriate:

“… as I am an honest Puck,

If we have unearned luck

Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,

We will make amends ere long;

Else the Puck a liar call;

So, good night unto you all.

Give me your hands, if we be friends,

And Robin shall restore amends.”

Feel free to offer your own Shakespeare suggestions in the comments.

Episode Recaps

The Knick

Clive Owen and Steven Soderbergh team up for this 1900s medical drama.
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  • TV Show
seasons
  • 2
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  • TV-MA
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  • In Season
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  • Cinemax

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