The Knick recap: 'The Busy Flea'
A villain is slowly being introduced to the world of The Knick: As typhoid fever makes the rounds, Cornelia Robertson—notably, not a doctor—calls it out as a matter of real concern. Not yet considered an epidemic—Inspector Speight has some investigating to do before we start applying labels—typhoid catches Cornelia’s attention because while it usually lays waste to impoverished, incredibly unhygienic housing projects, it’s begun to target affluent households throughout the city. As Speight notes, it “jumps around”—like a flea. Could the disease be the titular vermin in the “The Busy Flea”?
Or is the flea Dr. Edwards, who does some impressive hopping himself this episode?
Primum non nocere—Latin for “first, do no harm”—is one of the first ethics lessons medical students get. In The Knick‘s third episode, the doctors do no harm, for the most part—except for Edwards, who finds himself having a hot streak of missteps. Last week on The Knick, it seemed that answers were just waiting to be snatched out of the air. Edwards grabbed his chance to create a clinic for black patients. He lied, schemed, stole, conspired, snuck around—all for the greater good. But things keep getting in the way of Edwards’ plan to save the world one hernia at a time. This time around, his patient dies—a traumatic experience that poor, brilliant, put-upon Algernon Edwards will not soon forget.
Things are going better for Dr. Thackery. At the head of the episode, he almost inadvertently turns away an ailing former love, Mrs. Abigail Alford (Jennifer Ferrin), with his brusque manner. But after he realizes who the patient is, he changes tunes, outlining how he would replace her nose—eaten away by syphilis—and restore some normalcy to her life.
Later, during the skin graft surgery, Thackery’s inner tiger emerges when mouthy Nurse Baker provides running commentary on Mrs. Alford’s lifestyle. “Nurse Baker, another word from you about anything but the job at hand, and I will sew your mouth and nostrils shut and happily watch you asphyxiate,” he snarls. Young Nurse Elkins, no longer hiding from Thackery, barely hides her smile.
Cornelia wants the fearsome doctor to operate on little Cora Hemming (Victoria Leigh), a child with typhoid from whose affluent father recently died of the fever. When Cora takes a turn for the worst—her intestines are perforated—Thackery is reluctant to act because she’s so far gone. If the procedure doesn’t kill her, her quality of life will still suffer greatly. Cornelia insists he try to save the girl’s life. No pressure, though.
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Meanwhile, Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Chickering and Gallinger) review a French paper detailing the aortic procedure they’d like to attempt. Unfortunately, neither knows the language. Chickering wants to call in Edwards. Gallinger does not. Chickering notes that Edwards co-authored the paper. Gallinger replies, “Those people are known to exaggerate their accomplishments.” We hate Gallinger.
Thackery puts his cocaine injection on hold when G&C come in. Like Bertie before him, Thackery notes that Edwards co-authored the paper. He reassures Gallinger that if they ask for his help, Edwards won’t perform the surgery—he’ll only talk him through it. (Ha! In some circles, that’s known as schoolin’ a dude.)
Hospital administrator Barrow’s money troubles continue; he loses his corpse to a higher bidder, and his wife comes asking for money to go to lunch, buy the kids Sunday suits and a little something for herself. His troubles lead him to dig in the morgue for a corpse to sell. Barrow finally pays his debt and gets a tooth back; too bad it’s not his own. Then he goes to visit a whore. Earlier, it was established that his wife’s pearl earrings had gone missing. He blamed it on the maid, whom he said he would fire for the theft. Now we see that he’s actually taken the earrings so he could give them to his pet prostitute—this is one truly despicable man. “Hermie, it’s too much!” she says. Agreed.
Later, Barrow appears, staring at the butchered pigs Thackery and his minions have been experimenting on. He rolls up his sleeves and begins hacking away at one. After putting a pot aside—the heart?—he throws the legs into the incinerator. He’s no physician, but what is this man up to? Certainly not God’s work.
Also not doing God’s work, according to the wisdom of ambulance driver Cleary: Sister Harriet. He’s officially stalking her now. “If they only knew what you really are,” he says to the secret abortionist as she cares for the children at the orphanage.
Thackery, notably relaxing in Nurse Elkins’ company—she has, after all, seen his privates—submits his assessment of the skin-graft surgery: “That really was like trying to make a silk purse out of sow’s ear.” He predicts that Abbie will be alone for the remainder of her life. Nurse Elkins counters that Abigail will live a better life than she’s been living. Thackery quotes Laertes from Hamlet: “No medicine in the world can do thee good.” Lucy: “In the blackest darkness, even a dim light is better than no light at all.” He asks who said that. She innocently replies, “I just did.” He smiles.
With that, the sometimes tiger, sometimes god Thackery decides to operate on Typhoid Cora and saves her life. Cornelia is quite pleased.
By the way—that existential crisis Edwards flirted with last week? It’s in full bloom as he gets drunk and irascible at a bar. He picks a fight with another patron, taking things outside to administer a brutal slow-motion beatdown. He wins the brawl handily; at least that’s something for the plus column this week?