Tonight's episode brings about several major shifts in the relationships of the Knick's employees.
Now that was just cruel.
It wasn’t surprising, and it certainly wasn’t out of character for The Knick, but watching Abigail Alford die from what appeared to be an accidental laudanum-and-ether overdose after she had already survived nearly being cooked to death was hard to swallow. In retrospect, we knew this was coming: Throughout the season, Dr. John Thackery had been experiencing recurring, ghostlike visions of the woman he loved, which were not unlike the apparitions of little, most definitely dead Sonya Smyslov. That and, what? The Knick was all of a sudden going to be headed up by Thack as a settled-down, happy family man? No — the show doesn’t work like that, which means we need Thack to be tormented, whether it’s agonizing over his addiction research, slipping into an opium coma at the Golden Lotus, or both. He just seemed too contented in last week’s episode for this relationship to possibly continue on its present path.
So, even though Abby’s death didn’t occur until the very end of the episode, it’s safe to say that by next week, we’ll find the old anguished Thack back in his rightful place — with a mysterious pain gnawing at his stomach thrown in for good measure (as of now he’s still swigging turpentine and refusing all medical assistance). The episode’s title, “Not Well at All,” pertains to Eleanor Gallinger and her self-realization that she’s gone completely crackers — but the same can absolutely be said for John Thackery as we head into The Knick‘s final, two-episode stretch.
Before Abby checked out of the Knick for good, she did leave an enduring legacy that, as I discussed last week, resembles the start of modern addiction treatment at the hospital. Since Thack believed her sympathetic listening skills directly impacted his ability to withhold his drug use, he decides to have her work with the one remaining patient on his inebriation ward. Abby’s compassionate demeanor works well with the Polish alcoholic in question: He opens up to her about his family and his upbringing because she encourages him to talk about what he loves to do best: drinking.
But it’s Abby’s misshapen nose that continues to make all of the decisions for her in “Not Well at All.” While I am in no way chastising her for wanting to look like the rest of the female population in the image-obsessed world of 1901 (sigh… plus ça change…), it is a shame that that’s what ended up killing her in the end. Her therapy session with Thack’s addiction patient takes place with the man’s back turned because Abby fears her schnoz will be too off-putting. Though, Thack, spinmeister that he is, explains the unorthodox approach as a means to keep the patient focused on the task at hand, and not Abby’s loveliness: “Looking at a beautiful woman would distract you and lessen the effect.”
Simplistic as the saying might be, beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. But that platitude very rarely works (just ask Donna Douglas or Molly Sims), so Abby can’t be blamed for asking Thack to perform plastic surgery, despite his own unequivocal love for her and indifference to the contours of her nose. Sadly, it wasn’t even the actual operation that killed her: It was an unforeseen complication caused by Abby’s decision to take some laudanum right before the procedure. Shortly after Dr. Bertie Chickering Jr. puts her under with ether, both he and the attending nurse, Lucy Elkins, notice something’s wrong — right when Thack’s back is turned (it’s a beautifully orchestrated silent moment between Bertie and Lucy, where they know disaster is about to strike maybe a second or two before Thack does).
The three medical professionals work tirelessly to revive Abby, who has no pulse at this point, but her death arrives quickly, coming out of nowhere, at least as far as the doctors and Lucy are concerned. Given Abby’s narrative, it’s not the fact of her passing that comes as a shock to the audience, but the method. After all her poor body had been through to eradicate her syphilis, now she dies on an operating table just so she could have a pretty nose? It’s both outrageously messed up and quintessential of The Knick, all at the same time. A shattered Thack leaves Bertie to remove the breathing tube hastily inserted into Abby’s throat (which he does, before gently closing Abby’s mouth), as he’s been stunned into silence by what he’s just witnessed.
Thack, however, wasn’t the only person to lose a loved one tonight. Though it’s pretty clear that Dr. Everett Gallinger isn’t as broken up by his wife being committed (again) as Thack is over Abby’s death. As mentioned earlier, Eleanor Gallinger has been descending further into madness while maintaining her sweet, domestic-minded veneer. Remember how she curiously invited Dr. Cotton over for dinner a couple of episodes ago? The guy whose idea of “treatment” was to pull every single one of Eleanor’s chompers out of her mouth, and who then abruptly bolted out of the Gallinger residence with sweat pouring down his face? Well, Eleanor and Everett (and Eleanor’s sister, Dorothy, who’s still there) are paid a visit from a police detective in tonight’s episode, who informs them that Cotton is dead — by poisoning — and that his appointment book had him dining at Casa Gallinger the night before he croaked.
But you needn’t worry about another drawn-out investigation plaguing The Knick like Cornelia Showalter’s now-seasonal sleuthing subplot. Nope, because ol’ Ellie wastes no time in confessing to her husband that she fed Cotton a heaping portion of rat poison with his supper! She’s so calm about what she’s done, blaming her increased mental problems on her actions. “Can’t you see? I’m not well at all,” she declares almost delightedly to Gallinger. Although now we (and Gallinger) have to worry that Eleanor has gone ahead and killed the poor detective, thanks to director Steven Soderbergh’s non-conclusive tension-building series of camera angles: Eleanor staring at the trash bin where Gallinger threw away the rat poison (and the camera focusing in on the receptacle, not actress Maya Kazan); Gallinger and Dorothy singing the good Dr. Cotton’s praises to throw the detective off their scent; and a tight close-up of the tea cup hitting the mustachioed policeman’s mouth.
NEXT: “Superior stock”
Eleanor’s confession proves to be one too many killings under her belt for Gallinger to handle, so when next we see his wife, she’s being admitted to a new sanitarium — though this time the eugenics-championing physician demands he be informed of any procedures performed on Eleanor. But more than anything, this is a severing of the ties between Dr. and Mrs. Gallinger. Gallinger mentions to the attending doctor that Eleanor will spend “the rest of her days” in this institution, because while it’s considered acceptable for him to go around sterilizing young boys, pre-meditated murder is still a crime in these here parts.
Besides, Eleanor and all her psychological issues were getting to be a drag. Who needs a wife with murderous tendencies when you can go to bed with someone who looks like her and comes from the same “superior stock”? (In case you hadn’t noticed, for Everett Gallinger, racist views are akin to foreplay.) So before Eleanor even had her first therapy session, Dorothy continued her supportive-sibling duties by agreeing to keep her sister’s husband nice and warm, presumably for the next few decades.
One person who’s still being left out in the cold though is Tom Cleary. I guess turning his endearing friendship with Sister Harriet into something more was inevitable, but at least she’s going to make him work for it — hard. Cleary’s request that the legally named Rose Dolan sing a song called “My Wild Irish Rose” in order to get him excited enough to try on her homemade condoms should’ve been enough of a sign that he felt a certain way, but we’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. After all, Harry’s got zero experience in this sort of thing, despite being, as Cleary observed, uniquely knowledgeable “about a fella’s pecker for someone who’s been avoiding them her whole life.” While on a night out at Huber’s Palace Museum (apparently the only source of amusement in the entire city of New York for some reason), the outspoken ambulance driver makes his affections known to the former midwife: “You’ve won over my heart, truly.” Just as he leans in for a kiss and we’re all about to collectively squeal, Harry throws cold water on the entire romantic gesture, denouncing her friend for trying to get into her bloomers.
It’s sad to witness, because there’s no doubt of Cleary’s honorable intentions — his brusque and vulgar nature notwithstanding. Who here didn’t tear up when he told the enjoyment-averse Harry she didn’t take a “vow of misery”? But as I said, Harry has literally been living like a nun up until this point. She knows nothing of courtship, even in the purest of forms. Hate to say it, Cleary, but you’ll need to move at an even slower pace if you want this to work. That curtain’s going to be pulled even tighter tonight.