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The Knick “The Busy Flea” 

Photo Credit: Mary Cybulski/Cinemax
Photo Credit: Mary Cybulski/Cinemax

This show (and every historical drama I watch) always teaches me something about how the world used to be and how we got to where we are today. In the case of The Knick, I’m learning all about surgical procedures at the turn of the century and, quite frankly, some of it is turning my stomach. But if it wasn’t for the real doctors who pioneered these new techniques and instruments, we wouldn’t have come as far in the field of medicine as we are today. So when I watch Thackery and Edwards and the rest of the surgeons at The Knickerbocker struggling to save their patients lives, I know the science is based on history and it makes me that much more invested in this story.

When Thackery’s ex-girlfriend, Abigail Alford, unexpectedly reappears, she’s suffering from what I discovered is saddle nose. She’s only been with two men in her life – Thackery and her husband – and the very matter-of-fact way which she tells him that her cheating husband gave her syphilis is interesting. I have to say, I love the way Thackery is clinical about it because I feel like his behavior takes the stigma away from her disease. She claims she doesn’t care, but how can she not when she’s stared at every time she goes out in public? He wants to recommend that another surgeon take her case, but Abigail tells him she’d be much more comfortable if he were to perform it. It seems like a lot to go through for what, in essence, is a flap of skin to cover her nasal cavity but if it’ll give her even one moment of peace or comfort, I can understand why she’s doing it.

Her visit also gives us a window into Thackery. She loved him, but she hated the chaos that surrounded him. She was being courted by him and Alford at the same time and she had to make a choice about what kind of life she wanted. I’m sure it wasn’t one where the proof of her husband’s philandering ways is displayed on her face for all to see, but it’s a choice she has to live with. Thackery demonstrates that he still cares for her when he threatens that talkative nurse during Abigail’s surgery for her running – and quite rude – commentary. Maybe for the first time since they started working together, Lucy sees something in him she can admire and appreciate other than his cutting skills.

Photo Credit: Mary Cybulski/Cinemax
Photo Credit: Mary Cybulski/Cinemax

Edwards recruits the coal workers to help him with his patient intake, all of who are instructed to ask about the washing job so Edwards can keep his extracurricular activities secret. But he’s able to see patients and even perform surgery on a patient with a herniated disc. Because he fears being discovered, Edwards is unable to keep that patient on bed rest and although he cautions the man about going back to work, his patient is more worried about his job than his recovery. Edward has to rush to get him back on his table and repair his earlier work, but his patient dies. Wanting to drown his sorrows in drink – and maybe also find someone to blame for his patient’s death – Edwards goes to a bar. He encounters a braggart and refuses to back down when challenged. Edwards is very good with his fists, but I think that’s because he’s had to be. I like that he won’t run from a fight, but maybe he shouldn’t go looking for them either.

Although Gallinger and Thackery are loath to ask for help, they’re running out of time and they know when they’ve been defeated, or at least Thackery does. Gallinger and Chickering have stopped trying to decipher the medical journal and have moved on to practicing the galvanic procedure on pigs. When they can’t make any progress, they go to Thackery. Gallinger is still determined not to ask Edwards for help, because he thinks Edwards is a fraud, but Thackery knows when they’ve been beat. They’ll have Edwards talk them through the procedure and Thackery promises that Edwards will not touch the patient.

When wealthy patients start getting a poor man’s disease, the health inspector is called in. Cornelia talks to Speight about the Hemmings and offers to accompany him uptown as an ambassador. Speight tells her his position will get him through any door in the city, but Cornelia informs him that without her none of those families will talk. So whether or not he wants to work with her to get to the root of what may become a typhoid outbreak, they both need to play nice. She also seems to have success in convincing Thackery to perform surgery on Cora. He didn’t like her chances and thought Cora would most likely die on his table, but he changes his mind and the surgery goes well.

Photo Credit: Mary Cybulski/Cinemax
Photo Credit: Mary Cybulski/Cinemax

Herman’s wife Effie has no idea of her husband’s financial straits, which is demonstrated when she shows up at his work and asks for money. Still needing to pay off his debt, Herman takes one of the bodies out of the morgue and sells it to God knows who – maybe one of the other hospitals – for some cash. He pays Bunky off and, of course, the tooth returned to him is not his own, but that’s of no concern to his bookie. He gives pearl earrings to his mistress – the very same earrings his wife asked him about earlier and he accused the maid of stealing. Whatever else he gets up to, his mistress is another financial drain on his resources, but one he seems only too happy to pay for.

Other developments

Cornelia is engaged to a man named Phillip, who is working for her father’s shipping business. The wedding planning is currently underway, even though he’s in Chicago right now.

Cleary has figured out what Sister Harriet does in her spare time and he’s started making sly comments about it. I really think it’s only a matter of time before he tries to blackmail her to keep him quiet.

Random question:

Why is Herman breaking down those pigs and burning them? It is illegal for the doctors to kill them and practice medical procedures on them? I’ll do some research.

Some memorable quotes:

Thackery: “Germs don’t examine your bank book.”

Gallinger: “Those people are known to exaggerate their accomplishments.”

Edwards: “His pulse, Mrs. Gamble.”
Mrs. Gamble: “He’s still got one.”
Edwards: “Close enough.”

The Knick airs Fridays at 10/9c on Cinemax.

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