Thack Returns To The Knick To Start A Research Project On...Addiction?
That is, other than the informal 'research project' on addiction he's been independently conducting for the past few years. As we rank the episode's decisionmakers from best to worst, where will he end up?
After a season premiere that kept Thack out of The Knick and away from his beloved circus, now Thack's been treated for his drug addiction(s) and is totally all better and ready to come back to work! Thack's return to the hospital is going to require some big adjustments on the parts of the people he embarrassed, hurt, and used before taking his mental health leave, though. Also returning to her old stomping grounds: Cornelia, who moonlights on her "real" job of keeping the Showalter name in the society by investigating a Manhattan murder mystery.
Considering it's only the season's second episode, people are already making a lot of big decisions: let's rank them from whose are best to whose are worst!
After delivering some exposition up top in the form of reading a first-person piece from a female journalist who seems to have gone undercover to investigate a mental hospital like the one Thack was in -- maybe even the very same one -- Bertie is dismayed to see Thack return to the job, and almost immediately comes to Thack's lab to tender his resignation.
Thack, condescending as ever, tells Bertie he shouldn't make "an abrupt decision" just because the two of them had beef regarding Lucy. "This is actually the least abrupt way I can do this," says Bertie coldly. Thack claims that "the drugs" made him do things he wouldn't have otherwise, to which Bertie counters that he thinks the drugs made Thack "more [his] true self" -- a position for which there is some evidence! When Bertie tells Thack he loved Lucy, Thack assures him, "She's free of me. The circle of people who know about her past is minuscule....Don't get confused by some puritanical notion of womanhood. You know, virginity is a man's idea, meant to shame. Regardless of what she's done with me, she's no less pure than she was the day she got here." Looking like he's about to barf, Bertie replies, "She's no less pure than when I walked into this room." Thack is like, "...You didn't know?" "I suppose the circle was even more minuscule than you realized," snaps Bertie before stomping out. OH FUCK, THAT IS AWKWARD. However: under the circumstances, quitting is probably the best thing Bertie can do for himself. He doesn't want to report to a man he (reasonably) hates or see the woman who hurt him every day -- plus his dad's a fancy doctor and they're rich, and he doesn't need this shit. (I realize he'll probably be back, but that doesn't make quitting now any less a good decision.)
Still begging off surgeries due to his (secret) visual impairment -- even handing one off to his worst rival, Gallinger -- and deciding better than to make a stink when one of Thack's first acts after being reinstated is to order the abandonment of the more efficient charting system Edwards put into place during his time as Acting Chief, Edwards continues to be the soul of discretion. When Thack storms into his office to bitch about a fever cabinet Edwards bought, he it leads to my favourite moment of the episode, as Thack's anger is immediately replaced by curiosity about what Edwards is hiding. Edwards claims, at first, that it's just a scratched cornea, but then decides to tell Thack the truth.
Despite their personal issues with each other, Edwards and Thack have always respected one another's talents as surgeons: Thack is not such a territorial dick that he can't express interest in the ocular experiments Edwards has been doing on rabbits to try to figure out a treatment for his own eye, and Edwards is not still holding such a big grudge about Thack's recklessness for continuing to work at the height of his cocaine addiction that he can't seek Thack's expertise to perform the operation. That said, when Edwards is under a local waiting for Thack to begin and can tell he's starting to act squirrelly (he's hallucinating the girl he killed in the season finale, watching in the gallery), Edwards makes one of his all-time best decisions in calling off the operation. Those are not hands you want messing with your eye. (And by the way: I could have giffed the moment Thack injects anesthetic in Edwards's eye and didn't, YOU'RE WELCOME.)
Poor Lucy. When Thack comes back, she thinks it means they can pick back up where they left off, but Thack does the kindest and wisest possible thing in telling her they never had a real relationship and that she can't waste her time on him.
Eve Hewson does a lovely job letting Lucy be vulnerable with Thack in this heartbreaking moment, however misguided Lucy was in getting to this point with him in the first place -- and it ends even worse as she has to try to get hold of herself to tell him she's been sent in to map him for track marks. Just keep that in mind the next time someone tells you they had the worst breakup in history: this one's definitely worse. All that said, Lucy's story in this episode ends with her watching her visiting father preach -- and considering that his sermon starts with talk of the Sikh he just met in New York, it's shocking in its lack of judgment or xenophobia; if this is an indication that she's going to take a break from men and focus on her faith for a while, it's probably a good idea. (Getting an eyeful of Ping Wu at the hospital probably also contributes to her taking a good hard look at her life and whether it's everything she might want it to be.)
Kind of a mixed bag for Cleary this week: between backing a boxer on the basis of his performance in a previous fixed fight and having the ambulance break down, he's losing a couple of sources of income he'd been planning to use to pay the Harvard lawyer he's hired for Sister Harriet.
Fortunately for him, Cornelia's got a grave-robbing job she needs done, and she can make a donation to the Sister Harriet Defense Fund in exchange for his efforts. I guess it's possible he will face consequences from messing around in a graveyard, but doing so on behalf of a lady who's both rich and connected probably means she'd be able to protect him if something happens. This new caper also gives Cleary a great line: "Over the years, I've committed a petty crime here and there. It's how a man survives in the city. But the two who dragged me into serious malfeasance are a society lady and a fucking nun." Hee!
Now that she's back in New York, the Showalters -- and the Robertsons, probably, too, other than her brother -- expect Cornelia to be spending her days doing the kinds of wussy charitable work that will reflect well on her new name. So she initially decides to meet them halfway and organize the Knick's fundraising ball, probably relishing any activity that gets her out from under her disgusting father-in-law's roof (with the end of construction on the apartment he'd promised her and Phillip nowhere in sight, what a surprise). But when Speight's body washes up on a riverbank and she's unsatisfied by the official theory that he got drunk and fell off the ferry home to Brooklyn -- she knows for a fact that he never drank -- Cornelia finds another passion project to occupy her. A visit to Tammany Hall is no help; the officer she talks to says in as many words that someone's bought him a $5000 bulldog and that he won't consider an exhumation to prove or disprove the drunk story unless she can buy him a dog that's even fancier.
And when Cleary digs down to the coffin and pries it open to find it empty, Cornelia has all the more reason to...ahem...keep digging. (Sorry.) While this is undoubtedly the right decision from a moral perspective, for someone in her position, it is also extremely risky, and given how few real allies she apparently has in her family, I'm worried about how this is going to end for her.
The Board (Collectively)
If you're dubious about reinstating a surgeon because of the way his addiction exposed your institution not so very long ago, I guess I don't quite get the logic of doing it because he says he can figure out addiction and then allow you to charge patients for his cure?
But that iffy decision is somewhat balanced out by placing so many onerous and humiliating restrictions on his employment -- from regular physical checks for visible evidence that he's using intravenous drugs to direct supervision of him any time he needs any drugs from the hospital pharmacy -- such that he might just get so annoyed or insulted that he ends up quitting anyway.
Since "loose cannon" is one of the more generous phrases one might use to describe Thack, it might not be a great career move to align oneself very closely with him?
But if Gallinger's only other option is to treat a non-white colleague like a person, then, as a bigot, he doesn't have any choice.
Captain Robertson And His Entourage Of Rich White Dudes
Henry thinks that his father and his buddies should consider soliciting more donors for the new Knick construction project, and also that they should diversify their investments -- like, maybe throw some money at the new subway?
Captain Robertson is pretty sure the subway is a dumb idea and that no one will ever use it and that Henry should just shut up. Cool.
I can't get too upset at him for his graft on the construction materials; I'm not sure it's possible for anything to get built without anyone skimming.
But Barrow makes a few bad calls this week. First, he assigns Lucy to document Thack's needle sites? True, she does, as she says, "know all [his] high places," but she's also in love with Thack (or thinks she is) and thus might not be counted upon to report anything worrisome that she sees in her track mark inspections. For another, this is the episode when Ping Wu brings in his prostitutes for checkups. Barrow frames it for Lucy as a "new philanthropic endeavour" he's spearheading but doesn't necessarily want anyone to know about, so she should just go ahead and get started on her exams and not worry about charts or billing. Once he realizes that Lucy and Ping Wu have a history, he might consider approaching the hospital's second-most discreet nurse rather than risk Lucy losing it and stabbing her former...uh...partner in crime with a scalpel or something -- but an even worse error in judgment occurs when Dr. Mays wanders in and volunteers his own services on the ladies' behalves. Barrow may not know as well as the other actual doctors do that this guy is not great at his job, and I guess Barrow can't really shoo him out without shining a spotlight on the sketchiness of the situation...but Mays's involvement in this scheme just gives him another arena in which to be horrible. How horrible? Well, he's not going to need the stirrups for his first patient's pelvic exam because she can just rest her legs on his shoulders, and he also won't need any swabs to culture her vagina: "A good nose and a pair of eyes are all a doctor needs to know what he's dealing with." Grrrrrrrrross.
Thack is actually right about a lot of things in this episode. As noted above, he ends things definitively with Lucy, which is the right call for both of them. He also tells the board members that addiction should be treated like a disease and rejects the idea that it's a failure of will or character or morality to which only low-class people are subject; and without even knowing anything about the scene with Ping Wu's prostitutes, he demands that Barrow fire the useless Dr. Mays.
Then, when he can't escape a vision of his transfusion patient's horrific final moments, Thack puts his addiction research project on hold, heads out to a saloon, and gets to drinking. There, he also makes "friends" with a woman named Cate; their first meeting ends with them fucking in an alley -- a bad decision for both of them, probably, since they're both intravenous drug users and have probably given each other apothecary-resistant proto-AIDS. And their second meeting finds her explaining the specifics of her own drug regimen: she shoots cocaine in one arm and heroin in the other so that the two drugs can "dance" in her system. It remains to be seen what Thack does with this bold new approach to drug use, but if it leads to his trying to "solve" addiction by just calibrating the amounts and combinations of substances he uses, then continuing his relationship with Cate is probably going to end up being the worst decision made by anyone in this whole hour of remarkably bad ideas.