Cinemax’s The Knick
Season 2, Episode 4: “Wonderful Surprises”
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Best with the Best to Get the Best” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Whiplash” – click here
With Dr. Algernon Edwards (André Holland) seeing his apparently secret wife Opal (Zaraah Abrahams) back in his life, as well as Thackery (Clive Owen) slipping back into heroin and cocaine, things at The Knickerbocker Hospital are certainly steaming along.
“Wonderful Surprises” starts out with Algernon bringing Opal home, to his nice home. He told no one of their marriage. The name of the episode comes as Algie describes her arrival as a “wonderful surprise“. She knows there’s someone in his life, whether only in thought or physically as well. Of course we know that’s Cornelia (Juliet Rylance), despite their lack of a full-on relationship. Algernon does admitting to meeting someone, but it was “no meaningless affair“. I love that Edwards is not a perfect man. Because with all the racial parts of The Knick, there could’ve easily been writing skewing towards only making him seem perfect, so that the viewer stands back and says “How could anyone be prejudice against such a man?”. Yet Jack Amiel and Michael Begler show him as flawed, not a perfect doctor nor a perfect a man. He shows his flaws and they are evident. A great character.
Henry Robertson (Charles Aitken) has Nurse Daisy Ryan (Emily Kinney) in front of a camera, talking about its magic. He wants to take a few nudes, so she’ll always be with him, and so on. She’s gullible, and he is a lewd dude.
In other news, Thack is making headway in his syphilitic study. Abby (Jennifer Ferrin) isn’t sure about his methods concerning temperature, inducing fever in order to essentially cook out the syphilis. Naturally, she’s apprehensive. Who wouldn’t be? These were emerging fields of medicine, not looked upon as great areas of study. Yet, her face is falling apart, her body starting to follow suit. Maybe her best option.
At the hospital, creepy Dr. Mays (Ben Livingston) is working on a woman’s throat. A new nurse helps, administering ether, as Mays rambles about his father being there when Lincoln was shot, and also brings up how in his day nurses were chosen by a doctor as being assigned only to them for surgeries. No doubt headed to pervert land, after we saw Mays in recently inspecting prostitutes with a bit too much eagerness. Doesn’t matter – when he applies flame, I assume to maybe cauterize something, it lights his facial hair and face on fire. The nurse screams, he screams. We all scream.
Dr. Bertie Chickering (Michael Angarano) calls him Thomas, Tom, and nervously finds his way into a prostitute’s room. It’s his first time. The lady makes him feel at ease, playing on his modesty. So funny to see Bertie in this situation. He’s a virgin. She claims to be. Then he talks about knowing “a thing or two about anatomy“, so that ought to help? She sexily runs him through a bit of an exam, as he names the various body parts to which she points. Eventually making her way to his ‘areas of interest’.
Meanwhile, Nurse Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson) is giving Thackery an exam. He happens to notice her bruised eye, then she reveals her father – A.D. Elkins (Stephen Spinella) – beat her. Of course John is the valiant white knight type, already poised to give her father a beating. Though, the toughened Lucy rejects his white knight bullshit, and reminds Thack: “He isn‘t the one who hurt me.”
Back in his office, a makeshift laboratory now, Thack is continuing his studies into the origins of addiction. Edwards shows up, and John gives him a bit of an update; no physical differences between addicts/non-addicts which might point to addiction. “And if it‘s not the body,” Thackery tells Edwards: “It must be the brain“.
Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) is making more changes for Robertson in the building of the new Knick. After the death of Mays, people who knew him donated money for renovations to make it safer to apply the use of ether. Robertson gives the go ahead. Then, Barrow is across town at Tammany Hall talking to Jimmy (Happy Anderson) and one of the Hall representatives. Herman makes a deal with them, though they’re not too impressed with the amount of money filtering out: “sardines” they call it. Still, he’s weaseling as much out of everything as he can. All the time.
Something I love is that Lucy has aspirations. Even though she says she’s not smart enough and there are “no women doctors“, I think she most certainly has the gumption and the knowledge, the want of knowledge, to accomplish being one. Someday, Lucy Elkins. Someday.
Phillip Showalter (Tom Lipinski) is busy talking away on the phone while Henry and Cornelia are introduced to… Mr. and Mrs. Edwards, Algernon and Opal. The shocked looked on Cornelia’s face is evident. I’m sure Opal realizes this is the woman Algie fell for, hard. At the dinner table as everyone else talks, eats, you can see Cornelia and her constant gaze towards Algernon. She rarely takes her eyes off him, if only to look down with a depressed, affected disposition. Even Phillip, the usually unperceptive man, realizes there’s something wrong with his wife. Furthermore, there’s Opal being a “progressive” woman, speaking her mind very feely, as Algernon tries to keep a lid on her. She isn’t some mousy little woman: “You‘re right. I apologize for being unfair to those rich white people,” Opal says sarcastically to an unimpressed Algie.
Down at the bar, Dr. John Thackery is looking for alcoholics and addicts to study. He talks to a miserable man whose only want is for another bottle; Thack offers three meals a day, a nice bed, clean clothes, along with the studies of course.
Cut to Tom Cleary (Chris Sullivan). He has a bunch of ladies meeting in a tiny apartment. None of them are happy, but Cleary explains how Harriet (Cara Seymour) isn’t getting a “fair shake” from the asshole judge on the stand. He also reminds them Harriet helped them, so did he, and in secret. Now she’s paying the price for all it, by herself in jail. Cleary has to use a bit of fear and intimidation in terms of warning maybe Harriet could give it all up, names and et cetera. He gives them an ultimatum: go to the rich guys who “emptied their bags” in them, get the money to help Harriet properly. Or else they’re infamous in the press soon enough. Hiding in the next room is Cornelia, who continually wants to help Harriet.
At the hospital, Thack has got a few addicts soaking in baths and getting cleaned up. Abby had a seizure, though. Thackery is called away. I feel terrible for Abby. So bad for women in the early 20th century, let alone a woman who has syphilis and finds her face all but literally crumbling. Tragic. But Thack is there for her, and he wants to do right by her. For now, all he can do is give her malaria, run the fever high… then he and Algernon will see what happens. But this is obviously the last straw for Abby, she doesn’t want to go on living with those awful effects of the syphilis.
A nice monologue in voice-over by Lucy, who we see around town. Eventually, we discover she’s talking to Harriet. She talks about men, how women are supposed to look to man for the answers, to lead the way. Yet she says “I‘m sick of it“. And she deserves “something better“, as she tells Harriet.
In other news, Herman Barrow is talking with Captain August Robertson (Grainger Hines) and others, trying to worm his way into the club of the upper class. But no one is too impressed by the son of a fishmonger, so it seems.
That evening, Algernon is taking Opal out to a local place in Harlem, New York. He introduces his wife to Dr. Russell Daniels (Colman Domingo), they dance. They also talk, as if a real, romantic couple once more. We don’t know of their past so much yet, but I imagine there was a time when they got close, loving, sensual. Here, we see some of their old flame return now that they’re in the same place once again.
At his father Bertram Sr’s (Reg Rogers) table, Bertie Jr talks about being “let out of the lab” over at Mount Sinai. His father isn’t overly impressed with much. His mother appears more loving and willing to praise her son now and then. Bertra Sr is a willful and crotchety old man. After dinner, the father and son have liquor and cigars. Turns out Bertie’s mother Anne (Linda Emond) has an esophageal mass: “if it comes out, it kills her, if it stays in, it kills,” Bertram Sr reveals. Even Anne herself doesn’t know, but she was a nurse and understands there is a problem. Over at Sinai, Dr. Zinberg (Michael Nathanson) is all doom and gloom, saying there’s not much they can do other than make Anne comfortable. Bertie is more optimistic and wants to explore some other avenues. Does he need Thack? Seems Levi isn’t particularly interested, disaffected really. John would jump at the chance to help Bertie and someone he loves. Will this bring them back together soon?
At the Gallinger home, Eleanor (Maya Kazan) is left alone while her sister Dorothy (Annabelle Attanasio) goes out to run errands. More amazing Cliff Martinez score comes out here, almost foreboding. Out in the fresh air and the sunlight, Eleanor walks the streets. Behind her a bunch of greasy kids chase her, begging for change. Then she falls. Oh my – not the teeth.
Back to The Knick, the fever is setting in hard on Abby. Watching on, Dr. Gallinger (Eric Johnson), Thack and Algernon try to figure out what to do next, as things are getting severe.
Called away, Everett goes to see Eleanor – luckily, teeth still in tact. One of the young thieves is apprehended, a Spanish boy. Everett calls him a “filthy little bastard” and slaps him across the face. This certainly doesn’t help Everett’s already semi-not hidden racial attitude.
In court, Harriet is left without an attorney. There’s no money. When things get started, though, the judge decides to dismiss the case. He says there’s nothing to keep Harriet in chains, that she was entrapped, and all charges “are to be expunged“. Really? Something’s happened behind the scenes, but what?
Cut back to Algie and John, they’re worried about Abby: “You‘re frying her brain,” says Algernon. In a sudden burst, Thackery brings Abby into the fever cabinet. He wants to get the fever higher with body temperature. A great sequence begins with more Martinez magic sounds. We watch as poor Abby suffers through the sweaty heat of the fever, Thack at her side taking cultures and so on, rushing back and forth between the cabinet and his microscope. Algernon first tried talking him out of it, now he’s by Thack administering drugs to Abby, as well.
Out from the jail, Cleary decides he needs to take Harriet for a good steak and a drink after all the jailhouse food. “A nice warm piece of pie on the way home,” Tom shouts happily. She’s also going to stay with him awhile. Nothing underhanded: “It‘s not a fuckin‘ lovebird‘s nest“. He only wants to help Harriet, especially after she didn’t give him up to the law. She doesn’t want to be rooming with a man. Instead, a dirty mattress without a sheet is offered by the sisters, who obviously don’t care much for her anymore.
In a darkened room, Everett is meeting with the outright racist Dr. Thurman Drexler (Anthony Rapp). They’re going on about nasty eugenics: “How do you stop an animal from breeding?” This leads to them talking about sterilizing other races on a “mass scale“. Whoa. Creepy. Maybe Drexler will end up sympathizing with Germany later in his life.
Near the end of the episode, Cornelia goes looking for the Speight family. Apparently they left not long after his death, though. She heads into their old house anyways, fumbling around by candlelight. But someone is following her, lurking at the edges. Who’s watching the Speight house, or her? Or both?
Thack falls into a dream. He’s on a boat steering, a woman sitting next to him. He hears a voice, and then it’s Abby. She’s awake. With happy eyes he lays next to her in bed and kisses her forehead. Has the treatment worked?
Excited. I’m loving the progression in each episode. Consistently, the writing and direction are both fabulous. So the next episode, “Whiplash”, should be pretty damn good, too! Stay tuned with me for another review.