Cinemax’s The Knick
Season 1, Episode 3: “The Busy Flea”
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler
* For a review of the previous episode, “Mr. Paris Shoes” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Where’s the Dignity?” – click here
After an intense and wonderful second episode “Mr. Paris Shoes”, the third episode of Cinemax’s The Knick sees an old, familiar face to Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) come to visit at The Knickerbocker Hospital. It’s a woman named Abigail Alford (Jennifer Ferrin). She’s a friend of John. On her face, she wears a fake nose with her tiny blue glasses. The savagery of syphilis. “No one handles the unexpected like John Thackery,” she says. “It‘s where I live,” replies John.
They were together once upon a time. Turns out, he’s always been a bit of a wild card. Abby tells him: “I could never get used to what you called normal.” There’s a tender scene where John takes her fake nose off, revealing the missing one from her face where a gaping wound sits. Abby’s husband and John are the only two men she has ever been with, but her husband was less than faithful. Such a sad state of affairs, to see a woman cheated on, but worse – cheated on and then given a terrible disease, one which at this point in 1900 was yet to be properly dealt with (penicillin did those old effects in after 1928). Rotten. Glad to see Thackery is still a friend after all their history, and further, a doctor who’s willing to try and help her with everything he can possibly do.
I love that their relationship is evident, but not through a total barrage of exposition. Just goes to show the writing in this series is quality. Courtesy of Jack Amiel & Michael Begler, a fantastic team alongside Steven Soderbergh and his fascinating filming techniques.
Out with his tooth missing, Herman ends up not getting a corpse for Thackery. We’ll see how that plays out for him. Back at the hospital, Herman’s wife Effie (Molly Price) arrives for a little meeting. They don’t seem to have much of relationship. Clearly, Herman is a crook, he keeps her in fine clothing. However, she appears to be always looking for money. So is Herman doing what he does just to fund her activities, or is it that Herman puts himself out there as a man on the town with all kinds of cash? I think he overextends himself. Not to put all the blame on him, but when Effie asks about earring of hers that went missing it’s clear Herman is pinching any penny, anywhere, just to live a lifestyle that he wants.
In the basement of The Knick, Dr. Algernon Edwards (André Holland) is doing his best to secure everything for his undercover operations. He’s bringing in any of the other black employees at the hospital, regardless of where they happen to work there, from the young men shoveling coal in the furnace, to a laundry woman who finds herself promoted to “surgical nurse“.
Sneaking about the morgue we find Herman take the tag off a body, labeled as a patient of Dr. Everett Gallinger (Eric Johnson). Is this the body he’ll give over to Thackery? Later on, Herman comes up with the money for Bunky Collier (Danny Hoch). For now he’s off the hook.
Thackery is busy working on pigs. Across town, Herman is being a pig, obviously not interested in being home with his wife, so there he is with a young prostitute being tended to in bed. So, not only is Barrow funding his wife for every possible thing, he’s also promising all sorts of things to this young lady. Wow. I knew he was greasy, but here’s Herman getting greasier than ever. The name of this episode comes from the act the prostitute does for him, as he jacks off. So strange.
But back to the basement of The Knick. A young black man leads a slightly older black gentleman down to the makeshift operation Dr. Edwards has going. There’s even a sort of reception. In the operating theatre, we might call it, Algernon has a patient on his table and dictates his entire surgery to a girl taking notes. The older laundress from earlier is next to the doctor, ready to stitch things up wherever and whenever needed. Dig this so much, to see Dr. Edwards do everything in his power to help his people in a time when nobody else will.
Everett is a troubled man. At home, his wife Eleanor (Maya Kazan) sort of wastes away. He isn’t exactly neglectful, though, I don’t get the feeling he’s a family man other than in appearance. The child cries upstairs, off goes Eleanor.
Cornelia (Juliet Rylance) sits at home, listening to her father Captain August Robertson (Grainger Hines) go on and on. We find out Algernon’s parents work for the Robertsons – his father Jesse (Leon Addison Brown) drives carriage for them, Mrs. Edwards (La Tonya Borsay) serves them dinner and takes care of the house. August seems semi-genuine in his care for Algernon, wanting things to get along well at The Knick. But at the same time, I feel August is mostly a capitalist, so as far as Dr. Edwards is useful to him (re: profit), I’d bet that’s about as far as August is interested. We’ll see how all that goes. Even more, there’s talk of typhoid again. Possibly “the beginning of an epidemic“, as August hopes it’s not.
Thack is busy sawing up pigs when Cornelia visits him. She wants to smooth things out for Algernon, even if the man wants to tend to business himself. She cares, it’s very clear. Although, she wants to talk with Thackery about the possible start of a typhoid outbreak. The doctor suggests getting in touch with Inspector Speight (David Fierro). When he arrives on the scene Speight doesn’t care about “upsetting the apple cart” because, basically, that’s his entire job anyways. There is definitely interest in the case on his part, as well as the fact Cornelia wants to get digging on this whole thing. Interesting pair, these two.
Drs. Bertie Chickering (Michael Angarano) and Gallinger head to see Thackery. It’s very apparent Everett is a racist. Algernon is a co-author on the paper they ransacked another hospital to find, concerning their upcoming surgery. John is pleased, really, but most of all wants to get back to his “preparations” – a.k.a shooting up cocaine. Only there’s more and more trouble finding a vein: “Hello,” he says after locating one: “Welcome back.”
Called to his basement office Algernon receives the hernia patient he advised to rest. But the man didn’t listen, now his hernia is burst and paining bad. The resulting operation is a mess. Algernon can’t quite get a handle on things, using the amateurs around him to do his best. But blood is pumping, thread is running out. Nothing happens the way it ought to, naturally. Unfortunately the patient dies and it’s clear Edwards takes the entire thing to heart. Even sadder, they have to discard the body in the bushes somewhere, to let somebody find him. Brutal.
Dr. Thackery tries his best to do a procedure for Abby. An old one where they used skin from the arm to graft onto the face, keeping the patient’s arm raised and next to the head. John is clearly upset, he wants better for Abby believing that “she‘ll always be alone“. There is still a flame which burns in him for her. In other news, John does all he can for the friends of Cornelia who came in with typhoid; though a raging addict, he obviously has a true heart beneath it all. Somewhere deep inside is a pain that can’t be quelled.
At the end of the episode, Algernon is steaming. He sits at an African-American bar listening to someone next to him talk up a lady, saying he’s been all over the world; mostly America. Edwards starts chirping him, even calls the man “a regular Rudyard Kipling” and picking a fight. Ole Mr. Paris Shoes ends up going fist to fist, in an amazingly filmed sequence. There are a few things I like about this whole bit. Algernon is lashing out, and not because of any other reason than his oppression. Right now, the only thing he can do and is let to be done well is fight. That’s all. Because surgery has all but been yanked from his hands, he’s stuck in the basement. So at a bar, out in the open, Algernon picks a fight and absolutely destroys this other guy. All to prove he is top of his game, in any way he can. He is competitive, only because the white man keeps making him have to be. Anything else and he’d end up dead.
Excited to see more of this coming up. Next episode is titled “Where’s the Dignity?”. Stay tuned with me.