not in our stars, but in ourselves
This isn’t an original observation, but it is inescapable when watching The Knick: the (white) men on this show, in this place, at this time, can screw up over and over (and over and over and over), and receive a full restoration of their status before their transgression(s). The women and Dr. Edwards, however, won’t be allowed more than one mistake. Are there some modifications to this unfair social formula, depending on class? Of course. Does this same basic state of affairs exist now, in 2015? Of course. It’s more insidious now, but it’s still here. All of this is to say that “You’re No Rose” shows our cast of characters either sneaking around quietly, trying to keep their secrets, lest they fall irretrievably from grace; or obliviously plowing headlong into a brand-new fuck-up.
Regarding the former: Cornelia is bored out of her mind by her life as a society wife, and distinctly creeped out by her disgusting father-in-law. Last week, he promised her and Philip that he’d constructed some new apartments near Central Park, thus enabling them to move back to New York from San Francisco – except he lied about how close to completion those apartments were, so now Cornelia is forced to share a house with the odious Mr. Showalter, who enjoys walking into her bedroom while she’s undressing. When she hears that her health inspector buddy, Jacob Speight, was found drowned in the river – supposedly having plummeted in after getting drunk – she leaps at the chance to ask Edwards to devise a toxicology report and to enlist Cleary to dig up Speight’s corpse. She has to be careful about it: while she managed to terminate her unplanned pregnancy last season, thanks to the surreptitious efforts of Edwards, Cleary, and Sister Harriet, she knows she’s expected to keep the Showalter name prominently displayed in the society pages of the paper. Nothing could gall her more, and she’s much more likely to jump rather than let herself be pushed from her high society perch; but she knows the rules she’s breaking.
Speaking of Edwards, he’s too concerned with his failing sight (and perhaps too tired of the usual overlooking of his prodigious talent and intellect, simply because he’s the wrong color) to fight the hospital board’s reinstatement of Thack as Chief of Surgery. When Thack notices that Edwards is uncharacteristically unwilling to perform any surgeries himself, and that he’s been dropping medicine in his eye, he asks what’s up. Edwards admits that he’s been trying to figure out a surgical solution to his detached retina, and he’s been practicing on rabbits. He shows Thack his notes and sketches, and asks if his returned boss will do the surgery – at night, of course, after everyone has left. While Thack is more concerned with trying to find a cure for addiction, he’s still happy to try out experimental and unproven surgical procedures. We’ll get to that in a moment. The point is that, where any of the other doctors at the Knick would be able to ask openly for access to the best medical care available, Edwards knows he has to sort it out himself. It is, at the very least, deeply unfair. Welcome to healthcare in America.
Now, as for those fuck-ups, the king is obviously Thack. He’s successfully detoxed, thanks to Gallinger’s sailboat cure, but that may all go to hell pretty soon: he’s drinking quite a lot at a dancehall, where he’s caught the eye of a hooker named Kate (Alexandra Roxo). Kate, clever girl that she is, has invented or discovered speedballs. As she puts it, the “cocaine takes the bottom off the heroin, and the heroin takes the top of the cocaine.” For now, though, he remains free of either drug. He’s still a mess, however. He keeps seeing the girl whose blood transfusion he botched last season, while high on cocaine. More than the girl, he even sees blood pouring out of the sink while he’s scrubbing in to do Edwards’s eye surgery. It’s probably safest for everyone that Thack intends to do more research than surgery, given his shaky hands and hallucinations; but the more theoretical aspects of surgery were never Thack’s strong suit. When his internal chemistry is in balance (that is, when he’s either sober or operating on a nice healthy little buzz), he’s a brilliant problem-solver and tactician in the surgical theatre. Edwards has always been the smartest one at the Knick, however, and I have to hope that he’ll join forces with Thack again, and they’ll both make it out of this bumpy patch intact. I hope – but I wouldn’t say I’m counting on it.
Why the pessimism? Well, dear reader, because of that eye surgery. We’re used to seeing gouts of blood on The Knick. We’re used to the gory reality of turn-of-the-century surgery. Even though it never gets easier to watch, it’s something to expect. However, eye surgery is a horse of a different color. Edwards has devised his surgery himself, and elects to stay awake while Thack works. They place a Clockwork Orange-style apparatus on Edwards’s eye to keep it open: bad omen #1. Thack shoots a solution of cocaine into Edwards’s eye, to provide local anesthetic: bad omen #2. When a very sweaty, shaky Dr. Thackery asks the nurse for the surgical knife, and distractedly moves it closer and closer to Edwards’s paralyzed eye, that’s bad omen #3, and that’s enough for Edwards to leap right off the operating table. Soderbergh shoots the dreadful approach of the knife with his usual, unflinching style. He lets us think we’re about to see a reenactment of Un Chien Andalou. The two visual references to two of the most disturbing eye-related scenes in all of cinema are enough to put you off ophthalmology for life.
The Knick’s other players aren’t doing much better: Barrow has worked out some sort of scheme with the Polish builder of the Knick’s new, uptown location – one that will almost surely backfire, considering Barrow’s usual acumen in these matters – but he’s also helpless to stop Ping Wu from parading his prostitutes right into the hospital for their check-up. Barrow calls on Lucy, counting on her “discretion,” but the bumbling Dr. Mays happens upon the examination room. He offers to check out the girls with his eyes and his nose – what else does a good doctor need to check for venereal disease and pregnancy? I have a feeling that Ping Wu is going to object to this quite strenuously, quite soon. Lucy, for her part, was unceremoniously dumped by Thack as soon as he arrived. Her preacher father comes to visit her, and gives a bone-chilling sermon (made all that much more effectively creepy by his speaking in tongues, and by Cliff Martinez’s thumping, theremin-filled music). I don’t think Mr. Elkins is much better as a father figure than Mr. Showalter, to be honest, but I hope I’m wrong. And speaking of daddy issues, Bertie tenders his resignation. He objects to Thack’s use of Lucy in his experiments, but Thack thinks Bertie is upset that he and Lucy were having sex. Sweet cinnamon roll Bertie didn’t know that, however, and now his heart is broken twice over. Poor boy.
There seem to be quite a few daddy issues at play this season, come to think of it, and I wonder if that will be a defining theme. Soderbergh is doing them in a much more interesting way than most filmmakers, focusing on “the will of the father” as the root cause of toxic white patriarchy. Perhaps I’m getting feministy unnecessarily early – but I’m eager to see where else we go with this.