not in our stars, but in ourselves
Henry Robertson, Cornelia’s brother, surreptitiously cuts a check for $100,000 to his friend so that he can be an official investor in the New York subway system. When his friend asks if Captain Robertson, Henry and Neely’s wealthy shipbuilding father, had done anything special to come up with the money, Henry admits that his father doesn’t know – and he wants to keep it that way. While sipping celebratory whiskey, Henry says that if his father wants to stay drifting in the nineteenth century, let him: he’s going to go forward into the twentieth. Henry may indeed be more of a forward-striving, twentieth-century man – but most of the other men of The Knick are determined to stay planted in the nineteenth.
More than ever, “The Best With the Best to Get the Best” sets the (WASPy) men against anyone else, with only a very few exceptions. Cornelia is committed to helping Sister Harriet, who has the terrible luck of an anti-abortion (and anti-Catholic, anti-Irish, anti-immigrant) activist judge hearing her case. Cleary had hired a fancy, Harvard-educated lawyer to defend Sister Harriet – but he can’t afford to pay him. Cornelia is happy to help her friend…but now that she’s a married woman, she has precious little autonomy. When she asks her dim-bulb husband if they could pay Harry’s fees, he reacts with rare conviction. Sister Harriet is a baby-killer, and he doesn’t want Cornelia hanging around her anymore. How could someone who wants to have a baby, he asks, consider Sister Harriet to be anything less than a monster? Cornelia sighs, and realizes she has yet another fight ahead of her. The phenomenon of white men telling women what they can and can’t do with their bodies, and with whom they can and can’t associate, hasn’t exactly ceased in the twenty-first century – and that’s a recurring theme throughout this episode.
In other we’ve-always-been-the-caretakers thematic developments, Lucy’s creepy preacher father presents himself as a sham and a creep. At his prayer meetings, where he charges sinners to attend, he urges his congregation to confess their sins. Lucy stands up, and (in a scene we don’t see) confesses her drug-fueled relationship with Thackery. Back in their shabby apartment, when Lucy says she feels cleansed for having confessed. Her father responds by beating her, first with his fists and then with his belt. He tells her that she embarrassed him – and she probably did – but his phony embrace of religion, all in order to fleece poor idiots out of their precious few pennies, hasn’t exactly died off since 1902.
The ill-starred Gallingers have possibly the most affecting arc this episode. Eleanor – “Ellie,” as her husband calls her – has her new teeth and hopes desperately for her marriage with Everett to return to normal. Her sister, Dorothy, is staying with them to take care of her. When Ellie goes down for a nap, Dorothy tells Gallinger that everyone knows – back home in Philadelphia, everyone knows that Ellie went crazy after her baby died, and that she killed their adopted daughter, and that she spent time in a (terrible) sanitarium for the insane. Gallinger, conscious of his falling stock in high society, considers this information. When Ellie seems too nervous to accompany him to a class reunion, he goes alone. His classmates, all with more prestigious stations in life than his, do a number on his dwindling self-confidence. They insinuate that Ellie has left him and insult him for continuing to work at the Knick – and not even as lead surgeon. It’s hard not to feel bad for Everett, in some bizarre way. He engineered Thack’s detox so that Thack would, in gratitude, appoint him as Deputy Chief of Surgery. Instead, Thack persists in consulting with Dr. Edwards; and, to rub lemon juice in Gallinger’s wound, Thack tells his third-in-command that jealousy and pouting are no way to advance in life or in his career. If Gallinger wants to rise, he has to be ambitious – like Edwards.
This brings up an interesting scene at Gallinger’s reunion. He happens upon two of his former classmates, discussing the ills brought upon the United States by immigrants – and especially by Negroes. They’re “pioneering” eugenics, a new way to make sure not only that “the best” genes combine with each other, but also that undesirable genes are prevented from combining at all. When his racist classmates claim it’s scientific fact that black people are intellectually (and in all other ways) inferior, it’s possible to see the clouds of doubt passing over Gallinger’s mind. Gallinger has been appallingly rude and racist toward Edwards – but it’s easy to see the thought forming: how can Negroes be so inferior to white protestants when Edwards has done so much at the Knick, even without any support? Thack points out, bluntly, that Edwards has pioneered and perfected many procedures at the Knick. I don’t think Gallinger agrees with his eugenicist classmates, even if he’d like to. He perhaps begins to understand that the nineteenth century is giving way to a very new era, one in which the rich white men are no longer the only voice in the room. (In 2015, they’re just the loudest.)
This was mostly a bummer of an episode, I have to say, albeit very well done. There is some small reason to hope, however: Bertie’s got himself a girl. The junior Dr. Chickering is working at Mt. Sinai Hospital (where most of the staff and patients are Jewish), and he catches the eye of the Nellie Bly-like Genevieve Everidge (Arielle Goldman). She’s writing a story about Bertie’s new boss, and she takes a shine to Bertie instantly. She asks him out, and they’re mutually delighted throughout their date. It’s foolish to expect happy endings from The Knick – but dammit, I hope we get one good thing out of all this suffering. Surely Bertie’s pain-in-the-ass dad would be opposed to the match, since – surprise! – Genevieve’s real name is Esther Cohen, but Dad has to die soon. If his dopey prejudices die with him – if all hateful old people’s dopey prejudices died with them – then maybe there’s a chance for tomorrow to be better than yesterday.