“Crutchfield” makes sawing the lady in half look like the entire trick. As the cast bows, there is no more Knick, it looks like only one of the doctors was still in active duty there anyway, and he could very well be dead in an alley, and Cornelia could well be in San Francisco by now with nothing fishy going on at all, no siree. It’s a cliffhanger, because this show is called The Knick and we can reasonably expect it to have about the same cast of characters next season, give or take a Bunky Collier, so all of these subplots feel incomplete. Show us the rest of the trick!
Showmanship runs all through “Crutchfield,” which is a stage name, after all. Curtains frame Neely and Algie’s Gertrud interlude. In the opening, the episode pulls back a curtain and all but yells, “Surprise!” to reveal Harry waiting to perform her procedure on Cornelia. Here’s some real sleight of hand: We’re watching Dr. Zinberg’s procedure as the camera pulls back through the barely perceptible audience silhouettes, and suddenly the phantom on the right leans over and starts talking in Dr. Thackery’s voice. From Cornelia unwrapping her gifts to Bertie getting tight with Zinberg, “Crutchfield” is all about pulling back the figurative curtains to see what’s really there: Harry and Neely talking about their covers, Bertie seeing his hero for what he is, both the cage door and Eleanor’s mouth guarding what’s really going on in Dr. John Hodgman’s asylum.
The episode even ends on an act of surprise revelation: racking from Thack smiling and closing his eyes in bed at rehab to the bottle from Bayer Aspirin Company on his nightstand that reads in broad but realistic, old-fashioned print, “Heroin.” If you weren’t already there, you could have Wikipediaed “Bayer Aspirin” and discovered, after acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), Bayer discovered heroin. It’s the “bat-pig flu” shot of The Knick, the silly closing image that appeals to our hindsight. It doubles the usual historical irony of scenes like the Mad Men kids playing inside plastic garment bags, first with the silly and doctor-approved presentation of such a dangerous drug, second with our knowledge that heroin will not save Dr. Thackery. Also, contra “show don’t tell,” even Dr. Hodgman tells Eleanor what her treatment will be. What’s with this non-disclosure?
But there’s more to it than dun-dun-dun. The closing shots on The Knick—electric lamps, Dr. Edwards post-fight, Cornelia in her bedroom, the lamp in the opium den, Lucy’s co’ face—are portraits of scientific innovation, chemical highs, and the human body at an extreme. This one is all of the above. Here’s what medicine is doing to this man as both a producer and a consumer.
Thack’s problem was never just racism. It’s ego. As soon as Zinberg, who by all accounts is genuinely interested in the collective advancement of knowledge known as science, suggests he’s onto a discovery about blood types, Thack shoots up and starts ranting. He’s jumping off Zinberg’s shoulders, yet he accuses Zinberg of being the fake and the plagiarist. Over the course of the episode he actively alienates the two staffers he’s closest to, Dr. Edwards (“I did not ask what you think”) and Lucy (“I don’t care what you like”), passively loses Gallinger, and all but signs Bertie The Wise’s new contract with Dr. Zinberg. All on his own he discovers the secret: Blood types are determined by the size of blood cells. So he begins a transfusion to help some poor woman, and before you can pass out from the track marks in his arm, the patient dies, and finally it hits him: “What have I done?” We look down on him through the electric orbiting chandelier from above. It’s like he failed science as much as he failed any spiritual test. Or maybe they’re the same thing, his sin a scientific failing as much as a moral one. Science is collaboration for the good of all. It’s Dr. Zinberg, not Captain Robertson.
Thus begins a 15-minute montage or series of montages or barrage of cross-cutting that plays the show like an orchestra. It’s Cornelia’s wedding day, so Edwards is getting drunk and picking a fight. Newly suspended from the Knick, Gallinger visits Eleanor. Lucy steals Bertie away from the wedding to help Thack, and Bertie enlists his father. Cornelia has her driver deliver a bag of cash to Cleary while she’s at church getting hitched. Suddenly Wu appears in Bunky Collier’s lobby. Everything’s moving so fast in this storm of innovation. I forgot all about Wu. Then Captain Robertson holds a board meeting, and it takes about the length of that plunge on his face to realize that Thack, Cornelia, Edwards, Gallinger, and probably Bertie are indisposed, and the fate of our poor hospital is in the hands of these supply-siders.
Thack’s on solid ground. He’ll do his House stint in rehab for a bit, hopefully only on heroin for a couple months as per his doctor’s orders. Bunky’s dead, but Barrow just traded him for Wu. Cornelia’s married, but everything after that is up in the air. Is she going to San Francisco? Is she going to enlist her brother and/or Tom Cleary to help her escape? How does her brother’s information that her father’s losing it change her plans? Could that save the Knick? Or is the whole gang moving uptown next year? Surely not with Sister Harriet stationed at the church, right? Did Thack name Lucy as his next of kin? Will Gallinger rescue Eleanor? Is Edwards dead in that alley? He’s not, but that just goes to show how deliberately open Jack Amiel and Michael Begler leave things. As The Knick ends season one, almost everyone is in flux between two positions. It’s a Schrödinger’s episode.
Even before this final act, “Crutchfield” was the most exquisite episode of The Knick, but after it, “Crutchfield” is evangelism material. Every new shot is diamond: Cornelia looking daring (and fly) in her hat, the shadows darkening her face in the passenger seat, the silhouettes of Harry and Neely’s embrace, the pan up an army of forceps dangling from some dude’s peeled back scalp, Eleanor in her own head while Everett and Dr. Hodgman debate her treatment in the blurry background. It’s an episode about barbaric state-of-the-art medicine, prisoners of a ruthless class system, and most of all not knowing what’s on the horizon. “Crutchfield” contains all of The Knick. It throws all the pieces in the air, and we never see where they land. The beauty’s in the constellation.
- “You know, it’d be nice if just once in my life a lady wasn’t disappointed to see me.” I know some ladies and some fellas who would not be disappointed to see Tom Cleary.
- “Everyone gets hungry.” Nobody waxes philosophical like Cleary. “Dreaming is for folks not smart enough to get what they want.”
- Harry and Neely playing their parts: “You’re a—” “And you’re a pretty proper virgin lady on the eve of her wedding day.” “We’re friends, Harry. You could have told me.” “So could you. But then neither of us could, could we?”
- Dr. John Hodgman: “My research has shown conclusively [Ed.: conclusively!] that all mental disorders stem from disease and infection polluting the brain. So the teeth and gums are havens for bacteria and sepsis.” Hence, you pull all of a mentally ill patient’s teeth. If that doesn’t work, the tonsils and the adenoids. Eventually the colon. “I believe in this treatment so strongly that I’ve removed my own children’s teeth as a preventative measure.”
- R.I.P. Bunky Collier and his henchmen. “Nothing breaks a man like a good cock punch.”
- Neely spends the episode staring out windows, dreaming of escape. Fantastic scene with Edwards where they sit on opposite sides of a couch at the window, framed by curtains, trying not to express themselves with their bodies. “No one can see in,” says Neely. “They can all see in,” says Algie.
- Neely’s brother: “Are you getting married tomorrow?” She answers all girlishly: “I have to.” “Neely, doll. You’re a Robertson. There are ways.” This combined with Neely’s secret arrangement with her driver had me on the edge of my seat. But that second part was just about paying for the abortion. Or was it? Someone needs to introduce Wu Ping and Hobart Showalter.
- Mr. Paris Shoes wakes up, and his old tormentor lets him cut in front of him in line. How things have changed in a few months.
- “I studied sample after sample, and then a beautiful pattern emerged.” Science! I wrote about the focus on science and scientists in The Knick, Manhattan, and Masters Of Sex (and Breaking Bad) in a piece that went up yesterday.
- “I was so close.” “You were off by a mile.” How nice to see Bertie standing up for himself. Lest anyone thinks Dr. Thackery can dive right in and discover what differentiates blood types, Bertie tells us he’s wrong. Size of the blood cells doesn’t matter. It’s what you do with the agglutinating antibodies.
- Wu is as awesomely terrifying as he is overly exoticized. As intoxicating as it is, the Wu scenes are a little ‘30s serial.
- “Time to start getting better.”