In the last few episodes of its first season, The Knick has focused almost exclusively on Dr. Thackery’s cocaine addiction and withdrawal, no thanks to that pesky war in the Philippines. (Don’t they know the junkies are in need?) “The Golden Lotus” became a game to see who could provide Thack his drugs in a city where no one seems to have any, while Thack’s addiction (and a burgeoning understanding of what addiction looks like and means) is also discussed and revealed in the light of day. Hit the jump for “you’re the most resourceful, most wonderful, beautiful girl I have ever known” … though maybe that’s just the cocaine talking.
Despite Clive Owen‘s acting ability, Thack’s addiction storyline is not The Knick‘s best narrative work. To devote almost two full hours to it this close to the finale (“The Golden Lotus” was the penultimate episode this season) seems odd placement. Tensions should be building, not evaporating into the opium sleep of Thack’s coping mechanisms. On the other hand, his struggles also provided a different kind of perspective on the Addict Doctor Trope.
One thing was a chance for Lucy to continue to show how dedicated and resourceful she is. The girl is not fazed by much, is she? She takes the news of Thack’s robbery in stride, going to him immediately to see how she can be of service (even offering to give him a bath). When Barrow interrogates her about his problems, she stays mum, yet also questions Barrow as to whether he has sought to find cocaine from disreputable dealers. When his vials from Collier turn out to be salt water (another case of Barrow being duped, a hilarious thread throughout the entire season), she goes to Wu to find opium. Though Thack is mildly concerned she let him put her “golden lotus” into his mouth for it, he doesn’t seem concerned that she pawned her bike (which of course, she didn’t). After overhearing about a bid to get cocaine from the German hospital, she even plans a little heist of her own, securing a motherload of it for Thack.
Thackery’s appreciation of Lucy, and probably of anyone at this point, only extends as far as his cocaine supply (and hinges on their ability to get it for him). Her unwavering service of Thack an unfortunate development for Lucy’s character (because it’s probably going to swallow her up and drag her into the pit), but it made for some great drama, and even one particularly great, small character moment when Lucy, Algernon, Bertie and another nurse stood around debating who the newspapers were referring to, and then talking specifically about Thackery and his likely addiction.
Compared to Thackery, “The Golden Lotus'” other stories — which weren’t given much time in comparison — were augmented to incredible heights. But of course, they should have been anyway given their nature. In one, the Gallingers’ woes are far from over. Eleanor appeared at the hospital with Grace, the orphan Everett had brought to her, saying she feared the baby had brain fever. Everett, already wild-eyed from the misery at home, plus problems at the hospital (like his anger at Algernon for changing up his treatments without consulting him), saw what we desperately feared to: that Eleanor had killed Grace but submerging her in an ice bath. “Two dead babies in as many months,” Sister Harriet sadly says later. Demons of the mind (Eleanor’s psychotic depression, Thackery’s addiction) are not at all understood in 1900, and the illustrations of that are harrowing. At the close of the episode, Eleanor was straightjacketed and carted off, with a defeated Everett collapsing at his dining room table.
In another emotional battle, Cornelia tells Algernon she’s pregnant. I had been curious at what kind of precautions the two had been taking to avoid that outcome, but perhaps none. Though Cornelia was stricken by the news, Algernon was happy to have created a baby with her. He suggests they run away to Europe or Liberia, but she grounds him in the reality that their baby would not be welcomed anywhere. She wants an abortion, but only Algernon can perform the surgery (although her chat with Sister Harriet may portend a different route). Ultimately, in a heartbreaking scene, he cannot do it. “I cannot kill my own child,” he says, as Cornelia cries from the weight of it all.
In early episodes of The Knick, the dreamy reverie that Soderbergh created (like what is often felt when watching Boardwalk Empire) was punctuated by gruesome surgeries. In its last few episodes, particularly “The Golden Lotus,” those bursts were emotionally graphic. As much as Thackery’s addiction is a weak plot, it also oddly (and refreshingly) served as a kind of comic relief for the far more devastating narratives happening around it. Thack trying to get his name on the elixir, robbing the pharmacy (and trying to shoot up right there on the floor), attempting to distill cocaine from old Coca Cola bottles … all of that was oddly amusing. It was a dark humor, but it wasn’t life or death, which everything else at the Knick is.
Episode Rating: B
Musings and Miscellanea:
— “He’s a white man, those are immigrant crimes!” – Barrow, attempting to suggest Thackery’s innocence.
— The old days: breaking and entering carries a minimum of 5 years at Sing Sing.
— “Now if you’ll excuse me, sir, this ‘moldy rogue’ has some business to attend to” – the salesman.
— Cleary (who we haven’t seen much of lately): “That’s the Germans for you. Never a race better to squeeze the life out of a dollar.” Barrow: “I thought that was the Jews?”
— Algernon and Cornelia are killing me softly.
— Was that John Hodgman as one of the men committing Eleanor to the mental institution?
— Poor little Grace.
— I would like to see more of Algernon and Bertie teaming up. I loved the moment when Alge told the man with cataracts to open his eyes, but “please do not be alarmed, I am a colored man.” The guy didn’t care though, so that’s good at least!
— “You’re the most resourceful, most wonderful, beautiful girl I have ever known” – Thackery. You in danger, girl.