The Knick Review: “Start Calling Me Dad” (Season 1, Episode 6)

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André Holland in The Knick
Cleary and Harriet aren’t the only ones itching to breakout of the insulation that both keeps them safe, and stifles them. Cornelia and Speight finally track down their Typhoid Mary (which, uh, by the way, is the actual Mary “Typhoid Mary” Mallon), but not without Cornelia having to drop a flying tackle on her first. In practice, the scene comes off as a wee bit ridiculous initially, but it’s meant to underscore the absurd fantasy that is “proper” society, when something very real and improper like disease works its way into the upper crust (the hanging shot of the fancy lads, wondering if they ought to go see a doctor as Speight and Cornelia head out, is plenty funny).

Cornelia loves getting her hands dirty, and seems pretty good at it too. But to her husband and father, she might as well be a six year-old walking around in daddy’s loafers. The problem facing Cornelia is that the second she takes off the high society dress that grants her the little respect people afford her, she’s just a piece of meat to be lecherously pawed at by men like her fiancée’s father. It’s an icky note to end the episode on, but I’m hoping Amiel and Begler are smart enough to subvert such a rote female-male power dynamic. Showalter thinks he can control Cornelia by holding Captain Robertson’s fortune hostage, but it was Thack who last week said that anyone who sees just a little girl in Cornelia does so at their own peril.

And, as we are reminded yet again this week, Jonathan Thackery is basically God. To be fair, though, Bertie’s starry-eyed appraisal of the man is more complicated than he implies (though if anyone else is just as aware of what a mess Thack is, it’s the person Bertie is talking to, Elkins). Awoken to a haranguing by his father, and pulled out of bed by a cocked-out Thackery to conduct emergency research into prostitute anatomy, Bertie should be the person most likely to see through Thack’s B.S. Initially, Bertie seems resistant to Thack’s strung-out whirlwind of energy, but it only takes gentle encouragement before he’s fully swept up in the madman’s excitement.

Bertie can see through Thack maybe better than anyone, but he himself is in desperate need of some self-delusion. He convinces himself that the work being done at The Knickerbocker warrants defying his father’s wishes, and on days like today, it does. He might not show it, but hearing his name included along with Thackery’s and Christenson’s when the Placental Repair procedure is christened solidifies his place as Thackery’s protégé, and surrogate son. Age difference aside, Bertie finds in Thackery the kind of encouragement and patience he wishes he had received from his own father.

Believing in Thackery is Bertie’s sheath, and while it seemed for a while that Elkins would be the wrench in their relationship, “Start Calling Me Dad” introduces another wayward son to threaten the hospital’s dynamic duo. Like Cornelia, Edwards’ has been both blessed and cursed by low-expectations, fuelling his frustrations at being sidelined into running his own hospital for black patients on the side (and, less constructively, still getting into bar scraps). But once the jig is finally up on The Underground Hale Road, Edwards and Thackery finally share words, and research.

Thack may have the right to be upset from an administrative angle, but anytime Edwards tries to bring the root cause of his discrimination into account, Thackery deflects. It’s only after seeing the progress Edwards has made that Thack realizes he’s been ignoring the best tool at his disposal. Edwards, for his part, mirrors Thackery’s willingness to set aside codes of conduct in the name of scientific advancement. With Bertie, Thackery has a dependent; with Edwards, he has a co-author on load of astonishing new research. Thackery may turn down the chance to endorse a snake oil tonic for the money, but when it comes to advancing science and his prestige at the same time, he’s willing to listen. Barrow should have saved the hospital the two thousand dollars: you don’t need an X-Ray when sometimes watching someone for an hour is all you need to do to see right through them.

  • Stray Observations

-So, just how subtly or obviously telegraphed was it that THE Typhoid Mary was who Speight and Cornelia were chasing? I knew the phrase, not the story before this episode, so I can only guess as to how elegantly Amiel and Begler setup this little crossover between fact and fiction.

-Taking all bets on the matchup of Edwards vs. Big Dude He Was Told Not To Fight, But Is Totally Going To Fight In An Episode Or Two Probably.

-Abbie is back in a brief, seemingly unnecessary scene. She more than any other character has to deal with living life without a protective shield, and it is better The Knick see her off than simply forget about her.

-Seven weeks into The Knick, and only now do I realize it’s Nurse Elkins, not Elgins. Good stuff.

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