Aug 22 2014 10:00pm

Checking into The Knick 1.03: “The Busy Flea”

Last week on The Knick, we learned of the dirty secrets being kept by a handful of the main characters. This week, although it was close, none of them came to light just yet. But they will. And soon.

We started off “The Busy Flea” with a look into the archaic origins of plastic surgery and the way it was “hidden” in 1900. An old romantic partner of Thackery's turns up wearing the world's worst masquerade mask, which is supposed to disguise her missing nose. We learn that syphilis is responsible for her condition, and when the mask eventually comes off, the only thing I could think was that Voldemort had risen. The woman assures Thackery that she was clean when they were together, and the scene ends with them planning a skin graft for later in the week. 

Thackery might have been the first character I disliked, but after three episodes, he's definitely not my least favorite. That honor would go to Hospital Administrator and Scumbag Herman Barrow. While each of the characters I mentioned last week had their secrets come perilously close to revelation this week, only Barrow offered up more secrets. 

First, Barrow grimaces his way though a conversation with his wife when she comes to his office to get some cash. Clearly inconvenienced, Barrow all but hurries his wife out the door. But before she leaves, she asks him if he's seen her pearl earrings. Barrow says he hasn't and promptly blames the maid. At this point, I all but assumed the cash Barrow just handed his wife was earned from pawning off the earrings. But as we learn by the end of the episode, in one terribly uncomfortable scene, Barrow didn't pawn off the earrings. He straight up stole them to give to his prostitute girlfriend. This man is the worst. 

Dr. Algernon Edwards is still busy running his underground nighttime black hospital. This has been my favorite storyline so far, and between the hiring of a seamstress as his assistant surgeon, and the two coal shovelers he hired as his receptionists/handymen, Algernon's secret has allowed for some much needed comic relief.

But things don't stay funny for long at The Knickerbocker Hospital, and when a man fresh off hernia surgery decides to go to work rather than rest, death finds its way to Algernon's secret practice. This marks the second time already that a sick black character has forsaken medical advice and decided to go to work. It really makes you appreciate our sick days, doesn't it?

Algernon caps off the episode with a few nightcaps of his own at a local bar. Annoyed by a wannabe globetrotter hitting on a girl next to him, Algernon challenges the man to a fight out back. In classic Steven Soderbergh style, a hallucinogenic, trancelike fight occurs. Here's another secret Algernon is hiding: the dude can fight. 

Elsewhere, Cleary, the burly ambulence driver, has figured out Sister Harriet's secret life where she moonlights as an abortionist. We also learn that Sister Harriet's day job is at an orphanage on site at The Knick. With more and more babies abandoned, my guess is that Sister Harriet sees the horrors of orphan life first hand. I'll leave it to you to decide whether or not her actions are justifiable, but I am interested to see how Cleary decides to play this hand. Right now, all he's decided to do is stand menacingly in the shadows and whisper threats. 

In the next episode, we should finally get to the the heart surgery that has been teased for two episodes now. Algernon is the only doctor who knows how to successfully operate in this procedure, but racial prejudices, specifically from Thackery and Gallinger, are preventing him leading the surgery. In Episode 2, Gallinger and Bertie stole Algernon's published medical journal detailing the operation. The journal ended up being written in French, however, and they're no closer to figuring it out. “The Busy Flea” ends with Algernon being told he'll be in the operating theater for the surgery, but merely to talk Gallinger through it. My guess is Algernon, knowing how powerful his hand is here, changes things up. This next episode should be the one where Algernon saves the day, but I'm still not sure if he'll be accepted after. 

Joe Brosnan is an editor and writer for Criminal Element who graduated from Marist College. He spends his time obsessing equally over the Game of Thrones series and the New York Giants, and is only now realizing how weird it is to write in the third person. You can follow him on Twitter @joebro33.

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Tatiana deCarillion
1. decarillion
Trying to figure out why Barrow was cutting off the pigs legs and tossing them into the fire--was he just cleaning up or was he making roasted pork? :P Maybe I missed something to do with that...

I had no idea that syphilis caused that sort of damage. I think that's the first time, ever, that I've encountered that, either on TV or through reading something. Wow. At first, I thought it was going to be cocaine abuse.

It's interesting that, as well-meaning as Cornelia and her family are, they must've been oblivious to what Algernon would face if they brought him to the hospital, let alone made him deputy chief surgeon. I think their attitude may have been typical of wealthy people back then who did believe they should help those less fortunate, but didn't have a clue about the ramifications of their assistance?
Joe Brosnan
2. JoeBrosnan
Hi decarillion. My thoughts about Barrow's roasted pork was that he's cremating it to pass off as a body so he could steal a cadaver. Seriously, he's terrible.

And about the syphilis, I know, I did a double take when she alluded to an STD being responsible. I did some reading up, and the disease targets soft tissue cells, especially when untreated back then. That surgery was pretty incredible too, finally a (seemingly) successful one!

And I agree about Cornelia and her family as well. Although I'm getting some vibes that Algernon is more than just the son of Cornelia's family's servant. Love child, perhaps? I'll be discussing that theory hopefully in my next post. Thoughts on that?
3. Jesse Vriens
This post and it's comments make me despair for humanity. Someone thinks cocaine can destroy your nose via necrosis and at no point does anyone in this forum point out that this is the result of a serious length of time without treatment for syphilis. Dr. Thackery is a character you wish you could be, let's not be silly and pretend that isn't true.
Cornelia is purposed to show the ignorance of her social crusading as well as the diffuculty to be taken seriously because of prejudices against women of that time.
Also cremating a pig's legs to "pass off as a body." Let's bring this back down to reality. Barrow stole a body from his own morgue (at The Knickerbocker) and sold it to a higher paying client. He has taken a loan from a loanshark and is in a situation where he needs to produce a payment. Why he throws the legs into a furnace? I was trying to find an answer to that myself when I read this post.
I will also point out that Barrow's wife is disgusting and materialistic. She clearly has a problem with spending money which is - as far as we know - why he would desire something less trashy ("Of course, but now they know that" . . . Nope, but you want to be important, don't you?)
Algernon is not a character in a soap opera. "This marks the second time already that a sick black character has forsaken medical advice and decided to go to work. It really makes you appreciate our sick days, doesn't it?" . . . I am pretty sure it is the first character that forsakes medical advice. I smell some racism.
Joe Brosnan
4. JoeBrosnan
Jesse, I'm going to ignore most of what you said, as I've found the best way to deal with trolls is to just ignore them. But as for you calling me racist, please check your facts before issuing judgement. In the second episode, if you remember, there was a woman that Algernon chases from hospital to hospital who is need of an arm draining. She refuses to wait at the black hospital for treatment because she needs to return to work. This, paired with the man in this episode with the hernia, makes two. So please, next time make sure you're more than "pretty sure" before turning to name-calling. Humanity would appreciate that.
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