Checking into The Knick 1.03: “The Busy Flea”

A pig cutting a pig.
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. 

The worst.
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.


  1. Tatiana 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? 😛 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?

  2. Joe Brosnan

    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?

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