Season 2, Episode 3, ‘The Best with the Best to Get the Best’
The Thack is back (on heroin)! After an entire single episode clean, Clive Owen’s brilliant ex-junkie surgeon Dr. Thackery re-junkied himself. The tense opening found him making all the classic moves of someone leaping off the wagon: the paranoid jitters as he hurriedly breaks out his gear; the shifty-eyed shame after he’s done the deed; that look of relief and ecstasy as you can essentially see the drugs pouring down through his system. Having sworn to the hospital board he’d stay pure, Thack knew not to create another puncture hole in his arm. So he Hoovered it up his nose. Back to being brilliant.
Parts of “The Best with the Best to Get the Best” felt a bit like a throwback to the last season, before characters cleaned up or split up. Old flames Cornelia (Juliet Rylance) and Dr. Edwards (Andre Holland) found themselves alone in a Knick office suddenly caressing hands, which turned out to be a slippery slope into toungey kissing. Others find themselves reverting to earlier stages. Dr. Chickering (Michael Angarano), who decamped from the Knick, is now on a lower rung working for Thack rival Dr. Zinberg (Michael Nathanson), who assured him they are a bit more “formal.” Nurse Elkins (Eve Hewson), burnt by Thack, is trying to be a good girl again, turning down a nice young man’s advances and trying to get back in her visiting preacher father’s (Stephen Spinella) good graces.
The last plot thread leads to some of the episode’s bigger showstoppers. First there was a scene where Elkins launches into a brutally honest and, in retrospect, deeply misjudged confessional about all the naughty stuff she and Thack used to do, all while her father watched. Then there was the aftermath: her dad, rather than proud of her, is furious and ashamed. He starts beating her. Eventually Elkins hikes up her skirt and kneels down, perhaps leading us to think something worse than the mere spanking she gets is en route.
This was a particularly feminist episode, from the physical and emotional abuse heaped on Elkins to Cornelia’s husband giving her a post-coital lecture for wanting to help out jailed nun-abortionist Sister Harriett (Cara Seymour). There were the parents of a woman who OD’d; when Thack tries to procure her corpse for his research in addiction (guess he was semi-serious about it after all), the husband assures him, “My wife is not in a position to think rationally.” There was Chickering’s run-in with a journalist — a lady journalist! — in his new workplace, who flirted by making fun of gender biases she faces on a daily (hourly? minutely?) basis.
“The Knick”’s writing can sometimes be on-the-nose, but as with last week — which slyly commented on how prejudice against and ignorance of drug addicts has not improved much since 1900 — these scenes didn’t wind up flattering us for not being like them. The cruelties — sometimes overt, sometimes subtle and unthinking — these characters face continue in ways into today.