The Knick‘s second episode does with Dr. Algernon Edwards what Episode 1 did with the (so far) equally but differently compelling Dr. John Thackery. We see him through the course of one day, likely a few weeks after the events of the premiere, from his morning routine (which is interwoven with Ms. Robertson’s, more on this later) to his retiring to bed.
His day is decidedly different from his coworkers’ at Knickerbocker Hospital. He wakes up with a cockroach a foot from his face, startling him to his feet; he waits in an endless line, populated only by fellow African Americans, to use a brown-water bathroom, leered at and interrogated regarding his fancy shoes, politely sidestepping any confrontation; he watches Thack intently as he makes his rounds, eager to learn as always; Algernon offers a European treatment he is familiar with from his time in Paris (Dr. Gallinger: “Scrubbing the floors, were we?” Starting to show his true colors), which is, naturally, rejected; the puppy dog-eyed Bertie attempts, poorly, to befriend Algernon, only announcing to the mother of his stitches patient that he lives in the Tenderloin, a turn-of-that-century red-light district in Manhattan—Algernon responds by informing Bertie that his friend that loves “The Flea Market” (“the most ‘entertaining’ dance hall in the city”) will start to feel a burning sensation while he urinates; he learns the hospital doesn’t treat black patients, and responds by turning the basement he’s been banished to into an underground (literally) treatment facility; he tracks down the woman he saw previously turned away, treats her, then informs her he’ll see her ailing brother-in-law as well; he beats down the aggressor from the bathroom line earlier that morning when the man threatens him; he gives him medicine; he calls it a night.
What did we learn on our day following Dr. Algernon Edwards? He’s smart, resourceful, sensitive, strong, passionate, and willing to put up with tractors full of shit to pursue those passions. How he handled his hassling shoe fetishist—seeming helpless as he makes to slink away, before surprising with a gut-shot, knocking his would-be assailant to his knees before taking the opportunity to finish with a few head blows—is also telling. There isn’t too much about Algernon that surprises, but that doesn’t mean he’s not capable of surprise in what he deems is the right moment.
He’s worked so hard to get where he is, and where he is is living in filth, racism, and a constant battle with odds (similar to the battle with death Thack described in his eulogy for Dr. Christensen). This battle is where the two top doctors (in name) at Knickerbocker Hospital converge, and where I suspect some sort of bond might emerge. Each’s top concern is prolonging and preserving human life.
While Dr. Edwards’ character spent the episode being revealed to the audience, Thackery’s received some honing on top of slighter reveals.
“You’ve been avoiding me,” Thack tells Nurse Elkins, which I suspect is a natural reaction to penile liquid cocaine injection. He and Nurse Elkins now have a common secret, and he approaches her to make sure it remains one. Not because he is ashamed, of course, but because it will weaken others’ confidence in him and the hospital. In fact, he’s certain shooting up is the right move, and ensures the nurse he’ll “be more responsible” from now on. Thanks, man!
We also see glimpses of a strong rapport between Thack and Ms. Robertson, due (why else?) to her contributing so much (in her own, green way) to the same cause Thackery has committed his life, mind, and veins to. She shows concern for him, questioning out loud if he would be able to continue, unlike Dr. Christensen. “I have ways of getting through,” he tells her with a smile, which, as we learned in Episode 1’s flashback, is a method Christensen subscribed to as well. Good luck with that one.
- Due for a more in-depth look in coming episodes: Herman Barrow, the Knick’s manager. While finances strain the hospital, we learn that he squeezed money out of the recent electricity-implentation contract, and did so in an attempt to pay off a loan from a mobster. The igniting of a patient and electrocuting of a nurse is therefore on his hands. Whether this loan was taken in an effort to support the hospital or Barrow’s personal finances is unclear, be he’s distressed that his coworkers may find out. He has two days to pay.
- Also due for a deeper examination: Sister Harriet, whom Tom Cleary finds providing abortions.
- Clearly, the ambulance driver/patient collector, again lights up any scene he’s in, most notably when helping Gallinger and Bertie break into a library to find a paper Dr. Edwards referred to on a surgery after Thackery and Gallinger fail once again at with their method (of course, they’re too proud to ask Algernon for help). Cleary finds scientific photos of gigantism: “Ohh, this guy’s nut sack’s the size of a sailor’s duffel … well, I bet he can squirt.”
- Ms. Robertson’s morning routine is inter-cut with Algernon’s. Although hers is very different, one of extreme privilege, she bears witness and is on the receiving end of sexism at the breakfast table, a subject the show seems primed to tackle.
- Soderbergh’s fingerprints are left on this episode, notably in the episode’s second scene, a long shot starting with Ms. Robertson arriving by carriage, the lens sliding to Dr. Edwards on foot, then Nurse Elkans arriving via bicycle, passing the camera to benched Bertie and Gallinger tossing out their cigarettes, before finally resting on Thackery arriving by taxi carriage, likely minutes after turning bad feelings into good feelings.