'The Knick' Recap: Out of the Past

Old wounds are reopened and lots of family business is taken care of in the season's penultimate episode

Clive Owen, André Edwards and Michael Angarano in 'The Knick.' Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO

It took 18 episodes and close to 180 gallons of blood, but we finally learned what happened between John Thackery and August Roberston in Nicaragua all those years ago. Tonight's episode — "Do You Remember Moon Flower" — not only explains the pact at the heart of The Knick's origin story, it proves the captain has been playing fast and loose with public heath years long before he allegedly let plague victims evade New York harbor inspectors.

Long ago in a Central American jungle that looks suspiciously like New Jersey (the series' production designers do a brilliant job recreating 1900's Gotham, but Nicaragua … not so much), a younger and vaguely strapping Dr. Thackery arrives in a village to discover a small pox outbreak — and a desperate Robertson chained to a pole, sentenced to death. In short order, the former saves everyone's life, negotiates the release of the shipping tycoon in exchange for treating the patients, and a beautiful friendship begins.

It's a nice start to the captain's saga, since this week brings his end; a very convenient fire overtakes the new Knickerbocker just as Cornelia confronts her father over killing Speight. Robertson admits nothing and then sacrifices his life for his daughter's, leaving Neelie – and the audience – left to wonder about his true motives. In The Knick's pantheon of racist, predatory, abusive and distant dads, August Robertson always stood above the pack by simply behaving with kindness towards his children. Was he really such a failure of a human being after all?

Speaking of shitty dads, the episode also delivers the death of Pastor Elkins, a pops so rotten that his daughter dishes out the lethal dose. Much of Lucy's recent decisions have led to this moment, and the nurse lectures him on her newfound insights via an anecdote involving a beaten mule. "This world offers too much," she explains, "and I'm too smart to let myself turn out that way. And if that means sinning to get what I want, well then so be it." She then fills him in on all her sinning, from cocaine-coated couplings to every golden lotus. "I just wanted you to know everything before you went.  Bye daddy.  Enjoy your trip."  That the scene plays chillingly triumphant instead of unhinged is a credit to both Eve Hewson and actor Stephen Spinella, whose brief turn as Papa Elkins is so convincingly nasty the viewer actually roots for his passing.

The same cannot be said about Dr. Gallinger, who now adds "sore winner" to his list of malevolent character traits. After finding evidence of his forced sterilizations, Dr. Algernon Edwards reports Everett to the medical board, hoping to get his license revoked. Overseen by a panel of old white men who think eugenics is super interesting science, the hearing goes about as well as you'd expect, and the African-American doctor leaves the loser. But Gallinger, finally scoring a point, won't let it go. "You raise your fists like an animal," he gloats to Algernon. "In the face of intellectual reason you can't help but resort to violence," a line he quickly follows that up with a sucker punch to the head, surely separating that detached retina for good. 

At least one wife chalks up a win this week, and shockingly it's Effie Barrow, suddenly in possession of all the evidence she needs to blackmail her husband.  She negotiates an Upper East Side apartment and half of his everything else – legal or otherwise. Unfortunately, it looks like the money train is coming to an end for Barrow, as both the Board and the new architect, tired of delays and overspending, ask for cuts and proper accounting of the construction at every turn. 

In truth, the only people seeing a profit are the proprietors of Harriet's Homemade Condoms; despite the cold war between the ex-nun and Cleary after the attempted kiss, their business is booming, and the Irishman shows off a sales pitch to rival Don Draper: "Don't slip it in until you slip it on. It's a dime a fuck, 10 in a pack - only costs you a buck for 10 rolls in the sack!" As fun as it is to watch, the hard sell was unnecessary. Harriet had already sold out the inventory by going directly to the prostitutes, including Thackery’s dancehall girlfriend. She brings him the lambskin, but it doesn't register. Grieving over Abby and suffering from an ischemic bowel, the doctor drowns the pain in booze and drugs, bringing him back to his earlier mess of a man.

Death, debasement, fires, fights, flashbacks — if this all sounds like a lot of action for 55 minutes, it is. The last episode before the season finale, "Do You Remember Moon Flower" moves lots of pieces into position for next week. The cards are dealt. Now it's time to play the final hand. Win or lose.

Previously: Dear Abby