In an instant, it was all gone. The motivation for John Thackery to stay sober, the foundation of his happiness. Abby‘s death came like a shot in the dark — stealth, sudden and seemingly random — and for a show built on histrionics and medical mayhem, it played out uncharacteristically quiet. The banality of her shuffling off this mortal coil worked in stark contrast to the heroics of separating Siamese twins or saving exploded subway workers. In the end, a simple procedure, a stupid mistake, and she just stopped breathing. Surrounded by Bertie and Lucy, the two he’s inspired and disappointed more than anyone, the surgeon’s life came crashing down. It barely made a sound.
Abby was always a ghost, materializing in dreams and flutters, moving quietly through the margins of the story. When any character other than John interacted with her, the idea that they anyone else could see her as well felt like a small jolt. She was there to haunt Thackery, to remind him of what was, what could have been, and what was still possible. Since the moment Everett Gallinger kidnapped him aboard the Amorita, boats have symbolized the surgeon’s recovery narrative; his ex was both rudder and anchor. Without her, he’s headed towards a dangerous sea, with all his weaknesses exposed.
But not only Thackery’s life collapsed this episode. “Not Well At All” doled out a season’s worth of revelations and realizations, none of them good. Cornelia shows Henry the papers she found proving their father’s scam to issue second-class tickets to sick passengers in steerage — avoiding millions of dollars in fines and fares. The crime of breaking the law and risking the lives of every New Yorker is bad enough, but then Neelie tells her brother she thinks the Captain had Speight killed when the health inspector got too close. Henry appears both horrified and incredulous at the news, but there’s a twitch to his hand and a catch in his voice as he tries to calm his sister. Is it filial shock or is murder for the Robertsons a family affair?
For the Gallingers, it just might be. Everett thought everything with his wife was on the upswing — both her teeth and her libido were working again, and his sour sister-in-law Dorothy was set to go home. But then a detective knocks on the door with the not-so-surprising report that Dr. Cotton is dead, a victim of poisoning. He’s retracing the doctor’s final steps, and learns Mrs. Gallinger served his final dinner. While Everett makes no connection between the two details, Eleanor uses her kewpie doll simper to ask her husband’s assistance in the kitchen with coffee. “I didn’t think they’d catch me up so soon,” she says as soon as they’re alone, showing him the rat poison. When he sputters that he thought she was healed, his missus almost pities him. “Oh, Everett,” she says, her voice dropping three octaves. “Can’t you see? I’m not well at all.”
There’s an offense worse than murder for this clan, it seems, and that’s societal shame. So the doctor covers up his wife’s crime, even allowing the detective to drink another round of her possibly poisoned brew. Then, he locks her away in a home for the mentally defective (one without unnecessary surgeries, we can only hope) and while he seems torn up about the decision, he’s more than happy to turn to his wife’s shadowy doppelgänger, Dorothy, for comfort.
As Everett hides his homicidal wife and beds his sister-in-law, Algernon breaks into the blonde physician’s office. He’s looking for proof of surgical sabotage, but instead discovers eugenics sterilization records, and seems dead set on doing something with the information. At the other end of the Knick, Lucy gets a phone call with her own shocking news: Her father suffered a debilitating stroke in a whorehouse. (Apparently, the sadistic hypocrite never left New York.) And finally, Cleary confesses his true feelings to Harriet. “You won over my heart,” he tells her, leaning in for a kiss. She reacts embarrassed and offended. You know what they say, you can take the nun out of the habit …
But maybe no curveball hits anyone’s life harder than the cruel betrayal awaiting Effie Barrow. Whether she was completely blind to her husband’s auxiliary-marriage activities – at the very least she knew he was uninterested – it’s a giant leap from benign neglect to outright abasement and eviction. Suffering from the delusion that Herman bought her a new life on Central Park West, she plans a special dinner for him, toasting “to surprises.” But Barrow’s over it. “No, Effie you’d need never see the house,” he says dispassionately. “Because I intend to live in it with another woman.” It’s a death as real as Abby’s – a life gone in a moment. And now everyone needs to recalibrate through the wreckage of all the revelations. They must deal with the repercussions and excise the ghosts of what once was.
Previously: Dance Hall Days