Leave it to a show like The Knick to name an episode centered on a major character’s disregard for medical protocol — which results in both his mother’s death and the loss of his job — “There Are Rules.”
As with all Knick episodes, this week’s title stems from a piece of dialogue. It’s not spoken by anyone affiliated with Dr. Bertie Chickering Jr.’s considerable operating-room foul-up, but the theme still resonates throughout many of the episode’s story lines. Though in Bertie’s case, while it seems like the writers might be taunting the young surgeon with their choice of episode title, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, Bertie suffered a devastating blow to his personal life and his medical reputation after he attempted a risky procedure on his cancer-stricken mother. But at the same time, the experience awakened him to something I’ve been noticing ever since he joined Dr. Levi Zinberg’s more traditional practice:
He’s got a lot more of Dr. John Thackery in him than he thought.
This may be why Thack took a back seat in tonight’s episode when it came to the Precarious Surgery of the Week, because it’s time to allow his protégé to start taking the reins. Just like his mentor, Bertie is going to mess up now and then (and a dead parent on your watch isn’t something one gets over instantly), but this show is called The Knick, not Mt. Sinai. It was time for Bertie to get back to where he once belonged, and anyone could see that while he admired Zinberg greatly, he was chafing under the fastidious doctor’s conservatism.
With Zinberg unwilling to let him try an experimental procedure on his dying mother, Bertie conscripts Dr. Algernon Edwards to assist him in a clandestine attempt. After all, Edwards pretty much spent season 1 performing secret surgeries, and he’s at least observed the technique in Paris. As Bertie’s father stands guard, the two colleagues set to work on Mrs. Chickering. Between Edwards’ limited eyesight (he wears spectacles now, and admits to having lost vision in his injured left eye), Bertie’s ill-advised decision to operate on a family member, and the doctors’ limited knowledge of the procedure, Mrs. Chickering dies on the table. But not before a furious Zinberg storms in to berate Bertie for his insubordination — and to make a last-ditch effort to save the patient.
A shattered Bertie confers with his boss in Zinberg’s office, and it’s decided it’s time for a change, as their fundamental differences will make it impossible for them to work together again: Zinberg refuses to take risks, whereas Bertie, now Thack’s mouthpiece, feels they are necessary tools for medical innovation. If he’s saying this mere minutes after he technically killed his own mother (in all fairness, given her condition, he really just brought about her death a little sooner than expected), then there is no question that Bertie belongs at the Knick. He and Zinberg part amicably, with Bertie offering to resign in lieu of his inevitable firing.
But Bertie’s time away from the Knick has been good for him. Having healed from his breakup with Nurse Lucy Elkins as well as learned from his own mistakes, he’s not the haughty boy he was when he basically told Thack to go shove it a few months earlier. Admitting that he’s “a bit too reckless” for Zinberg, he asks Thack for his old job back: “I need the speed of this place,” he says to his mentor. “Of you.” Having realized that the Knick “is where I belong,” Bertie receives the best possible response from the mercurial Thack: “I’ve always known that.” As if that weren’t enough, his old/new employer gives him a hug. This is almost as heartwarming as Genevieve Everidge fulfilling her promise to Mrs. Chickering that she will help the family cope with their losses, which she does by handling household duties and inviting Bertie for a sexcapade at her roommate-less apartment.
NEXT: Tom Cleary to the rescue