Nurse Elkins and the Secret of the Golden Lotus

Golden Lotus

The cocaine shortage continues in this week’s episode of The Knick, titled “The Golden Lotus” for interestingly non-narcotic reasons. More on that in a few…

Thackery opens the episode by breaking into a pharmacy in the middle of the night in search of vials of cocaine to feed his addiction. Just as he is set to inject the drug in the well-worn area between his toes, the police discover and arrest him.

Saving Thackery (and the hospital) from certain embarrassment, hospital manager Barrow and patron Robertson (Cornelia’s father) manage to cover the incident by buying Thackery’s status as a hero. Newspapers portray him as a doctor desperate to find the drug to treat his ailing patients and not as the drug addict he truly is.

Much of the remainder of the episode is dedicated to Thackery’s painful attempts to regain the drug as he slips further into the agony of withdrawal. It’s quite remarkable at how the filmmakers show Clive Owen’s mangled face continuously drooping and hanging slackly. Owen’s physical transformation in these scenes is nearly as impressive as his acting prowess.

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After attempting to boil residual Coca-Cola into something injectable (remember that the original formula contained actual cocaine) and to reconnect with the shady snake oil salesman he rightly rejected earlier in the season, Thackery naturally enlists Nurse Elkins to find cocaine for him. This, after hapless Barrow enlisted the aid of his mobster loan shark, incurring even more debt to repay, only to obtain vials of salt water masquerading as cocaine.

Elkins was far more resourceful. She immediately went to the Chinatown opium den popularized by Thackery. Wu, the owner of the opium den that Thackery saved through an impromptu tracheotomy, was equally impacted by the war in the Far East and could only offer a handful of opium seeds.

Enter the Golden Lotus.

Wu remarks to Nurse Elkins that her feet are small and delicate. He references an ancient Chinese sexual practice where men receive great pleasure by having a woman insert her foot into their mouth. Wu offers Elkins the opium seeds and $100 in cash for a Golden Lotus. Cut to: Nurse Elkins giving Thackery the opium seeds and hiding the cash in her boarding room. When Thackery asks how she paid for the opium (referencing Wu’s apparently famous Golden Lotus trick), Elkins claims she sold her prized blue bike. This was, of course, a complete lie.

Still, the effects of the opium are fleeting and cannot counter the cocaine withdrawal. Nurse Elkins finally enters a German hospital under a pseudonym (Nurse Thackery, ahem) and steals their newly obtained supply of cocaine. Overjoyed and high as a kite, Thackery shows his gratitude by dousing Elkins’s “sex” with the cocaine solution. The episode closes with Elkins in waves of ecstasy, far removed from West Virginia and her preacher father.

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The remainder of the episode also prominently focuses on the women of The Knick. Most importantly and unsurprisingly, Cornelia Robertson is three weeks late after her prolonged sexual encounters with Dr. Edwards. Knowing the baby will be too dark to pass off as a product of her fiancée, Robertson asks Edwards to abort the baby. Incredibly torn, Edwards agrees to perform the surgery but fails at the very end to commit the deed. He cannot kill his own child, leaving Cornelia crumpled and sobbing on his basement operating theater floor.

Finally, Dr. Gallinger’s grief-stricken wife, Eleanor, visits the hospital with their newly adopted baby. She claims there was another fever but she resolved it by giving the baby an ice bath. In reality, she drowned the poor infant, dressed it in a gown, and wheeled it into the Knick to visit her husband. Gallinger finally accepts his wife’s deteriorating mental state and has her hauled off chloroformed and straightjacketed.

“The Golden Lotus” seemingly intends to give a broader perspective on the women of the show, although I didn’t really think that was necessary as the show mostly balances the character interactions as well as can be expected given the era it depicts. My one gripe with the depiction of women on the show continues to be how the writers saddle Cornelia Robertson with this interracial love affair storyline.

In theory, I don’t mind the developments, and I think it does make for interesting television given the social implications of that relationship in the early 1900s. Still, Cornelia’s place on the board of The Knick feels continuously slighted and underdeveloped. Sure, we saw her tracking down and tackling Typhoid Mary, but I would like to see more of her management of the hospital. Clearly, there are tensions there between men in power and such a unique woman. Why wouldn’t the writers dig more into that conflict?

If they’re really interesting in a broad array of women in the area (nurses, nuns, socialites, wives, mothers), then why not spend increased time on the conflict between men and women in the workplace. After all, the women’s suffrage movement is only a few years out, presumably.

That minor complaint aside, The Knick continues to be one of the best-directed series on television currently. Soderbergh wisely pulls back the overt directorial flourishes and allows the actors room to carry his story in this outing. And I will be eternally grateful that Soderbergh chose not to show Elkins giving up her Golden Lotus.

The mental imagery of it is disturbing enough without the accompanying visuals.

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