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The Knick reveals ‘barbaric’ treatment of mental illness

The Knick reveals ‘barbaric’ treatment of mental illness
 Eric Johnson in The Knick | Photograph by: HBO Canada/Bell , Postmedia News

Edmonton native Eric Johnson says show is medically factual

Dr. Everett Gallinger, heal thyself. Seriously — evaluate your life choices.

The polarizing physician on The Knick, played by Edmonton native Eric Johnson, hit a low in last week’s episode of the 1901-set medical drama. After flirting with the idea of eugenics, Gallinger volunteered to sterilize the Jewish boys at a Manhattan “idiot house”.

Paired with the storyline about his wife’s perceived insanity — all her teeth were removed as a treatment — he’s a reminder of how far, and not so far, we’ve come in regards to dealing with mental illness.

“The scary thing is that all the stuff the show does is factual. Dr. Henry Cotton was an actual doctor who removed the teeth of his own children to prevent them from going insane, because he believed that infection was the cause of all mental health issues,” Johnson says.

“It was pretty barbaric. I think when it comes to things like mental health, we’re still just coming out of the dark ages in terms of how we deal with people who are sick and the stigma attached to it, and our how we as a society deal with it.”

The series, directed by Steven Soderbergh and co-starring Clive Owen, centres on the staff of Knickerbocker Hospital in New York City. It’s currently midway through its second season on The Movie Network and Movie Central in Canada.

The scenes, they’re grizzly. Without the monotone sterility of modern-day series, the scalpels cut a little too deep, the blood spurts a little too quickly, the anesthesia seems a little too weak.

“Our special effects and prosthetics are flawless. There are times when you can’t see where the actor ends and the prosthetic begins, and you have to make sure you’re not poking a part that’s the real person,” says Johnson.

“There are moments in Season 2 that for me are challenging to watch. But the show isn’t gratuitous, it’s not exploitive, it’s not trying to shock an audience. It’s just a very honest look at what it was.”

Johnson, who’s appeared on Canadian series including Rookie Blue and Orphan Black, says that starring on The Knick has given him new appreciation for the checks and balances now in place for the medical community.

“Some people can be frustrated with because it takes so long for a new miracle drug to get to market, or there’s a new procedure that needs to be approved. Well, that didn’t exist then,” he says.

“There was a level of experimentation. So many people died in the hospital. Doctors would experiment on themselves, giving themselves injections and seeing what would happen and writing down the results. It was the Wild West of medicine.”

Not that he’s gung-ho for his next checkup — no matter how refined the poking and prodding has become.

“I’ve always been leery of going to the doctor,” he says. “I never go.”

The Knick airs Fridays, The Movie Network/Movie Central

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