Source: "The Knick" Season 01 Episode 02 00:08:25

Dr. J.M. Christiansen (who is bald): The wealth supporting the Knick is endless. People here want their hospital to be the best. And they're willing to pay. All I have to do is ask. Of course, there are certain obligations that come along with getting what I want.

Dr. John Thackery: Such as?

Dr. Christiansen: Hiring a new surgical apprentice... How did you come to know Captain Robertson?

Dr. Thackery: I did some work with him in Nicaragua.

Dr. Christiansen: Now he wants you here?

Dr. Thackery: No, that was my idea... You are legitimizing surgery. Taking it out of the barbershop and into the future and I want to be a part of it.

Dr. Christiansen: You do realize if you choose to join us, the work will be hard and the hours long, the results slow and agonizing, and we will see no shortage of death at our own hands.

screenshot of the relevant moment, including subtitle

  • 1
    Need way more context. What's the significance of barbershops in this episode? Is someone here a barber?
    – gotube
    May 15, 2023 at 2:46
  • "The barbershops" came out of nowhere, I'm afraid. @gotube
    – Zhang Jian
    May 15, 2023 at 3:15
  • I added moere context anyway. By the way, Dr. Christiansen was bald. Is this related to "Taking it out of the barbershop and into the future"? @gotube
    – Zhang Jian
    May 15, 2023 at 4:02

2 Answers 2


A barbershop is now only for cutting hair. It used to be the place that offered surgery, such as pulling teeth.

The "barber's pole" of red and white swirl represents blood and bandages.

In olden days the surgeon was the barber. He had to be strong and fast. The doctor was not the surgeon. The doctor told the surgeon where to cut, and the barber-surgeon did it.

So barbershop is completely literal. It is the places that you would go for haircuts, shaves, and surgery.

  • 1
    This is why, when a junior doctor in the UK (addressed as "Dr. Smith") becomes a consultant surgeon, and a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, they become "Mr. Smith" or "Mrs. Smith" (note: not "Miss. Smith" or "Ms. Smith"). "Surgeons aren't doctors". May 15, 2023 at 10:47
  • 5
    @MartinBonnersupportsMonica - The Royal College of Surgeons says 'In most other parts of the world all medical practitioners, physicians and surgeons alike, are referred to as Dr while in the UK surgeons are usually referred to as Mr/Miss/Ms/Mrs.' I gather that Mx is OK too, these days. Many UK surgeons see the distinction as outdated, and don't insist on it. May 15, 2023 at 12:02
  • 4
    I believe it is/was similar in Australia. As a kid (when living in Aus) after horrifically smashing up my left arm in an incredibly unfortunate incident involving trampolines and air rifles, a few doctors had a go at fixing it up, and eventually they put me under the renowned "Mr. Peano", who cut me up, did his magic, and thanks to him I've been able to use my left arm all my life (and have a spectacular scar too, which you can still barely see!) In that era you'd say the Mister sort of reverently. I'd hear the old ladies saying "Oh, Sadie's boy was operated on by Mister Peano, uh huh".
    – Fattie
    May 15, 2023 at 12:57
  • 1
    Note that The Knick is set in the early 1900s, long after barbers stopped performing surgery. @gotube is correct that the usage is metaphorical, not literal.
    – MJD
    May 15, 2023 at 13:41
  • 6
    Interestingly, in the UK "surgery" is also the word for a doctor's office, even though the person who treats you there isn't a surgeon.
    – Barmar
    May 15, 2023 at 13:56

For hundreds of years, barbers in Europe used to perform surgeries. Moving surgery out of the barbershops and into hospitals represented a huge step forward in medical practice.

So here, Dr. Christiansen is doing something to significantly improve surgical procedures wherever they are. Dr. Thackery is comparing this change to the difference of barbers doing surgeries in barbershops to trained surgeons doing it in dedicated hospital facilities.

Some reading: Bloodletting: an early treatment used by barbers, surgeons

  • I wonder if the reason barbers were doing it was simply pragmatic: they had the sharp razors needed for it. May 17, 2023 at 11:56
  • 1
    @MatthieuM. That's what the linked article indicates
    – gotube
    May 17, 2023 at 16:44

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