Previously on A Young Doctor’s Notebook: The White Guard showed up, bringing along the lovely Natasha, whom Dan quickly falls for. Despite her noticeable lack of interest, he dumps Pel in the hopes of winning Natasha over.
On the train, Jon rustles through his buddy’s blankets while the man’s asleep, searching for the notebook. Why BumBuddy has the notebook again I have no idea. The guy wakes up and asks if Jon’s trying to feel him up. Jon denies it and says he had an idea for his opera—a new aria, he can sing it if BB likes! ‘I’d rather you touched my balls,’ the guy growls. That means ‘no,’ Jon.
In 1918, Feldcher’s dishing up a meal for all the soldiers and staff. The General, who is not Natasha’s fiancé, sorry about that, comes for his bowl and he and Feldcher share rather flirty smiles. Next up is Pel, who looks awful and shakes her head when Feldcher offers her food.
She has the sense to go see Dan, who’s posing for a portrait for Natasha and assuming, because he’s a completely self-centred swot, that Pel looks like hell because she’s so upset about their affair ending. She tells him it most certainly isn’t that, that she’s constipated and was sick that morning. Alarm bells start ringing even in Dan’s head and he swiftly asks if she’s pregnant. She’s not. He asks if she’s sure, and she’s like, ‘midwife here, hello?’ ‘You can’t just swan in here every time you have a tummyache,’ he tells her cruelly. She wonders if it’s malaria, because I understand that tropical diseases and the mosquitoes that carry them are really common in the frozen hinterlands of Russia. Dan’s not paying attention and tells her she knows where the quinine is, unless she’s run out of that too. Dick move, Dan. It’s not her fault the place is out of food and morphine. He adds that he hasn’t had a proper meal in days, so I guess that hamper finally ran out. ‘Yes, I bet you could just murder a morphine sandwich,’ she hisses. Ha!
She goes over to check out Natasha’s painting, which is not really a portrait of Dan at all but a picture of the table and vase he’s standing next to, with his hand off to the side. Heh. Pel starts making fun of his hands, calling them pasty and skeletal and childlike. Natasha agrees and talks about how amazing her darling Gregori’s hands are, and she starts getting so into it that Dan, slightly disturbed, wanders over and suggests the hand will look better when she paints the rest of him. Natasha had no intention of doing so, and Pel snarks, ‘Yes, that’ll definitely make everything else look big.’ Ha! She’s on fire today. Maybe she should get sick more often.
Jon’s typing away in his and Dan’s room and natters on about his opera, but Dan’s not listening, of course. Jon eventually notices and tries to bring the conversation around to something Dan can actually relate to. He asks how he feels after breaking up with Pel and Dan happily says he feels rejuvenated, then starts rhapsodizing about Natasha. Dan breaks the news that she’s totally out of his league and also engaged. Dan doubts it’ll last and thinks it’s probably some sort of aristocratic arranged marriage, though Jon keeps telling him it almost certainly isn’t. Dan ignores him and gets started writing some poetry. Jon sighs and gets back to his opera.
And now we move to some sort of fantasy sequence where Dan’s dressed like a character from Pagliacci, on stage, singing of his love for Natasha while the audience applauds.
Back to reality, a soldier is dropped on the operating table and Anna immediately deduces the man’s got serious frostbite. Feldcher and General brought the man in, having found him lying under a pine tree near a particularly romantic footbridge. He and General smile at the memory of the pretty footbridge and General catches Anna’s eye and hastily explains they were looking for wood. Off of Anna’s ‘yeah, I bet you were,’ look, he adds that they were looking for firewood. You’re not helping your case, General.
Natasha bursts in and offers to help, since they’re a nurse short with Pel out of commission, but she really just wants to find out if the soldier is from the same battalion as Gregori. He only manages to gasp they were ambushed. Anna tries to get her out of there, which turns into a tussle and only ends when Natasha accidentally snaps off one of the man’s fingers. She leaves, and once she’s gone, the guy gasps that it was a massacre.
A little later, Dan comes out and finds Natasha pacing in the hallway. She admits she feels awful but he tells her that the guy died of multiple gunshot wounds, hypothermia, and possibly TB as well. Might as well be thorough about your death. She asks if he said anything and Dan tells her the battalion was massacred. She asks if there were survivors and he lies and says there weren’t, even though that’s not at all what the guy said. Jon asks if that’s true and Dan tells him it was a massacre, and he’s pretty sure the man would have mentioned if it was one of those nice massacres were thousands of soldiers were really offended. Heh. He goes on to tell her that the officers were mutilated, Gregori included. She bursts into tears. Jon tells him to lay off and Dan says that there’s no point in giving her hope. Jon says it could at least make her feel less desolate, like Dan cares at this point, because a sad Natasha is a Natasha who wants hugs.
Dan finally gets up to Pel’s room, where she’s looking absolutely awful, being attended by Anna. Anna gives him some lip and he whines, not for the first time, that he’s sick too. Oh, shut up, you little shit. Pel tells him she took the quinine powder and he pulls down her blanket, sees a rash on her chest, and says this isn’t malaria. She says he told her it was, which isn’t, strictly speaking, true, and Dan says she should have known better. Anna points out that he’s the doctor here and asks what it is. He reels of diphtheria, a fever, or typhus, which freaks out both Pel and Anna and brings Feldcher and General in to freak out as well.
Dan smokes copious cigarettes downstairs, waiting for Natasha to call him in for more hugs or something. General emerges from her room and Dan rises, though Jon quietly tells him Natasha can wait. Dan ignores him. Feldcher asks General how Natasha is. He says she’s distraught, as is he, because they all loved Gregori. Feldcher offers a handkerchief. Dan starts to ask if he should go to her but General says she wants to be left alone. But as soon as they’re gone, he goes in. Natasha’s already dressed in black.
‘You seem sad,’ Dan observes, stupidly. She weeps that Gregori knew this day would come and made her promise not to cry. ‘Don’t worry, he’ll never know,’ Dan replies callously. Jesus. He goes on to say that he learned to heal all parts of the body, except the heart. He reads her his lousy poem and she thanks him for trying to make her laugh. Heh. She tells him it was sweet of him to come, but she’d like to be alone now, telling him she’ll come find him later, mostly as a means of getting rid of him.
He swings by Pel’s room briefly, to find out from Jon that it’s definitely typhus. Dan’s laden with the gramophone, some pickled sprats, and a jar of some homemade wine. He tells Pel she’ll have to take her clothes off, and in her feverish state she thinks he wants to have sex with her. Anna looks slightly disturbed. Dan gets ready to leave and Jon, aghast, asks where he’s going. Dan lies that he has to check some article.
In his room, Dan puts a waltz on the gramophone and is joined by Jon, who tells him in no uncertain terms that he needs to go be with Pel right now. Dan continues lying about the article he has to read. Dan starts practice waltzing around the room and Jon grabs him and shows him how to do it properly while telling him that Natasha’s really just not that into him. If anything, she seems to think of him as a child. This is just another self-destructive obsession held together with lies. He’s done a terrible thing, lying to Natasha, and has destroyed her. Dan cares not. For the record, Jon Hamm appears to be an excellent dancer. Of course.
There’s a knock on the door, and Dan ditches Jon to answer it. It’s Natasha, looking for something to help her sleep. Dan offers up some nettle wine and music. She tries the wine and immediately spits it out, so Dan takes it back and reassures her that she’s not alone and doesn’t have to go to Paris to find comfort and kindness. He embraces her, and then tries dancing with her. She’s confused, because he’s having her lead, and she quickly tries to disentangle herself. Dan offers up his bed for the night, in the most awkward manner possible and she takes the opportunity to hustle him out. He asks if there’s anything he can do and she tells him to look in on her in an hour, because she’s sure she’ll still be wide awake. It’s clear she doesn’t mean it, but he thinks this is some sort of assignation.
Back to Pel’s room he goes, and she’s rather pathetically happy to see him. Anna arrives with clean sheets and admits, tearfully, that she didn’t know what else to do. ‘Pray for a quick and painless death,’ Jon says sadly.
Unfortunately, if we know anything about Pel, it’s that she’s tough, so it’s neither quick nor painless. Dan waits impatiently for her to expire, while both Anna and Jon look on disapprovingly as he checks his watch. Pel grabs his hand and he can’t seem to extricate it.
By the morning, Pel’s dead. Anna weeps, Feldcher looks sad, and Dan’s impatient. He manages to extricate his hand and briskly says it’s time for him to be off. Jon meets him at the door and asks him if that’s really it. Dan says nothing, just leaves. What a heartless bastard. Jon looks down at the body on the bed, devastated, and whispers that he honestly thought he stayed there for hours. The memory is a tricky thing.
Dan goes right back to his room, only to find Natasha gone. He lies down on the unmade bed and the opera music springs back up, with him singing about death while Jon sits by Pel’s bed.
In his 1930s boxcar, Jon weeps, thinking of the past and the monster he became.