It turns out that Homais is all excited about some article on curing clubfeet. He’s convinced that Charles should attempt to fix the clubfoot of Hippolyte, a servant at Madame Lefrançois’s inn.
Emma is easily convinced. She hopes that the operation will earn Charles some respect and extra cash. This helps a lot with her resolution to stay with him.
Charles, despite his profound lack of medical talent, agrees to do it. He prepares for the operation by reading and attempting to understand it, while Homais works on getting Hippolyte himself to agree.
Hippolyte gives in to the pharmacist’s goading (and that of the rest of the town, who all feel involved in this process), and accepts the operation.
Charles, in the meanwhile, is having a heck of a time figuring out how to fix Hippolyte’s disfigured leg. He’s clearly confused and concerned, but goes ahead gamely anyway. He ends up cutting poor Hippolyte’s Achilles tendon, thinking that it’s the right thing to do. Ugh, just thinking of it gives us the chills.
After the operation, which appears at first to be a success, Emma actually voluntarily embraces Charles. The two of them are happier together than we’ve ever seen them. She is finally able to muster up a little bit of affection for poor Charles, who she now views as an up-and-coming surgeon in the making.
Homais busily writes up the operation for the Rouen paper, claiming that it’s a complete success.
However, this honeymoon period doesn’t last. Five days after the operation, Madame Lefrançois bursts in, claiming that Hippolyte is dying. Charles and Homais rush off to see what’s wrong.
Gaah! What isn’t wrong would be a better question. Hippolyte’s foot is a disgusting mass of infection, trapped within the bizarre torture device Charles strapped it into. Ignoring Hippolyte's claims of incredible pain, they put him back in the apparatus.
Three days later, though, the infection is way, way worse – it’s so disgusting we don’t even want to tell you about it here. Seriously. GROSS.
Everyone tries to make Hippolyte feel better, except for the peasants who come to the inn to play billiards. They just make him feel worse, and tell him that he smells bad.
Actually, that’s not just a taunt – it’s true. The gangrenous leg reeks up a storm. Hippolyte is in total despair, but Charles, who has no clue how to fix it, just tells him to eat more lightly (what?).
To make matters even worse, Father Bournisien comes over to harass the crippled man about his lack of religion. We’re sure it didn’t exactly make Hippolyte feel any better.
Finally, Madame Lefrançois, worried about the lack of improvement, send for Monsieur Canivet, a real M.D. from Neufchâtel.
Canivet, who is, unlike Charles, an actual doctor, laughs contemptuously when he sees Hippolyte’s condition, and says what everyone should have known by now – the leg must be amputated. He complains to Homais about practitioners (like Charles) who make use of ridiculous procedures without a thought about the patients…or victims, rather.
Homais feels bad, but chooses not to defend Charles – after all, Monsieur Canivet is an important man.
The amputation is a big event for the village. Everyone is quite excited, except, presumably, for Hippolyte. Poor guy.
Canivet struts into the town, confident in his own abilities. He derides officiers de santé like Charles, claiming that they ruin the reputation of doctors everywhere.
Speaking of our old friend, Charles stays at home, miserable, embarrassed, and guilty for the part he’s played in Hippolyte’s disaster.
Emma sits by him, humiliated and angry. She’s mad at herself for even hoping that Charles could be anything but mediocre.
This is the last straw for Emma. She can’t believe she ever felt bad for cheating on Charles.
The angry tension of the Bovary household is broken by a horrifying shriek that echoes through the village. The amputation is underway.
Charles and Emma stare at each other through the sounds of Hippolyte’s screams – and to Emma, everything about her husband disgusts her. Her feelings for Rodolphe come rushing back, and it’s as though Charles is permanently alienated from her life from this point on.
The operation is apparently over – they see Canivet and Homais leave the inn and return to the pharmacy.
Despairing, Charles asks Emma to kiss him. She refuses him violently, and flees the room.
Charles has no clue what’s going on.
That night, Emma and Rodolphe are reunited in the garden – they kiss passionately, their affair back in full bloom.