Everything wrong with medicine in 1900 seems to show up in The Knick’s season 1 finale, “Crutchfield”: back-alley abortions, primitive and misinformed medical procedures, uncontrolled drug administration, unsanitary conditions, a lack of coordination and cooperation in the medical community, and on. Looking back on the season, which touched on all of the above in one or another episode, it becomes apparent that this disastrous tornado of dysfunction was inevitable—that is, you can’t say they didn’t warn us.
Dr. Thackery has come undone.
For those keeping score, he has now racked up so many bad-behavior points that Barrow looks positively saintly in comparison. Kicking off with a little breaking and entering incident during his hunt for cocaine, Thackery lands in jail, and it’s Barrow to the rescue—well, it’s really Capt. Robertson’s money to the rescue, but still, Barrow shows up at the police station with Cornelia’s dad to attend to the situation.
The Knick indulges in some vices in its latest, which should maybe be called “Working It a Lot,” because there’s a whole lot of bad behavior, sexytime, and sass this week in the period drama. Nurse Elkins’ corruption by charismatic Dr. Thackery is complete; she now whines for cocaine to be incorporated into their sex act. In their pillow talk afterward, she reveals that her father is a preacher and would condemn her for her sins of the flesh.
Every now and again, television throws an episode at viewers that we can only discuss in hushed, reverent tones—there will be no levity when speaking of “Get the Rope,” because the idiocy of racial politics in the time in which Steven Soderbergh’s medical drama is set is no laughing matter. That statement begs the question, of course, of whether that certain idiocy still exists, and of course it does—in pockets of ignorance scattered across this continent, and, to a worse degree, in places around the world where hate- and intolerance-fueled genocide and terrorism exist.
Reading Jeff Labrecque’s listicle about Hollywood’s top actor-director pairings—and running across No. 10, Channing Tatum and Steven Soderbergh—gets a person thinking about where The Knick hovers in Soderbergh’s constellation of entertainment offerings. The Knick’s 87 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating puts it somewhere behind Traffic (for which Soderbergh won a Best Director Oscar) and above Contagion.
Despite our decidedly pro-Knick stance up to now, if ever there was an episode in this series so far that stubbornly refused to congeal, “They Capture the Heat” seems it. Too much stuck when the ideas were thrown at the wall. Early X-ray technology: Nifty. Baby with meningitis: Tragic. Mobsters threatening doctors: Imbeciles. Ongoing abortion debate: Uncomfortable. The title of the episode even references the weather (among other things)—Edwards notes that the buildings “capture the heat” when Thackery complains about the humidity, and Thackery later parrots the observation to Capt.
The Knick’s medical staff members continue dancing around one another like chess pieces on a board, while others live or die by their moves. Edwards engages in a particularly dangerous game, talking Gallinger through a heart surgery up to the point of no medical return, then standing silent, defying each white man in the room to prevent him from taking the scalpel and saving the patient’s life.
A villain is slowly being introduced to the world of The Knick: As typhoid fever makes the rounds, Cornelia Robertson—notably, not a doctor—calls it out as a matter of real concern. Not yet considered an epidemic—Inspector Speight has some investigating to do before we start applying labels—typhoid catches Cornelia’s attention because while it usually lays waste to impoverished, incredibly unhygienic housing projects, it’s begun to target affluent households throughout the city. As Speight notes, it “jumps around”—like a flea.
“The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.” –Kate Chopin, The Awakening
“We now live in a time of endless possibility.” —Dr. John Thackery
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