The Knick: Dr. Thackery’s Rejuvenation Liniment

On any thrill ride, there’s always a moment where the ride pauses, allowing the passengers to experience the moment. To take in the surroundings, appreciate what came before, and anticipate what’s yet to come. As of this writing, that’s how I’m treating the last few episodes of The Knick – the moment of appreciation before the storm to come.

Out of the gate, The Knick roared through its proceedings with an extremely modern take on a period drama, balancing unexpected suicides and gruesome surgeries with character introductions and period flavor. Yet, as I have recently lamented, the series has slowed somewhat in its progression. It dawdled a tad too much on its fascination with advancements in medicine and wasted important characters on seemingly fruitless ventures.

Now, halfway through its freshman season, the show feels sure-footed again as we freefall toward its conclusion.

The proceedings immediately felt different from the start of this new episode, “Start Calling Me Dad.” Thackery (Clive Owen, giving a continually inspired mad man performance) reaches out to “Bertie” Chickering (the previously underused Michael Angarano) in the middle of the night, causing Bertie’s father to rage against the maverick Thackery. But Thackery was calling for a good reason – he needed assistance in perfecting a new technique that would end the parade of botched placenta praevia surgeries.

Naturally, this being Dr. Thackery, they were assisted by two Asian prostitutes, but who’s counting?

Bertie and Lucy

Flash-forward to the live surgery, the procedure, which uses a small balloon inserted into the kidney and filled with water to put pressure on the placenta and slow internal bleeding, was an unqualified success as Thackery and Chickering saved both mother and child. It’s an extremely rewarding moment not just for Thackery but for Bertie too. The episode gave Angarano several moments to shine, particularly in a childlike giddiness in his early research with Thackery and on a park stroll with nurse Lucy Elkins (not matter how badly overdubbed the scene was).

Other victories gave the episode an unusually uplifting air. Cornelia Robertson (the steadfastly reliable Juliet Rylance) continued on her quest with the NYC Health Department to find the root cause of the recent typhoid breakdown, tracking the outbreak to a single carrier – the infamous Typhoid Mary. The episode provides a rare moment of levity as Cornelia tackles Mary who is attempting to escape detainment and testing after she denies carrying the disease. It’s a small but great moment for Cornelia who finally experiences a win after her struggles with the hospital.

Also ultimately gaining ground in the episode was Dr. Algernon “Algie” Edwards (Andre Holland, seething beneath the surface with rage) whose hospital basement practice for the poor and ignored minorities is discovered by Thackery. Enraged, Thackery shuts down the proceedings and fires Edwards only to rehire him after seeing some of the recent medical advancements Edwards has perfected – namely the vacuum suction for blood and the silver-threaded hernia operation. The discovery of new techniques proves too intoxicating for Thackery to ignore, and he officially welcomes Edwards to The Knick and to the upstairs “theater” where he will participate in surgeries as an equal.

On a more muted note, Dr. Barrow finally purchases a second-hand X-ray machine for the hospital after comically trying it out on himself and two giddy nurses. I laughed out loud when the salesman, proven later to be a straight up snake oil guy, comments that the X-ray machine provided hours of fun for his daughters. This is the same man who, in the next scene, attempts to sell Thackery on a questionable elixir that purportedly cures everything from kidney pain to toothaches. Naturally, it doesn’t go well for the fellow.

But, this being The Knick, all was not perfection. Having recently contracted meningitis through a rat-bitten patient, Dr. Gallinger unwittingly infected his daughter who ultimately succumbs to the terrible disease. His wife, Eleanor, is emotionally destroyed, convinced that their dead daughter will return. As was the practice at the time, the Gallingers sit for a photograph holding their daughter’s lifeless body. The moment is played strictly for authenticity with little emotion, and it’s all the more chilling for it.

Corneila

Finally, Cornelia’s recent success is dampened by a bedroom encounter with her creepy father-in-law to be. He approaches her in a state of undress (undergarments exposed which, given the time, was kin to being completely nude) and all but ensures her that he will be having sex with her as much as his son would. “Start calling me dad,” he says as is referenced in the episode’s title. Played beautifully by its actors, that unexpected scene is as gruesome and uncomfortable as anything we’ve seen thus far. I cannot imagine why Cornelia, given this and her fiancée’s determination for her to leave the hospital, would continue with the engagement. This being the early 1900s, I’m sure she will push forward to spare her family embarrassment.

And as we push forward to the end of the series, it’s reassuring to see stories move forward with old problems solved and new ones raising their head. It gives me hope that the rest of the series continues to deliver on the thrills we know Soderbergh has delivered thus far.

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