The Thrills of Discovery
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The dichotomy that has been the central thematic, unifying thread throughout the run of The Knick is what truly sets it apart from its other dramatic counterparts. The Knick, as clinical and cold as it may come across from time to time, is inherently about the dichotomy between medical and social progress at the turn of what will reveal itself to be the most turbulent century in the history of the world. Medically progress is being made, slow as it is, it is still progress in a positive direction. But social progress is languishing. This is twenty years before women gained the right to vote, after all. An era in which impoverished minorities were far more likely to die simply because of the skin color they had been born with (okay, well that’s improved only slightly). In this week’s episode that’s emphasized by medical breakthroughs, there’s the reality of the underground clinic for impoverished black patients and Cornelia being handed off like a piece of property. Nothing’s every really simple, is it?
The expectation for a medical breakthrough seemed to have been pointed towards one being between Drs. Thackery and Edwards and I would have had no qualms if that had happened. But to have the initial breakthrough occur with Drs. Thackery and Bertie was absolutely fantastic. Suck it, Bertie’s father. The C-Section finally has that breakthrough we’ve been looking forward and while the show makes it thrilling, it never pushes it over the top and that restraint in its thrill is really welcome. Lesser dramas would revel in that moment but The Knick takes its time to slowly reveal the portrait off of every other challenge facing our characters so the triumph of the C-section feels excellent but it doesn’t overwhelm everything else going on. That being said, this is an incredible medical breakthrough and it’s daring for the show to perform that in its narrative with four more episodes to go. The creators have done a great job of building the characters’ attachment to this single piece of progress and when it finally pays off, it feels thoroughly and justly exhilarating. And seeing Dr. Bertie’s name in print? Go get it, buddy.
The secret of the underground clinic finally goes up in flames (thankfully, not literally) when Dr. Thackery discovers it. It’s a tense moment that’s been on the horizon of the series ever since Dr. Edwards first opened the clinic. Every scene with Dr. Edwards in and out of the underground chambers bristled with a sense of urgency but it was completely unexpected for that cannon to burst a mere couple episodes after it was introduced. In that sense, The Knick felt like a dramatic equivalent to Brody’s tape from Homeland and the identities of Joffrey’s killers in Game of Thrones. Perhaps the mystery could have been stretched, but how the narrative unfolded I can only applaud that decision by the writers and company to pull that rug right here. Even more intriguing than the actual discovery in and of itself were the consequences of the monumental discovery. Dr. Thackery’s anger at the initial stages of the sequence was expected, but less expected was what followed that outburst of fury. Above everything else, what matters to Dr. Thackery is innovation and Dr. Edwards’ hernia surgery procedure is the silver lining as far as he’s concerned (pun intended). Dr. Edwards fully understands how difficult it would be for him to get that procedure published under his name alone, so he strikes a deal. Dr. Thackery’s name would come first. It’s a thrilling sequence and now we have these two as partners on the same surgical team (by invitation from an exuberant Dr. Thackery), joined by an innovation performed in the shadows.
This was quite the episode for our awesome Dr. Bertie. On the romantic side of his phenomenal hour, he goes on an outdoor date with Lucy and it’s admittedly adorable. As their conversation spirals, you notice a darker undertone creeping amidst it. They both admire Dr. Thackery quite a bit and considering they’re not the overt recipients of his thinly veiled racism, it makes sense. For Dr. Bertie, Dr. Thackery is an incredible inspiration for innovation. The partnership with him earned him the stamp of a solid reputation that he in many ways had always wanted. For Lucy, it’s more of a simple attraction (they’re both good-looking, so that doesn’t hurt). This cannot end well, although I will admit that could very well be where this is so obviously going. The one thing I hope they avoid is the “girlfriend breaks up friendship” cliché that the writers so far have avoided. In other coupling news (although this one is decidedly less romantic) the relationship between Cleary and Sister Harriet deepens significantly and in a welcome fashion. His revelations of why he distrusts nuns so much is harrowingly matched by the question of mercy she raises when it comes to her abortions. Mercy in and of itself can become a tricky situation, a lesson Sister Harriet herself learns a bit harshly. Her solution of giving an orphaned child to poor Dr. Gallinger and his wife Eleanor after their child succumbed to meningitis may not have been the best thing to do, despite the profound kindness of her intentions. To mark the harrowing nature of this show, the scene where the couple have a portrait taken with their deceased child is one of the most depressing and heartbreaking moments I’ve ever seen depicted on screen.
While Dr. Gallinger’s child will never call him father, Cornelia is sort of wedged in a situation where she doesn’t want to use that word at all. She’s laid upon by a man who will become her future father-in-law if her marriage does indeed go through. Cornelia’s a fascinating character but she has in many ways been sort of relegated to the shadows so far. She could position herself with Dr. Thackery and preserve her work at the Knick. Cornelia’s a woman who cares about her work more than anything else and if the story does take that away from her, I would be quite sad to see her go (although by all logical accounts that will not happen ). Start Calling Me Dad is a strong episode and equals episode four (Where’s the Dignity?) for the best episode of the first season. The writing remains stellar, Cliff Martinez’s score grows every hour, and Steven Soderbergh’s direction remains one of the most stellar on the television landscape. Until next week, then.
Episode Title: Start Calling Me Dad
Writer: Jack Amiel & Michael Begler
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Image Courtesy: Spoiler TV