Sometimes your worst enemy can be your next breakthrough. For Thackery, his poisonous descent into drug addiction left him in Cromartie Hospital at the end of Season 1 and Season 2’s opening frame finds the viewer resting on Thack’s current condition. Feeling good but in what way? He may be clean from cocaine but heroin is his new mistress to numb the pain of normal society. He isn’t getting any cleaner and that is the premise that drives the opening our of Steven Soderbergh’s second season of The Knick. What does clean mean if you are still addicted to a drug? Thack opened Season 1 on top of the world and in charge of the theater. Season 2 finds him fractured in both mental and physical capacities.
Here’s the catch. Thackery doesn’t want to leave the hospital any time soon. He tells the visiting Everett(Eric Johnson) that they treat them like mice but he likes the joint anyway. He spends his hours testing out new procedures on patients, fumbling around with paper until his next dose and feels like the environment suits him. This is where Clive Owen’s genius is realized. Bumping around as if gravity didn’t exist, the most brilliant and reckless doctor is a willing puppet. Gallinger has a remedy for that and it’s not speeding up Thack’s next serving of heroin. You see, Gallinger is a man who needs Thack in order to recover his spot at the Knick and in order to bring stability back to his life. After the death of his newborn baby in Season 1 and the deterioration of his wife afterwards, he needs Thack.
Elsewhere at The Knick, things have changed, for better or worse.
Dr. Edwards(Andre Holland) was left bloodied in a street fight at the end of Season 1 but now he is the interim chief of surgery and has steered the hospital in a great direction. He makes new discoveries every day and has welcome Dr. Chickering(Michael Angarano) back into the fold as an understudy/protege. Bertie has changed, having grown from innocent and ambitious learner into a chillier human being. Like a turtle restricting back into his shell, he denies a birthday gift from the still torn Nurse Lucy(Eve Hewson).
Edwards wants to make a move to become the permanent chief, but the board of directors have other plans. The scheming Barrow(Jeremy Bobb) wants to bring someone else in, preferably not “black”. While brilliant, Edwards knows that the color of his skin will restrict him from advancing in medicine. Being in 1901, African Americans didn’t even have an opportunity to reach anywhere inside a hospital except for scooping coal into the furnace in the basement. He’s a man in the wrong era with a unique set of skills. Due to his idiotic ordeals in the streets fighting, he also has a detached retina that may never properly heal. For now, he drops medicine into an eye that may keep him from making history. A doctor’s eyes are as important as his hands.
Cornelia(Juliet Rylance) is still trying to do good deeds, and when she brings food and supplies into Chinatown for the impoverished to consume, her carriage is overrun by wild hungry folks who don’t care about being fair. Decency lies a distant 2nd to natural selection.
The new Knick is coming along and Barrow is asking for top dollar architects, construction crews and supplies. He hasn’t turned over a new leaf and thinking about patients or his staff. Barrow still owes lots of money and while he wants to help his facility, he has to be playing an angle. He doesn’t like when a call from Dr. Hackett, the physician treating Thackery informs him that the doctor has disappeared suddenly from Cromartie.
Meanwhile, Thack wakes up on a boat and he is tied up. An outside shot shows the boat alone in a monstrous sea between waves. He has been kidnapped by Gallinger, and has no choice. The facility is way behind them and in order to get healthy and go home, he has to tie ten knots. Something that all sailors learn how to do in order to properly handle the sea. He has no choice. It’s either do this or sail forever. No drugs. Nothing. A pale white empty vessel of flesh, Thack goes to work. In doing this, Gallinger is bringing back the chief that the directors want and a tactic that will derail Edwards’ ultimate plan to take over. If he is going to get Thack clean, he must get the doctor back to level ground and get control back in his hands. Tying the knots will reestablish control.
One of the best parts of season 1 was the burgeoning friendship that developed between Sister Harriet(Cara Seymour) and Tom Cleary(Chris Sullivan). The bullied vulgar yet soft hearted ambulance rider for the Knick found an equal in Harriet and they performed abortions together on the side. When he got drunk, she did a job alone and walked into a trap. Now she is in jail and a saddened Cleary visits her in jail, telling her about his plan to try and get out free of the charges. It won’t be easy due to the ridicule that abortions carried but Cleary is going to figure something out. After all, he feels halfway responsible for her condition. In trying to raise money, he unsuccessfully promotes and trains a local wrestler. Somehow, Cleary will try to free his unlikely friend and ally.
“Get well or jump off.”-Gallinger
As he ties his knots, Thackery has a new goal. Cure addiction. A man who has seen the devil up close and can’t quit a drug has few options. He could remain addicted and do enough drugs until his brain is scrambled, his genius has dissolved and his life ends. Or he could try to cure himself and millions of others. After he ties the tenth knot, he sees a woman. The woman is someone Thack saw die on his table due to his addiction.
Did I miss anything? Sure I did. I won’t cover every bit of the 53 minute episodes. I’ll chat about the parts that made a dent and stuck in my mind days later. This isn’t a recap. It’s a weekly review and breakdown. Take it or leave it. Soderbergh has something special here. At least he hands the audience a scalpel.
The Knick isn’t a mesmerizing show but that is only because it has room to grow and story to tell. The cinematography, costume design, sets and feel color the show in gray doom. The writing and directing is cold and assured. The acting is perfectly rendered but it hasn’t touched greatness yet. It’s a compelling show that like its main character, still has a discovery to make.
I look forward to spending a few more hours in Soderbergh’s hypnotic world this winter.