At The Knick: This is all we are review

Cinemax’s The Knick closed its second season with a ferocity and innovative touch rarely seen in television series’ today. My review.

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the-knick-god-has-a-rivalThis is all we are. Damaged. Hungry. In need. Constantly scrapping our elbows to get more. That was always Thack’s message and the idea of Cinemax’x The Knick. He said it in the pilot. God is undefeated. Humans are on borrowed time and unless you want to mean little to the ultimate outcome, one must seek out ways to change the world. From the beginning, that was Thack’s tormented and selfless ambition. And we followed him all the way to the end.

If you expected a happy or optimistic end for Doctor John Thackery and this show, you haven’t really been watching or have dulled your pain with a strong anesthetic. Director Steven Soderbergh, along with creators Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, aimed to be as ambitiously ignorant of normal television drama stipulations in telling their story of practicing medicine in the early 1900’s. Instead of adding melodrama to take away from the pain of how grisly life saving was in the beginning, they took a full swing at the coldness of it all. How mortality constantly runs into brick walls of ill fated doom. How the end is always waiting no matter how hard you rage against the darkness.

If the Season 2 finale taught us anything, it was depravity had many faces and masks.

There was the inglorious bastard of them all, Herman Barrow. Right when you thought the man would be caught by his wife and exposed, he maneuvered away and got her to stay quiet for a good life. This hour started by putting a detective hot on Barrow’s tail, thinking he caused the fire at the new Knick(he didn’t). Instead of gaining from a new build and plan, Henry Robertson surprises Barrow by telling him that there are no new plans to rebuild the hospital. A settlement was reached from the fire, the money is going back to the donors, land is being returned to its original owner and the city is going to be put in charge of the old Knick. All of this means Barrow is out of luck with bringing in new funds to pay his wife off and keep his new life going.

“Bully for you”

Seeing Barrow throw a Hail Mary towards Thack, worshiping at his feet and trying to make him think the new Knick was his cathedral, is quite humorous. Thack wants nothing to do with him. He’s smelt dirt on the guy from the beginning. He failed with the addiction experiment and just wants to move into the next breakthrough.

At wits end, Barrow loses a source of income but finds a way to pivot and stay above water. He uses his power at the club to squash the detective and gets his feeble minded girlfriend to sign documents giving him the ability to take out a loan against the apartment in her name. She thinks he is helping her, when in reality she is giving the man another vessel of cash. Even when Barrow is down, he is far from out.

“I’m angry for you.”-Edwards

Dr. Algernon Edwards is once again left broken and slowly losing sight in his eye. While one could figure Dr. Gallinger knocked the light out of his future of being a surgeon, the eye was going bad anyway. All Everett did was speed it up. Beat Edwards at his own game. Used his biggest rage, a black man trying to become a king in a white man’s world, against him. In the end, Edwards sits on a step at August’s funeral only to be comforted by his father. It is here that Algernon finally explains his inner rage. He is angry all the time because of his father. The man he looks up to the most has been a servant to the white families all these years even though he is the smartest man he knows. That set a fire in Edwards long ago. That is the chip on his shoulder that makes him rage against Gallinger, Thackery and society.

The Ballad of Tom Cleary and Harriet gets interesting. When she thinks he stole money for some stupid investment idea, he pulls out a ring and proposes. Big Cleary is in love with the one woman he can’t have. When she turns him down, he goes to the priest to confess.

In the most hurtful yet painfully romantic part of the finale, Cleary madness comes full circle. We find out via confession that he set her up in order to free her from the church. He snitched on her that night when he supposedly got too drunk and left her to get caught. It was on purpose. That way a woman he always had feelings for could be his own. He didn’t think the courts and sisters would drop the hammer that hard but in the end she was freed and he got his shot.

Out of options, Cleary is here asking the priest to help him get the woman he got locked up so he could eventually call her his own. Ladies and gents only on The Knick does depravity come with a ring and handcuffs. This would be the only true happy ending Knick fans would get. A happy Harriet sitting down for dinner with her new fiancé, who had her locked up. When she smiled, I somehow felt better about what Big Tom Cleary did.

“A circus stunt?” If it is worth saving lives, why not take a shot?” Instead of letting a doctor perform the surgery, Thack wants to do it himself and NOT be sedated. Thack may be a perpetual drug addict but he is first and foremost a life saver. Always has been. The drug addicted genius renegade. Someone who doesn’t just clock in and try to save people. He wants to discover and conquer what seemingly the human body can only begin to fight. It’s Thackery against mortality. While Bertie develops adrenaline and Gallinger rids the world of stupidity one vasectomy at a time, Thack aims big. He always has. Why would he aim lower when trying to save himself? Of course his colleagues don’t understand. They are comfortable being mortals. Thack wants to be something else.

Why? Thack is raging against the use of ether, the anesthetic he gave Abby and what may have contributed to her death. Instead of filling people with ether, Thack wants to show people you can numb them from pain without being fully put under. How? Cocaine! What else?!

Poor Cornelia. She decides to go to Cleveland with her husband and start a family. Right when she thinks the simple life lies ahead of her, she finds out that it was Henry and not her father who was in charge of the cargo ships and schedules that brought tons of sick people into the city. This took me back to episode 5, Whiplash, where Henry told his father that when there is blood in the streets, that was the time to invest.

When Cornelia confronts her brother he doesn’t play innocent for long. He says his father was driving the family into debt. Bad debt. He had to do something. He was the one that had the inspector killed. He was the one who brought those people in. He wanted the subway and not the new Knick. Last but not least, he started the fire that ended up killing his own father. There’s ice rolling through this kid’s veins. The entire season has played Henry off as a quietly hungry seemingly good person.

Evil Henry Robertson. Sometimes the monster takes off his mask in front of his own blood. Seeing him hold Cornelia at the top of the steps had to be the most chilling part of the season. Right then Lucy shows up. She is moving in with Henry, cementing her rise from innocent nurse to powerful wife of the new Rothstein in town. This whole time, Henry has been the master schemer. He could teach Barrow how it’s truly done.

Finally Thackery’s surgery is upon us. High praise to Cliff Martinez’s score, setting up the procedure like a U2 concert. The theater is full. Gallinger and Bertie washing their hands in the prep room looking at each other like they are about to let a man kill himself. Thack, full of nerves, pacing his office looking for a way to relax. Well, why not a little drug concoction to get the hands ready to operate on his own stomach.

This is Clive Owen’s finest hour. He rolls into the theater in a gown, looking like a doctor and magician rolled into one, about to make the bad bowel in his stomach disappear and for the world to realize how the impossible is possible. Right here and then, I knew he was a goner. A man’s ambition running faster than his actual talent will allow him. He tosses the gown, gets the cocaine into his spine, and cuts himself open. He actually removes one part of the bad bowel, but finds it is in worse shape than he initially thought.

As Gallinger and Bertie plead to rethink the surgery or let them step in, he refuses. He has come this far, so why let logical thinking enter his train of thought. He ends up nicking the abdominal aorta, which starts a bleed that can’t be fixed. Edwards jumps over the wall into the area to grab his legs, as Gallinger sews him up and Bertie makes a desperate sprint for adrenaline. The only one who knows the outcome is Thack himself. Losing feeling and going cold, he looks at the theater and simply says, “this is all we are,” before his head collapses. He’s gone. Fallen at the mercy of the limitations of medicine and from the strength and pull of his need to be the best.

Soderbergh’s direction is perfect throughout but the final few scenes and wrap are extremely assured. Right as Bertie plunges the needle into Thack’s chest, the scene closes and reloads. The theater is empty and ready for another surgery. The sinks are clean. Edwards sits alone in the late doctor’s office and finds Abby’s notebooks. Her work on psychology is unfinished and with Henry’s(yeah, he’s in charge and living the high life) wishes and funding, Edwards will continue Abby’s work as a final wish and nod to Thack. Since he lost the use of his eye, the doctor turns to a different kind of healing. Clinical psychology. The birth of the shrink. It was in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that Lightner Witmer founded the scientific theory of clinical psychology. After two seasons of cutting and opening up bodies, the creators take a stab at the mind. What a way to end the season and possibly the series.

Cinemax hasn’t green lit a third season and I personally find it hard to fathom without Owen. A show like Game of Thrones can lose its most well known star(Sean Bean) and keep going because there are so many characters, but Owen’s Thackery was the heart valve of this operation. With premium cable shows, it has to do less with ratings and more to do wiht the creators. I doubt Soderbergh wants to come back for a third round and it won’t go on without him. In 20 hours, The Knick revolutionized what a drama series can do and where it can go with the right minds behind it and actors. It flipped the script on what to expect out of a hospital series. Sorry Chicago Med. This is the real deal. Sadly, I find it hard to believe that a third season happens with the closure several characters got.

Think about it? Thack is gone. Gallinger is going abroad to preach the need to snip snip the mentally unfortunate. Edwards is settling into a new practice but one that lacks drama. Cornelia is running away. Barrow and Henry have schemed their way into success. Cleary and Harriet are happy. Bertie has an adrenaline practice to complete. There aren’t enough loose ends to bring the gang back. The production isn’t cheap for a period piece, with the need to transform a modern city into a set that takes place over 100 years ago. Cinemax may have delayed the announcement until the finale aired and audiences saw the supposed closure.

Never say never but I think The Knick is closed. Hat tip to Soderbergh, Amiel and Begler. They did more in two seasons what some do in six. A lesser show would have seen Edwards get the best of Gallinger, Thackery would have lived and Barrow and Henry go to jail. That was never the intention. The creators intention here was producing a visceral dose of history that was convincing and realistic without smashing us over the head too often. If it will be remembered for anything, the show will go down as an innovative launch into unknown territory for drama. The spectacle it created along with the fearless approach. Bravo! Let’s go back down and watch it all again. This is the best history lesson on TV.

Author: D. Buffa

A regular guy who feels a journalistic hunger to tell the news. I blog because its wired into my brain to write what I think in print. I offer an opinion. A solo tour here. Take regular stories and offer my spin on them. Sports, film, television, music, fatherhood, culture, food, and so on. Commentary on everything. A St. Louis native and Little Rock resident who wants to write just to keep the hands fresh and ready.

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