Peter Counter and Susan Stover will be providing recaps of The Knick season two, investigating the goings on under the big top that is Dr. John Thackery’s medical circus. They will be alternating episode to episode starting next week, but to start the procedure they decided to work together.
Susan: What is it that we love so much about the infinitely flawed ruthlessly callous drug addicted genius medical professional? I can say for myself, series such as House or Nurse Jackie draw me in with their complex and glossy eyed mavericks walking the halls of sterilized institutions grappling with their demons and saving lives. Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) of The Knick proves no exception to my prediction for the addict healer. We left him in the season one finale swaddled in the blankets of his bed at a rehab centre where the docs there decided to use heroin to cure him of his cocaine addiction. Seems legit.
First episode of season two and cue Dr. Thackery looking like a bag of horseshit.
Peter: In comparison to the walking shit bag that is the new Thack, The Knick still nails it on the aesthetics front. Blood and guts rarely look this great on TV. As a medical drama set in 1901, the show’s concept promises gore and holy fuck does it deliver. Now, nothing in Ten Knots matches the placenta previa scene that opens The Knick’s first episode, but there is still some serious cringe-worthy fun to be had.
When we’re reintroduced to the rehab-bound but in no way rehabilitated Dr. Thackery he is performing clandestine plastic surgery in exchange for vials of cocaine and that sexy new drug from Bayer, the Aspirin company. The skin on his patient’s nose is inverted and he uses a gold earring to act as a makeshift prosthetic bridge. As usual, the camera has no aversion to viscera, so the result is an electrifying reminder that when this show does surgery it’s like watching Sherlock Holmes (the hot one) solve a bloody mystery.
Later, Bertie and the new and incompetent Dr. Mays – okay, mostly Bertie – drain a cyst on a patient’s leg by cutting down to the bone with a scalpel, the gross out factor is mitigated by comedy. The puss, which looks like melted French vanilla ice cream and blood, is so abundant that I had to laugh. Again, the camera just sits there, showing all the grossness, and it adds to the reality of it all.
Still, as good as the gore looks, no babies die in this episode, which is actually pretty uncommon for The Knick. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about lifeless fetuses.
Susan: Oh, yes the dead babies.
Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour) awaits trial behind bars after getting caught performing an illegal (essential, lifesaving, safe) abortion. I can’t help but make the comparison between Harriet and Mrs. Gallinger. Harriet’s performing abortions for women who desperately need them, Mrs. Gallinger drowned her replacement baby ‘cause she cray-cray. The latter woman did receive the punishment of being institutionalized and frisked of her chompers, but now she gets to go home and gets brand new dead people teeth.
Harriet gets a visit in prison from her Mother Superior who reminisces about how Harriet was once just a little abandoned Irish girl rescued by the women of the cloth. Mother Superior clutches a beloved Bible gifted to her by her protégé and asks, “Is it true?”
Harriet confesses to her abortionist ways and Mother Superior promptly throws the Bible to the ground with a stinging, “I should have let you die.” Because nuns are ferocious. Seriously, if The Real Jesuswives of The Sacred Heart was a thing,that shit would be fucking crazy.
Her fellow nuns might be throwing the book at her, but my favourite surly and uncouth paramedic Tom Cleary (Chris Sullivan) won’t be letting the law have a go at his nun BFF. He’s going to find a lawyer with “real smart words” to get her out, and he’ll be paying for it, thank you very much. Plus, he brings her snacks, d’awww.
Peter: I absolutely love Cleary and Harriet in this episode. Which is no surprise, since their chemistry has always been a highlight of the show. It’s neat to see where the characters are going this year, with Sister Harriet about to face trial for performing abortions (something that’s still a touchy subject over 100 years later) and Cleary convincing Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) to invest in a horseless ambulance. Yeah. The Knickerbocker paramedics get to ride in style this season.
Susan: The horse and buggy might be out, but racism is still alive and well. At the end of season one, we saw Dr. Algernon Edwards (André Holland) getting the shit kicked out of him while his beloved Cornelia (Juliet Rylance) married another man after aborting their love child (Sister Harriet to the rescue). He picks the biggest, baddest man in the public beverage house – someone the barkeep warned him against going toe-to-toe with, a man called “Big Nick.” A name fitting for his situation given that the other Knick is also beating him down, not with their fists but with unwavering prejudice.
With Thackery gone, Algernon has no one to back him up, and The Board isn’t about to appoint a black Chief of Surgery. They’re going to bring in old whitey Dr. Mays who’s not even a surgeon. They don’t care about Algernon’s talents even though he’s recently invented four new procedures. Even Dr. Gallinger (Eric Johnson) didn’t learn his lesson after racism gave his baby meningitis.
Rampant ignorance might not be the only obstacle in the way of Algernon performing surgeries, but also a detached retina he sustained from his fight clubbing, although no other injuries or scars to blemish his beautiful face or agile hands.
Peter: The Knick’s first season was haunted by the spectre of placenta previa. The malady killed unborn babies and their mothers with such frequency that Dr. J.M. Christiensen killed himself so he wouldn’t have to have his hands in the womb of another fresh pregnant corpse. The search for a treatment was gory and lethal in a terribly paradoxical way: the attempt to create life destroying it instead. Placenta previa was last season’s villain.
This year, based on Thackery’s cruise with Gallinger aboard the S.S Cold Turkey, it looks like season two’s big bad is invisible. Once again, this is a deeply personal fight for Thack, addiction has taken his life away just as placenta previa took his mentor. What’s most interesting about the comparison though is that this year, the enemy is invisible. The damage left in addiction’s wake isn’t rivers of blood, but the relationships throughout the show. That having been said, I’m going to be pretty upset if I don’t get to see some exploratory brain surgery before this season is done.
Susan: Peter, let us pray to the HBO powers that be that Thackery decides to perform brain surgery on his mother fucking self. I can see it now: Thack sitting upright with his gray matter exposed with the half blind Algernon following his instructions with the intensity of defusing a bomb, only to be interrupted by Nurse Elkins (Eve Hewson) exclaiming, “You never douse my sex anymore!”
But for now, Thackery’s in the early stages of considering his addiction as a medical ailment. Even though he learned the ten nautical ropes from sensei Gallinger in order to get clean, will he ditch his habit, or was this cleansing voyage you could say, all for knot?
On the Operating Floor
Susan: Cornelia is back in New York, but at what cost? Her rapey father-in-law bought her and her husband an apartment in Central Park — but he seems to be orchestrating it so that she has to stay under his roof where he can stare at her creepily (shudders).
Peter: Also strange that she left the Bubonic Plague quarantine back in San Francisco. At first I thought Black Death would be this season’s Typhoid Fever.
Susan: When it comes to Gallinger’s baby murdering wife, I think we got a real Humpty Dumpty situation here. My prediction: when he finally comes around to the fact his wife is crazy beyond his repair, he’s going to have a go at her pretty (and seemingly sane) sister.
Peter: I get so anxious when Barrow starts scheming to get out of his debt faster. Sure, turning Ping Wu’s need for healthy brothel staff into an opportunity to shrink his loan seems clever, but this is a man who never makes good decisions. I am very worried about what will happen to poor Barrow this season.
Susan: I’m not. I hope that lecherous fuck gets the syph and his nose falls off.
Peter: The Pat Moore Foundation rehab center website suggests that, while death from heroin withdrawal is unlikely, a person in addiction recovery can die of seizures. Given that Thackery is aiming to be the first person to even consider addiction to be a treatable disease, we should all be very thankful Gallinger’s racist boat-prison gambit didn’t kill our hero.