The first episode of The Knick ended with shots of the newly electrified hospital bathed in artificial light; a sure (and somewhat obvious) sign of turn-of-the-century optimism if ever there was one. But as the second episode, “Mr Paris Shoes”, opens, the lights are constantly flickering; despite the efforts of many to modernise, there are many more who work at the Knick who remain (by choice or by trappings) in the shadows.
We’re shown the morning routines of Algernon Edwards and the hospital’s benefactor Miss Robertson – the former waiting in line to use a dingy hotel washroom, the latter helped into her clothes by a pair of maids. There’s an interesting parallel to be drawn between the two, trying to work with people constantly looking down on them. But as Robertson stares in horror at the cramped underground office where Edwards has been sequestered, it’s clear the gulf between them remains massive. “I expect this,” says Edwards. “You’re shocked by it because you don’t.”
The frank, almost cynical approach to racial relations that The Knick has taken so far is one of the show’s most interesting aspects; after his big, stand-up-to-the-bully speech last week, it would actually have felt cheap to see Edwards immediately welcomed to the inner circle. But that doesn’t mean there’s not room for a little quixotic thinking on his part – especially when he gets the idea to find a black woman who was denied treatment at The Knick and offer his assistance.
Meanwhile, we get a much more in-depth look at the hospital’s administrator, Mr Barrow (Jeremy Bobb), who’s officially graduated from sycophantic official to full-blown shady dealer. He has a few run-ins with the wrong sort that take a decided turn for the painful at the end of the episode, and it’ll be interesting to see exactly how deep he’s fallen in and what form repercussions will take in the near future. Outside of the hospital, we also get a longer glimpse of Irish ambulance driver Mr Cleary (Chris Sullivan), who’s clearly being set up as something of a comic relief – or at least as comical as one can be in this grimy world. But he’s not just a jester to be mocked inbetween surgeries, as he eventually witnesses a nun at the hospital (Cara Seymour) engaging in some very unreligious activity.
Sadly, not everyone gets to spend quite as long in the limelight. Apart from a couple of interesting outbursts at strategic points – and an interesting flashback to his time with his late colleague – Clive Owen’s Dr Thackery remains a much more silent partner this week. Stoicism is a fine character trait when done right, but hopefully Thackery will be given more to do in future instalments. If not, we fear he may just become a successor to Gregory House – a genius arsehole with a drug addiction and an interesting taste in shows.
But once again, it’s the presentation that keeps things interesting when the plot starts to drag. From Dr Edwards’ cockroach-infested hotel room to the spectacular fallout when an electric appliance is used to cauterise wounds in the operating room, the show seems to revel in its subjects’ squalor, tongue buried firmly in cheek, as they espouse the wonders of electric lighting or the miracle drug that is cocaine.
In interviews, Steven Soderbergh has said that he originally conceived of The Knick as a single, 10-hour movie, and it’s a formula he seems determined to see through. But while the fuse may be burning slowly, it shows no signs of flickering just yet.
All episodes of The Knick Season 1 are available to watch online on Sky On Demand – or on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. Season 2 starts on Sky Atlantic on Tuesday 12th January.
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