Episode 6 of The Knick opens with Bertie Chickering getting a call late at night. He rushes to the pathology lab of the hospital to find Dr Thackery, obviously coked out of his mind, performing experiments on two ladies of questionable character using surgical equipment of his own invention. It’s a glorious scene, and it finally feels like we’re seeing the real John Thackery; this is the mad genius we’ve been hoping to glimpse ever since he first pulled off those shiny white shoes to inject drugs into his toes.
There’s a palpable energy in the air – not just with the score and the camerawork, which both feel especially punchy, but in the acting too. Clive Owen has a spring in his step and a twinkle in his eye and it’s a joy to see him give a travelling salesman a thorough dressing down with a cutting Shakespeare quote – “Away, you mouldy rogue, away…” – especially after the salesman managed to screw Barrow with his pants on by selling him an X-ray machine. There is, however, a poignant motive to his madness; he’s trying with all his might to correct the botched medical procedure that killed his own mentor, Dr Christiansen, in the first episode. It’s a clever piece of writing; Thackery gets to be the obsessive workaholic and a real human being all at the same time.
Last week wasn’t a fluke; the minor cast of The Knick is really starting to come into its own, with some truly great scenes of intimate conversation peppered throughout the episode. Bertie and Nurse Elkins have a wonderful meet-cute moment (though, hopefully, the show will resist an oh-so-tedious love triangle), and Mr Cleary bares even more of his soul in a deep exchange with Sister Harriet – Chris Sullivan and Clara Seymour are by far and away two of the most gifted actors in the ensemble.
We closed the door on one story thread this week, with Cornelia’s investigation into the typhoid outbreak culminating in one of the most interesting and unexpected historical cameos of the series so far. But we also saw some other arcs reaching pivotal turning points.
For one, Cornelia’s putting to bed of the whole typhoid incident brings up the interesting question of how long she’ll actually be playing her role as overseer of the hospital. It’s a clichéd dilemma, yes, but one can’t help but think that Steven Soderbergh will do something really interesting with the gender politics of the day, and Juliet Rylance is almost certainly a talented enough actor to make it work.
And for another, after weeks of dancing around each other we finally get to see Doctors Thackery and Edwards square off again. It’s definitely not the mismatched competition we saw at the beginning, either; Algernon has been hardened yet further by his time down in the basement, and the subtle change in his posture and his slight smirk as he stands up to Thackery speak volumes. Only time will tell us whether the latter is capable of opening up.
This week’s was undoubtedly the least gory episode of The Knick so far, but it still provided some pretty decent punches to the gut. A heartbreaking death scene was all the more shocking for its unexpectedness, and if the final moments don’t leave you with a knot in your stomach, then there’s clearly something wrong with you.
It’s a sign of just how confident Soderbergh finally feels in the material – even without the promise of blood and guts, The Knick has slowly turned into a sharp and satisfying piece of television.
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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