THE KNICK: “Where’s The Dignity?”

     September 5, 2014


At some point I’m going to stop pointing out that what makes The Knick such an engrossing watch is Steven Soderbergh‘s direction, but we’re not at that point yet.  Consider everything that Soderbergh’s unique filmic sensibilities do to make The Knick different from other period or medical dramas, and you’ll see that without that visual distinction, The Knick would still be good, but it might not be special.  The cast and the narrative are all great, but what brings it all together — what makes it shine, and really stand apart — is the direction.  Hit the jump for why “If he dies because of your horseshit, I will stab you in the throat with my father’s Union Army sword.”

the-knick-clive-owen-michael-angaranoI am loving this show.  When it comes to The Knick, the acting, the writing, the soundtrack and the directing all meld together to create a really hypnotic hour, episode after episode.  Not all of it is without fault, but “Where Is The Dignity” was a moment where everything flowed seamlessly.  It also helped set the stage for its characters — allowing them to grow, even change — and it did so in ways that benefit a careful viewer, as well as a more casual one.

For instance, Cleary had an interesting run in “Where Is The Dignity” (a title taken from one of his lines).  Cleary had been known to us as a giant bulldog of a man, threatening other ambulance drivers with bats to steal their patients, robbing his own, and getting into many late-night brawls (not to mention the rat fights).  After he caught on to Sister Harriet’s moonlight terminations, though, he also became a ghost that haunted (and harassed) her in the orphan’s ward.

But an experience with a young immigrant who performed her own unsuccessful abortion changed something in him: “I have seen some crazy bad shit, sister.  But the look in that girls eyes, the terror.  That was too much, even for me.”  He then goes to the trouble to see her buried, and have Sister Harriet say a prayer, even turning down the money he could have gotten for the body.  But he hasn’t changed too much; instead of demanding a split in Sister Harriet’s fee for his silence, he now proposes to bring her clients.

the-knick-episode-4-clive-owenThis was one “Where Is The Dignity’s” broadest story, but there were many other small ones that danced around the edges.  Bertie got a little more time devoted to him, when he participated, apparently, in Bring Your Father to Work Day.  Bertie, an affable and decently competent surgeon, was lambasted by his father, who expects so much more of him (like being a doctor to the rich — another callback to the show’s interest in classism).  In an inversion, Algernon’s father also comes to the Knick, but more in praise of Algernon’s rise, and nearly in awe of it.  Algernon’s father seems content with his position, even taking up for the rich, white people he serves.

But though Algernon has risen to a certain height professionally (and its still, obviously, an ongoing struggle), there are limits to what society in 1900 will allow.  There’s clearly a connection between him and Cornelia, who has no desire to move to San Francisco with her fiance, but also, exchanged too many glances with Algernon over the matter for it to have just been cordial.  But Algernon is already fighting against everyone at the Knick to prove himself as invaluable to the staff (which he is).  Thackery, though opposed to his appointment, has allowed Everett to take up the fight, and prefers instead to stand back and watch the theatrics unfold.

The Knick is also interested, on the medical side, of exploring the spread of infectious disease.  In addition to the typhoid plot (which is steeped in classism, and, thanks to Inspector Spade, humor), there was the little matter of Everett.  In his desire to not be the first to back down to Algernon again — like he had in the operating theater — he accidentally swiped his hand against the open sores on the rat bite man’s leg.  He then went home, and, despite a reminder from his wife to wash up, began playing with his baby daughter.  Dark portends?

eve-hewson-the-knickThe Knick is a show that should require a note of patience when it comes to allowing it to unfold, and yet, it’s no struggle.  Each week so far has provided an immersive hour, not only because of its storytelling, but the way it is told.  So many moments of minimalism and quiet (like the rat fight, or when Nurse Elkins went to see where Thackery goes after work) augment the experience, making it feel like we viewers are in on something, or getting a rare glimpse.  Maybe we are.

Episode Rating: A

Musings and Miscellanea:

– The typhoid plot is so good, there are so many references dropped everywhere.  The clues that are being missed are driving me crazy, though (like the homemade ice cream — a household aberration and speciality of a certain cook, favored by those who were sickened…)

– Thackery’s relationship with Abby doesn’t do much for me in general, but I did love the flashback, and him saying “I waaassss the cutest!”  Clive Owen delivers all of his lines so perfectly, especially when he spits out his super-specific threats (usually about punching or stabbing people in the throat if they fuck up).

– Barrow continues to be the worst, but in such a funny way (for such a sleaze).  He is now selling off corpses from the hospital to make some cash on the side, which includes cremating patients who had wanted to be buried, and giving their loved ones pig ashes.  And still charging them $5 for it!

– The guy stomping rats = the grossest thing the show has done so far, and that is saying something.

– “Idiot!  A surgeon needs his hands.  Next time, kick the man instead” – Thackery.

– I’m interested to see what Algernon has up his sleeve with this vacuum idea for surgery.

– This episode also showed a different side to Algernon, one filled with not only defiance, but hubris (and he doesn’t call his Mama!)  The interaction with his parents in the Robertson’s kitchen was adorable, though.

– “San Francisco? Might as well be Neptune” – Cornelia.

– Man in the Pub: “The day you get a bullseye, Cleary, is the day I suck off a horse.”  Cleary: “Ok … Fuck the pint!  You’re on!”

– Mr. Edison showed up, but I liked that the show didn’t make too much of it.  He was a jerk, anyway.

– “They said Latin and Greek are the most important languages for a physician to learn.  It’s actually something called Yiddish” – Bertie.

– “There’s no nobility in poverty, there’s only poverty in poverty, and struggle in struggle” – Bertie’s father.


Around The Web
  • Terence

    Still hasn’t aired.. won’t air until Saturday night per Cinemax site…

  • Terence

    Still hasn’t aired.. won’t air until Saturday night per Cinemax site…

  • Larry Strong

    I adore this show, and it’s rather uncanny how much I agree with the reviewer. My biggest complaint about this episode was with Cleary’s quick about face on the abortion issue. In just one episode he turns from being a blackmailing critic to a brother in arms, teaming up with the good Sister to provide services to the poor women who need them. That was quick.

    The racism on display here is absolutely brutal and makes my stomach hurt. It makes one wonder why in the heck Edwards left Europe to return to the US. Who would want to come back to a place where you are insulted, rejected & patronized on an hourly basis if you have other options? What is making this experience worth it for Dr. Edwards?

    • babea44713

      Well the show made it obvious that a) his parents are there and b) he feels he can learn from Thackery.

    • Don odom

      He came in based on Thackery’s reputation. Lots of negatives but he does have his foot in the door. Begrudging respect will come.

      • Larry Strong

        I’m just not sure that’s enough for anybody to endure such torment. He’s already seen that he is as good if not better a doctor than Thackeray. And he can visit his parents whenever he wants, whether he lives abroad or in the US. To return to the US where you are forced to live among cockroaches and given an office next to the coal furnace, there has to be a better reason.

        Good scriptwriting declares that a character must have two goals–one that’s external and one that’s internal, hidden, but often the true motivating force that clarifies the reason for that’s character’s action.

        Very few people, if anybody, would endure such torment if they had other options. People aren’t built that way unless they are, for example, extremists whose goal is to martyr themselves. Edwards doesn’t strike me as an extremist.

      • Don odom

        Disagreeing agreeably?! I didn’t know that was possible on the internet. Thank you for an intelligent response and it does sound logical. Now to see if the writer’s will continue to write as intelligently.

      • Larry Strong

        Totally possible! Soderbergh is a good storyteller. I don’t think these are waters you want to jump into unless you have the skills to swim it!

  • dee.

    I love this show so far! I just hate the way everyone treats poor Dr. Edwards. Clearly a competent surgeon. I just wish he would stick up for himself more.. but I think we’re bound to see that in episodes to come. I also didn’t factor in that Gallinger was handling his child with contaminated hands.. (karma?)

    Apart from Alge, Bertie, Cornelia and Sister Harriet, I’m having a hard time liking any of these characters, but I guess it’s a good change of pace. I like the challenge. I find Dr. Thackery to be an insufferable prick, yet I still tune in to see what he does next!