The threads that The Knick has laid down for its first five episodes have started to intertwine in its sixth. Algernon’s secret medical practice has an unexpected visitor, and Cornelia takes steps to apprehend Typhoid Mary. Even Thackery’s desire to figure out where Christiansen went wrong in his treatment of previa patients turned a corner. And though it wouldn’t be an episode of The Knick without a death, “Start Calling Me Dad” was, on the whole, one of the series’ lighter episodes. Hit the jump, or away, moldy rogue, away!
I keep seeing articles from fellow critics denouncing The Knick as a disappointment. Summer is not the best time for series, so maybe part of my appreciation of it is because, compared to most of what else is airing, it’s really a cut above. But I genuinely don’t think The Knick has anything to apologize for. Though Thackery’s role was, at first, too rote (although it has been evolving to something better), the fact that The Knick has a fairly simple narrative structure shouldn’t detract from a notion of its likability or enjoyability. It’s certainly no guilty pleasure.
“Start Calling Me Dad” was also an episode that allowed itself — like Thackery’s bicycle excursion last week — to be a little whimsical. It incorporated Asian prostitutes into the first ten minutes because, in case you had forgotten, this is Cinemax. It was certainly an eye-opening experience for Bertie, who may develop Thackery’s predilection for whore houses, but it also was integral into the science of Thackery’s experimentations. After all, “our budget does not allow for pregnant prostitutes, so we’ll just have to make do with what we see here.”
The outcome was finally a positive one, with Thackery able to save his first previa patient and her child, coining it the “Christiansen Thackery Chickering Placental Repair.” Though Bertie has moved up on Thackery’s list of deputy surgeons — not only assisting him ably, but also coming up with some modifications of his own — it is Algernon and his work in the basement that really captures Thackery’s attention.
Despite his bluster and fury over Algernon opening his own clinic down there “like some kind of Underground Railroad,” Thackery backs off when he sees the kind of work and innovation Algernon has been achieving. The vacuum, Algernon’s use of silver stitches, and even his scrapbooking techniques gave Thackery pause. All of this gave Algernon the leverage to not only ask that his illicit practice be kept open until his current patients recovered, but that he be instated as Thackery’s primary deputy upstairs, in exchange for Thackery co-authoring his paper so that it could get published.
Everett Gallinger has, sadly for him, now moved to third in the pecking order when he started out on top. His sabbatical to take care of his child, who he himself infected with meningitis thanks to a lack of handwashing (a theme), has left him out of Thackery’s inventive loop, and instead put him in the care of his poor wife, deep in self-denial, and their now deceased daughter. It’s a dark chapter for The Knick, and one that ties in directly with the much lighter portrayal of Cornelia and Mr. Speight’s apprehension of Mary Mallon, a.k.a. Typhoid Mary. The feisty and unclean cook, with her (in)famous peach melba, put up a fight when confronted with her unintentional misdeeds, leading Cornelia to pounce on her and be dragged several feet before the others could grab Mallon themselves.
Cornelia had quite an episode, reminiscing sweetly with Algernon about old times (she treats him like a brother in many ways, but there’s definitely something else going on there) and finding excitement and self-worth in her work catching Mary Mallon. Though her tackling of Mary made Speight comment that this is “definitely a new century,” at home with the Robertsons, the past is still very much alive. Her father and fiancee expect her to quick her tenure at the Knick as soon as she is married. And, worse, her father-in-law makes a very rapey pass at her, calling her “daughter” while kissing her neck and talking about the “pleasures” awaiting their family union.
Where The Knick does its best work, though, are in its smallest moments. Thackery’s curt dismissal of the snake oil salesman was very funny, while Bertie’s date with Lucy was sweet and genuine (and it seems they both have something big in common — a crush on Thackery). Barrow is, once again, using cut-rate salesmen to do business with so that he can skim money off of the top for himself, though hopefully the results won’t be as dire as the building’s electrical problems (though one gets a sense that cancer may soon be on its way from that X-ray machine). Everett nudging his deceased child towards his wife who refused to hold her was heartbreaking, while Cleary and Sister Harriet’s discussion of upbringings and morals was a good character-building moment for them both (and in stark contrast to Cornelia’s childhood musings).
The Knick may not be the most groundbreaking series of 2014, but it is immersive, and intangibly addicting. Or perhaps not so intangible: it’s beautifully shot, well-acted, and an intriguing (and often gruesome) historical account of early 20th century medicine. And it certainly doesn’t need defending.
Episode Rating: A
Musings and Miscellanea:
— “If a penis can make its way in and a baby can make its way out …” – Thackery, giving a knowing looking to Bertie.
— “Have you lost your fucking mind?” – Thackery to Algernon. The restrictive use of expletives make their appearance have so much more impact.
— Algernon is back to trolling bars, looking for fights again. He and Thackery have a lot in common when it comes to both drive and hubris.
— Every time I see that syphilis patient with her arm up, it makes both of my arms hurt. The only thing worse than losing your nose must be having to have that contraption strap your arm to your head. Her wanting to walk home was bold!
— Dr Pepper name-drop.
— The momento mori photo of the Gallingers was so very sad.
— “I’d feel safer crawling into a bag of horse shit than eating anything that twat made” – Speight.
— The only thing funnier than Speight yelling “grab the bitch!” was when Cornelia told her to shut her filthy mouth.