The Knick‘s excellent first season ended in a way befitting the series as a whole. There wasn’t much about “Crutchfield” that was narratively shocking, but The Knick‘s story has never been about that — it’s the way the show tells its story that makes it special. The events in “Crutchfield” made for a natural culmination of the various plots we’ve been following this season, and had the series ended here, in fact, it would have been satisfying in a lot of ways. But there’s still plenty for The Knick to explore (and as it was renewed for a second season before it even started its first, we will thankfully get that opportunity). Hit the jump if you believe “nothing breaks a man like a good cock punch.”
As predicted last week, Cornelia ended up going to Sister Harriet for her abortion, with Cleary driving her there (awkward). In addition to the directing, where The Knick really excels is in its dialogue. Words are not wasted — they are punchy, emotional, and brief. Cornelia’s conversation with Harriet was a great one, in which both women wished the other had been honest with them earlier, but with both of them also acknowledging that that would have been impossible. “But you’re …” a nun, Cornelia starts to say, and Harriet returns that with, “but you’re a pretty, young virgin on the verge of your wedding night.” And yet, there they are. As Cleary states it, “you all come to Cleary for the fix!”
Cornelia had a string of difficult conversations, starting with Harriet, and continuing on to Algernon after the termination had taken place. He’s cold with her, but she knows it’s because they are both so hurt and broken by the experience. Her brother then tells her that their father’s business dealings would have sunk the company recently, had he not cleaned up after him. Is he suggesting dementia? And if so, how might that affect the Knick’s future? Finally, Cornelia (after a little misdirection with the carriage driver, who was delivering the money to Cleary, not whisking Cornelia away to another life) married Philip in a lavish ceremony, while Alge once again went looking for a fight. This time, though, he lost.
While Cornelia’s story was an example of how things are not changing as rapidly as she would like them to (she’s is bound to old traditions, despite her desires), the medical world in “Crutchfield” is in all kinds of flux. Much of it is not very good. In one of the shorter (and most horrific examples), Everett visits Eleanor at a top-grade mental health facility, where she is being treated for her psychosis after the deaths of Lilian and Grace. The treatment, though, is for Eleanor’s teeth to all be removed. You thought 1950s B-movies about mental wards were frightening? They now have nothing onThe Knick. As the doctor calmly explains to Everett, he has even removed his own children’s teeth as a precaution, because that is the root of the madness. But, if that doesn’t cure her, her tonsils will be next, and then her colon. … The inmates are running the asylum.
Thackery’s cocaine madness also led to the death of an innocent young girl as part of his medical experimentation. His paranoia and zeal to best Zinberg (who he believes to be a spy desperate to steal Thack’s work, rather than just a doctor looking for collaboration in service of the greater good), led him to a coke binge that ended in a manic assertion that blood type is determined by size. Bertie isn’t convinced, but Thack uses his prestige to perform a transfusion on a girl with anemia out of his own arm (I wouldn’t have been surprised if she died from a cocaine OD, frankly). Human trials on a hunch? Oh, the old days …
Thackery’s admission at the end of “Crutchfield” to a drug treatment facility (also a brand-new concept) at first seemed, finally, like things would wrap up on a positive note. The doctor soothingly explaining the methodology to Thack seemed completely rational, until he mentions Bayer aspirin. Aspirin can do a lot of things, but it can’t outweigh the effects of cocaine withdrawal. You know what can? Heroin. Thack couldn’t be happier by this unfortunate drug substitute.
The Knick has explored two major themes throughout its inaugural run: that of the burgeoning (and bloody) history of medicine at the start of the 20th century, as well as a look at class and class struggle. The Knick hospital has, from the start of the series, been ready to close its doors and move uptown to wealthier clients, and by the end of “Crutchfield,” that seemed like an inevitability. But there were many other nods to that divide throughout the series, including larger issues like exploring race as regards culture and medicine, as well as Cleary’s brief comment about how both the wealthy and the poor come for abortions in equal numbers. In between, the show also offered up a lot of compelling character moments, as well as a sumptuous and mesmerizing visual study of the era. Few have come out of the gate doing better. To quote Bertie: “Oh … ow! Yes.”
Episode Rating: A
Series Rating: A
Musings and Miscellanea:
— What I admire about The Knick, which probably sounds like a backhanded comment but isn’t meant to be, is that it has a fairly simple narrative structure. There’s nothing that crazy about the stories it tells (I’m comparing this in my mind at the moment to endlessly insane series like Scandal). Within that framework, though, it does extraordinary things. The way the show is produced, and how it tells its story, make it something really spectacular at times.
— “Bertie the wise!” – Thack, totally coked out of his mind.
— Bertie’s development all season as a yes-man and a dandy took a great turn in “Crutchfield.” He’s growing up, and seeing Thack’s flaws. He’s irritated by his lack of collaboration with Zinberg, but disgusted by his addiction (though he does help him). He’s also harsh with Lucy, snapping at her several times.
— “You know, it would be nice if just once in my life a lady wasn’t disappointed to see me” – Cleary. Then stop being an arse! Can you imagine Cleary behind the wheel, though?
— Poor Cornelia, with her rapey father-in-law, her elephant tusk carvings and her love for another man. She had better not go to San Fran next season, though. I need her on this show!!
— Everett is kind of a dick, and yes, a lot of his troubles started because he brought them on himself, but damn. No one deserves that much of a fall. To his credit, though, he does continue to visit poor Eleanor, and doesn’t just leave her to be forgotten (yet).
— One of the touches I love about The Knick is, for instance, when Thack discovers Everett already mid-fight with Alge in the surgical prep room. We didn’t see the confrontation leading up to it, but we didn’t need to. Brilliant.
— “Go home to what? You were all I had left, and now look at you” – Everett, who does not get enough close-ups of his face (Eric Johnson is so handsome it hurts).
— No show has more beautiful sets or set pieces right now. Not even you, Boardwalk Empire.
— “How much more evidence of your absurd behavior do you need?” – Algernon to Thack, as Thack questions him during his unrelated surgery.
— “Out chief surgeon is gone, his predecessor killed himself, and the only surgeon left here with a scalpel is a Negro!” – Board member.
— How badass was Wu with those knives and weapons? The speed and accuracy was incredible. I also loved how smug and gleeful Barrow was when he read about Collier’s death, only to find that Wu has taken over the debts, so now Barrow owes him (which is a much worse position to be in).