Not to get too political or even too sensitive, but on Friday night, just a few days after bombings in Beirut and during bloody and gruesome terrorist attacks on Paris, it was a little difficult to watch Cinemax’s “The Knick.” When a subway explosion went off in the New York City of 1901, the Knickbocker hospital was littered and overflowed with a continuous stream of bloodied bodies. It’s drama of course, and nothing to do with terrorist acts, but the maimed body count, and extreme level of panic and chaos certainly added an extra chilling layer to the evening’s episode.
The accidental subway explosion is of course the same subway plan that Henry Robertson (Charles Aitken) has secretly invested into without his father, Captain August Robertson’s (Grainger Hines), knowledge. There’s something percolating here too with the Robertson’s and their money. Henry wants to sell a fleet of old and ailing ships to invest in new technologies, but the Captain isn’t having it. Later on Henry learns that he and the investors will have to pay a third of the $1 million dollars being given to the residents of Park Avenue, whose homes were damaged in the accident. There’s a cavalier attitude to Henry, what with his side stint into pornography — who knows where that’s going — and it’s possible his schemes could one day backfire and bankrupt the Robertson fortune.
Speaking of Henry, once just a side character, the sibling of Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance) is practically taking over the show of late and certainly in “Whiplash.” A second part to his story, where the episode gets its name, is from a blooming romance with Nurse Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson) who had been rebuffing his persistent advances. Lucy seems to be finally warming up to Henry, and shedding her love and loyalty to Thackery.
A few episodes into the season, and the aforementioned Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen), is doing better and on a more even keel, even though he’s still abusing cocaine; now sniffing the drug to avoid track marks from giving his habit away. When the subway disaster hits, Thackery and Elkins are the top of their game, the nurse in particular really coming into her own of late and looking more and more like a veteran. The triage is insane, rivaling the pandemonium of the mob that attacked the Knick in season one. Of course director Steven Soderbergh’s urgent camera and its long, sweeping takes as doctors run to and fro in the middle of the chaos, is like its own panicked character.
Before that, Thackery begins the episode in the surgical theater, performing brain experiments on a patient who’s had his scalp come off clean in an accident. Consumed with his studies in addiction, Thackery uses an electrode and a transformer to show how the patient responds when the receptors in the brain are touched. The brain prodding elicits spasmodic movements and sudden emotions like laughter, sadness and ecstasy. Thackery feels like he’s on track to understand the brain and its role in addiction, but experimental surgery fuelled by his research, renders the same patient comatose.
Still concerned about his sick and cancer-ridden mother, Dr. Bertram “Bertie” Chickering, Jr. (Michael Angarano) goes to former colleague Dr. Algernon “Algie” Edwards (André Holland) for advice. Still trying to find a “cure” for his mom, with the help of his journalist girlfriend Genevieve Everidge (Arielle Goldman), Bertie steals French medical documents about radiation treatment advances in cancer and then gets Algernon to translate them. Going to Dr. Zinberg with his findings doesn’t do much, as his conservative boss wants him to keep focused on his task for adrenaline research. Meanwhile, Bertie’s charming girlfriend is introduced to his parents and makes quite the impression and his father gives him the approval to do what he must to try and save mom.
It’s a bit of a building block episode really, which is the nature of television, chapters unfold building to something much bigger, but the triage in the Knick does make for some arresting sequences and overall it feels like the lull before the storm. Speaking of sowing the seeds, the bubbling race war between the bigoted and disgruntled Dr. Everett Gallinger (Eric Johnson) and Algie is still quietly picking up steam. Gallinger has certainly taken the pseudo-science espoused from his eugenics friends to heart and by the end of the episode he’s taking matters into his own hands — performing vasectomies on troubled boys institutionalized at the “Idiot House” on Randall’s Island. Meanwhile, Edwards finds himself taken with a speech by DW Garrison Carr (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) which celebrates black pride, but is pragmatic about the struggle black Americans face at the turn of the century.
– Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour) isn’t likely going to last long in the Sisters of Mercy Boarding House. The nuns are treating her like shit and demanding the other girls not even talk to this great “sinner.”
– Cornelia digs up more information on the death of the departed health inspector and it appears that she’s finally connected some dots, plus the possibility that bubonic plague may have landed on the shores of New York City.
– Henry’s penchant for pornographic home videos is still going, and one wonders and fears if Lucy is just another conquest for his lascivious habit.
– After weeks of skimming from the Knick construction, hospital administrator Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) pays off his debt to the Chinese drug lord and pimp Ping Wu (Perry Yung) in full. However, one more deal is struck: Barrow makes a deal for his mistress Junia’s (Rachel Korine) freedom and buys her a fancy new Manhattan apartment as well (only $7,000! Everyone watching in New York likely screamed with envy).