**Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers!** If you have not seen the finale of “The Knick” season two, or the entire run of the show front to back, go watch it and then catch up with us later. Do not read until you’ve seen the show in its entirety.
Friday night’s season finale of Cinemax’s “The Knick” was epic and tragic. The theme of the second season of the early 1900s-set medical drama was essentially about the battle for progress. For the brilliant but drug-addicted surgeon Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen), progress can’t come fast enough, but for most of the characters and a hospital dealing with changing times, progress is already moving ahead at an uncomfortable speed. For Thackery, this desperate need for new knowledge and an impulsive desire to push medicine forward is his undoing. After a season of crucial deaths, most importantly Thackery’s love Abigail (Jennifer Ferrin), the doctor becomes unhinged at the end of the season, attempting to conduct his own intestinal operation and unexpectedly dying in the process (read our recap).
In some quarters, there is some sense of ambiguity in Thackery’s death (in this EW piece, for example), so we hate to break it you, but Thackery is dead (and that’s fairly clear from Algernon’s tribute to keep his addiction research going, no?). I spoke to the show’s director Steven Soderbergh just a few weeks before the finale and inquired about the ending and the future of the show. “Let’s put it this way,” Soderbergh explained. “We had this all planned out very clearly from the very beginning.”
Including Thackery’s death? “Absolutely,” he replied. “I just said [to Owen early on], ‘If it matters to you, we are going to kill you at the end of Season 2 just so you know.’ He was like, ‘Okay. Good to know.’”
Owen had spoken about his reluctance to get into TV in early interviews and I asked if that was the reason why he had agreed to do the show, but Soderbergh again stressed that the initial two-season design was planned from the get-go.
“No, it wasn’t like [because it was two seasons only, he went], ‘Okay, then I’ll do it,’” he explained. “But I just said, ‘that is the design. That’s what we’re doing. We are looking at the show in two-year increments and the shape of the first two years is that we’re going to kill you at the end of season two. It’s going to be a self-surgery. We had the pictures of the guy that actually did this procedure on himself successfully and we knew how we we’re going to kill him. We knew that before Clive even had read the script! Everybody signed off.”
Soderbergh explained he had revealed the long-term plan to Cinemax from the beginning. “I told them that I’m going to do the first two years and then we are going to break out the story for seasons 3 and 4 and try and find a filmmaker or filmmakers to do this the way that I did. This is how we want to do this so that every two years, whoever comes on, has the freedom to create their universe.”
To hear it from Soderbergh, season three and beyond could be potentially radically different. The filmmaker said new filmmakers could totally reinvent the show if they wanted to. “They don’t have to shoot it the way I shoot it. They don’t have to score it the way I score it. They don’t have to cast who I’ve cast,” he said. “They have maximum freedom to come in and just go, ‘I want to wipe the slate clean.’”
Soderbergh said he and writers/showrunners/creators Jack Amiel and Michael Begler are currently working on the story for seasons three and four and are making a list of filmmakers who they think would be a good fit to the specific demands of a show shot on a very quick schedule.
But in what direction is the show heading, and will it pick up with the same cast or the same hospital? Soderbergh was noncommittal. “The key obviously for us is to keep that sensation of a medical drama that audiences haven’t seen before. As we sit down and talk about three and four, I feel good about where this can go. I think we have some ideas that are strong.”
But logistically, the current cast could be off in other gigs, as there could be a long break. Soderbergh has his HBO film “Mosaic” to work on, and he suggested that “The Knick” team might take a year write, meaning that shooting on a third season may not start until sometime in 2017.
I asked point blank if the show would reinvent itself with a new cast, perhaps in a new era, and Soderbergh remained ambiguous. “The good news is we’ve got some time. I mean, it’s not going to get shot next year. We need time to really write it out with Jack and Michael.”
One idea, which he admits may be too ambitious, is to write all of seasons three and four and then shoot both of them back to back. “Now, that may be a little much. That’s 150 days for somebody to lock themselves into,” he said.
The filmmaker also said that the upside to writing two full seasons in advance would be to weave in dense elements of narrative that could pay off way later down the road. “…the longer the ability to make the tapestry of the narrative threads more complicated is increased exponentially by how much time you’ve had with the whole thing before you shot it,” he explained. “I like the idea of ‘what if we do write seasons three and four and have both of them written by next fall but don’t shoot until spring of 2017.’ Then you really are talking about like a 20-hour narrative where every line and every reference has some echo in connection to every other line. It could be amazing. That’s what we’re definitely thinking.” Damn!
As of Friday night, Cinemax and HBO have stressed to me that nothing was green lit and all these plans were tentative, but Variety has revealed that Cinemax has already ordered season three scripts and negotiations are already underway so it seems like Soderbergh’s proposed plan is in full swing.
Who could direct? Keep an eye out for Soderbergh’s favorite new generation of filmmakers. He’s already tapped Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan to be the co-directors of “The Girlfriend Experience” on Showtime that he is executive producing, and he’s spoken highly many times about Barry Jenkins. But it looks like a deceased lead surgeon will not prevent “The Knick” from moving forward.
If you want to hear more, plus further confirmation of Thackery’s death, you can listen to “The Knick” season two finale podcast hosted by the show’s writers Jack Amiel and Michael Begler below.