If last week we saw the physical destruction of The Knick, with a fire consuming and obliterating the construction of the new hospital, the season finale, “This Is All We Are,” finds the emotional and personal lives of many of the characters following suit. Whatever glimmers of hope, or shafts of light illuminating suggested innocence there might have been across the season, it’s revealed that beneath everybody lies pain and darkness. “The Knick” goes out with a bold finish, one that can only see a radical change, if we are to see a third season.
It perhaps speaks to the worldview of Jack Amiel and Michael Begler that the show’s most ethically compromised, and bigoted character, is the one who gets the biggest reward. But that doesn’t mean bad behavior doesn’t go unpunished, nor hubris. From their pen, sympathy is just a recipe for future disappointment, good intentions hide sinister motives, and audacity can lead to ruin…and more…. Before we get to any of that, the big mystery of who burned down The Knick must be solved.
Herman Barrow: The man with the most to gain from The Knick being turned to rubble, Herman (Jeremy Bobb) certainly had the motive, with his money problems returning last week when his wife showed up at his office, outlining her plan for blackmail. With a fancy apartment to maintain with Junia (Rachel Korine), and more financial obligations to Effie, Herman was faced with hustling his skimming schemes like never before. It’s a fact not lost on the police, who turn the focus of their arson investigation on him. While he may be crooked, he’s not a killer, but the police are relentless, and Herman’s attempts to prove his innocence seem fruitless. Worried about his assets being seized, he signs everything over to Junia, but soon his concerns evaporate. He rubs shoulders with power players at the Metropolitan Club, and upon hearing of his problems, a fellow member not only makes them go away, the investigating detective shows up to apologize to Herman directly. It’s a win, but a short-lived one. While playing cards, spots are noticed on Herman’s hands, an early sign of cancer likely caused from his own admission of repeated exposure to x-rays. This will likely be one problem he won’t be able to dance away from.
Henry And Cornelia: Always the model of discretion (I really thought his amateur pornography would catch up with him), there is something much more monstrous about Henry (Charles Aitken) that gets exposed. An offhand comment from her husband, Philip (Tom Lipinski), finally clues in Cornelia (Juliet Rylance) on a horrifying truth: it was Henry who bribed port officials, forged documents, and ushered unhealthy, disease carrying immigrants into the country. She confronts him with the news, and Henry is completely unapologetic. Frustrated by what he saw as their father squandering his legacy and the family fortune, he made those moves behind the Captain’s back, to spare him the embarrassment of going broke. Nothing can quell Cornelia’s anger or horror, however, and she threatens to go public, but Henry is far from worried.
“It’s too bad you’re a woman,” he says, underscoring that her gender makes it unlikely that anyone will believe the claims of a “distraught housewife.” Slowly backing her the edge of a steep flight of stairs, Henry tells Cornelia that she has an “easy comfortable life,” but if she raises any noise, he’s not unwilling to finish what he started with their father. While she has experienced fear, this is the first time we’ve ever seen Cornelia truly afraid, and taking whatever money she has left, she buys a ticket to Australia, leaving her husband, the city, and everything she knows behind.
Cleary And Harriet: Undeterred after being rebuffed two episodes back, Cleary (Tom Sullivan) makes his intentions known once again, and asks for Harriet’s (Cara Seymour) hand in marriage, using the money they made selling condoms and sponges to buy a ring. Once again, Harriet backs away from Cleary’s vulnerable display of affection, but is he really so honorable?
In what is (quietly) one of the best shot sequences of the episode, director Steven Soderbergh avoids all the usual tricks of a very familiar scene. Cleary surprisingly heads to church, where he enters a confessional to lay bare the reality of the situation. Rather brilliantly, Soderbergh doesn’t ever take the camera inside the confessional, but instead focuses on Cleary’s comical feet sticking out of the too small booth, and even going further back, to wide shots, as the ambulance makes a startling revelation: he set up Harriet to get arrested.
Cleary admits he’s had feelings for Harriet since they first started working together, and he orchestrated her arrest in order to facilitate her exile from the church. He didn’t anticipate how hard the law would come down on her, but he’s not seeking forgiveness. Harriet is happier than she’s ever been, and he just wants a prayer so God will compel her to marry him. And it works. Later, as Cleary prepares a meal, Harriet sits at the table, quietly wearing the ring he previously offered. She has said yes, and that moment of realization between the two is beautiful, complicated, and heartbreaking. Cleary’s actions put a stain on what has largely played out as one of sweeter subplots of the season, but can anyone say his actions were wrong? There is no doubt that Harriet is more at ease, and more herself, than she has ever been in her life.
Dr. John Thackery: Meanwhile, Thackery (Clive Owen) is himself, too, for worse. Last episode, he promised to conjure his own solution to his bowel ischemia, and indeed he has — he will operate on himself. His bold plan is to have a special solution of his own making injected into his spine, which will cut off any feelings of pain in his torso. Using a carefully place mirror, with Gallinger (Eric Johnson) and Chickering (Michael Angarano) at his side, he will lead his own surgery to clear out the damaged parts of the bowel and stitch together the healthy remainders. He can’t be talked out of it and threatens to go it alone, so Gallinger and Chickering reluctantly take part, knowing also they are Thackery’s last life line if things go wrong in what will be a packed surgical gallery. And it does.
Hopelessly addicted, Thackery gets high before entering the surgical theater, and with all the grandeur of Barnum & Bailey kicks off the operation. It’s a bit grosser than he expected, and even all his practice beforehand doesn’t prepare him for cutting open his own body and pulling the insides out. The difficult surgery gets worse when he nicks an artery and soon, Gallinger and Chickering are fighting to save Thackery’s life as he bleeds out. The situation gets so dire that Chickering runs to get one last item could be a lifesaver: adrenaline. But it’s not enough…
Thackery is dead. It’s a fitting end to the doctor, whose methodology of bucking medical conventions is also exactly what does him in. However, in a weird way, this is probably exactly how he would’ve wanted to die: on his own terms, putting on a show, and doing something that will still have people talking about him long after he’s in the ground.
The Last Pulse: With Henry cashing in the insurance bond to pay back the investors, and to Herman’s disbelief, planning to sell the entire hospital to the city, The Knick as the institution we knew it is no more. The man who defined it is gone, and the people who made it what it was are scattered to the wind.
Gallinger accepts a lucrative job to take his zeal about eugenics and travel abroad to spread the word in a series of speeches. He’ll be paid handsomely for his year-long stint, and even more, he’ll get to bring Dorothy along. It’s an offer he can’t refuse. Meanwhile, his plan to cripple Dr. Edwards (André Holland) professionally works, as he loses function in the eye that had been giving him trouble all season long. But too smart to stay sidelined, Algie picks up where Thackery left off with his addiction research, with a sly suggestion that he’ll turn toward psychology. As for Lucy (Eve Hewson), she has fully wrapped Henry around her finger, and he promises that marriage is in their future.
Where We’ve Gone And Where We’ll Go: It’s hard to imagine finale as bold and truly surprising as what “The Knick” pulls off. Killing a protagonist is not new to television, but Soderbergh and the team of writers are far less celebratory than, for example, how Walter White went down in “Breaking Bad.” There is no pop song to carry us out, not even a score. Just silence, an empty operating theater, and then….life resumes. Thackery doesn’t get any grace notes, except perhaps from Algie, but even his tribute is personal and private. The world moves on, and perhaps those who saw him work will reminisce on bar stools from time to time about the wild surgeon who was braver than they were. But Thackery won’t get a chance to build a legacy in the way Dr. Levi Zinberg (Michael Nathanson) likely will, nor mentor younger doctors who are similarly adventurous, like Chickering. It could be argued that Thackery was a failure, unable to tame his vices, to succeed where his talent could’ve taken him professionally. He certainly let down Lucy, and Chickering learned the hard way not to fully believe in heroes. Thackery flew too close to a sun made of his own demons, often brilliantly, but it was only a matter of time before he was overcome by his own belief he could control the rate of progress in medical science through sheer force of will. The spirit might’ve been strong, but his body was weak.
“The Knick” Season 2: [A]
And a statement from Cinemax: Cinemax has been in conversations with Steven Soderbergh on how we might continue with The Knick. When first conceived, the series was always meant to be presented in a two-year story arc, and Steven has been meeting with the writers to discuss how to proceed.