The Knick Season 2 Episode 5 Review: “Whiplash”

The Knick

The Knick is at its best when all of the characters are together. This week’s episode had an extended sequence where the hospital took in a group of miners, injured in a dynamite explosion while working on the subway. Together they form a cohesive whole; they form a clearer picture of humanity at the point in history. When you finally strip away the BS politics and the boring personal issues, you get to see them at their best.

Amongst broken bones, and pouring blood, and shrapnel-riddled bodies, Thackery pinches an artery closed. Amidst the soft groans and the choked breathes and the rivers of blood that flowed over stained fingers like sand through an hourglass, you find Edwards strong hands pressing against a spurting wound, and stoping the bleeding. Money is no object; screwthe benches, and the chairs, and the desks. Take them into surgery, shove them tight, so that maybe one more man with metal in his chest may have chance to live for a little while long.

The capitalists, those Barrows and Clearys; they take a loss today. “Nobody profits here today,” says Henry Robinson, hero of the benches, chairs, and desks. “It’s a civic duty,” he says over his shoulder. Barrow and Cleary don’t push their luck, because even they— yes, even they— can see past their own wallets.

It’s about saving lives, ladies and gentlemen. That’s what a hospital is for, and that is what Thackery, Edwards, and Gallinger are doing. That is what Lucy does when she walks through the halls of the Knickerbocker hospital, echoing with the cries of dying men. That is what they do, and at their best, they put aside it all, and they put their hands in steaming hot water, and into the intestines of those who lay wounded in front of them.

And then it all snaps back, like a rubber band, and the curtain is pulled, and everything is as it was before. It’s all much clearer in the light of day; in retrospect, of course Henry would do everything that he could to rescue those workers, and charge them nothing for the care. Remember, he invested in that subway.

Gallinger, who did what Edwards said in the name of saving lives, is still a eugenicist, whose greatest contribution to humanity would come in the form of a pistol in his mouth and his brain on the walls. He loves his wife despite of what has transpired; finds compassion and love in him for her, but only her. He’ll mutilate little Jewish boys, called idiots by the white establishment who cannot fathom engaging with those who don’t fit into their little worlds, so that he can feel bigger. For every boy he guts, he feels a little bit bigger. Make no mistake about Gallinger’s intentions; it’s not about improving the world, or even helping the white race flourish. No, rather, Gallinger is a tiny little whisper of a man on the inside; too cold and pale and blond, just like his little frat boy college buddies, and he’s too much of what they are, which isn’t good enough to lick the shoes of an Edwards or Zinburg. Gallinger is cutting out the competition, because he cannot compete.

* * * * *

Only Thackery and Edwards and Lucy are the same. They do their jobs, and they do them because they should. They do them because, at heart, they are smart, good, flawed human beings who wish to do good to others. It’s ego, too, of course; Thackery has that in spades. But his desire to do good and Edwards and Lucy’s desire to do good is from a totally different place. Edwards and Lucy strive to be good because being good might allow them a foot in the door of the world constantly denied to them. Edwards hopes his skills will lead to a day where he is no longer sneered at by white garbage, and Lucy dreams of a day where she can pick up a medical textbook without Henry Robinson put his hand up her dress. They want to be good because they are told that those in America who are good and smart will make it, and have whatever they want. But it isn’t true; not then, and not now.

Edwards and Opal went to a church, to listen a preacher. He says, with bright eyes, to a quiet room, that “the story of the Negro in America, is the story of America.” That struggle for acceptance in a world that actively despises you is what America was founded on. Those who fled Europe to live free of persecution turned right around, and persecuted everyone else. America is a battlefield for social equality, and that is played out in surgeries and book stories and bedrooms all over the country.

* * * * *

I am afraid to die.

Sometimes I am stricken by it, and I feel as if I am tied to train tracks, and from far, far away I can hear the rumbling of a freight train. I am stuck, and I cannot move; I can feel, and I can see, and I can hear, but I cannot move out of the way. I am in the way, and I cannot save myself.

Anne Chickering can see it coming. She has to stare death in the face and make peace with it, because it is inevitable. Her worries do not stem for herself, but for those around her. She looks with pleading eyes to Genevieve Everidge, the investigative reporter and Bertie’s girlfriend, for help. Everidge reassures her that she will help her family make it to another tomorrow, and a host of them after that, and only then does Anne Chickering want to climb into bed and rest. She is alive, still, for now, but yet; there have been so many miracles on this show that I find it hard to believe that this radiation treatment will help her. Perhaps it will for others, but it won’t pull her off the tracks.

* * * * *

I thoroughly enjoyed this episode, if you could not tell. I’m seeing negative reviews, but I found it to be the most engaging episodes in a long, long time. When the characters are together, and the world is moving around them, it feels like the early part of the 20th century. It feels old, and different, and vivid, in a way it usually doesn’t for me. I feel too often that The Knick is staging a modern play in an un-modern setting. The characters also feel from a different time and place. But that fades away when they are together.

I think they need to be together more often.

[Photo via Cinemax]

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