We are away from The Knick in this cold open, and it is wonderful.
Heavy yellows and muted greens, as Thackery walks through a hazy Nicaraguan village in 1894. The edges of the screen are yellowed, too, like an old photograph. It’s a totally different world, and it is wonderful. For once, I didn’t mind Thackery’s unimaginable genius; I didn’t mind him coming up with a smallpox vaccine on the fly. Just as long as I was out of New York. Just as long as I was away from the parts of the show that I didn’t enjoy.
And then we are back.
Cold, metallic colors, accenting the harsh reality of the present. It wasn’t that, story-wise, the Nicaragua adventure was so much better than the New York present; rather, it was because of the nothingness of the storyline that I loved it so much. There was no shaky plot scaffolding, or character work; there was just… nothing. Just the scenery.
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I didn’t feel anything when Captain Robertson died. I didn’t feel sad, or happy, or energized. His death was so pointless, and avoidable, and undramatic; he could’ve dropped twenty feet and broke his legs, or he could do what he did, and climb out of a window and jump into the flames and die. It was almost like he killed himself. It was almost suicidal.
I’ve criticized Soderbergh’s direction before, and also praised it, and this episode exactly what I’m talking about in both directions. We’ve got the beautiful Nicaragua sequences and the wonderful shots from behind the Medical Board, but we’ve also got Captain Robertson overacting, and the music not helping ratchet up the drama, and the abject stupidity of Robertson’s eventual death.
It’s all so visually stunning, but there’s just nothing there behind it.
I blame the writing more than I blame Soderbergh. The writing is trying so hard to be focused and emotional and instead comes off like The Knick is trying to imitate prestige television instead of actually being it. The Knick is still bad cake, and while the visuals continue to soar, the writing is still poor. Every storyline involving Algernon, for example, is rooted so firmly in the unbelievable that I can’t take it seriously. A black doctor, in 1901, takes a white doctor in front of the Medical Board, and is shocked when he loses. Not only is he shocked, but apparently he did zero research on the MB beforehand, and didn’t realize that the head of said board had added eugenics to the curriculum at Columbia Medical School.
What is this storyline trying to prove, exactly? What is the point of all of this? Gallinger is never going to get his comeuppance. Never. If Algernon had beat him after the hearing, he would’ve been arrested and put to death for striking a white man. One black man stabbed a cop, and it lead to a citywide riot and the deaths of dozens of black men and women. If Algernon were to beat up Gallinger, a man of means and power? Jesus H. Christ.
Everything that Algernon would like to do to Gallinger would result in the world coming down on him with the force of a hurricane. He knows this; he knew it better at the start of the series, but he knows it. That’s why he went to Europe! He knows America is a racist hellhole, ESPECIALLY in 1901, a time when a black man simply looking at a white woman would earn him a painful death.
Algernon is also pragmatic enough to let Thackery take half-credit for his vacuum idea, but by the end of the season he was having sex with Cordelia in his apartment and actively trying to get them both killed by not aborting their child. His character makes no sense, and if it wasn’t for Andre Holland bringing every bit of humanity and brilliance and complexity to Algernon’s every spoken word, his character would be totally unwatchable.
Speaking of Gallinger: Even if this show turned into the TV equivalent of escaping Pergaus in KOTOR II, I might keep watching it simply to see what happens to Gallinger. I am ready for him to die, and die horribly. If he were to, I don’t know, get horribly maimed in a car accident or mauled by a rabid dog, and then die a slow, painful death in a hospital, I would be happy.
He is the absolute worst. He cannot be redeemed, ever. He’s sterilized children, he poisoned Carr, and has generally just been the biggest douchebag on the entire planet. His evilness came at a price; that sweetness he had with his wife the first season and most of the second has totally been stripped from him. There is no more complexity to Gallinger, and that takes a little bit of the drama out of things.
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Harry and Cleary are working together, at least. Harry’s meanness to Cleary is a little much, but I do like this added drama. Cleary, also, is back in my good graces; after thinking he truly was just another pig looking for a girl, he has 100% backed off of Harry, but without renouncing his feelings for her. He is handling this much more maturely than I would’ve expected, and that makes me very happy.
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Just to get this out of the way: Henry set that fire to burn down The New Knick. We’re all in agreement there, right? Good. They’ve seeded his desperation throughout the season, though I think they could’ve made it a little more explicit in some areas. But while the death of Captain Robertson didn’t move me, I think that, as a storyline, it does what it needs to do and does so effectively.
Personally, I thought that Cornelia was going to show up to The New Knick and find only Henry there, who would push her down the stairs or something. I didn’t realize that he was going to try and murder them both.
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Thackery is sick, and his intestines are necrotic. Dude is trying to kill himself and is succeeding nicely.
One last thing: did we really need such an explicit origin story for Thackery and Robertson? Did they have to spell it out so clearly that he went from Nicaragua to The Knick? I think that it would’ve been better if they had left it along the lines of, “I owe you one” then connecting Nicaragua and The Knick in such a straight-line, two-point manner.
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Elkins murdered her father.
[Photo via Cinemax]