I’m bing-watching this Cinemax series, directed by Stephen Soderbergh, on HBO2 today. Of course, the main draw is Brit Clive Owen, who sports a thin mustache on the show. It’s SIMPLY riveting, even if you’re a bit squeamish re: blood (like me)! The setting is early 1900s- an important era for medical innovation. I recommend it to those who are looking for a shot (forgive the pun) of realism in their medical dramas. ALL the actors are good- many of whom I’ve never seen before!
SPOILERS: Don’t read this review if you have not yet seen or don’t want to know details from the Cinemax series The Knick.
In the series premiere, the head of surgery (at The Knickerbocker, a public hospital in NYC that serves mostly poor, working-class patients) shoots himself after many failed operations on pregnant women w/ complications. The man working directly under him, Dr. John Thackery (Owen), gives an eulogy for Dr. Jules Christiansen (Matt Frewer, nearly unrecognizable w/ long fluffy beard/shaved head) in a Catholic church, then is quickly promoted to his old friend’s post. We can tell from his tone/words to the nun after the funeral that Dr. T doesn’t put much stock in religion.
So, who will be the new Assistant Chief of Surgery? Dr. T, who is brilliant/arrogant/confident, wants it to be the young Dr. Everett Gallenger, who has been working under him for some time. The wealthy lady whose father currently finances The Knick, Miss Cornelia Robertson, puts forward her choice- Dr. Algernon Edwards. He studied at Harvard, then worked in London, Paris, etc. Dr. T is quite pissed off about this, even threatening to quit.
Dr. Edwards (Andre Holland- a theater actor who recently played Andrew Young in Selma), to almost everyone’s shock, is a black man (whoa)! Dr. T thinks this is the last straw- he’ll only be a distraction, making the important work of the hospital even more difficult. But he has to give way or the electricity won’t be put in.
We also learn that Dr. T is a habitual cocaine user (whoa again)! A young nurse, Elkins, recently arrived from West Virginia has to help him out by injecting him in his house (just before a crucial surgery).
NOTES: This show is based on the life of a real, pioneering, yet quite flawed surgeon (not unlike the lead character). Yes, cocaine was used (in small quantities) in the early days of surgery, as we see here. Doctors created their own tools, like the metal tubing we see inserted inside patient’s stomach.
A young nurse gets accidentally electrocuted during a surgery. It turns out that the wiring for The Knick is faulty. Dr. T says that the contractor should be “beaten and tarred.”
Dr. T sits her down and calmly explains to Elkins that he has things (his drug use) under control. He thinks she had been avoiding him; she says not at all. The lives they have inside the hospital are different from the lives they lead outside, he says.
Dr. Edwards is in some dark, cluttered basement room (his office). He barely gets to do any work, though he expected this type of treatment. Dr. E searches for the black woman who had a swollen arm, then drains the liquid from her arm. She wonders about his work. Later, we see that he can fight (boxing) when attacked by a young/angry/jealous black man.
NOTE: Tenderloin District, where Dr. E lives, was considered to be a notorious/red light area of NYC; in modern times, it has some of the most expensive real estate in Manhattan. Wow, how times change!
An old flame of Dr. T’s (now married) comes to see him in his office. Her husband (w/ whom she’d expected a “calm life”) has run off- she doesn’t know where. When he uncovers her facial coverings, we see the VERY scary-looking effects of syphilis. It turns out that her husband was seeing another woman on the side (who was infected). He explains how her nose could be reconstructed; it’ll go rough though. (Awww, it’s so sad!)
Dr. E has a secret side clinic going on the late night hours! We learn that he is providing a much-needed service to the black population of the area. He sees the careful stitching of a seamstress- she can work alongside him as a nurse. We also learn that Dr. E’s mom is the long-time/beloved cook of the Robertson family!
Dr. T wants to have cadavers to practice on, but only has access to dead pigs. The manager complained that The Knick is competing w/ Cornell, Columbia, and NYU.
Everyone is worried re: (the rapidly spreading) typhoid fever. Rumor has it that the new immigrants carry it (yeah, blame ALL the worst stuff on poor immigrants). Dr. T sets that right- it’s not just a disease of one’s lifestyle.
The eager/kind/idealistic doc, Bertie, and ambitious Dr. G break into a prominent surgeon’s house to get the latest medical journals. (Wow, we’ve come a LONG way!)
Elkins assists Dr. T during the reconstructive surgery on his old girlfriend Abby’s nose. She starts commenting on the “proper lady”- he shuts her up w/ one of his quick cutdowns.
Dr. E loses a patient- perhaps for the first time. Later on, he takes out his aggression on a man who challenges him to fight.
The ep opens w/ drunken/rowdy mean stomping on rats for enjoyment. Ugh, that just looks terrible! (Hey, history was NOT all pretty.) Then, another OMG scene- a grieving widow gets pig remains instead of her husband’s body! His cadaver will be used for practice/ experiments (of course).
Dr. E freezes during a surgery, but Dr. T yanks him out of it w/ an insult. Drs. G and E almost get into a fight (whoa); the doctors observing break into a laugh afterwards.
The self-important/burly health inspector (who we met in E1) is back. He goes to a wealthy family’s home (w/ Miss R as a sort of liaison) whose patriarch recently died. He asks about the dead man’s “character,” staff, and then moves on to “toilet rituals.” LOL!
Flasback: We see a Christmas party w/ Abby, Dr. T, and others- laughing, joking, and drinking. Abby says that they should stay home, but John wants to drink/party more. (Yes, that’s the type of behavior that made her leave him.)
Later, Abby (who is all bandaged up, but recovering) says “I should have chosen you.” He disagrees about that- she chose the wrong husband, but HE wouldn’t have suited either. Elkins stands outside the door and listens in on their private convo. Hmmm… I definitely think she is intrigued by Dr. T!
Cleary, the bearded/big ambulance driver blackmails the nun (Harriet). He somehow found out that she performs abortions on the side (illegal at that time, of course). He wants a cut of her profits.
We meet Dr. E’s father, Jesse, the carraige driver of the Robertsons. He formally invites his son over to the mansion for dinner, then asks about his work. You can tell that he is proud of his son (awww). “Can’t be more until there’s one,” his father quietly comments upon learning that his son is the ONLY black doctor in the entire city working in a white hospital. They see Dr. T walk out and Dr. E comments “I may be better.”
Dr. E’s mother wonders why her son rarely comes to see her. He has to suffer some indignaties during the convo w/ Capt. R and the father of Cornelia’s fiance, Mr. Hobert who owns rubber plantations in South America. Philip, Cornelia’s fiance, wants them to soon move down to Ecuador. She doesn’t seem too pleased about that! Dr. E looks disappointed, commenting that it’ll be tough to get her out of NYC. (Notice how her family calls him “Algie” and he calls her “Nealie?”)
Elkins follows Dr. T to his usual opium den in Chinatown. She sees him lying on the arms of a young Chinese woman- both are passed out. She quickly rushes away.
Dr. G resents Dr. E, as we see in the domestic scene w/ his wife and (super-cute) baby girl. Well, no surprise, but Dr. G says that some at The Knick call Dr. E “Dr. Darkie.”
Cleary rushes to get a young woman to The Knick. Dr. T says that she tried to end her own pregnancy (yikes)! Unfortunately, she dies on the operating table. Bertie’s father watches this all, then comments to his son: “There is only poverty in poverty and struggle in struggle!” He says he climbed out of a place worse than this hospital, and is clearly disappointed that his son works there (thinking it “romantic”). The younger Dr. Chickering says that he wants to learn from Dr. T.
The poor girl who died came over by herself from Russia, Cleary tells Harriet by her fresh grave. He comments on immigrant life. The “look and terror” he saw in her eyes was too much. He decides that he’ll find girls who are “needing her services and send them your way.”
Elkins forlornly watches Dr. T get in a hired coach to head off to his opium den. (Yeah, she has an infatuation w/ him!)
OMG, an old/drunken barber sends a guy off in a cart after he can’t treat him! Dr. E has a Cuban patient w/ a hernia, but (at first) explains it using “big words” that confuse the man. Dr. E says he can perform surgery using a wire- the man (a cigar roller) agrees.
Dr. T is surprised when a noted gangster (owner of “cathouses”), Mr. Collier, is brought in by the manager for a rush surgery. In the operating room, two other gangsters sit and wait, guns in their belts. We know this manager likes to gamble and spends time w/ young prostitute.
We see the head housekeeper and some staff of that big/fancy house where the health inspector and Miss R are visiting. They are so well off that they eat ice cream each day. Hmmm… is this making them sick?
Dr. T tries to get the board to see the importance of an x-ray machine. Some of the men say they should move The Knick to a new location to be near the donors. Miss R says that “almost every other hospital has moved uptown,” so the poor need The Knick even more.
Mr. Barrow (the manager) tells his favorite pro that he stole money from his employer. A cop later approaches him about getting an introduction to Collier; he has a business idea. Cops bring in “a lot of girls who hook for no one,” so he can bring some in to be under Collier’s “protection in a nice place.” He has a lot of mouths to feed. (Yes, everyone is out for something!
Cleary argues w/ a husband re: his wife’s (possible) abortion. They argue re: religion and sin for a bit. Later, Harriet explains that “the child was too far along- 7 months.” It’d have “been a sin” to abort this baby.
Oh no, Dr. G’s baby girl may have meningitis! She won’t stop crying since breakfast, his wife says. They quickly head out for a hospital.
While Dr. E and a group of ladies are performing hernia surgery (using silver wire), a nurse and her beau pass through their room, so they shut off the light. They wanted to hook up- notice the mention of “French letters.” After they leave, it’s lights on and back to work. LOL!
Barrow and the cop (a police sergeant) bring in three girls for Collier’s brothel. One is a black woman; Collier says she should refer to herself as an “octoroon.” They will be housed, fed, protected and regularly examined by a lady doctor. (Hey, that’s better than fending for themselves on the street!)
Hmmm… something happened to Capt. Robertson in Nicaragua; Dr. T helped him out. When Dr. T comments that his daughter could be running The Knick in 10 years, the financier laughs and replies that he’s expecting “a gaggle of grandchildren.” Dr. T wonders if Cornelia knows this (hehe, he gets her).
Dr. T learns that Gallenger’s baby (Lilian) is sick. He sees Elkins outside w/ her bike and they have a nice convo. He comments that he “envied her freedom” when he saw her riding the other day. Her bike is blue (like her eyes). She offers to teach him how to ride. Dr. T sings a little ditty as he goes for a spin on her bike. (Oooh, I really liked seeing this light-hearted scene!)