One aspect of The Knick that attracted Steven Soderbergh to the project was his interest in exploring how difficult it must have been for doctors in the early 20th century. He was interested in what it was like to constantly lose patients because the technology or knowledge wasn’t there to help protect them from what would now be seen as a routine operation—and the psychological strain that must have put them under.
This felt tantamount to this week’s episode, particularly in a harrowing scene when Dr. Thackery and Dr. Chickering scrub in to treat a placenta previa case, the same sort that opened this series. Thackery is confident that this time will be different, but seconds later, the mother and baby have both died. You almost start to forgive the doctor for his addiction, and the potential danger that is putting himself and his patients in.
It also helps add to the burden that poor Dr. Gallinger is under when he comes home to find that his baby has been wailing all day. After a quick inspection, he fears that it might be meningitis and rushes her to The Knick. How can he calmly treat even their own child when in the back of his mind there are all of the other cases that didn’t make it?
The rest of the episode was filled with incident and plot wrinkles, to an almost devastating degree. Some were positive steps, with the hospital obtaining an early prototype of an x-ray machine, thanks to a donation from their benefactors, The Robinsons. And Dr. Edwards finds new hope for his underground practice after operating on a Cuban gent with a dangerous hernia.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Barrow opens himself up to potentially more trouble, after going in on a prostitution scheme with the crook he owes a huge sum to, Bunky Collier, and a crooked cop. There’s little doubt at this point that the smug look on Barrow’s face will soon disappear, as this deal will likely be his undoing.
The question remains as to what the fate of The Knick will be when that happens. The board of directors make it clear that their interest is in moving the whole operation uptown to leave the “poor and unwashed” (as one creep so sneeringly refers to them) to their own devices. Having Barrow potentially undermine the whole affair with criminal misdeeds might just force their hand even faster.
This week’s episode also felt like a corrective for the show after a couple of installments that threatened to send it off the rails. Heavy handed though it was (like Thackery, after hearing about his colleague’s baby, opining “Just another Tuesday at The Knick”), it moved things forward appreciably and left the door open to what could be some fiery dramatics in the weeks to come.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.