The ability of the surgeons to both hurt and to heal has been a powerful theme of The Knick since the beginning. But writer Stephen Katz made us acutely aware of that fact in this week’s episode, using Thackery and Gallinger to drive this point home.
In the former case, we got to see the good doctor use his agile mind and steady hands to see to a bevy of patients brought in to the hospital after an explosion occurred during construction of the new subway system. Thackery is almost like a symphony conductor, moving between patients and directing the nurses and other doctors. And, on the fly, he comes up with an ingenious system to use a telephone to help track down shards of metal in a patient’s torn up torso.
That assuredness and ego doesn’t always result in such glories though. Probing a patient’s brain to locate electrical impulses, Thackery is sure that he has located the exact spot where addiction is located. With a great flourish in front of his colleagues, he slices that little segment out. In doing so, though, he completely lobotomizes the patient, leaving the poor man alive but completely unresponsive to any stimuli at all. Not even the many body horrors of this week’s episode could top the terrifying chill that sent through me.
Gallinger, on the other hand, is completely under the sway of the eugenics movement now, and has decided to help his fellow radical conservatives by forcing a bunch of young orphans from supposedly less savory parts of the world to undergo vasectomies, lest they breed more “impure people.”
It’s not so much of a shock to see this character undergo such a radical shift in ethics, and then act on it like he is doing. Just witness the rise of the Tea Party movement that occurred when an African-American president was elected. Under the right circumstances, people can freak the fuck out and do some awful things. It’s even worse when they get placed in powerful posts. With such little oversight in the medical world in turn of the century New York, a doctor like Gallinger can unfortunately get away with ruining the lives of those young men onscreen.
What continues to hamper The Knick is its insistence on following every plotline in every episode. The balance felt a little more secure this week, especially in the episode’s treatment of Bertie finding both joy in the new relationship with the Collier’s writer and some advances at his new hospital, and some concern over the failing health of his mother. Too, watching Nurse Elkins come into her own as she self-educates on medicine and handles the romantic advances of Henry Robertson was a welcome salve to the emotional and physical trials she has gone through early on this season. Everything else is just feeling like much too much.
Granted, Henry’s struggles over his investment in the new subway system following the explosion felt necessary to the episode (especially since we know that his relatively meager financial interest is going to pay off in a big way in the future). But, as I said last week, the ill-fated journey of Herman Barrow as he tries to “rescue” his beloved prostitute is of no interest to me anymore, even though I know that it is eventually going to wind up financially hurting the Knick. There also has to be a better way to work in Dr. Edwards’ growing interest in civil rights and Cornelia’s hunt for the truth about the health inspector’s death (and a potential bubonic plague issue), but they just haven’t found it yet.
My feelings about this show are only getting further concerned as I work to simultaneously work through the first season of Fargo. There is a show that is juggling as many characters and about as many storylines, but each one is given equal weight and has me locked in as I wonder how these various tendrils are going to connect up at the end. It may just be a matter of letting some air into the plot and trimming away the fat like Noah Hawley was able to do to great effect on his show. With The Knick, the producers are desperate to embrace so many social and technological changes of the times that they are hampering what could be a masterpiece of a series. Maybe by Season Three, they can bring in some fresh writers to help focus the show. Until then, we’ll be stumbling along to the finish line of this run of episodes, gritting our teeth through it all.