It’s time to once again beat a drum that I’ve been resounding a few times this season. But not the one about how great Steven Soderbergh continues to be. No, I remain in constant appreciation and occasional awe about how sneakily Jack Amiel, Michael Berger, Steven Katz, and the rest of the writers on The Knick have presented us with an array of female characters that are often even richer and more complex than their male counterparts on the show.
This goes for even some of the most minor of roles. One of the nurses that Henry Robertson hasn’t wooed and bedded, for example, is given some heartbreaking depth as she expresses her concerns that she’ll be cast aside at the new Knickerbocker, in place of younger, prettier employees. In another scene, a fellow patient at Cromartie comes back into Thackery’s life after the small piece of earring that he used to shore up her nose in an illegal procedure (paid for with heroin) starts to corrode. In one quick exchange, we learn so much detail about this young girl’s inner life and outer struggles, and the thick armor that she is still using to protect herself against the evils of the world. Even a slightly more important character like Barrow’s ex-prostitute love peels back the curtain to her soul through one small, slow-motion walk out of the brothel, on her way to milk her sugar daddy for every last nickel.
For the characters that top line The Knick, this week’s episode helped add even more layers to their stories, often with ruinous results. There was a horror story quality to the arc that closed out the marriage between Everett and Eleanor Gallinger. As the hour began, she seemed on a little steadier mental ground, seducing her husband and offering up some shaky ideas about buying a large house to accommodate their future children. It’s then that we learn that she is, as she so chillingly put it, “not well at all,” having killed her former doctor by loading his drink with rat poison. The dead quality to her eyes and face as she is seen off to another asylum by her husband felt like the beginning of a more horrifying tale where she breaks out and goes on a tri-state killing spree. Fodder for a spin-off perhaps?
The tragedy of the episode belonged entirely to Abigail. There was hurt in her eyes, hiding there behind her cautious joy over she and Thackery rekindling their love affair, but nothing that would have foretold her decision to end her own life. Was it really her concerns about vanity that pushed her over the edge? Or was it, in her minds, the easiest way out rather than spend a life either alone or dealing with the on-again-off-again drug use of Thackery? Maybe then it was the conversation she had with the Eastern European drunk that showed her a small glimpse of her future, a taste that was bitter enough to have her reaching for the laudanum. While the fall out of her death will have a vast impact on the good doctor, let us first praise her quiet strength and lament the pain she must have been going through before we watch her ex go on a bender.
What did seem inevitable was the small fallout between Cleary and Harriet, as the burly ambulance driver exhibited some feelings of love for his friend. And as slightly disappointing as it was, her rejection of him was probably in the cards as well. You just wish she would have let him down a little easier, rather than furiously stamping her feet and claiming that he’d just been trying to bed her this whole time. As a viewer, I would also hope that they smooth things out as their scenes together have, from the start, brought light into the often murky clouds that hang over the rest of the series. It would be a shame to lose their banter and begrudging respect for one another.
As we totter toward the end of this second season, we are now in a holding period, waiting for the other shoes to start falling from the sky like hailstones. Time enough to brace ourselves for the eventual comeuppance of Herman Barrow, the possible end of Gallinger’s surgical career, and what could be a nasty bit of business when Captain Robertson’s hand in the spread of the bubonic plague comes to light. Those are all best case scenarios too. There’s the potential for Barrow to continue merrily down his illicit path, Edwards’ efforts to blow up in his face, and the death of Cornelia as a way of protecting her father’s shipping empire. Take shelter, friends. The storm clouds are building.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste, and the author of Empire: The Unauthorized Untold Story, available in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter.