To wrap up the first season of their series, director Steven Soderbergh, and co-creators Jack Amiel and Michael Begler point much of their focus on the building block of all human life: blood.
The bodily fluid has been all over the show for the past 10 weeks, but never before has its appearance felt so terrifying… so gory… and so upsetting. Pick your moment of horror from this episode: the sight of Galllinger’s wife with a mouth full of blood after her psychiatrist (John Hodgman) has removed all her teeth in an effort to relieve her of internal demons; the blood pooling around the head of Edwards after he loses a fistfight; or the blood that Thackery tries to transfuse into an anemic child—only to kill her in the end.
The worst of the blood could very well be the stuff spilled by Wu Ping. In an act of desperation, Barrow enlists the opium den owner to kill Bunky Collier, insisting that Thackery wants him dead. And in one swift scene, one criminal dispenses with the other with brutal efficiency, ending the pimp’s life with an axe to the forehead.
The episode also played out like the calm before a very big storm. Thackery, in his furious efforts to beat a rival surgeon to the secret of blood transfusion (work that ends up killing that young girl), finally hits rock bottom in his cocaine addiction, and is sent to a treatment center. But it’s also there where the admitting doctor injects him with heroin. “It’s from Bayer, the aspirin people, so it’s as safe as can be,” the doc says.
This tense feeling has a ripple effect that hits everyone else in the show. Chickering’s effort to bridge the gap between Thackery and Zindberg only results in his finding out about his mentor’s relationship with Nurse Elkins. With the psychological distress of the abortion behind her, Cornelia now faces even more potential trials in the loveless marriage she enters into. And ol’ Barrow, thinking his troubles are over, winds up in more trouble. Wu Ping figures out the real motivation behind the Collier hit, and assumes control of Barrow’s debts.
The forthcoming tempest also aims to blow through the entirety of the hospital. Saddled by debts and the loss of their chief surgeon (“...and the only other person with a scalpel is a negro,” says one gent), the board makes the decision to close The Knick and move it uptown.
If this recap hasn’t exhausted you, watching it all play out over the course of the hour would do the trick. This season finale follows the template of most any other show: pile on the drama and leave plenty of loose ends dangling to have viewers slavering for the second season to start. And, by golly, do Soderbergh, Amiel, and Begler have me hoping they can get to filming the next batch of episodes quick-like. Still, I can’t deny that this last installment of Season One started to feel like much too much. It was like a haunted house that wouldn’t end, but instead of frights around every corner, it was the pitiable fates of all these characters playing out in front of you. I didn’t expect a happy ending, just a small reprieve from the agony. The only time that came was when the scene cut to black, after focusing in on the little bottle of heroin on the table in Thackery’s sanitarium. At least that leaves me with a good eight to 10 months (or more) to steel myself for the next dramatic downpour in the world of The Knick.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.