The unsteady social conscience and occasionally junky scripts for The Knick have provided viewers with quite a bumpy ride over these past seven weeks. But the one important, unruffled force keeping this show from collapsing into a heap has been director Steven Soderbergh. I know I’ve talked him up plenty in my write-ups of this show, but I feel like his work on this series has only gotten stronger with each episode, to the point of giddy anticipation for the last three installments of this first season.
Think back to the final scenes of this week’s episode. In a blatant and beautiful homage to Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 cult classic Don’t Look Now, Soderbergh (or rather, his editorial pseudonym, Mary Ann Bernard) shows us the first sexual encounter between Dr. Thackery and Lucy, one of the nurses at the hospital. He cuts between the pair in the midst of their cocaine-enhanced lovemaking (“I can make it painless and perfect,” the doctor explains when it is revealed that Lucy is a virgin) and the nurse getting herself dressed the next morning. The emphasis is on the latter, to better concentrate on the look of happiness, revulsion, worry, and wistfulness on Lucy’s face. But she’s just as poignant, when shown in the throes of ecstasy as well.
The sequence is a marvel, and ends at the perfect moment when Lucy is just about to reveal to her roommate what has just happened. I’ll give the scriptwriters a nod of respect for how they parallel the opening scenes in the episode with the final one. It’s a bit cheeky, but their point is made perfectly.
The episode also comes along at a very interesting time, which I don’t imagine that the showrunners could have anticipated. In an early scene, the crooked policeman Phinny Sears attempts to recruit a black woman he thinks is a streetwalker. When her boyfriend appears, a fight ensues. Sears ends up taking a few stabs to the side, wounds that end up killing him. Riled up by the incident, people take to the streets to attack any colored people they find.
The real trouble comes when The Knick starts taking in many of the wounded people, riling up the mob even more. The throng eventually breaks into the hospital, smashing everything in their path. The doctors and nurses hustle the patients down to the sub-basement, where Dr. Edwards’ clinic gets revealed to the other doctors, Barrow, and Cornelia (who couldn’t be more pleased). The fallout from this discovery—and Thackery deciding to willingly treat black patients—will likely be huge.
Perhaps more dangerous, is another romantic moment that happens towards the end of the episode—a steamy make out session between Edwards and Cornelia. It’s likely that this was a long-time coming, considering the deep affection they have for one another. But there’s also a concern that Cornelia is just using this as if to further prove to herself just how liberated she is. Or maybe the writers are trying to prove that point. Regardless, there’s no hope that this illicit affair is going to end well. It just remains to be seen how severe the emotional or physical punishment will be.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.