Do we even want or need a third season of The Knick? That’s the question I couldn’t rub from my mind after watching this hour, which wrapped up the second run of episodes of this otherwise fantastic drama.
The implication, at this point, is that Thackery committed a kind of physician-assisted suicide, bleeding to death on the operating table as he tried to perform self-surgery on his drug-ravaged intestines. It was, as with most of the most memorable scenes on this show, terrifying, disgusting, and magnificent to watch with the good doctor slowly describing his demise while his colleagues stood around helpless and afraid to intervene. But it potentially left us without Thackery moving forward, rendering another season of the show a lot less appealing.
The creators of the show only piled on that feeling by leaving all of the main characters wandering into strange waters. Gallinger was set to go on his goodwill tour of Europe, preaching the gospel of eugenics to anyone who’ll listen (the pointed mention of him starting his travels in Germany was even more on the nose than usual). Cornelia, horrified and frightened upon learning that her brother was behind the spread of bubonic plague and the death of Inspector Speight, did the extreme move of boarding a boat for Australia. (Anyone else take note of the model of the Titanic sitting in a glass case inside the ticket office?) And Edwards, with his eye permanently fucked up after getting sucker punched, decides strangely to move his interests into the world of Freudian psychoanalysis, starting with the sole patient left over from Thackery’s addiction studies. Maybe this was the writers/producers hedging their bets about whether the show would get renewed by moving so many of the characters into somewhat uncharacteristic places in their lives. The arcs of all three characters over these 10 episodes seemed extreme, bordering on desperation.
Let’s hand it to Jack Amiel and Michael Begler that none of the event mentioned above proved to be the most shocking moment of the episode. That was a simple, almost quiet scene with Cleary taking himself to the church to confess that he was so in love with Harriet that he was the one who set her arrest and defrocking in motion. I could hardly look at the blood pumping out of Thackery’s intestinal aorta, but hearing the big bruiser admit this was what made me gasp. The shock of the words only felt stronger in the way Steven Soderbergh constructed the scene. He didn’t take us into the confessional. The camera stayed outside, at a distance, looking at the ornate wooden box from various angles, as if to remind us that the story we were about to hear could be looked at from as many different sides. It was up to us to choose whether to be charmed, or outraged, or amused or disgusted.
At the same time, watching the Harriet and Cleary story arc come to a gentle conclusion was the most satisfying part of this season finale. You could always tell that Amiel and Begler took the greatest care with regards to their relationship, giving them the most marvelous banter in the show and giving us a couple to actually root for. Watching Cleary drop to one knee to propose to Harriet felt great, as did her eventual capitulation. But to have it soured in a way with his admission of guilt and his plea to God that she accept him as a mate was both hard to stomach, and made a strange kind of sense for the show and the characters.
If, as is my suspicion, a third season jumps ahead a few years into the future, Cleary and Harriet are who I most want to check up on. I’m not sure that I feel the same about anyone else on The Knick. Do I want to watch Barrow continue to dig himself out of more holes, or watch Henry seize greater control of his father’s company? Will it be worth it to see Nurse Elkins set aside her brains to keep her future husband further wrapped around her fingers? Not really. Will I be there, saucer-eyed in front of my TV or laptop screen when and if a third season of this show premieres? Absolutely.
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 find more of his writing here.