Cinemax’s The Knick
Season 1, Episode 2: “Mr. Paris Shoes”
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler
* For a review of the first episode, “Method and Madness” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Busy Flea” – click here
The beginning of this second episode gives a glimpse into the living of Dr. Algernon Edwards (André Holland), a doctor yet relegated to the virtual slums of New York City. We see the clash of culture between a black man like Algernon, and the other African-Americans living there with him. This episode’s title comes from this conversation, as Algernon has to explain he got his fancy shoes over in Paris; not impressing the man much. Just this one brief scene gives us so much insight into the low life an upper class man like Edwards must live, all because of the colour of his skin.
Meanwhile, Cornelia (Juliet Rylance) is butting heads with the patriarchal world in which she exists. Her father, Captain August Robertson (Grainger Hines), insists she keep up with it because, as he puts it: “If you were a man you‘d be running this damn city by now.” Seeing the stories of Cornelia and Algernon juxtaposed against one another, the contrast between African-Americans and women, re: status, is very present from the start. Excellent writing.
Over at The Knickerbocker Hospital, the new electrical system isn’t exactly running totally properly. This does nothing to quell the distaste in Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen), but I’m sure cocaine will do the trick. Then there’s Tom Cleary (Chris Sullivan) still trying to get every last bit of funds out of Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) and the hospital. He’s an Irish man, no doubt having come over from the Old Country, so it couldn’t be too easy in 1900 for people immigrating to New York for them to make cash. We watch him try and negotiate for a corpse, which ends in him lifting a ring off the body; to cover costs, you know.
The death of Dr. Christiansen (Matt Frewer) still weighs heavily on Thack. He remembers moments in time with the now deceased doctor. Christiansen wanted to study the dead, in order to help the living, with diseases such as tuberculosis, syphilis, and so on. Little inklings of how Thackery got to The Knick come out, after he reveals having done work with Captain Robertson “in Nicaragua“. Interesting – we’ll see the rest of this come out in Season 2, giving us more backstory to the addicted doctor. John talks with Christiansen’s wife, Catherine (Melissa Errico), whose pain and suffering is also running rampant. She worries about John, that it all may take its toll on him, but he replies: “I have ways of getting through.”
More surgery now, with Thackery leading, as well as Dr. Everett Gallinger (Eric Johnson) and Dr. Bertie Chickering (Michael Angarano) at the ready. Steven Soderbergh offers us a look into the modernity of hospitals now, with the electrical system starting to kick up a fuss. During a routine cauterization, a fire starts. Then a nurse gets electrocuted to death. This truly drives Thackery mad. He and Cornelia go to see Barrow who accuses the contractor of wrongdoing. Herman looks slightly nervous about it all, wanting to speak with the contractor himself instead of rushing right to the courts. I believe we’re about to see more on Barrow, who he is, and exactly where the money from The Knick is going.
Furthermore, we also see how The Knick isn’t providing much comfort for Dr. Edwards; no more than his nasty little apartment where he lives among the lower classes. Cornelia is fairly unimpressed with it all, though, Algernon takes it in stride while trying to keep his anger below the surface. “I expect these things,” Edwards tells her: “You‘re upset because you don‘t.”
Electricity still on the fritz, Gallinger brings Chickering, Edwards and Thackery in to see some new patients, one whose illness happens to be syphilis. The lights finally go out, and Thack gives Barrow a mouthful. Simultaneously, Edwards tries to put his ideas in the ring for Thack, but nobody is too eager to listen to him.
Finally, we see Herman meeting with the man who supposedly did the electrical work, Clarence Mulkeen (Andy Murray). Turns out, as I guessed, Barrow embezzled money meant to go towards the renovations, which prompted the bad work. Now he’s got to try and climb back up the hill. Will this put Herman in a bad way?
Plenty racism at The Knick sees Dr. Edwards being both monitored by Bertie, as well as scoffed at by a young patient’s mother; all because he’s black. Regardless, Dr. Chickering isn’t prejudiced, not that I can tell. He is simply doing the job assigned to him. Even more than that, Dr. Edwards notices a black woman trying to get medical attention, but The Knick won’t accept black patients. This is highly distressing to Edwards, naturally. Prompting him to start figuring out a way to accept African-Americans for service, albeit without anyone else knowing. I suppose his basement office isn’t so bad now, providing an inconspicuous place for him to begin seeing patients. Tricky, tricky, Algernon! I dig it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
In the operating theatre, Thackery is dealing with an aneurysm. No electricity for now, so at least they won’t find themselves electrocuted. Also, we start to see more and more how Bertie is interested in Nurse Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson). Thack might be, too, as Everett so eagerly points out. Unfortunately, another patient is lost. The morbidity of modern medicine in 1900 is always alive and well on The Knick.
Returning to his office, Herman finds a couple thugs waiting for him – on behalf of Bunky Collier (Danny Hoch), there’s Jimmy (Happy Anderson) to start putting the hurt on Barrow. They’re not impressed about the debt: “You’re never too busy for Bunky,” Happy advises. They threaten his life if Herman doesn’t go see Collier. Looks like Herman is really in a bad way. Plus, he has Thackery on his back needing human cadavers for experiments, not the pigs they’ve got sitting down in the lab.
Dr. Thackery meets with Nurse Lucy in his office. He talks about his “circus town” and how it’s “no place for a girl”. Mostly he tries to apologize for the state in which she found him during the first episode. But she seems pretty keen on not rocking the boat, at least in the fact she understands the need of his secrecy, agreeing to keep his wild state between the two of them.
Dr. Thackery: “There is a life we live within the walls of this hospital and one we live outside of it, and these two lives need not intersect, do you understand?”
Tom Cleary helps Drs. Chickering and Gallinger break into another hospital. They search for information while Cleary riffs hilariously about a man with elephantiasis. Afterwards, Cleary is out drinking like a king. At the same time, Edwards is down in the basement of The Knick treating the woman who’d been refused previously.
The most interesting moment comes when we switch back to Cleary. He spies Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour), out of her habit, dressed almost solemnly. She heads to an apartment where a frightened, bleary eyed young redhead woman is requiring her services. Seems Harriet isn’t only married to Christ, she happens to help girls like this one with unwanted pregnancies. In a time such as 1900, this is certainly a shocking story. While I agree with Harriet’s ethics Tom now has a bit of dirt on the renegade sister.
Meeting with Bunky Collier down in a room with the same thugs who’d come to find him, Herman is “in the hole nine grand” and sweating around the collar. In fact, he’s sweating all over. Bunky is not a man to be fucked with. He even slams Barrow against the desk, putting a small pair of pliers in Herman’s mouth and roots out a tooth. Nasty chap, this Bunky.
“Well, well – Mr. Paris Shoes,” says the man who asked Algernon earlier about his nice shoes. They have a slight confrontation, which at first seems to be going the way of the other guy. Until Algernon absolutely pummels the man into unconsciousness on the floor of their apartment building. Incredible to see Edwards display such brute force. Then, before going inside for the night, he puts a few supplies on the man’s chest; stuff to help fix him up later.
Cut to John in the opium den once more. He’s having a shave, both eyes bloodshot and weary. Ping Wu (Perry Yung) gets his money, then Dr. Thackery heads out with his medical bag in tow. The guy all but lives there. Strolling out, he’s headed to work I imagine.
We’ll see him again next episode, “The Busy Flea”. Stay tuned for another of my recaps/reviews.