Xavier Gens delivers a political piece of brutal body horror with FRONTIER(S)
Cinemax’s The Knick
Season 2, Episode 5: “Whiplash”
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler
* For a review of the previous episode, “Wonderful Surprises” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “There Are Rules” – click here
“Whiplash” begins with Abby (Jennifer Ferrin) being walked out of The Knickerbocker Hospital, new and healthy, by Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen). He gives her a pinch of drugs, maybe his cocaine-heroin concoction, to take at the first sign of pain.
Inside, he has a snort of his own before receiving Nurse Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson) for his regular physical inspection and medical examination. She doesn’t seem to be too happy doing it any longer.
Cut to Thack in the surgical theatre. A man has his brain exposed at the middle of the room with John inserting an electrical probe into various different areas to gauge reactions. He triggers a bunch of physical reactions, as well as emotions including laughter, sadness, and so on. “What about desire?” Thackery asks the theatre. The man in front of them is an addict, strung on morphine. For twenty-four hours he’s been taken off. Now a vial of morphine is produced and he’s shot up with his drug of choice. All the while, Thack rigs the probe to detect the areas stimulated by the drug. With bloodshot eyes John triumphantly finds the portion of the brain lit up by the morphine.
Harriet (Cara Seymour) is busy scrubbing floors in her new, free life. A young girl working with her starts getting her period. Nobody’s explained how to take care of herself. While Harriet doles out her own advice, including “cannabis indica“, a nun happens to overhear. Of course, she disapproves. None of the holy sisters have time for Harriet now after her troubles with the law. All the working girls there are instructed not to talk with Harriet, or else face starvation.
Phillip Showalter (Tom Lipinski) is watching the homemade amateur pornography of Henry Robertson (Charles Aitken); the stuff he took of Nurse Daisy Ryan (Emily Kinney), along with another friend. I always found men watching porn together strange. Yet in its early days, surely, there were perverts sitting around enjoying it together.
In other more normal relationships, Dr. Bertie Chickering Jr. (Michael Angarano) is out in Harlem with Dr. Algernon Edwards (André Holland) having a drink. A fish out of water, Bertie says smiling: “My father will be scandalized.” But now we’re getting an olive branch extended. I thought maybe Bertie would go back to Thackery. Rather, he chose to talk with Edwards about it; Dr. Levi Zinberg (Michael Nathanson) likely won’t help him, so he had to go somewhere. It looks as if Algie will come to the aid of young Bertie.
Then there’s Bertie and his new relationship with the investigative reporter Genevieve (Arielle Goldman). They’re sneaking into places, looking for information together. Thick as thieves already, those two. Amazing how Bertie is quickly influenced by her spirited nature. He’s not usually the lawbreaking type.
At The Knickerbocker, explosion victims are beginning to show up by the load in ambulances. Nurse Elkins is left outside to organize things while Tom Cleary (Chris Sullivan) rushes back for more. Drs. Thackery, Everett Gallinger (Eric Johnson) and Edwards start their work on trauma victims. One in particular has a nasty piece of metal in his neck. Out it comes with a squirt of blood. Everett is still clashing with Edwards, not even able to take a simple point of advice without shouting; such an outright racist, it boils more and more to the surface now over these past couple episodes with his new white friend influencing his tiny brain. Mayhem and panic descends upon The Knick with Lucy doing her best to keep things flowing, and sleazy Henry taking a break from nude pictures and films to get all the nurses on duty and everything on track.
In between everything, Cleary manages to grease off a guy to whom Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) owes money. Will Tom use this as leverage on Barrow? Turn it into cash for himself? I found it a little interesting addition.
Down in the operating theatre, Thack is innovating, at every turn. He has Nurse Ryan helping him along the way. He manages to locate a bunch of metal shards, or what looks like nails, dug deep into a man’s guts. A savage mess, yet John Thackery prevails. Amazing how even in his haze of drugs Thack is able to keep his wits about him and do such good work. Perhaps it’s the reason he can, fueling him physically, as well as mentally making him believe he can do anything. Still, there’s an amount of knowledge and smarts that go into it.
Over at Abby’s place after the excitement of the day, Thackery shows up with laudanum for her. He takes a quick bump of his own, or tries to – “Put that away, John,” Abby scolds him. “Not here.”
Dr. Betram Chickering Sr (Reg Rogers) tends to his wife Anne (Linda Emond), giving her what looks like laudanum also to ease her pain. He and his son aren’t exactly on the same page, though, they both obviously care in their own way. Bertie Jr only wants to be that good son, to save his mother.
More father and son – Henry and his father Captain August Robertson (Grainger Hines) have lunch together. It’s all about money. “Now is not the time to be timid,” Henry says. He wants to invest in “new technologies” instead of dipping money constantly into old rusted ships. However, August is apprehensive. The earlier explosion happened at the subway, which he brings up. Their meal together ends fairly abrupt.
Leaving Abby, the good doctor Thackery gives her a smooch and apologizes: “Old habit.” A flame still burns?
After the passing of Dr. Mays, the prostitutes from Ping Wu (Perry Yung) are being examined by Nurse Elkins. We get a bit of proto-feminism on the prostitute’s part, as she explains partly the power of a woman over a man in the situation of paying for sex. Intriguing bit of dialogue, especially with Lucy being a bit of a feminist herself. Back to sleazy Henry, chatting up Lucy now as if she’s a dumb little kid. She grosses him out a little with medical textbook pictures. Then they get borderline flirtatious. Even on Lucy’s part, who brings up his likely extensive knowledge of the female anatomy.
On the grounds of Mount Sinai, we find Bertie still trying to impress Dr. Zinberg. He brings him work done at the hospital on adrenaline. Furthermore, he brings him a study concerning his mother’s condition. But Zinberg isn’t interested, he wants his work done. Bertie needs Algernon; he’ll help.
Finally we see more of Corenlia Showalter (Juliet Rylance). She’s still tracking down more information on Speight. Back at the police station, she gives over a ticket found at Speight’s residence, burned slightly. In a diary found, there’s a reference about bubonic plague.
Thack has a brain out on the table, examining things with Everett and Algernon. Out of nowhere, Everett suggests sterilization. His love of eugenics starts to come out. John can only sort of laugh. Algernon, no stranger to the “negro inferiority” argument, is disgusted with Everett’s pseudoscience.
Thackery: “For god‘s sake, gentlemen. Even this brain is getting bored of this horseshit.”
At dinner in a fancy restaurant, Henry is trying to work his powers on Lucy. They sip fancy drinks from San Francisco. He orders a bunch of fancy things with drinks paired. Then he reels off a bit of a crazy story about the history of the style of cocktail glasses from which they’re drinking. But beneath the facade of righteousness in Lucy, she is a bad girl. Admittedly, she is ‘sinful’. Though, I’m not sure how that matches up to Henry’s obvious perverted nature. I hope for her sake he doesn’t lure her into something bad. If so, there could be trouble going his way from John Thackery.
Herman Barrow is seen greeting his children for once, which seems a rare event. Instead of putting them to bed, he sends them off with a goodnight and what not. Then his wife Effie (Molly Price) comes ownstairs in lingerie, looking to please him after his hard day at work. Yet we know Herman’s sleazy himself, too. He has a little prostitute mistress to whom he goes in the night, now and then. Or who knows how often. He doesn’t stay with his obviously loving wife. He heads off without any love back, leaving his wife to feel rejected in the worst way. A pitiful scene, so sad to see his wife break down afterwards.
In a lecture hall, D.W. Garrison Carr (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) is giving a speech about the African-American experience, about “what a man says“, “man’s laws and words” and many other similar things. Algernon is in attendance with his wife Opal (Zaraah Abrahams). “The story of the negro in America is the story of America,” he tells the crowd; a particularly teary eyed Algernon looks on, as if being hit with a lightning strike.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Dr. Gallinger is at a dinner where his racist friend Dr. Thurman Drexler (Anthony Rapp) comes for a talk, along with a man named Dr. Samuel Reid (Thomas Kopache) who, as he says, runs “the idiot house” in town. They all begin a talk of eugenics. I can see this is headed in a nefarious direction.
At the Chickering household, Betram Sr, Anne, Bertie, his sister and Genevieve all sit down together. Bertie looks proud to have Genevieve there, especially when his mother fawns over her work that she’s read. A tense moment comes when the Chickerings find out Genevieve is a Polish Jew. At the same time, she makes a hilarious joke about Jesus being Jewish and they all have a crack-up. Amazing moment. Later on, Genevieve bonds further with Anne in private, which is another really excellently written scene including a bit where Anne brings up her disease briefly. Touching bit between these two characters.
Date night is over, and before leaving Lucy gives Henry a big kiss, along with the definition of whiplash. He drives off with a grin on his face. Perhaps not so sleazy after all. At least not with Lucy. Yet.
Barrow is down in Chinatown to see Ping Wu. They have a little chat about fathers a moment, after Herman shows up with a ton of cash for the man. I love how the camera lingers so long on the cash, as Ping counts it and flicks around on a tiny abacus. Just perfectly exemplifies everything about Barrow’s story. We stay right on the money until it’s all counted out, then the camera pans back to show Ping. After things have been paid up, Herman wants to buy out his prostitute lover from Wu: $2,000 is the total price. The next time we see Herman he’s looking at an apartment, trying to find a place where he can stash his mistress.
In more pressing medical situations of the hospital, Thack morphines his earlier brain patient and goes back into the skull. He cuts away at some of the meaty brain, excising a portion which will – hopefully – mean the removal of his desire for morphine: “Gentleman,” Thack exclaims quietly during the procedure, “-the source of addiction.” After the procedure and the patient is in bed, it appears he’s mostly catatonic. Not so easy, is it Thack? If it were, modern medicine would’ve propelled us beyond addiction long ago.
The sinister heart of eugenics comes out with Everett in a backroom, receiving the boys of Dr. Red’s ‘idiot house’ for sterilization. Such a terribly creepy finale that had me reeling.
Stay tuned. I’ll have another review soon for the following episode, “There Are Rules”. I dig this show so much, my favourite possibly ever. Never can I get enough.