Cinemax’s The Knick
Season 1, Episode 4: “Where’s the Dignity?”
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Busy Flea” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “They Capture the Heat” – click here
The Knick‘s fourth episode starts with Tom Cleary (Chris Sullivan) playing darts, betting, drinking. He ends up making a bullseye and the place roars. Then from the corner, Tom has a little lookout boy signal him to the door. What I love about this opening, as is the case at many points through each episode, is the music from Cliff Martinez. I mean, does it ever give this period piece series an extra edge, or what? Insanely catchy, intriguing, weird.
Here, the score leads into a scene where Cleary brings a bag of rats from the lookout boy down to a tiny ring, lined on every side by drunk, loud men. Inside the ring, the rats are dumped out and a man in the middle tries his best to stomp them. One of those basement gambling rings that’ll host any sort of event.
At the hospital, Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) presents ashes to a widow. It turns out the pig he cut up at the end of the last episode was for the ashes, as the body clearly went to making money.
In the operating theatre, Dr. Algernon Edwards (André Holland) scrubs in for surgery. Even while Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) says there’s no need. All the while, Dr. Everett Gallinger (Eric Johnson) fumes at being told what to do by Edwards, who orates the surgery for everyone present. At the ready is Dr. Bertie Chickering (Michael Angarano), as well. But at one point Algernon refuses to tell Everett “what‘s next“. Worse, Everett says he has no time for “nigger games“. Finally, in steps Edwards to do the rest of the procedure and doesn’t miss a beat. He helps harden and clot the aneurysm with an electrical current, which prompts Gallinger to punch Edwards in the face; a dirty, cheap shot.
Inspector Speight (David Fierro) and Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance) head over to see Mrs. Hemming (Emily Bergl) concerning the typhoid outbreak. We see how frank and upfront Speight is, after refusing a handshake from the lady due to not knowing her “hygiene habits“. He further asks tough questions to the lady, wondering if there were any women “on the side” for her husband
We see Thack reciting lines for a crowd, an obvious flashback to a time before Abby (Jennifer Ferrin) lost her nose, and when Dr. Christiansen (Matt Frewer) was still alive. A Christmastime party at the hospital. Happy, carefree. Cut back to 1900, Abby sits ghastly in a chair with the skin on her arm grafted to her face, elbow bent back up over her head. Things have certainly changed. Tragic. And it seems their sad reunion does nothing to help John’s state of mind. As the two talk, Nurse Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson) listens on. She hears everything at the hospital, but just listens. Taking it all in.
Herman has a new hush-hush agreement with Cleary, taking the ambulance for obviously nefarious purposes. Afterwards, Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour) comes to ask Cleary to give up his fooling around. Only Tom isn’t fooling around. He tells her what he knows – the abortions, all the girls. Now they’ve got an arrangement since he’s strong arming the nun. I don’t like what he’s doing, though, I don’t exactly feel he’s on the level. It isn’t Christ keeping him on the moral side of anything: he’s in it for money.
Algernon meets his father Jesse (Leon Addison Brown) outside of the hospital. He is a proud man to have his own son, a strong African-American man a doctor at The Knick. They have a chat about the history of the building, the neighbourhood, bits about Captain August (Grainger Hines) and that crowd. When Dr. Thackery strolls out, Algernon makes a great quip about how good John is: “But I might be better,” he says to his father with a smirk across his face.
We get more of Bertie now, which I love. He’s a good character and Angarano plays him incredibly well. His father, Bertram Sr (Reg Rogers), seems out of the loop in his son’s life. He doesn’t approve of the circus that is The Knick. It’s interesting to watch their relationship play out, especially into Season 2. Great actors with a nice chemistry, as well.
Furthermore, we’re privy to Algernon and his family in a scene together in a scene. I’m excited to see more of his story; another solid part of why The Knick is well written, having Algernon tackle all the racism in 1900 being an educated black man in a fiery New York City. Even better, Algernon goes on to meet Hobart Showalter (Gary Simpson), future father-in-law of Cornelia. Hobart is a real greasy guy, a capitalist whose beady eyes are those of an absolute predator. But Algie gives him a nice saucy retort after listening about the “docile” natives of Ecuador. Nice scene to include here, which pits Algernon against the upper class racism of the early 20th century.
Down in Chinatown, Lucy finds Dr. Thackery laying in a haze of opium. Naked Chinese woman by his side. Naturally, she’s shocked and makes her way out quickly. Their relationship is headed somewhere. No doubt to a tragic end for one of them. Or both.
And so Cornelia is marrying Hobart’s son Phillip (Tom Lipinski). Everyone’s mingling at the party uptown. A few strange looks pass between Algernon and Cornelia, after talk – from Phillip – about them moving away. Is there more to the relationship between these two? Sure, they’re old friends; the Edwards’ have worked for the Robertsons years upon years. Only there’s something else there.
Algernon talks with a vacuum salesman about how one of his units might work with blood. So they tinker with it a little, and the doctor quickly buys it up. Should be fun to watch what he’s up to with this gadget. I assume perhaps a better way to pump blood during surgery.
At The Knick, Bertie Jr shows his father around while doing rounds with patients. An injured, sick man comes in with rat bites. He’s the one who stomped rats at the beginning of the episode; after he slipped, they got him a bunch. Algernon gets pushed out of the way mostly, called a shoeshine boy essentially, then Everett wrestles his way in next to Chickering. They’ll soon have to accept him. Particularly now that Algernon stands tall in Gallinger’s face, ready for a punch instead of getting suckered. I just want to see Everett get the smile wiped right off his face.
Cleary comes across a young woman covered in blood, laying in bed. He takes her in the ambulance, eventually ending up in Thackery’s hands. At his side are Bertie and Sister Harriet, watching on is a distraught Cleary and an interested Dr. Bertie Chickering Sr. The blood is leaking everywhere. The young girl didn’t want to be pregnant and massacred herself. At a time like this, we truly see that someone like Harriet is needed. But it should’ve been legal, instead of her having to do it backdoor secretive. So many young lives lost, so much horror. This scene is real gruesome, in a brief moment. We see John reach inside the woman, then Bertie; the first shot is raw, almost surreal. Lots of blood. A little later, Bertie’s father is not exactly impressed because he came from a worse place than The Knickerbocker, all so that his son didn’t have to go through the same. Except Bertie likes the way Dr. Thackery operates, the experiments he tries, and the methods which he attempts. He is like no other, certainly. Alas, family problems plague Bertram Junior.
Speaking of problems – Herman’s in a jam. Down in the morgue, he has a slight confrontation with Cleary who knows what he’s doing. Barrow talks about “the going price for a fresh body“. Cleary just isn’t having any of his nonsense. We find out he was a gravedigger. Doesn’t surprise me in the least. He must have done whatever he could after coming over from Ireland. He and Sister Harriet go see the girl who died earlier get buried. Along with a bunch of other bodies in a semi-mass grave. Harriet says a prayer before they head off.
The end of this episode sees Lucy riding off on her bike, as Dr. Thackery heads out – once again – to Chinatown. We’ll see what other interesting things progress in this shady relationship in the next episode titled “They Capture the Heat”, as well as where all the other tenuous, wild friction between characters heads. Stay tuned.