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Why You Should Start Watching: The Knick

Why You Should Start Watching: The Knick

The Knick
Created by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler
Returns Friday, October 16th at 10pm (ET) on Cinemax

Premise: In 1900s New York, the Knickerbocker Hospital is at the front of pioneering new medical techniques, headed by the brilliant yet troubled John “Thack” Thackeray (Clive Owen). Dealing with budgetary issues, high mortality rates, racism, and their own personal demons, the staff of the Knick fights to keep their heads above water and create modern medicine in the process.

Where We Are: Season two starts this fall; 10 episodes have already aired

What You Need To Know: Essentially a medical procedural that happens to be set at the turn of the century, The Knick is home to as many dysfunctional individuals, secrets, and prejudices as E.R. or Grey’s Anatomy. Thack balances being a revolutionary surgeon with addictions to cocaine and morphine, as well as a taste for experimental treatments that Dr. House would regard respectfully. His second-in-command Dr. Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland) is a black doctor essentially brought on by the Knick as an affirmative action hire, his natural talents disregarded by the racist staff. Hospital administrator Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) is managing the hospital and his personal finances into the ground, and board member Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance) fights daily for authority and the poor the hospital is supposed to help. Even the lowest rungs of the staff have secrets: Ambulance driver Cleary (Chris Sullivan) supplements his income in the shadiest ways, while Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour) conducts back-alley abortions in her off hours. It’s an Island of Misfit Toys to say the least.

Where We Left Off: Suffering from major cocaine withdrawals, Thack descended into increasingly paranoid behaviors that discredited him in the eyes of his peers and left a patient dead. Shipped off to a rehab center, he traded one devil for another as he began treatments with a new wonder drug: heroin. Dr. Edwards and Cornelia ended their affair, with the latter getting married to a man whose father makes her uncomfortable and the former being severely beaten in the streets. Barrow tried to get out of his debts to a local gangster, only to find himself under the yoke of an even more ruthless Chinese opium dealer. The hospital’s board voted to move the hospital’s operations to a different part of town, a move that would deprive New York’s poorest of one of their only options for care.

Why You Should Start Watching: A show with every episode directed by Steven Soderburgh, starring Clive Owen, with a score by Cliff Martinez? That’s a trifecta of talent that’s hard to beat. Beyond those elements, The Knick grew into one of TV’s most sturdy offerings last year, finding a new spin on the medical drama with its period-piece setting. While not a show for the faint of heart or stomach—Soderburgh never shies away from how barbaric early surgery techniques could be—it’s eminently atmospheric and wholly absorbing to watch this assemblage of characters try to figure out how to save lives, struggling against the limitations of the era and their own shortcomings. Owen is excellent in the antihero role, playing all of Thack’s arrogance and addictions with aplomb, and the rest of the cast all get their moments to shine as they’re forced to pull together to keep their patients and hospital alive.

What You Should Watch Beforehand: Thanks to Soderburgh’s direction, The Knick is a remarkably consistent show across its run. However, there are a few episodes that stand out as the narrative progresses.

Season 1, Episode 1, “Method And Madness“: The pilot episode expertly establishes the universe of the Knickerbocker Hospital, opening on Thack in an opium den early in the morning and progressing through the tragic events that make him chief surgeon.

Season 1, Episode 5, “They Capture The Heat”: A midseason installment that spotlights the growing connections between various members of the Knick’s staff, with grudging respect between Thack and Algernon, an attraction between Thack and Nurse Elkins (Eve Hewson), and an unlikely business partnership between Cleary and Harriet.

Season one, Episode 7, “Get The Rope”: Easily The Knick‘s best episode, this installment puts the Knick and its residents at the center of a race riot when a white police officer dies under their care, forcing everyone to unite and make do in circumstances violent even by their standards..

Season 1, Episode 10, “Crutchfield”: The episode where it all falls apart. Thack hits rock bottom, Barrow goes to increasingly desperate means to get out of debt, and Algernon’s self-destructive behaviors finally catch up with him.