The Knick, Season 1, Episode 3: “The Busy Flea”
Written by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Airs Fridays at 8PM EST on Cinemax
While the new Cinemax series, The Knick, has had a promising run thus far, one would be hard pressed to deny the fact that it has been a bit uneventful. All of that has changed with the highly charged third episode however.
Beginning with Thackery receiving a visit from an old flame, “The Busy Flea” quickly sets the stage for a different kind of story. For one thing, Thackery’s former lover is not dropping by the Knick to catch up, but for a favor; the kind that only a surgeon can provide. The viewer knows right from the outset that there’s something amiss about this woman from the reaction of the admitting nurse. Soderbergh plays with the audience for a moment before revealing the woman’s affliction: she has had her nose cut off.
The result of a violent altercation, the woman pleads with Thackery for his assistance, while Thackery attempts to remain cold and emotionally uncompromised before eventually yielding to her request. He explains to her how the procedure would work but reminds her that it cannot hope to resemble her former nose. The scene is an exceptional one, introducing a compelling new character while showing different shades of the taciturn surgeon. Furthermore, the missing nose is a technological marvel that never looks phony for a second, and gives the scene a disturbing gravitas.
Meanwhile, Algernon has grown boldly proactive. The new underground surgery wing is a renegade plot point and one that promises to add a lot of spark to the remainder of the season. While “The Busy Flea” dealt primarily with the establishment of the second-grade treatment center, the section did see it’s first patient: a middle-aged man with a severe hernia. Unfortunately, the procedure performed by Algernon and his makeshift staff is quickly undone when the desperate patient returns to work and ruptures the sutures. When the man passes before his eyes, and despite his best efforts, Algernon is visibly shaken.
This leads to the episode’s, and possibly the series’, finest moment, a scene where a disparate Algernon picks a fight in a bar. The highly innovative fight sequence trades between framing the shot behind Algernon’s head as he engages his opponent, drunkenly weaving around the two men, and focusing on sharp impact shots that slow down and freeze the action for effect. The scene is like a flowing visual piece de resistance that truly allows Soderbergh to show off what he can do behind the camera.
Next, Barrow, the hospital’s administrator, quickly digs himself out of trouble with his loan shark but the method to which he has done so remains somewhat mysterious. Initially it’s suggested that he must have stolen his wife’s earrings and pawned them for the money, but this theory is quickly kiboshed when he gifts the earrings to his lady in waiting. While the writers try to bulk up the character by giving him more screen time, he still remains somewhat flat. Whether this is due to Barrow being not terribly interesting in and of himself or the performance by Jeremy Bobb who portrays him is difficult to pinpoint.
Other plot points concern Tom Cleary’s badgering of Sister Harriet over moonlighting as an abortionist, Elkins growing as a love interest for Thackery (the cute smile she gives him during the skin graft surgery is adorable), and the butchering of a vast amount of livestock in the laboratory.
The Knick still has some room to grow but “The Busy Flea” is an excellent showcase for the talent involved, and with any luck this is just the beginning of the series’ promise.