The Knick, Season 1, Episode 4: “Where’s the Dignity”
Written by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Airs Fridays at 8PM EST on Cinemax
The episode asks the title question in just about every scene. Consider the jaw-dropping opening scene featuring Cleary dumping a bag of rats in a ring to be stomped on, all diegetic sound muted with only Cliff Martinez’s bonkers and wondrous score playing over it, making it all the more haunting. Where’s the dignity?
The last episode I reviewed, “Mr. Paris Shoes”, was absent of any of the dark humor of the pilot, so it’s been great to see the show implement moments of pitch black comedy over the past few weeks, and especially in this episode. Consider when Thackery threatens to stab Edwards with his father’s Union sword if the patient dies. Edwards replies, “Union? I would have thought Confederate.” Edwards gets another great quip later as the only African American at a party when Cornelia’s fiancé says, “You must be Dr. Edwards.” “What gave me away?” replies Edwards.
There’s also something humorous about the fact that Thackery seems more amused than anything else with Edwards and Gallinger having a standoff while a patient is bleeding out. Barrow lying about a patient’s wishes to get cremated to make an extra buck is certainly undignified, but brings a guilty chuckle of shock to the audience in the moment.
It’s not all jokes tonight though, as “Where’s the Dignity?” featured some strong character work around the peripherals. There’s a great character moment when Captain Robertson builds up Edwards to a friend by saying: “you will never meet a Negro with as much ability and ingenuity as this one.” The 7 brief expressions that flash across Andre Holland’s face are equal shades anger, heartbreak and acceptance – a work of revelatory emotive genius on Holland’s part as he himself wonders where the dignity is.
Cornelia and Algernon get some screen time together, revealing a tender understanding between the two. Whether or not it’s romantic will be revealed later, but for now it’s inconsequential. These two appear to be the only ones with true respect and admiration for each other, and it’s a compelling dynamic that we haven’t seen yet on this show.
Cleary and Sister Harriet finally come to a head and resolution as Cleary tells her he knows about her moonlighting as an abortionist. This particular sideplot was something I found a bit distracting these past few weeks, but it came to a surprisingly satisfactory sort of conclusion. Cleary blackmails her into cutting him in on her profits, and at the end of the episode the two come to an understanding of each other bordering on mutual respect. Cleary then repeats the central question of the episode to drive home the graveyard setting the two stand before that houses countless dead immigrants hoping for a better life in this city – “Where’s the f***ing dignity?”
Bertie gets some exploration as well, revealing a disapproving father. It’s a dynamic that’s nothing new on television, but should prove to provide greater investment in Bertie for the coming weeks. Going back to Algernon, it was nice to see the show flesh him out a bit more by having him interact with his mother and father. The most interesting part of it wasn’t that he was interacting with them though, but the reveal that this is the first time he’s gone to see them since arriving in New York City. The episode doesn’t reveal why, stoking some interest for coming hours. Hopefully the show will continue to dig into this dynamic, as discovering the particulars of why he’s avoided his parents for this long should be compelling.
This show wasn’t ever falling apart by any means, but this episode really saw it coming together as a fully formed longform type of storytelling. The character dynamics are really coming together, with a begrudging respect building between Thackery and Algernon. Sideplots are weaving together and new ones are beginning that carry interest – for example, did anyone else get the fear that Gallinger may have unwittingly infected his infant daughter by brushing his finger against the rat bites of a patient at the hospital, only to later let his daughter bite on that same finger? The outstanding visuals and direction by Steven Soderbergh have all but carried the show until now, with the show seemingly able to support itself as a whole from here on out.