The Knick, Season 1, Episode 6: “Start Calling Me Dad”
Written by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Airs Fridays at 8PM EST on Cinemax
This week’s episode begins with Thackery living up to his more whacky reputation, calling Bertie into work in the middle of the night to ramble on about his new coke-induced placenta surgery ideas. Oh, and he’s got two high-priced sex workers there to keep him company for the past two days while he experiments on them: “Our budget won’t allow for pregnant prostitutes, so we’ll just have to make due with what we have here.” It’s absolutely bonkers, but the amazing thing is how easily the audience can buy into it. Of course Thackery would do this. The previous five episodes have been insisting how “renegade” Thackery is by referring to his antics – his coke addiction and radical ideas – but this is the first time the show really delivers on how insane yet brilliant Thackery is. Now this is how you open an episode. Naturally the episode doesn’t stay at that height of ludicrous antics, as not everyone at the hospital is spending their time testing revolutionary placenta surgery methods on sex workers, but what a great moment of triumph it is to see Thackery and Chickering’s surgery actually work! It’s completely predictable, but in the moment the success of their new approach, the fact that they finally pull it off, is astonishing.
A baby in pain is one of the quickest ways to the audience’s heartstrings, so the scenes involving Gallinger’s baby crying out are certainly heartbreaking. What’s amazing is how not manipulative they feel. The scenes aren’t played up for cheap drama, there are real stakes and tragedies being portrayed here. This is an episode of television where a baby dies a horrible death, but it earns the right to go to that extreme because it has real consequences that it doesn’t shy away from or play up. These scenes are almost unbearable to watch. Soderbergh pulls a nice trick in the first of these scenes, keeping his camera on Gallinger as the guilt over the cause for his daughter’s illness weighs on him.
Elsewhere in the episode, the detective duo of Inspector Speight and Cornelia in the great “Who’s infecting these rich people” case finally starts to actually head somewhere. This storyline has been lacking the engaging qualities that others have had in past weeks, but it gains traction in this hour. The two find the culprit in a cook named Mary Mallon, culminating in a wonderful moment of absurb comedy when Cornelia tries to tackle Mary and ends up getting dragged down the hall. Speaking of odd couples, listen–I’m down for any show featuring a buddy duo consisting of an Irish nun and a foul loudmouthed bear of a man going around administering illegal abortions. (Just typing that sentence reinforces to me how amazing that sounds, and really how grateful I should be that it’s happening right in front of me.) But I’m not sure that show should be The Knick. The series has plenty of character pairings that make it intriguing, as well as many extreme situations it’s successfully gone to. I’m just not convinced at this point that the abortion buddies are up to par with the rest of the show.
Another featured pairing is Cornelia and Algernon. It ‘s a nice treat to see them spend some more screen time together as they reminisce on their childhood spent together. The way they can tease each other really brings out the warmth between these two. Out of all the couples on this show, the scenes between these two bring out the most in the other’s character. Just as the audience is warming further to Algernon, however, Thackery uncovers his basement operation and promises termination. Watching these two actors match threats with each other is very satisfying and the sounds of the boiler doing its job in the basement add great atmospheric tension to the scene. Then Thackery sees the innovation Algernon has achieved by himself and finally accepts what Algernon has been proving all along: he’s just as brilliant as Thackery, if not even more than. Thackery and Algernon finally approach something like mutual respect as they decide to co-author a paper on Algernon’s hernia surgery, even if they are holding threats over each other’s heads, and having the show finally move past this sticking point is a welcome development. As for Cornelia, the episode ends on a particularly frightening note as her fiance’s father, Mr. Showalter, enters her room while she is undressing to vaguely threaten her. He also gives the episode its title, insisting she call him daddy from now on. Lord knows where this particular plot thread is heading, but the scene certainly is unsettling, which is enough for now.
This episode is all over the place, and I say that as a full on compliment rather than a takedown. It goes from outright absurdism to slapstick humor, heartwrenching tragedy, and frightening situations all in the same hour. I’m still processing just how well it does all of it though, each scene never overpowering the emotions of the others. There’s a lot of great TV on right now, so much so that some of it gets lost in the commotion. As far as problems go, that’s a pretty good one to have. Still, The Knick has become a show you don’t want to miss and I can’t wait to see where it takes us these final four episodes this season.