The Knick, Ep. 1.10 “Crutchfield”: The Circus Burns Down in Season Finale

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The Knick, Season 1, Episode 10: “Crutchfield”
Written by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Airs Fridays at 8PM EST on Cinemax

The Knick is the rare case of a show that arrived precisely at the perfect time for it. Some shows arrive too far ahead of their time, and are thus canceled prematurely. Some shows arrive on the back of a trend, far too late to really make an impact. But The Knick? It arrived precisely when it should have. The trend of filmmakers making their mark on TV is still in an exciting growth stage, and the medical drama has been in need of someone like Soderbergh to come in and tear up the sutures.

This season finale is uniquely constructed, in that the first half of the episode is quite calm. We’ve become accustomed to finales serving as forest fires, rather than slow burns like this episode is. Rather than rushing to the finish line, “Crutchfield” is boldly content to take its time. That’s not to say it isn’t exhilarating — consider the understated one-take sequence following Gallinger as he blows into the hospital to beat up Algernon, then storms out after he’s torn off of Dr. Edwards. What a rush! But after the calm of the first half comes a furious storm, where just about every subplot comes to an engaging boil. It is the type of closure and setup one wants out of a season finale, but in Soderbergh’s own unique way.

It’s satisfying to see the abortion buddies — one of the season’s dangling subplots — connect with another subplot in Cornelia’s need to abort Algernon’s baby. This results in a powerful scene of connection between her and Sister Harriet, as they take comfort in each other knowing their secrets. Sarah Rylance delivers her most devastating work on this show in the scene where Algernon “breaks up” with her, and it’s a heartbreaking one to watch. This couple has been one of the only sources of warmth this season, and while we all knew it wouldn’t end happily, it still hurts to see them go.

Thackery has been a lot of things this season, but “Crutchfield” brings some new emotions into the mix, namely paranoid fear and anxiety. Consider the way the camera slowly pushes in on Thackery during the spleen surgery he watches. There’s a fear that subtly creeps onto his face as he realizes that all the revolutionary work he’s doing may be outdone by this man in front of him, Zinberg. Clive Owen has delivered some of his strongest work this season by sweating through each episode, but it was clear that his cocaine addiction would eventually have to be kicked. What’s refreshing is that the showrunners don’t prolong this inevitability, and beat the audience’s expectation to the moment. So we’ll see Thackery clean and sober next season? Nope. What a visually comedic moment it is to see Thackery smile with relief and then rack focus to a heroin bottle — the prescribed treatment to kick his addiction.

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Bertie’s youthful innocence and faith in Thackery dies quicker than the patient Thackery kills in his unsuccessful blood transfusion. He scolds Thackery like a child when Thackery tries to tell himself he came close to saving that patient. It’s a quick but satisfactory character transition for Bertie. We’re so accustomed to Bertie treating Thackery with nothing but respect, that to watch him berate Thackery is transformative. Bertie’s not a child anymore, and come this time next year, he could have Thackery’s job.

Speaking of having Thackery’s job, the man best poised to take it, Algernon Edwards, is sent off in a distressing state. His hankering for street fights returns, only the last we see of him is his body lying still on the ground, with the onlookers checking to see if he’s still alive. André Holland’s performance as Algernon this season has been a measured combination of fury, regret and calm — he electrifies every scene of his. To kill his character off like this would certainly be a bold move, it just wouldn’t be the smartest one. Holland’s absence would certainly be felt if he doesn’t return next season.

In the end, the circus that Algernon joined at the season’s start has burned down. Algernon could be dead for all we know, and Gallinger is in the wind, with no hope to ground him. Barrow thinks he’s solved his “Bookie-punching-my-nuts” problem in a bonkers subplot where he gets Ping Wu to kill Bunkie Collier, only — in true Barrow fashion — to find his debt simply transferred over to Ping Wu. It’ll be intriguing to see if Ping Wu plays a bigger role next season. Cornelia has resigned herself to a marriage she doesn’t want, while Nurse Elkins has resigned herself to the fact that she can’t save Thackery. Cocaine addiction will be replaced by heroin, and the Knick has decided to move itself uptown. The circus has burnt to the ground, and it’ll be exciting to see where the circus takes itself next season.

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