The Knick, Ep. 1.09: “The Golden Lotus” exposes Thackery to the light

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The Knick, Season 1, Episode 9: “The Golden Lotus”
Written by Steven Katz
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Airs Fridays at 8PM EST on Cinemax

The Knick has made some strong and effective leaps in the last few episodes, but none have been as big or as game-changing as the revelation of Thackery’s addiction to the Knickerbocker staff, and a host of others in its inner circle.

We first see a desperate Thackery breaking into a pharmacy by shaky fire-light, and when he is subsequently caught, the jig is up for New York’s finest, and most tireless, of surgeons. The way he is framed in in this scene, and the one in his home that follows, offers an insightful view of the wretched creature this man has become. Thackery is shot like a beast skulking in the shadows, and the roar he unleashes upon Elkins when she visits only further solidifies his monstrous state.

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His journey throughout “The Golden Lotus” runs the full gamut of emotions, from manic intensity to quiet hopelessness to utter despair, and if Clive Owen wished to submit an episode to the Emmys, this one would be his optimal choice. Of particular note is a scene where he visits the man who propositioned him earlier in the season to endorse a health tonic. The power shift in this scene from it’s partnering sequence a few episodes back is truly dynamic, casting Thackery as a pathetic junkie rather than a scrupulous professional. The final moment of the scene, when Thackery lunges at the man only to dissolve instantly is a marvel of controlled performance, and handily shows the extent of Owen’s craft.

His manipulation of Elkins is also officially completed here, as she’s now willing to lie, steal and prostitute herself all in the name of his affection and adoration. For a character who spent the first half of the season as the The Knick‘s sweet, and incorruptible center, she’s certainly folded quickly under Thackery’s watch. That she can only go further down the rabbit hole is beyond question, but whether she will follow Thackery all the way down remains to be seen. And if she can’t pull him out of this self-destructive spiral, who will?

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Two of the side-plots deal with troubling infant revelations. The first is the news from Cornelia that she is carrying Algernon’s child. The over-joyed reaction on his face is a beautiful moment for his character but it’s tempered immediately by the fearful regret that shows in Cornelia’s eyes. This leads inevitably to an abortion subplot that surprisingly doesn’t really involve Sister Harriet (although it may come to yet). The final scene between these star-crossed lovers is a heart-breaking tome that calls out to the times in which they live, a time where something that should be utterly simple becomes the death stroke for a relationship that has barely begun.

The second of these b-plots is less emotional, but certainly more disturbing. Everett’s wife has been unraveling with rapid speed but it would have been difficult for anyone to predict that this is where her fading mind would lead. When she shows up at the hospital with a long-dead infant in tow, it signifies the end of another relationship. Everett’s decision to have his wife committed offers a surprising level of sympathy for a character who is so often used as an ignorant and villainous foil. The choice of music for this sequence only adds further gravitas, and establishes it almost immediately as one of Soderbergh’s finest moments of this first season.

As we come to the curtain for The Knick, the stakes are higher than ever, and with the quality of the last few episodes remaining fairly consistent, we are likely in for a strong finish in next week’s finale.

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