The Knick, Season 2, Episode 1, “Ten Knots”
Written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Airs Fridays at 8pm (ET) on Cinemax
The Knick has returned for its second season, and anyone fearing that the grotesquely involving surgery scenes might take a backseat during a plot-heavy premiere need not hold their breath. On the contrary, “Ten Knots” boasts two of the series’ most squirmy scenes, reminding viewers with quick precision why this medical drama is in contention with Hannibal for having the most gruesome sequences to ever light a television tube.
First is a scene where Clive Owen’s Dr. John Thackery finishes up on another patient in receipt of his patented nose reattachment surgery. The makeup work is insanely realistic here, as Thackery peels up a layer of skin on the girl’s face before using tools to break the nostrils into his creation. Even with the patient obviously subdued, the procedure is excruciating to watch. Later in the episode, Bertie shows his prowess in the surgery theater when he breaks an abscess and drains it of a fountain of yellowish puss as a far more senior physician looks on in shocked horror while trying to make small talk. Each scene is an example of the brilliant and horrific effects work that The Knick‘s crack team is capable of, and certainly of some of the most convincing surgical procedures ever put to film, outside of a documentary.
Along with Clive Owen’s stalwart portrayal of the show’s chief character and the aforementioned gore, Steven Soderbergh’s effortlessly effervescent direction and Cliff Martinez’s brilliant score are also back. Soderbergh takes full advantage of an episode plotline that leaves Thackery helplessly tied up in a sailboat for some gorgeous oceanic shots (more on that later), while Martinez shows off his peculiar musical prowess in an audaciously electrifying score, with a particular percussive beat giving the proceedings a memorable soundtrack while two wrestlers face off in an underground fighting ring being run by Tom Cleary.
On the note of Cleary, it’s a bit of a shock seeing him act so compassionately to his former business partner, the abortionist Sister Harriet, though if anything, this idea of characters showing new sides of themselves is a recurring theme in the premiere. Another example comes in the form of the most tired and cliched character on the show, the notoriously backward Dr. Everett Gallinger, emerging as the unlikely hero of “Ten Knots” when he takes matters into his own hands regarding Thackery’s treatment for drug addiction. When Gallinger visits Thackery and tells him “We’ll figure something out”, the last thing viewers would expect is his elaborate plan of confining Thackery in a boat and forcing him to go cold turkey or jump overboard.
This plotline is easily the episode’s best, even if it takes up very little screen time. Between Thackery’s bookending apparitions of the little girl he let die in the season one finale, the good doctor’s ill-advised fervor at learning to tie knots in hopes of ensuring more drugs to feed his habit, and the juxtaposed notion of placing Gallinger, a man who very clearly has nothing left to lose, as his jailer, makes for an effective and involving through-line for the episode’s other story beats.
Dr. Algernon Edwards struggles with his diminishing vision, even as he seeks to expand his control and station at the Knick, and one can’t help but see the irony of his ignoring his failing abilities while trying to attain more power by presenting his value. Cornelia returns to New York via her father-in-law’s “generosity” in what is still The Knick‘s creepiest and most surprising story development, as her husband’s father arranges for her to be one step closer to his eventual reach. And finally, Barrow strikes up a plucky deal to minimize his debts to his new criminal partner by leveraging the dedicated team of physicians at his disposal to examine prostitutes in the future.
“Ten Knots” closes out with a double whammy of seasonal set-ups as Algernon is invited at the last minute to join in for the photo-op at the ground-breaking of the new hospital, and Thackery tells Gallinger of his revelation that his addiction might be treated like a disease, even as he is haunted by the ghostly harbinger that motivates his addiction. “Quite a view,” Gallinger intones as the episode ends on Thackery’s tortured expression.
Quite a view indeed.