The Knick, Season 2, Episode 4, “Wonderful Surprises”
Written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Airs Fridays at 8pm (ET) on Cinemax
There couldn’t be a more apt title for the latest episode of The Knick, as “Wonderful Surprises” delivers a bevy of shocks and revelations at every turn this week.
First up is Dr. Mays (Ben Livingston), whose perversions became enough of a distraction as to cause his own demise in a hideous and fiery flash. The accident spells a surprising end for a character who had scarcely arrived. The same can be said for Lucy’s father, another new addition who has disappeared as quickly as he came. Are we to guess that writers Jack Amiel and Michael Beglar had second thoughts about these new characters while in the creative process? Their quick introductions and sudden exits certainly seem to suggest as much.
Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) again takes center stage, with the vast majority of screen time this week given to him. As he chases a cure for syphilis, Thackery goes to extreme lengths, purposely infecting Abby with malaria in hopes of burning out the disease. With Algernon (Andre Holland) showing clear and obvious concern, Thackery perseveres stubbornly, narrowly winning the day as Abby comes to, seemingly cured in the episode’s closing moments. This plotline allows for a staggering dramatic arc, one that puts viewers carefully through the ringer before rewarding them at the exact moment when things look as dire as they could possibly be. It also allows directer Steven Soderbergh another chance to show some gorgeous oceanic shots as Thackery and Abby float along the waves in an eerie dream sequence.
Elsewhere in Thackery’s world, he chases a cure which will prove to be much more difficult to attain, that of addiction and substance abuse. It’s ironic that he continues to use and abuse drugs, even as he attempts to study and treat this affliction first through a series of gruesome autopsies (again, props to the makeup team) and later by taking in and observing a carefully collected group of drunks and junkies.
Back to Algernon, his surprise wife (a fun term that I’ll hopefully be reusing throughout the season) Opal is colorfully characterized this week in a variety of ways. Her initial prickly demeanor and rude treatment of Algernon seems to be setting her up as an opposing force, particularly when she comes into contact with Cornelia (Juliet Rylance) and her family. However, a later social event has her flirting and teasing Algernon to good effect, and introduces a surprising chemistry between the two. As such, where this love triangle will find itself as the season continues is anyone’s guess.
Carefully segueing from one racial issue to another, “Wonderful Surprises” also finds a desperate Gallinger (Eric Johnson) slipping further and further into racial extremism, as an attack on his wife sets him to beating a child and discussing eugenics with a colleague. Their chillingly casual conversation about neutering “inferior races” suggests that, despite an earlier redemptive arc for Gallinger, his character is increasingly likely to only sink deeper and become more nefarious as The Knick goes on.
Taking a page from Boardwalk Empire, The Knick also seems to be starting an arc in which women’s rights issues are slowly introduced and explored. This is done most notably through the diversification of Nurse Elkins’ character, as she begins to expand her breadth of knowledge in hopes of increasing her station of employment at the Knickerbocker. Could “Wonderful Surprises” be setting up yet another historical precedent with the introduction of a female surgeon as well? It certainly seems so.
Finally, Tom Cleary (Chris Sullivan) and Cornelia’s plan to play hardball with Sister Harriet’s (Cara Seymour) former abortion clients pays off wonderfully, with the biggest shock of the hour coming in the form of her release. Though she is free from incarceration, her notoriety will not leave her so quickly, as she looks to be a social pariah at this point, a status that will likely follow her for a long time to come. Like other plotlines which have been resolved in record time, this development leaves a wide open arc for Harriet, and with six episodes remaining, a lot could still be done with her character in the remainder of the season.
Other developments include Bertie (Michael Angarano) chasing sexual prowess in a funny erotic scene where he loses his virginity to a prostitute, Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) being skimmed and extorted even as he himself skims from the construction of the new hospital, and Cornelia slipping gradually closer into the creeping grasp of her father-in-law as he sends her husband away on business.
Also, special mention must be given to the use of lighting to create a deliberate tension in “Wonderful Surprises”, particularly in a sequence where Cornelia investigates the home of the Speight family by candle light, and is subsequently tailed through the scarce illumination of streetlights shortly thereafter.
With calculated storytelling and brilliant presentation, “Wonderful Surprises” might be the best episode of The Knick yet, and will certainly find itself among the highlights of the season.