The Knick, Season 2, Episode 8 “Not Well at All”
Written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Airs Fridays at 8pm (ET) on Cinemax
Wow. That seems to be the only appropriate response to such a well-crafted and invigorating hour of television as The Knick‘s latest, but it bears repeating: wow.
After last week’s less than stellar performance, an episode that culminated in the most ridiculous stunt this generally grounded period drama has ever had the audacity to pull, “Not Well at All” emerges as a fantastic return to form for The Knick, and even in this increasingly surprising season, perhaps the medical drama’s best episode yet.
“Not Well at All” opens with quite a bang, in a double whammy of dramatic impulse which includes one of Thackery’s (Clive Owen) desperate addiction patients hastily killing himself with an embalming fluid overdose, and the invasion of the Knickerbocker by the gun-toting “owner” of the recently separated Siamese twins. The former is an adrenaline-filled burst of energy with grim results (“He’s already half embalmed, get him on the table and let’s finish the job”) while the latter follows it with an intense stand-off in which Thackery negotiates with a revolver in his face just long enough for Cleary (Chris Sullivan) to sneak up and club the cretin before he can do any real damage.
Moving to Cleary, he and Harriet (Cara Seymour) get a real showcase here, with two standout scenes in an episode that is pretty much brimming with them. In the first, Harriet crafts homemade contraceptives out of lamb guts, as Cleary tries them on with varying degrees of success, all the while teasing Harriet through the curtain. The banter of the scene is an excellent bit of humor and utilizes the chemistry between Sullivan and Seymour to great effect. Unfortunately, the good times can’t last, and when Cleary finally goes for the long awaited kiss at a carnival later on, Harriet retreats with a slap and a spat of cold words. As the surprisingly effective team of Cleary and Harriet is one of the best reasons to watch The Knick, here’s hoping that they can patch things up and come to some sort of understanding, because splitting these two apart for long would be a big mistake.
“Not Well at All” also rewards the patience of viewers by bringing a number of storylines that have been building in the background and foreground of the season to a series of natural conclusions, and with a staggering rate of success to boot. The increasingly unlikable Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) somehow grows even slimier this week as he both sells out the home of his wife and children in order to secure a membership in the local country club and delivers the news to his wife with a cold, even malicious, indifference. Jeremy Bobb continues to play the character with a weaselly countenance, and viewers are left defiantly hoping for a comeuppance that will surely come soon, likely from the new mistress that he has gone to such great lengths to secure.
In other revelations, Cornelia’s (Juliet Rylance) investigation pays off in dividends with the revelation that her own father may be responsible for the death of Speight, Algernon (Andre Holland) discovers Gallinger’s unauthorized castrations via a hidden ledger, and even Nurse Elkins (Eve Hewson) gets a surprise in the form of her father’s return, suffering from a stroke in a brothel. To see so much movement on so many fronts is certain to leave viewers spinning with anticipation for the two remaining episodes, and that’s before we even get to the real meat of the hour.
Gallinger (Eric Johnson) is faced with perhaps the biggest reveal of the episode when an inspector arrives at his home to announce the death of the doctor who treated his wife’s psychotic break last year. When his wife confesses a moment later over tea and rat poison, the sequence takes a shocking turn and the careful performances of Johnson and Maya Kazan, who plays his wife, really sell the distress of the scene. When Kazan reveals with a chilling emphasis that she’s, “not well at all”, a disturbing tint begins to color the episode, culminating in Gallinger’s sweaty, stressed expression when she serves the likely fatal concoction to the inspector a moment later. Her heart-breaking commitment and abandonment by her husband and sister later on is even more troubling, and their united front at the episode’s end comes across like an axis of evil, evoking immediate comparisons to the doomed ambition at the heart of Macbeth.
Finally, “Not Well at All” closes out with the death of love, as Abby succumbs to the grave due to a chemical reaction during a mild cosmetic surgery. Talk about dying to be beautiful. What this will do to the already unstable Thackery is the question that will likely be the focus of the remaining episodes, but the shock of it all will be with viewers long after the season has ended.
With a laundry list of stellar moments, a ton of gravitas, and the best use yet of Cliff Martinez’s pulsing electric score, “Not Well at All” shows the potential that The Knick has to weave a series of great tales into a profound and involving whole, and why it is easily one of the best shows to grace the airwaves in years.