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The Knick Season 1: “Mr Paris Shoes”

By Eleonora Iafano on Aug 22, 2014 to The Knick


In the second episode of The Knick, we are led through the morally corrupt and racially charged goings on in the hospital. Three things stood out in my mind: cadavers, cocaine and kickbacks. Modern medicine was trial and error back in the early 1900s, as was the idea of electricity and racial equality. I must add that Kudos is in order for Clive Owen’s riveting performance. He tends to dominate almost every scene he’s in. His character is cool under fire, yet the things he says can set your teeth on edge. Although you admire the man of medicine, you wonder what’s to admire about the man underneath it all. I also really enjoy the witty repartee between Dr. Algenon Edwards and Dr. John Thackeray. Make no mistake: Dr. Edwards will not give in to the petty disposition of some doctors on staff who are completely narrow minded. If anything, it only hardens his resolve to become better. Due to the fact that Dr. John Thackeray is the central character to which all the action revolves around, it’s good to see a lot of the focus on Clive Owen. He brings a dry intensity and a very droll outlook to the character he plays. I just can’t get over the fact that Dr. Thackeray is a man of ‘modern medicine’ and yet with all his cocaine use, it boggles me that he puts himself in harms’ way. The other two doctors on staff, Drs. Chickering and Gallinger, seem to have a comfortable rapport with their chief of staff. Gallinger is more like minded with Thackeray, while Chickering seems to be a little more accepting of going with the flow, trying new things and just being polite.

The Knick does not shy away from the explicit detail of hospital surgery, circa 1900. The camera focuses intently on the patient, the surgical instruments being used and of course, a large amount of blood is often shown. Mind you, this being a series devoted to the study of advanced science and the human body, viewers should come to expect that a few surgeries will be shown. Some, more graphic than others. This episode seemed a little toned down, compared to the dramatic opening of the premiere. However, surgery was still a risky business. Same with providing a hospital with electricity. Unfortunately for the staff, electrical malfunctions cost the life of a nurse and a patient while a surgical procedure is taking place. This event sets off a series of unfortunate events, in which we find our lovely superintendent is taking more kickbacks, this time from electrical contractors. Desperate to cover his tracks, he promises to look into the matter and assures Cornelia and Thackeray that he will get results and deal with the person at fault. What superintendent Barrow fails to realize is that he’s way in over his head, trying to hide mounting debts and desperately wanting to cover his behind, because if anyone at the hospital were to find out what he was up to…


John Thackeray continues to ingest cocaine and go about his daily duties as chief surgeon. Upon making the rounds, he is always accompanied by Drs. Chickering, Edwards and Gallinger. During several routine examinations of patients on that floor, two are found to have bloated midsections. A few attempts to remedy the situation by injections from Dr. Gallinger haven’t been successful. It’s evident that something else needs to be done. When Dr. Edwards states a new procedure that had great success would be the appropriate solution, he is ignored and scoffed at. What absolutely boggles my mind is how a man like Dr. Thackeray, who claims to be so forward thinking in the name of science and medicine, be such an inconsiderate and prejudiced jerk. Not only is his bedside manner demeaning to Dr. Edwards, but he is so snotty and rude, it’s a wonder that he got the position as chief surgeon. Dr. Gallinger also remains quite haughty towards Dr. Edwards. Or should I correctly say racist. I’m personally appalled at the way he is so brusque towards Dr. Edwards. It seems to me that Dr. Thackeray may feel a bit insecure; why else would he constantly pick on and needle Dr. Edwards? He needs to change his arrogant attitude.

I am reminded by my husband that this series takes place in 1900 and racial equality was something still hanging precariously in the balance. The prejudice bothers me. Dr. Edwards is given the basement as his professional office. It’s dark, dank and very poorly lit. This is where a renowned doctor and surgeon is supposed to work?! Cornelia is outraged and wants him to fight this. However, it’s just like Dr. Edwards states to Ms. Cornelia Robertson, “I expect it. You do not.” The storylines seem to flow well; you have changes in science and social norms that were actually part of that time, and it’s nice to see it on the screen. The plot also focuses on the occasional flashback of Thackeray and his mentor doctor. I believe that is an important piece to include, as it shows the driven work ethic of John Thackeray. You see a man who is devoted to his work and he wants the Knickerbocker hospital to become the most sophisticated and advanced hospital of the time. No small feat, considering all the challenges the staff face.

Thackeray continues to have the occasional flashback of his mentor. I wonder if its drug related or the fact as chief surgeon, he is under a tremendous amount of stress and delusions of grandeur are part of his psyche. Bodies are hard to come by during the course of the episode and Thackeray demands more in order to carry out experimental surgeries. Barrow, under pressure and extremely stressed out, snaps and states that he’ll get them, somehow. The few times he suggested using pigs to Thackeray were outright rejected. Not only does he have to cough up money to some seedy characters, he owes the ambulance drivers their pay and he also has to make sure that nobody ever finds out about all the kickbacks he’s been taking.TheKnick_Cleary

Cleary, our colorful ambulance driver has a few drinks at a pub and knocks some poor sod’s head in when he sees Sister Harriet walking about. It’s dark out, and in a neighborhood that looks a bit rough. Why would she be there and for what purpose? It becomes clear that there’s more than meets the eye with Sister Harriet. She’s come to help a married woman obtain an abortion. Seeing as how this woman is married to an abusive man and they already have children, another child would strain the finances, as well as the marriage. Viewers have to remember that back in the 1900s, a woman was considered the property of her husband, and women couldn’t vote or own land and birth control was a sin in the eyes of the Catholic Church. However, I believe that Sister Harriet goes about doing this kind of work, with a cloak and dagger approach. Cleary watches her goings about in the dark.

Interestingly enough, Thackeray speaks with Nurse Elkins about what she saw and how she helped him. The way he speaks about what he’s doing, I mean, how on earth can anyone justify shooting cocaine into your system as a means of keeping you focused and as a coping mechanism? Nurse Elkins and Thackeray agree to keep this between them. Nothing like dirty little secrets having friends, right? We also see Cleary in cahoots with Dr. Chickering and Gallinger, stealing a medical report – the very one that Dr. Edwards was recommending earlier – because, hey, let’s ignore the man but take credit for his idea. Dr. Edwards, on the other hand, is a most resourceful man. He’s turned his dark office into a medical office, complete with instruments and chairs for patients. He tends to a young African American woman whose arm was painfully swollen. He is a tough guy and hats off to him to make the best out of dreary situation. Upon going back to his apartment, he is harassed and almost beaten up by an African American man. Dr. Edwards gives this thug a beating. Before closing the door, he gives the man some gauze and iodine. I say that was one heck of a classy thing to do. I wouldn’t have given him those items.

Thackeray has gone off to one of his opium dens, because hey, let me get high on cocaine, it calms me down and decompresses me. Ugh. How many more times is this going to happen before he realizes that he can’t fool anyone anymore, especially himself?

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