The fourth episode of The Knick, and its return from a two-week hiatus, adds more to a big bed of complications. And like in the previous three episodes, many of these complications lie undercover, and much of the intrigue of the show rests in auteur Steven Soderbergh’s reveal as he tugs at one end of the bed and slides off the blanket.
Some of these complications could be seen coming, lumps under the cover if I want to exhaust this metaphor (apparently I do). One such instance? Dr. Algernon Edwards and Cornelia Robertson’s … um … fondness for one another. It’s as thick as the rubber baron unable to hear Algernon’s so thinly veiled slavery barbs. Whether or not they are actively satiating their urges with one another, evidence is there of a previous romance, and/or a desire to begin one.
The Sister Harriet and “ambulance driver” Tom Cleary story lines finally intersect in a more tangible way, as Cleary takes a stance on abortion and an ironic stance on the collection of 60 percent of the take on all abortions going forward. This changes, however, once he bears witness to what the nun (as we learn during her assistance in the resulting attempt at saving a life) has probably seen far too much of: a young woman living in poverty and all too aware that her pregnancy is likely the last thing she needs at the moment, taking matters and coat hanger into her own hands. As a result, Cleary requests to help Harriet in her operation.
Though on the periphery, this is one of my favorite relationships on the show. The bully ambulance driver with a heart of gold (I mean, he did say he’d let the loser of his horse-fellating bet stop paying his dues before—how did he put it?—ah, yes, “before the horse drizzled him good”) and the scalpel-sharp-tongued, aborting nun, saving immigrants from self-mutilation one syphilitic tenant building at a time.
But this episode is really about Dr. Edwards and his epic power play …
… which we’ll get to soon after a quick tangent: While The Knick’s inception made much of Clive Owen’s turn as a series lead and (stupid, stupid) pundits posited his place as yet another “dark, complicated antihero,” he’s turned out to be few of those things. His motivations are clear and have so far yet to be selfish, or for anything other than the betterment of the hospital or humanity as a whole. Yes he’s addicted to drugs, but he only began administering them to himself to work harder through the night (and we’ve seen what happens when he stops taking them). Yes, he’s treated Algernon terribly, but he doesn’t think he’s any less capable in the field of medicine because he’s black; he’s only worried (and, unfortunately, rightfully so) that patients will be ignorant buffoons like Dr. Gallinger, unwilling to accept the service, no matter how expertly trained, of an African-American.
Back to that power play: What we’ve found, instead, is that John Thackery isn’t really the lead, and his character definitely not the most complicated. Those distinctions, so far, at least, belong to Edwards. He’s pragmatic, willing to do what it takes for him to “succeed”—in quotations because his motivations haven’t been outlined too clearly. Is he after respect? Equality? In it to help people? The sort of immortality Thackery seems to be after (not physically, but reverentially)? The answer will have to remain a mystery for now, but while it does, his overcoming of odds is always blunt, decisive, in ways dark, surprising, and damn enjoyable to watch, not to mention adding a specific depth or angle to his character (once again, the “slow reveal” mentioned above). Getting shit from a neighbor in the Tenderloin? Fein pacifism for a moment until the threat lets his guard down, only to seize the opportunity with a few body blows (the kind that keep a surgeon’s hands safe from breakage—take notes, Gallinger); but instead of letting the receiver of his fists writhe helplessly, Algernon fetches medicine before retiring to bed. Being boxed out of his position at the Knick? Run an undercover makeshift hospital in the basement with coal diggers as wards and seamstresses as nurses.
Lastly, his greatest obstacle: Being humiliated at the behest of an ignorant, insecure assbag who refuses to let a more qualified African-American surgeon operate on “his” patient (and therefore leading to Algernon’s supposed role as he who walks Gallinger through a surgery that’s foreign to him but on which Algernon literally co-authored the paper)? Talk him to a mortally time-sensitive point of the surgery and shut up. Is he willing to let the patient die while he says nothing? As Thack points out, we never find out, we just find out that Gallinger isn’t willing to wait as long, handing over scalpel and surgical duty. Edwards essentially tangles with Dr. Douchey in a round of “chicken” with a patient’s life and Algernon’s deserved respect as the stakes. What happens next isn’t surprising. The surgery is a success, but his attempt at his rightful place isn’t. He’s struck by Gallinger and further humiliated by Thack and witnesses in the operating theater.
Wherever Algernon is going, the fight is going to be long and hard. And I can’t wait to watch it.