Review: Did Steven Soderbergh and Clive Owen just end ‘The Knick’?

12.18.15 1 year ago 36 Comments

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“The Knick” just ended its second season in a way suggesting it could very easily be the series finale, but maybe it won't be. Spoilers for the finale, plus Cinemax's statement on where things stand for the show's potential future, and a few thoughts on season 2 as a whole, coming up just as soon as I can't look at encased meats the same way anymore…

“This is it. This is all we are.” -Thack

So, late in the finale, Clive Owen's Dr. John Thackery, gripped with guilt over the death in surgery of his lover, and overconfident as always due to his habitual cocaine usage, insists on his most macabre stunt to date: performing surgery on himself (a bowel resectioning, no less), while anesthetized only with more cocaine. Unsurprisingly – except in the context of Owen being the star of the show, and so much of the action and drama revolving around Thack's latest shenanigans – the self-surgery goes terribly, Thack nicks (pardon the pun) his own aorta, and appears on the verge of death when his protege Bertie Chickering runs in and jams an adrenaline needle into his heart, “Pulp Fiction”-style, and…

… nothing. We cut from the needle going in to the surgical suite hours (or days) later, scrubbed clean, and then Thack's deputy, Dr. Algernon Edwards – his own surgical career virtually over due to recurring damage to his optic nerve from getting in one too many fights – proposing that he take up Thack's pet project of finding a cure for drug and alcohol addiction, suggesting he owes Thackery at least that much.

The implication is that Thackery has died. While the finale leaves certain stories in some state of flux – Will Barrow's prostitute girlfriend run off with all his money now that he's foolishly given her power of attorney? Will Cornelia ever prove that her brother Henry murdered their father and has been responsible for letting plague patients past customs inspectors? Will the former Sister Harriet ever figure out that Cleary destroyed her life and career so she would marry him? Will anyone finally give smug racist Gallinger the pummeling he so richly deserves? – Thack and Edwards were the show's most important, and most vital, characters, and one is either dead or badly injured (and his participated in such a public fiasco that it's hard to imagine his medical career continuing even in event of a full recovery), while the other is physically incapable of doing the job.

To borrow a line quoted by a cable  drama that definitively ended this year, is that all there is?

Cinemax has no official comment on where things stand with either the show itself or Clive Owen's participation in it – though Owen did a few interviews this week and may have been definitive in one of them – but did put out this statement:

Cinemax has been in conversations with Steven Soderbergh on how we might continue with “The Knick.”  When first conceived, the series was always meant to be presented in a two-year story arc, and Steven has been meeting with the writers to discuss how to proceed.

As I've written before, “The Knick” is a triumph of direction above everything else. There are some excellent performances (Eve Hewson's gotten to do some really good work this season as Lucy has learned to harness the power of her sexuality), and some of the stories go to really interesting places, but the plots are paced oddly, and anything not involving at least one of Thack, Edwards, or Lucy (particularly anything involving Barrow's money problems and scheming) can often feel like filler. But Soderbergh's visual choices are so striking that they render much of the show's narrative wobbliness irrelevant. Directing (and shooting and editing) every episode each season must be tiring, even given how quickly Soderbergh works. Maybe he needs a break, or maybe this really was viewed as a two-season experiment all along, with Soderbergh trying out a different TV project next, or just taking time off and coming back in a couple of years with a “Knick” reboot set a few decades into the hospital's future, with different characters and different kinds of disgusting primitive surgery.

All I know is that I'll be watching it if he's directing it.

What does everybody else think? Would you want the show in this form to continue without Thack? How do you feel season 2 compared to season 1?

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