We're heading into the home stretch for “The Knick” season 1, and tonight's episode was both the last one I saw before I wrote my initial review, and the most satisfying of those. Some thoughts on both “Get the Rope” and season 1 to date coming up just as soon as I write a love poem to the suction machine…
“The Knick” is a period piece that's tried to make clear that our stodgy past was the thrilling, scary present for Thack and the other characters. But if there's a lot of forward momentum within individual episodes – this one in particular – the season as a whole has taken its sweet time moving stories forward.
The big arc of the season has been Dr. Edwards' struggle to gain Thackery's respect and be allowed to practice medicine to the best of his ability. And while it feels realistic that Edwards wouldn't be accepted overnight – and that the reaction to him would vary from the bald racism of Gallinger and Barrow, to Thackery's irritation at being asked to play social crusader, to Bertie's relatively open-mindedness about the new guy – it was tough watching the show move patiently through those story beats, even as Edwards' underground clinic was often the liveliest corner of the show that didn't involve Tom Cleary and Sister Harriet's own slow-cooking partnership.
Some stories, like Cornelia's investigation into the typhoid outbreak, were backgrounded enough that it didn't feel like a problem that they were shuffling along slowly. (Ditto all the material about her engagement, which reached a casually terrifying peak last week when her fiance's father made clear his intentions for his future daughter-in-law.) On the other hand, Barrow's financial difficulties would be uninteresting no matter what pace they were moving at, even as he's served as something of a tour guide to the criminal world of lower Manhattan at the turn of the century. Barrow's just not a compelling enough character to carry all that scrambling and dissembling.
Still, Barrow's adventures in the pimp trade (even if just by association) helped set in motion the events of “Get the Rope,” which is the show's best episode so far, and the one that most feels like an episode of “ER” set in 1900. It's a lo-fi version of a County General disaster episode, with the race riot unfolding slowly but surely until the whole thing briefly seems like it's going to turn into “The Knick” take on “Rio Bravo” or “Assault on Precinct 13,” with the staffers and black patients all huddled in Edwards' clinic, trying to fend off the racist hordes. Instead, they figure out a way to get the patients and Edwards out safely, with some help from Cleary's brawn(*) and Lucy's brains.
(*) If “The Knick” turns out to be an enduring success, I imagine that Clearly pulling the ambulance up the street will be one of the first images that comes to mind for any viewer, up there with Thack's white boots and his ex-girlfriend's missing nose.
And once the patients are safe and the lynch mob loses interest, the episode gets to two hook-ups it's been teasing all season, as Cornelia and Algernon finally acknowledge that they're more than just childhood chums, while Lucy invites John over to her rooming house. The latter sequence is presented in the same time-fragmented style Steven Soderbergh has deployed in past films, most famously in the “Out of Sight” sex scene and most continuously in “The Limey.” It's a device he likes and is great at using (it helps when you are also your own director of photography and editor), and sets up that wonderful closing moment where Lucy considers the night she just had, first seeming sad about it, then smiling and then simply laughing when her roommate notices the odd look on her face. There have been times earlier in the season where I've questioned Eve Hewson's work (or, at least, her accent), but watching her there, I could see what Soderbergh saw in her during casting.
What did everybody else think, of both “Get the Rope” and season 1 so far?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org