{TB Talks TV} The Knick Review: “Method and Madness”

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By: , Contributor

We open on a pair of the most hideous white shoes I’ve ever seen in my life. You think I’m kidding but I’m completely serious. U.G.L.Y. We’re then informed that we’re in in 1900 and by the look of the surroundings, we’re also in a brothel. The shoes belong to none other than Clive Owen himself, known here as Dr. Thackery, and he’s running late to work at the Knickerbocker Hospital. He hails a cab…well, a horse-drawn cab, and takes the long way to work so he can inject a drug of some kind between his toes. This guy knows what he’s doing – except in the wardrobe department, dude needs new footwear. The music for these scenes is very sci-fi/futuristic. So much so that it takes you out of the time period and makes you very aware that you’re watching a 21st Century TV series. It’s strange and I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not.

(Source: bnowalk.blogspot.com)

When he arrives at work, he heads to the surgery theater where Orphan Black’s Dr. Leekie (Matt Frewer), here known as Dr. Christiansen, is dipping his Nostradamus-esque beard in some kind of solution…to sterilize? It’s not clear. What is evident is that hygienic standards in the hospital are sorely lacking. More on that later. So, the good doctor tells the gallery that the procedure they’re about to perform is experimental and has to be done within 100 seconds to be effective. Essentially, there’s something wrong with the female patient’s pregnancy. They start the timer and go for it, cutting into her abdomen but almost immediately, it’s clear there’s a problem. After a lot (I mean “Hannibal” levels) of blood, they realize they have to get the baby out stat. In this scene, there’s no soundtrack at all – just the eerie sounds of the manual pump used for all the blood and the frantic muttering of the doctors. They work tirelessly but not only do they lose the mother, they also lose the baby.

Dr. Leekie is visibly upset by the loss. He heads back to his office, drapes a sheet over the couch, sits down and blows his brains out. Again, not kidding. We fast forward to his funeral where Dr. Thackery is giving a philosophical but very angry eulogy for his friend and colleague. Back at the hospital, Thackery takes over for Christiansen as chief surgeon. He attends a board meeting where the hospital’s chief benefactor has sent his adult daughter in his place. Needless to say, these were the days where women were meant to be seen but not heard and the menfolk are reluctant to listen to Miss Robertson (Juliet Rylance). She wins them over and convinces Thackery to consider hiring the very experienced Dr. Algernon Edwards to be assistant chief surgeon, which again, Thackery is reluctant to do.

Elsewhere, two ambulance drivers get an emergency call and rush to the scene only to find another ambulance has beat them to the punch. They’re about to come to blows over who gets the patient until our ambulance drivers break out the bats and win the stand-off. They take the newly won patient back to the Knickerbocker and with the wail of the siren blaring head back out. They meet up with the city health inspector at a tenement where they force a woman with tuberculosis to go to the hospital. The health inspector then takes a bribe from the landlord to not look into any more of his properties. He then goes to the Knickerbocker where Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) gives him another bribe to bring all the sick of the city to the Knick, which is in dire financial straits.

Meanwhile, Dr. Edwards has come for his interview but there’s something Thackery wasn’t told – Dr. Edwards (André Holland) is black. Even though he’s intelligent, well educated and top of the field, Thackery tells him he’s not interested in having an “integrated” hospital. Obviously, Edwards doesn’t want to stay where he’s not wanted so he leaves, encountering Miss Robertson on the way out. Before she can chew Thackery out, Miss Roberston has to deal with the woman with TB. She learns that the woman is to far gone and has to break the news via her young daughter, who translates from the woman. After that sad scene, where she has to send the little girl off to work at the factory, Miss Robertson tells Thackery it’s her way or the highway with Edwards. When he still refuses, Robertson threatens to pull her family’s funding, which forces Thackery to bring Edwards on.

In the maternity ward, a nurse/midwife/nun has some unusual methods and is rewarded for her handwork with catcalls from the ambulance drivers, complete with sexual innuendo. She seems used to the treatment and holds her own in the battle of wits. These glimpses of the nun and the ambulance driver are interesting but, at least in this first episode, seem extraneous and out of place. I’m sure we’ll get into that more in later episodes, but for now, it takes away from the central action.

So, back to it: one of the patients who had part of his bowel repaired has gotten worse and Dr. Edwards and Dr. Gallinger (Eric Johnson) can’t seem to agree on a course of treatment. Since Thackery is MIA so far, they send a nurse to get him to help perform the emergency surgery. When she arrives, she finds him deep in the throes of withdrawal from cocaine, which it turns out his old friend Dr. Christiansen got him hooked on. Because of the urgency, he asks the nurse to administer a dose but when she can’t find a vein, he has her use the urethral vein. Yep, that’s exactly where you think it is…under the…well, down below. Next we see him, Thackery is bouncing around the surgery, fresh as a daisy.

(Source: Cinemax)

The doctors can’t give ether to the patient because he’s developed bronchitis, so Thackery does an experimental spinal block that will either put him under or paralyze him. Again, none of the doctors or nurses seem the least bit concerned about hygiene, performing surgeries left and right without gloves! I mean, I know medical science was primitive, but yuck! Anyway, seeing that he’s not wanted, Dr. Edwards resigns, vowing to leave as soon as the surgery’s over. Once the spinal tap goes flawlessly, though, he decides to stay on and promises to stay at the hospital until he’s learned everything he can from Thackery. Welcome to the Knick!

I think TV has found its new favorite anti-hero in Owen’s Thackery. Move over Walter White and Don Draper, there’s a new guy in town. From his marked racism to his illicit drug use to his disregard for the feelings of those around him, it’s clear that Thackery is going to be anything but lovable – or even likable. There is something about him, though, that keeps you coming back and even rooting for him to succeed, knowing that it’s nearly impossible for him to do so. He did remind me of another Jon Hamm character, though. Did anyone else watch “The Young Doctor’s Notebook?” It was a very short series, but it was a period medical drama where the head doctor had a debilitating drug habit. Sound familiar?

Anyway, this premiere episode of was solid, if not flawless, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for next week!

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In Rikki’s perfect world, she’s Queen of Westeros, best friends with Mindy Kaling, and her other car is a TARDIS…a girl can dream, right?
@rikkimckernan

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