When I saw the announcement of “The Knick” on CINEMAX, I thought that the show will be just another “House” copy. “The Knick” has similarities to “House”, but it’s very good show in its own right. The brilliance of Clive Owen truly shines in the role of John Thackery, a surgeon who is changing the face of medicine in the early twentieth century. United States at the beginning of the century are still strongly divided by matters of social status and skin color, and in the tradition of all shows under the HBO/CINEMAX logo it has a strong sense of the injustice and criticism in almost all episodes of the first season. “The Knick” is the name of the New York hospital, which is oriented on not as fortunate population of the Big Apple. There are hospitals for the rich, and hospitals for commons and the tradition of “The Knick” is to have open gates for those less fortunate in the “promised land of the US” at the beginning of the new era.
Early years of the twentieth century are interesting to watch, because of the Monroe’s doctrine which states that “America should belong to the Americans” and everything which comes from other continents is not as highly praised as their own innovators. Edison, Tesla and the other geniuses changed the world, and John Thackery, the main character of “The Knick” is the same kind of guy. His character is impossible to work with and his role of a genius is highly stereotypical, but it works in the surroundings of very graphic and sometimes very disturbing scenes of operations and surgical breakthroughs. What makes the plot more appealing is the emergence of a black surgeon (schooled in France) Algenon Edwards (André Holland). Algenon will emphasize one of the biggest shortcomings about the “open gates” policies of The Knick. It’s the hospital open to everyone, just not the black people. Memorable scenes of treating the blacks, as the equally important scenes of white people refusing to be treated by the black doctor, are in the core of the first few episodes of “The Knick”. In the relationship between Algenon and Thackery we can see traces of racism from the great white genius, but we can also see him appreciate the efforts made by the young, black doctor in order to prove his expertise. These first episodes of “The Knick” are weaker than the latter ones. In the second half of the season characters broke their clichés, and that made “The Knick” one of the most important series in the last year.
It’s amazing how many themes the show tackles in only ten episodes. After the obvious racial inequality, we have social disturbances, the typhoid fevers in the rich man houses, syphilis, drugs, church criticism, psychiatrists and depression. All these themes are well written in the show, and as it progresses, it pulls you further in. In the movies United States of the early twentieth century are often depicted as an immigrant paradise and the best place to be, but “The Knick” takes that premise, turns her around and together with the bowels and intestines, it shows us the real nature of humanity and America if you’re not part of those few lucky ones which could afford different methods of treatment.
The story made the full circle in the first season, and I could see the connections between Thackery and House more clearly, as the show came closer to the end. House and Thackery are both hard to work with, they are both egomaniacal geniuses and they were both in one time or the other drug addicts. There are two big differences, though. “House” was mostly a procedural show, making one case per episode, while “The Knick” has the story which progresses in the course of the season. That made “The Knick” more coherent show, and also for me, the more appealing. Another important difference is that House is a brilliant diagnostic, while Thackery is a brilliant surgeon. In the nutshell, Thackery’s hands are bloody in a way that House’s in his high-end hospital could never be. Early and the late twentieth century is hugely different not only for apparent reasons. The latter is cleaner, nicer wrapped, but the product and the essence aren’t necessarily better.
You shouldn’t dismiss “The Knick” as another “House” alike show. It is a great show in its own right. If the names of Steven Soderbergh and Clive Owen aren’t enough to attract you to the show because you think you saw it all, think again.
Without intent to spoil it for you, I will give you one last hint. In the very last scene of the first season, when the camera comes out of focus you’ll know it’s worth it. Trust me on this. “The Knick” really gives you something to look for in 2015.