[This is a review of The Knick season 1, episode 7. There will be SPOILERS.]
In ‘Get the Rope,’ The Knick continues to explore its secondary thread of racism through the character of Dr. Algernon Edwards and his expanding role at the Knickerbocker Hospital following his encounter with Thackery during last week’s superlative ‘Start Calling Me Dad.’
It’s unclear exactly how much time has passed between last week’s episode and ‘Get the Rope,’ though the return of Dr. Gallinger seems to suggest at least long enough for there to have been a respectable mourning period for the loss of his child. The question, then, is: Whatever the length of time, would it also be enough to justify the rather radical change of heart seen in Dr. John Thackery? This, of course, comes after the good doctor’s prejudices were put on display in the series premiere, and then again after Gallinger sucker punched Edwards in the operating theater.
Certainly, the argument could be made that Thackery’s issue with Edwards was purely one of honesty – as he referenced how Edwards’ sterling resume didn’t include any mention of being African American – or that he was merely putting the needs of the hospital first, taking into consideration the potential blowback that would result from having a black surgeon on staff at an institution that was already failing financially. And given the horrendous racial epithets that are spewed forth during this episode, such concerns are not unfounded.
The truth is, however, aside from a few scant flashbacks (such as the one seen here, where Christiansen mentions Thackery is a real hit with the ladies), not much is known about Thackery, so perhaps he is far more progressive than he lets on. But considering how often The Knick touches on themes of race and prejudice, and how self-aware the writing becomes while doing so, it is unlikely that Thackery’s initial treatment of Edwards was rooted in much of anything but bigotry.
All of this calls to attention the shift in Thackery’s characterization throughout ‘Get the Rope.’ It raises concerns that, since the episode is so racially charged, depicting Thackery – during the tense sequence of events that lead to a mob breaking into the Knick and assaulting black citizens on the street – as more of a conventional hero isn’t too drastic a leap, even if the foundation for the transition was established at the end of last week’s episode.
In that regard, it seemed as though Thackery’s acceptance of Edwards was purely selfish – that he had quickly weighed the benefits of keeping someone with Edwards’ skill and ingenuity close at hand, lest he be whisked away by some other institution and the Knickerbocker be forced to make due with just one medical genius on its surgical staff. But now it is clear he has indeed welcomed Edwards into the Knick with open arms, and that shift is supported by Thackery’s continual defense of Edwards, especially when the after-hours clinic is discovered by Barrow and the rest of the hospital staff, and again when he assists at the segregated hospital that is overrun by the victims of the mob’s assaults.
It’s perfectly clear what this change in characterization is intended to accomplish, and there are plenty of benefits from having Thackery and Edwards operate as a team. For one, it shows that Thackery is capable of change. It also puts the otherwise unlikable Gallinger on the defensive, forcing him to experience life from the outside looking in. Additionally, it creates the semblance of solidarity within the confines of the Knick, which is also something of a change as the first half of the series derived much of its conflict from the characters’ interactions in and around the hospital.
With the season beginning to wind down, we see the drama coming more and more from the outside, as negative forces impinge upon the hospital, while its staff begins to unite. That certainly explains why the episode ends by paying off the incredible sexual tension between Cornelia and Algernon, and, of course, the tension that existed between Thackery and Nurse Elkins.
What that means for the overall story remains to be seen, however, as the now productive working relationship between Thackery and Edwards appears to have resolved the primary conflict of the season’s narrative.
There are plenty of questions as to where this is headed and what the throughline is, but nevertheless, The Knick continues to excel despite its scripts often feeling clunky. That was certainly the case when an unnamed patient discussed his plans to partake in a crude sexual misadventure, all in a labored attempt to push Barrow downtown in search of the prostitute he’s so fond of. Dialogue like that is so obvious and inelegant in the way it produces a reaction from another character, it casts a shadow on an otherwise well-made show.
In the end, the conclusion to ‘Get the Rope’ presents The Knick with so many new story possibilities that the ungainliness of how certain threads were handled is outweighed by the benefits they bring to the overall narrative.
The Knick continues next Friday with ‘Working Late a Lot’ @10pm on Cinemax.