[This is a review of The Knick season 1, episode 10. There will be SPOILERS.]

With ‘Crutchfield,’ The Knick wraps up an exquisitely directed, tremendously well acted first season with an episode that offers a showcase for not only it ensemble cast – especially the work of Clive Owen and André Holland – but also for the many talents of the series’ director/cinematographer/editor, Steven Soderbergh. The finale is the kind of episode a loosely plotted series like this almost needs to have. Instead of searching for an end point on which to conclude the season, writers Jack Amiel and Michael Begler deserve credit for forcing the characters to take the next misery-filled steps of their stories, before calling it a day (or a season).

If anything, last week’s ‘The Golden Lotus‘ put everyone on the road to wretchedness, leaving the question of whether or not Thackery, Edwards, Nurse Elkins, and especially Cornelia would miraculously wind up with something that looked like a happy ending. It’s not that happy endings would be completely implausible, but the way things had been going for the past few episodes, anything but what was delivered in the final hour would have felt wholly unearned.

Thankfully, ‘Crutchfield’ doesn’t pull any punches. The episode is split amongst the ensemble much more so than, say, ‘The Golden Lotus’ or the Thackery-driven ‘Working Late a Lot.’ The result is a series of emotionally heavy scenes that feel lean and move with a fighter’s grace and skill, thanks to the visual economy of Soderbergh’s storytelling. One scene is lit so well, and the camera movements so imperceptible, that the brilliant white light behind Edwards and Cornelia contrasts the weight of his ending things with her upon confirmation she’d aborted their child. Had it been any brighter, it would have looked almost serene.

Andre Holland and Juliet Rylance in The Knick Season 1 Episode 10 The Knick Season 1 Finale Review – Blood Making & Blood Breaking

Compare that to the murkiness of Barrow’s underhanded appeal to Ping Wu, cashing in a debt that wasn’t his to end a debt he couldn’t ever hope to repay and the difference is shocking. As is what follows.

Wu’s assault on Bucky Collier’s offices, which is so straightforward and yet so unexpectedly violent, it reads as both an oddity in the series and a kindred spirit of sorts. Wu moves through the offices with the skill of a surgeon, slicing throats, perforating internal organs, and finally planting a hatchet into Collier’s face from across the room. He’s efficient and effective in a way Thack and Edwards are on their best days, but what set’s Wu apart is his goal: he actually wants his patients to die.

Perhaps there’s something to be said for Wu’s expediency, both in terms of how he flips the script on Barrow and how he doesn’t let anyone suffer – which is more than anyone can say for Cornelia’s unwanted marriage to Philip (and his leering father), or the appalling treatment Galinger’s wife Eleanor has been given at the hands of John Hodgman (whose character name on IMDB currently reads: “Man Entrusted with Eleanor,” which hopefully will never change).

It’s a testament to the series and to Eric Johnson that his plea to Thackery actually makes you feel something for Gallinger, especially since he’s been little more than a foil for Edwards for so much of the season. Of course, the irony is that Everett remains unaware how much he has in common with Edwards, in terms of how they deal with emotional distress, as his trip to the Knick to alleviate some of the pain he’s in could have yielded a bond between the two instead of more friction.

Michael Angarano and Clive Owen in The Knick Season 1 Episode 10 The Knick Season 1 Finale Review – Blood Making & Blood Breaking

No one is seeing clearly it seems, especially not the drug-addled, competitive Thackery who is so driven by a need to best Dr. Zindberg in discovering the key to a successful blood transfusion, he winds up killing a young girl. Thack’s hubristic pride leads to a situation where his question of “What have I done?” reads as the most genuinely human thing he’s said all season (or at least the last three episodes). Don’t think for a minute The Knick would let Dr. Thackery see the error of his ways through the lens of extreme guilt, though; not when there’s the new wonder drug heroin to put a smile on his face and make him forget how miserable he is and likely will be in the weeks and months to come.

To say things go from bad to worse would be putting it mildly. And yet, there’s no sense the series derives pleasure sending its characters to wallow in a new form of misery (with the exception of Tom Cleary, whose life is just aces right now, as he winds up with a satchel full of cash and a Sears catalogue in his lap), it’s merely interested finding out how this new level of discomfort will translate into a compelling storyline when The Knick resumes.

And seeing as everyone almost willfully trades a bad situation for an even worse one, there’s plenty to suggest things will be just as interesting come 2015.

The Knick will return in 2015 on Cinemax.

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