Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Knick goes to Hell

Illustration for article titled The Knick goes to Hell

“Finally a good outcome,” Bertie says just before finding out Gallinger’s been “sterilizing idiots” and Thackery’s bowel is at last responding to his methodical years-long cocaine treatment. “Finally” is right. The only thing to go well in “Do You Remember Moon Flower?” is the separation of the twins. We witness their first steps, their magnetic connection, and the joy of their discovery in an uplifting, mostly wordless, and naturally symmetrical scene where they amble along the corridors, leaning on the walls for support. Put some classical music behind it and you could have something in Malick’s ballpark. That leaning image recurs, most notably when Gallinger sweats out another interview with the detective on the Hodgman case, who has come to inform him, in an accusatory but apparently accidental tone, that they caught the culprits, or rather the culprits killed themselves when they knew they’d be caught. Gallinger ducks into a dark hallway and collapses against a wall. Finally a good outcome!

Gallinger takes his villainy up a notch in “Do You Remember Moon Flower?” and so far it’s working out great for him. His big triumphs here are passionately imploring the state medical board to give eugenics a chance, knocking Edwards to the ground with a sucker punch, and standing over him in an oblique close-up and snarling, “Stupid nigger.” That last one’s more for us. If that’s the first time Gallinger’s said that to Edwards, I’d be surprised at his restraint. But it is a jolt to hear. The “stupid” part, too. If Gallinger had his way, the Edwardses wouldn’t be allowed to further their line on account of apparently low intelligence. If eugenics felt abstract before, that line gives it some shape. And the Thackery exploratory scene gives some heft to the consent Gallinger’s patients lacked, opening with a cubist image, a mirror mosaic showing many different perspectives on Thack’s ischemic bowel, none of them his own, and ending with Thack raising his head to look his colleagues in the eye and tell them whether to perform surgery is not their decision. We don’t know the 52 “idiots” under Dr. Reed’s guardianship who have been sterilized. But we’ve seen Gallinger’s racist jealousy of Edwards. Eugenics is that writ large. Gallinger is a man in some relative position of power whose mentally ill wife killed their child, and now he’s working out his feelings about all that on relatively powerless segments of society by denying children to whomever the state classifies as mentally ill, all sanctioned by the state institutions that should theoretically be a check on such pettiness. Eugenics isn’t the way of the future. Therapy might be.

The three themes of sex, parenting, and power combine in the chilling title scene. It’s late at night on the ward, and Lucy walks in, sits down next to us, looks us in the eyes and poisons us to death as she confesses her sins. We’re looking through her father’s eyes, that frightened expression still scrawled by paralysis on his face. He can’t even vocalize. He’s trapped there at his daughter’s mercy, and she’s used all that up on herself. “I won’t be shamed by the likes of you or anyone else anymore. What I’ve done, what I will do, is nowhere near the deceitful life you’ve obviously led.” Here’s Lucy standing up for herself, wielding her power, refusing to let abuse cripple her, same as Cornelia confronting her father, same as Effie getting hers from her man Herman. Still, I really think it’s in poor taste for a medical professional to off a patient. Understandable in this instance. But très gauche.

Now Lucy joins the ranks of those who have lost someone near and dear this year, the dark side of Bertie and his mother. I don’t expect her to spend much time mourning. But look how well Bertie’s been able to cope after that immediate bereft period. He was raised in a loving, supportive household, and he has Genevieve to talk to. As a result, he’s able to get back to work and do his job and carry on living. Meanwhile, after losing Abby, Thackery shoots up between naps all day in his office, and after the Carr surgery, Edwards obsesses over Gallinger, his medical subordinate and general inferior. If Edwards had a little more distance he’d see the best revenge is to start making babies and have Opal take the kids to see their daddy at work as often as possible, well, only on days Gallinger’s working.

How will Cornelia and Henry cope? AD Elkins isn’t the only patriarch to die (presumably) in “Do You Remember Moon Flower?” This season has been a real passing of the torch, er, passing of the blazing new Knick. At first the most exciting part of the episode was the opening, a bright green trek through the unfamiliar country where John Thackery, Philadelphia, met August Robertson, New York. In another sequence emphasizing corrupt power interfering with medicine and Gilded Age moguls running roughshod over the rest of the world to make a buck, Thack saves a village from smallpox in exchange for Robertson’s freedom. See, Robertson had been paying for passage across Nicaragua with disease-infested blankets. The locals weren’t too happy when they realized. It’s an excitingly foggy flashback, slowly revealing its hand. Jungle sounds play over the Cinemax card, a lush green landscape appears, a guide rounds the corner with a burro and an English speaker, the guide turns back after warning in Spanish of danger, and at last we get a chiron to orient ourselves: “Nicaragua, 1894.” The camera retreats through a tunnel and comes out the other side, a pan ends on a wagon stacked with Robertson Shipping Co. crates, at last we get a good look at the explorer, Dr. Thackery. It’s a perfect situation for someone so adventurous. He has to concoct a smallpox ointment out of local flora, and he grinds patients’ sores into a vaccine for the uninfected. At the end of the episode we return to 1894. Thack negotiates for Robertson’s release, and Robertson tells him about the hospital he runs. They walk toward the camera in something like vivid greenscale, pretty much everything somewhere on the spectrum from green to black. What a way to encapsulate Captain Robertson.

Seven years later he’s asked Henry to meet him at the new Knick. Cornelia gets there first. Where’s Henry? He’s supposed to be there so they can confront him together about his crimes. Is she in danger alone with a man she’s accusing of murder and more? From the moment Cornelia steps foot on the deserted grounds at night, calling out for her father and realizing that nobody can hear her shouts, the sequence is fraught with suspicion and worry: Henry’s unexplained absence, the setting at night in an abandoned building, the compositions shrinking Cornelia amid the enormous space. At the end you feel silly for ever imagining Captain Robertson might let Cornelia die to protect his secret. (As Henry says early in the episode, “There is a desperation to him now. But actual murder?”) Or considering that maybe Henry set that fire. (No, Barrow, right?) But the overhead shot of Cornelia dangling from a ladder inside a red rectangle is silent movie for peril. It’s also scary when the captain marches toward Cornelia and she retreats, commanding him not to touch her. He obliges. He’s not a monster to his family. Just pretty much everyone else below a certain income level. When Cornelia hits the ground, he’s concerned. She’s winded, but she runs off to get help, at least until she spots her brother among the small crowd assembled on the street. They watch as their father jumps out a high window and plummets to the earth. Feels like they’ve been doing that all season. With one generation passing the torch to the next, there will be a new Knick. It just might not be in a new building.


Stray observations

  • “Do You Remember Moon Flower?” is written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler and directed by Steven Soderbergh.
  • Apparently Dr. John Hodgman’s kids were poisoning him, but too slowly to have actually killed him. So they take the fall and Eleanor’s off the hook. Lucky for her she didn’t poison the detective’s tea after all. That or he once swallowed a bezoar.
  • MVP: The Barrows. “How’s your whore? Is she well?” “How’s your apartment? Tiny and awful I trust?” Effie demands half of Herman’s income, aboveboard and otherwise, until he dies. For most of the scene she’s hovering over his shoulder, out of focus, a ghost tormenting him. Now he turns to her, and we cut to a portrait of him for emphasis: “Over that, you can go fuck yourself. And I’d advise you to find someone else that wants to fuck you too.” He suggests someone old, blind, and with no need for “proper sexual gratification.”
  • As Cleary finishes giving a table of men at the bar the hard sell on condoms, Harry comes back to get some more. He says he’s barely had time to finish his talk. She says, “I didn’t have to say a word.”