As the first episode of “The Knick”’s second season begins, we’re caught up to speed via a handy TV cliche: the reading of a letter from one character to another, saying what so and so has been up to since the last season finale, what’s changed, what’s new, can’t wait to see you again, where ya been, yada yada. Not much else feels stock. Things even feel different. The lighting, for one, is even darker. Sometimes it’s Rembrandt dark. One shot of a boat at sea as night is beginning to fall is so fuzzy it resembles a painting that could hang at MoMA — all blues and the faintest traces of a black shape bleeding together.
Technology changes rapidly, and “The Knick” shows how, even over a year, digital cameras have gotten even better than they were — which is saying something — at creating attractive images with next to no light sources. This frees up director-cinematographer Steven Soderbergh even more. The shots, when they move, are even more fleet, and often longer. A trick Soderbergh used sparingly last season — shooting a conversation almost entirely s a close-up of one person, sometimes one not even talking but instead just processing it all — is busted out four or five times in the episode called “Ten Knots.”
But, yes, what of the staff of the Knick — the old-timey New York City hospital from 1900, which grapples with changes both technological and social? The corny read letter is likely the most economical way to get it all over with given how far-off the cast has been scattered. Brilliant junkie Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) is in rehab. Abortionist nun Sister Harriett (Cara Seymour) is in jail. Wealthy proto-feminist Cornelia (Juliet Rylance) has decamped for San Fran. Crap-magnet bigot Dr. Gallinger (Eric Johnson) has had his suspension lifted but is in no hurry to return. There will be reunions, all brief, some bitter, some not: Sister Harriett with saucy ambulance driver Tom (Chris Sullivan); nice guy-turned-passive-aggressive brooder Dr. Chickering (Michael Angarano) with Dr. Thackery’s stalker-turned-lover-turned-gopher Nurse Elkins (Eve Hewson); righteously fuming race pioneer Dr. Edwards (Andre Holland) with old flame Cornelia; Dr. Edwards with arch-nemesis Dr. Gallinger; and finally Dr. Gallinger with Dr. Thackery.
The last one comes in halfway through the episode, where we’ve learned Thack — who’s been busying himself/scoring coke and now heroin too by performing super gross syphilis surgeries — has escaped from rehab. He hasn’t. He’s been kidnapped. He awakens on a boat far off at sea, lorded over by Gallinger, who’s committed to helping his colleague kick the habit. It’s not altruistic; Gallinger wants him back so that Edwards doesn’t claim Thack’s spot as permanent chief surgeon.