Last season, the seventh episode was when “The Knick” busted out “Get the Rope” — not only the peak of the series thus far but one of the best things show director/cinematographer Steven Soderbergh has ever done. An episode with a single, sustained fit of action, it was more than just electric. It allowed all the tensions and relationships and themes building over the course of a very detached show to explode. It was only fitting that it ended with a bunch of the characters knocking bedposts; the episode itself was basically a sex act.
There was no such release with “Williams and Walker,” the seventh episode of the second season, although there was a party. Otherwise it was a fairly typical episode, advancing chess pieces slowly rather than going in for the kill, yet again building incrementally on its ideas of race and scientific progress. The dialogue, not written by Soderbergh, could even be more on-the-nose than usual. At one point Dr. Edwards (Andre Holland) and Dr. Thackery get into a fight over the former slipping a black patient into the Knick, thus enraging the hospital’s more backwards members (well, just Eric Johnson’s Dr. Gallinger). Thack thinks Edwards should be moving slower when it comes to racial advancement. Edwards disagrees: “It’s the future: You think it’s here too early and I think it’s here too late.”
Not underlined, italicized and bolded (though pretty hard to not get) is that Thackery is all about wild, reckless scientific breakthroughs but cagey about race relations. He will accept someone like Edwards making great vocational gains, but only because he’s a genius. Still, while people will accept Thackery’s findings (when they prove right, that is), most people are hesitant to accept Edwards and what he stands for. This episode, as in recent episodes, he finds warm acceptance from certain parts of high society. But having a fun night out at a society ball with the Robertsons only stresses how much he’s an outlier, and not even as accepted as he’d like to be.
Edwards and Opal’s confrontation with Captain and Mrs. Robertson outside the ball was one of those grand, reckless volleys that Thackery tends to make, but only with medical research. And it didn’t go so well. Still, it was a beautiful scene: a one take where the camera didn’t move, allowing Captain Robertson’s nervous body language say even more than his unsure responses to Edwards and Opal’s accusations. The entire, lengthy exchange between the two parties bounced madly between social decorum, genuine warmth and honest accusations, and by the end all four people seemed smaller than when the scene began.