What kind of show is “The Knick”? For one thing it’s now, with the penultimate episode of its second season, a show where three separate people wanted John Hodgman dead. The writer, humorist and bon vivant popped up on Steven Soderbergh’s old-timey hospital drama a few times as a mad doctor who treated madness by removing teeth. A couple episodes back he was poisoned by Eleanor (Maya Kazan), the unwell wife of Dr. Gallinger (Eric Johnson). He died, but we learned this week the doctor’s two sons had already been dosing him, bit by bit, with arsenic as punishment for removing their teeth. All Eleanor did was speed up the process. Killing The Deranged Millionaire: that’s more messed up than the episode with brain surgery.
“The Knick” is also, as we well know, the kind of show that’s cool and detached, borderline clinical. “Do You Remember Moon Flower?” put that to the test. Stuff really came to a head: There was a courtroom battle, a fistfight, a murder and a five-alarm fire. This was also the episode where brilliant junkie surgeon Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) got operated on, while wide awake and grouching over the instruments being shoved, sans latex gloves, inside his person.
But as is the show’s wont, it did it all its way. Most of these scenes were largely banged out in one, exquisitely judged shot, maybe with a few cutaways. Even the big fire that engulfs shipping tycoon and Knick benefactor Captain Robertson (Grainger Hines) happened, at least at first, in real time, the flames bursting out right on queue after a testy tete-a-tete between he and his daughter, Cornelia (Juliet Rylance), who finally found evidence of her daddy’s shady doings. The scene involving another dying pops — in which Nurse Elkins (Eve Hewson) gifts her bully pastor father with a lethal injection — was mostly a POV shot trained on her face as she confesses/brags about all the un-Christian business she’d gotten up to with Thack and others.
The writing on “The Knick” doesn’t always match Soderbergh’s temperament, sometimes nudging us too much in the ribs, sometimes letting plotlines sag. (The stuff this season about Cornelia’s investigating her father has encouraged some pretty athletic thumb-twiddling.) But the way it handled the season-long pissing contest between Gallinger and Dr. Edwards (Andre Holland) was every bit as level-headed as the direction. Edwards finally thought he triumphed over Gallinger when he nicked proof, by way of sneaking into his office, of his severing the tubes of a legion of Jewish boys. Then they went to a hearing and Gallinger was able to convince the board that he was in the right, and worse, that eugenics is a budding scientific practice.