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The Knick Recap Season 2, Episode 9, "Do You Remember Moon Flower?"

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The Knick Recap: Season 2, Episode 9, “Do You Remember Moon Flower?”

Paul Schiraldi

The Knick Recap: Season 2, Episode 9, “Do You Remember Moon Flower?”

Tonight’s episode of The Knick, “Do You Remember Moon Flower?,” is bookended in flashbacks to Nicaragua, six years before the series takes place, that finally reveal the meeting of Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) and the Knickerbocker hospital’s benefactor, shipping magnate Captain August Robertson (Grainger Hines). Director Steven Soderbergh wastes no time establishing the stakes: Thackery arrives at an encampment where people are suffering from smallpox, having been called in under the impression he would be treating yellow fever. He encounters the captain handcuffed to a post, held hostage by the Nicaraguans after his form of compensation—“trinkets and blankets”—apparently started the outbreak.

The Knick Recap Season 2, Episode 8, "Not Well at All"

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The Knick Recap: Season 2, Episode 8, “Not Well at All”

Paul Schiraldi

The Knick Recap: Season 2, Episode 8, “Not Well at All”

If there’s merit in the idea of pretending each season of The Knick is one 10-hour-long movie, “Not Well at All” more than matches the position staked by the first season’s eighth episode: a headlong plunge into bleakness that abridges and re-contextualizes earlier breakthrough moments—not that things were looking especially up in this season’s previous go-rounds. Three of the show’s main characters—Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen), Dr. Everett Gallinger (Eric Johnson), and heiress/socialite Cornelia Showalter (Juliet Rylance)—are thrown existential curveballs that render their respective ethics systems powerless. Meanwhile, the Knickerbocker’s administrative head, Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb), manages to move apartments and purchase the freedom of his girlfriend, a young sex worker named Junia (Rachel Korine). While it’d be impossible to watch five minutes of The Knick without noticing the show’s (sometimes too-harmonized) juxtapositions of class structure, this episode sees its characters ground up especially in the gears of their own patriarchal systems.

The Knick Recap Season 2, Episode 6, "There Are Rules"

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The Knick Recap: Season 2, Episode 6, “There Are Rules”

Paul Schiraldi

The Knick Recap: Season 2, Episode 6, “There Are Rules”

Even if the at-times unbelievable density of The Knick’s second season has felt thus far like no accident, it’s a welcome change to see Steven Soderbergh digging his directorial heels deeper into fewer subplots in this week’s “There Are Rules.” For the most part, the episode bounces back and forth between two narrative through lines: Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) investigating the possible medical benefits of hypnosis, only to become obsessed with a pair of conjoined Belarusian twins (Miranda and Rebecca Gruss), and Dr. Bertie Chickering (Michael Angarano) performing an after-hours, radiotherapy-assisted operation on his dying mother (Linda Emond) at Mount Sinai Hospital.

The Knick Recap Season 2, Episode 5, "Whiplash"

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The Knick Recap: Season 2, Episode 5, “Whiplash”

Mary Cybulski

The Knick Recap: Season 2, Episode 5, “Whiplash”

Anyone who had an allergic reaction to the hokey old-flame subplot between Abigail Alford (Jennifer Ferrin) and John Thackery (Clive Owen) in The Knick’s first season will be let down by the opener of “Whiplash,” which offers yet another meandering push-and-pull conversation between them, this time about how much care Abigail needs in recovering from her syphilis treatment. For Thackery, there’s no such thing as too much. But after a wordless encounter between him and Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson), who’s appointed by the hospital to check him for needle marks, the episode opens in earnest, with one of those scenes that make The Knick pretty much unlike any other TV series right now.

The Knick Recap Season 2, Episode 3, "The Best with the Best to Get the Best"

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The Knick Recap: Season 2, Episode 3, “The Best with the Best to Get the Best”

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The Knick Recap: Season 2, Episode 3, “The Best with the Best to Get the Best”

The third episode of The Knick’s second season, “The Best with the Best to Get the Best,” immediately snubs out whatever mystery was engendered by the finish of its predecessor, “You’re No Rose,” showing Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) up late at night in one of the hospital’s offices, cooking up a sniffable hybrid of heroin and cocaine. He’s fallen back off the wagon, and hard.

The episode’s first dialogue scene finds Dr. Bertie Chickering (Michael Angarano) establishing himself at Mount Sinai Hospital, under the tutelage of sharp-elbowed surgeon Levi Zinberg (Michael Nathanson), the indirect recipient of Thackery’s drug-fuelled bigotry toward the end of the first season. (Just as an episode late in the last season hinged on Thackery’s bleary-eyed assessment of Zinberg, the camera remains at a distant remove from the Jewish doctor, playing up his much-commented-upon intensity while betraying as little about his inner workings as possible.) Chickering is entering into a situation drastically different from the Knickerbocker (or so Zinberg would want us to believe, anyway); there are three scheduled staff meetings per day, and he’ll have to earn the trust of his colleagues before being setting foot in the surgical theater. Chickering also meets a comely journalist named Genevieve Everidge (Arielle Goldman), embedded at Sinai to work on a story about Zinberg for Collier’s. She toys with him, faking indignation at his assumption she’s his secretary, only to ask him out on a date.

The Knick Recap Season 2, Episode 2, “You’re No Rose”

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The Knick Recap: Season 2, Episode 2, “You’re No Rose”

Mary Cybulski

The Knick Recap: Season 2, Episode 2, “You’re No Rose”

The throbbing, syncopated tick-tock of Cliff Martinez’s electronic score is the sole intentional anachronism of The Knick, and it’s against it that the show’s latest episode opens. A pair of dirt-encrusted young men find a bloated, blue-pinkish corpse floating in the East River and pull it to land, only to roll it over, revealing the body as none other than New York City Health Department inspector Francis Speight (David Fierro). Speight’s brief appearance in the previous episode, “Ten Knots,” saw him discovering a potential bubonic plague outbreak on a steamship, via the dead bodies of two immigrant stowaways, all but invited to his own murder by the owner of the boat’s shipping company.

The Knick Recap Season 1, Episode 9, "The Golden Lotus"

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The Knick Recap: Season 1, Episode 9, “The Golden Lotus”

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The Knick Recap: Season 1, Episode 9, “The Golden Lotus”

Director Steven Soderbergh’s gift for unfussily blocking The Knick’s scenes is made awesomely apparent in the opening of “The Golden Lotus,” wherein Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen)—deep in the throes of his ongoing, beyond-gnarly cocaine withdrawal—breaks into a Greenwich Village pharmacy in the dead of night. After busting a glass cupboard to retrieve the drugs, he crouches into a shadowed patch of floor space to shoot up, only looking upward as policemen shine their light through the front door. Thinking he still has enough time to make a quick exit, he bolts for the other passageway, only to open the door and find a cadre of New York’s finest beaming their lights directly into his face. In the space of mere seconds, Soderbergh’s camera has followed Owen from entrance to exit, and the intuition of the scene transitions the audience’s sympathies from Thackery back to the world at large, while casting one hell of a pall over the rest of the episode.

The Knick Recap Season 1, Episode 8, "Working Late a Lot"

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The Knick Recap: Season 1, Episode 8, “Working Late a Lot”

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The Knick Recap: Season 1, Episode 8, “Working Late a Lot”

It’s only logical that The Knick begins to deconstruct its mystical antihero, Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen), following the twinned breakthroughs of last week’s much-ballyhooed “Get the Rope,” wherein Thackery both atoned for his prior racism and finally hooked up with the taciturn Nurse Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson). Their coupling is the very first scene of “Working Late a Lot,” given passion and ferocity, but also seen at a slight remove from director Steven Soderbergh’s camera. Thackery gently coos into Lucy’s ear about how God doesn’t exist, a thought that scares her even as it gives her pause. Soderbergh shoots them together with cramped, candlelit close-ups in an otherwise pitch-black room, kept warm apparently by nothing more than the bed sheets and each other. Throughout the episode, it’s hard to avoid thinking about the risk of pregnancy; it’s kept unclear whether they’re using a condom or not. He’s unfailingly strung out on cocaine while she’s, it’s implied, pining after a more serious commitment. Albeit seven episodes in the making, their getting together can’t help but appear cast in something of a grim pall; months have passed since the last episode, and suddenly it’s winter.

The Knick Recap Season 1, Episode 7, "Get the Rope"

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The Knick Recap: Season 1, Episode 7, “Get the Rope”

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The Knick Recap: Season 1, Episode 7, “Get the Rope”

Steven Soderbergh’s naturalism has worked both for and against certain strains in The Knick’s first season, and “Get the Rope” may mark the first time his dazzling, inventive shooting style just can’t support the dramaturgy. On one hand, it’s ballsy that the episode barely covers 24 hours: The show’s acute gift for slowing down and speeding up time has made its exploration of individual characters consistently intriguing, and paid off abundantly in the anti-resolution of “Start Calling Me Dad.” But instead of lingering, the tensions that erupted when Thackery (Clive Owen) happened upon Dr. Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland)’s makeshift clinic for black New Yorkers have been impossibly smoothed-out overnight. Formerly the show’s walking embodiment of educated white racism, Thackery now champions Algernon to an almost magical degree, with the hospital staff firmly aligned in his sympathy. It’s altruistic, and if you like the characters, the resettling of loyalties makes for reassuring viewing. For this reason alone, “Get the Rope” grips undeniably, but it also goes down feeling like the most disingenuous episode yet. It’s soapy, morally charged, and Grand Guignol all at once.

The Knick Recap Season 1, Episode 6, "Start Calling Me Dad"

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The Knick Recap: Season 1, Episode 6, “Start Calling Me Dad”

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The Knick Recap: Season 1, Episode 6, “Start Calling Me Dad”

Like its preceding episode, “Start Calling Me Dad” starts with a phone call in the dead of night, this time in the household of Dr. Bertram “Bertie” Chickering (Michael Angaro), whose buttoned-down father picks up the receiver. It’s Thackery (Clive Owen), and he summons Chickering to the Knick for “experiments.” When the flustered young physician finally makes it to the hospital, he finds his boss strung out on drugs, workshopping, with a pair of comely Chinese sex workers (Ying Ying Li and Pei Pei Lin) from his opium den of choice, alternative approaches to the doomed placenta praevia operation that’s haunted The Knick’s first season. As his work-bender winds down, Thackery commissions Chickering’s help in testing a new invention: a type of uterus-pump-sheath that pressures the womb from the inside, allowing pregnant patients to die slower, and the doctors more time to save the prospective baby’s life.