The Cinemax series, “The Knick” is a captivating medical period drama that marries great acting, toned writing, and paced direction together. The show, set in the urban trenches of New York City, illustrates the frantic nature of the 1900s. New American citizens are coming in droves from Ellis Island daily, adding fuel to the tempered racial tensions at the time. The climate of industry is charged. Everyone wants to be on the cusp of scientific innovation and at the Knickerbocker, the drive to push medicine at the forefront of that revolution is pinnacle. Helmed by Chief of Surgery Dr. John Thackery, played by seasoned actor Clive Owen, the forward-thinking hospital is constantly attempting something new, intricate, and often highly questionable. John is a well-respected surgeon, who is known throughout the city as one of the best. His burgeoning need to discover new treatments and remedies is equally matched by his controlling and dependent drug addiction. Whether it’s his ego, ambition, or his abysmal habit that guides him, John’s erratic actions often permeates and are replicated by his hospital staff.
Herman Barrow is the manager of the Knick; he’s often found scheming or strategizing ways to siphon funds from the establishment into his own pocket. Tom Cleary, a towering hulk of a man, serves as an ambulance driver. He’s often aligned with Barrow, as they are two characters whose main focus is personal gain by any and all means. The doctors of the hospital are Algernon Edwards, Bertram Chickering, and Everett Gallinger. Edwards is African-American. He’s the first doctor of his kind at the Knick and one of the few doctors in the entire city working at exclusively Caucasian serving establishment. He was put through school by one of the hospital benefactors, August Robertson. Edward’s mother is a servant in the Robertson’s house. Once rooted in a high position under Thackery at the Knick, by the finagling of the Robertson’s, cultural blemishes and opinions arise in the institution. Opinions aren’t the only things to spark at the Knick, secrets amass as well.
Edward’s has been having an affair with Robertson’s soon to be married daughter Cornelia for years, the staff nun Sister Harriet often performs abortions for women in the economically diverse community, Gallinger’s wife is morbidly mentally distorted since the untimely death of their child, Thackery begins an affair with a naive staff nurse Lucy Elkins, and in the preverbal background remains Barrow and Cleary double-dealings and crooked schemes. The settings can rhythmically drum between the frantic halls of the hospital, opium dens, brothels, clubs, and illegal fighting rings. The spaces are as eclectic and vibrant as the city itself. Sustained with occupations that directly deal with the edges between life and death, these characters always seem to nuance the conditions of the atmosphere with their individual issues.
On this show, the medical stories become cramped and perfumed with the chaotic nature of the individuals and their connected relationships. The tensions are always hectic and always geared towards combustion. The series is set in an emerging industrialized city where corner shacks are being torn down and turned into skyscrapers. It was a time of upheaval and renovations across the American landscape. The lives of these frazzled people are no different. They all have histories of internal baggage that mount and are displayed for the audience’s intrigue. The viewers watch their personal and professional triumphs and destructions. They also watch, and examine, which tools each character uses to rebuild their lives from the rubble of tumult. The Knickerbocker is assuredly a place where the infirmed and the healers alike require saving