Earlier this week, Steven Soderbergh Dark Side of Oz’d himself a colorless, audio-free version of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The now-black ‘n white classic is set to a playlist of Soderbergh’s selection that’s meant to highlight one particular aspect of the film: staging. By removing dialogue, orchestral music, and color, the spatial storytelling that we often absorb subconsciously becomes our only narrative guide. Granted, Soderbergh’s experiment might have been a bit more pure were it not to feature such an indelible film, but it does make one appreciate the essential physicality of film that can be taken for granted.
It’s likely Soderbergh intends the video to be instructive to viewers no matter what they’re watching, but it’s awfully timely that such an essay should appear during the same week that The Knick pulls off its most kinetic episode yet. The tracking shots through the course of the show have been mighty impressive, but for the most part, they’ve been used to draw us into the environment and world of the Knickerbocker. “Get the Rope” is a mobile, violent whirligig of energy that gives the season a shot in the arm to carry it into the homestretch. It takes the percolating tension of the last few weeks, sticks it with a hot knife, and just keeps twisting. In the process, The Knick delivers its most propulsive, and flat-out best episode since the pilot.
It’s a dynamite hour, so it’s fitting that the only thing sticking out a bit is the fuse. The summer weather has made its presence known the last few weeks, so just imagine how testy you’d be in the year’s high heat, but dressed in a three piece instead of shorts and a tee. This might help to explain how things go so bad, so quickly for scheming constable Sears, who goes from proposition a young black woman one minute, to bleeding out on the street the next, to being the martyr for a race riot mere hours later.
The quick leap from insult, to incident, to full-on mania lacks nuance, as does Mrs. Sears, who spurs on the upset cops and workers looking to take revenge on the man who stabbed Sears, or anyone who looks too much like him. Of course, prejudice is all about creating an easily defined worldview by removing nuance from it; it rarely follows a logical, measured progression. You could argue that Sears’ ignorant views of gender and race lit the fuse, or that it was the stabber’s hyper-masculine overreaction that escalate the situation so rapidly. As Cliff Martinez’s score tells it, though, while we watch the perpetrator and his girl running away from the anger virulently spreading through the streets, some kind of blowout was inevitable. It could have been this stabbing, or any other brush-up between blacks and whites that provided an excuse meant to justify a predetermined, violent end.
Regardless, Amiel and Begler figured out a way to put that end to purpose. Even a show that opens as strongly as The Knick needs time to sand and solder all its engaging individual elements into a whole that snaps together. Thus far, the show has largely kept the cast in interchangeable pairs and triplets to establish relationships between characters, and who those characters are individually. But with a mob crashing through the hospital’s gates, and all hands on deck, we finally got to see what happens when all the circulating pressure systems within the hospital combine into one.
Put simply, what happens is awesome. Put pop cultural-y, The Knick had its Avengers moment tonight: the moment when every major component of the show assembles, and you realize the whole really is more than the sum of its parts. The first time a show pulls all of its significant threads together and puts them to work is the kind of magic most TV needs at least a season to achieve (or four years and five movies, to continue the Avengers comparison). Appropriately, the moment of glory doesn’t happen in the operating theater, but in the basement, where so much of The Knick’s real progress happens. With the barbarians knocking on the floorboards above, all of the hospital’s key staff (save Cleary, who’s busy brawling with horse thieves) are huddled together and faced with getting black patients to another hospital, and away from the dangerous rabble. Even for a show that routinely features life-or-death surgery, the stakes have never been so high or immediate.