The circus has been John Thackery’s preferred metaphor for describing what goes on in the Knickerbocker hospital, but it wasn’t until this week’s The Knick that we finally got to see the dog and pony show. “They Capture the Heat” is a full-on carnival act compared to the rest of the season, featuring five medical emergencies, two family members in peril, gun totting thugs under the big top, an aborted abortion, and for the grand finale, Thack learning how to ride a bike. Put simply, tonight’s episode was kinda bananas.
Perhaps it’s the heat, referenced a few times through the episode, or perhaps it’s because this is the first script credited to a writer other than showrunners Amiel and Begler, but The Knick was borderline manic this week. Coincidences and convenient timing were piled on heavily, motivations were laid out as loud as a carnival barker, and contrived tensions were plentiful. By all accounts, this should represent The Knick hitting a new low, with the drama all being as see-through as an X-ray. But “They Capture the Heat” is so consistently inconsistent with what the show has been so far, it actually makes for one of the better episodes of the season. It’s a fun one-off that moves lots of stories forward by not taking them all that seriously.
Take the opening, which is practically a vaudeville routine of cheap seats comedy and telegraphed plotting. Maybe Looney Tunes makes a better comparison, as Bunky is basically a Rocky-type tough guy at this point. He’s big on old-timey colloquialisms (“Sawbones!”), and pulling out his piece at the drop of a hat. There’s nothing not ridiculous about everything that happens within the first 10 minutes of the episode, whether it’s Bunky loudly stating he won’t go to the Knick for fear of owing Barrow, or the boozy barber who can’t diagnose a bullet wound, or Thack answering a phone with a line like “whoever the hell this is: go to hell.”
When Procedure #1 begins, it seems like we might be in for a high-stakes bottle episode, with Thack and Edwards having to work together to save the leg of a pimp, lest Bunky lose his patience and start blasting. But if that’s all that was in store, we wouldn’t have got to see Barrow get involved in kickstarting a prostitution ring, or Thack saving Edwards’ mother from a urinary blockage. There also wouldn’t have been time for Edwards’ covered up operation to nearly get blown (along with something else), or Sister Harriet and Cleary developing an odd-couple routine that’s got the spark and sizzle of a primetime CBS show.
For about the first half, it’s hard not to wonder if the show has just completely lost touch with any of the subtlety it had previous, but “They Capture the Heat” is just committing itself to a different kind of bit than usual. Instead of trying to work in what gallows humor a show this frequently grim can allow, tonight’s The Knick was pretty much pure comedy.