Four episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
There’s a scene in the second episode of season 2 of The Knick, returning tomorrow on Cinemax, that features what’s perhaps the series’ most shocking visual to date. With its handsome cast, peerless direction, and the best anatomical props not to be gobbled up by The Walking Dead, any word cloud for The Knick will be riddled with terms like “gorgeous,” “gut-churning,” and “grotesque.” Fear not, entrails enthusiasts, you voyeurs of all things visceral: if you rode high off The Knick’s horror show staged just beneath your skin, you’ll find getting back into the series as easy as coasting downhill on a penny-farthing.
But it’s a simple dissolve, from a wide shot of star Clive Owen to a close-up, that startles you like an ice bath for the eyeballs. It doesn’t matter that The Knick takes place in the stone pressure cooker of a New York hospital circa 1901: you could set the show in an antiques refurbisher (The Nick), and the guiding hand of jack of all trades, master of some Steven Soderbergh would still make the whole operation look surgical. With its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it title card and repeater rifle pace, the cuts made in The Knick’s editing room did as much to define the show’s style as those done in Knickerbocker Hospital’s operating theatre.
Gradually superimposing one image over another is a routine technique practiced by other TV shows, and the movies Soderbergh has more or less abandoned, but The Knick’s first season liked to slice from point to point, not stitch them together. With the unexpected appearance of a lingering dissolve, there’s suddenly a new implement in the show’s toolkit. Eureka? Well, it’s not as though a new transition is going to revolutionize The Knick like a horseless carriage, but the show’s direction has always been its most universally appreciated and unpredictable feature. The Soderbergh brand didn’t just sell the series, but kept many viewers hooked on the slow drip intoxication of seeing an artist confidently tap-dance their way through a medium that more often treats directors like baton carriers in a relay race. For some, Soderbergh’s name is still alpha and omega for all things praise-worthy about The Knick.
That’s maybe why series creators and head writers Jack Amiel and Michael Begler open the second season with God having left The Knick. Not Soderbergh, mind you, who still directs, lights, edits, and, who knows, probably sets the crafts service table, every episode. And it’s not the arrogant, drug-addled Dr. John Thackery (Owen) that’s forsaken the show either, though last we saw him, Thack had been exiled to a rehab clinic for his cocaine addiction.
Season 1 ended with much of the Knickerbocker staff scattered to the wind, but by the end of the premiere, writerly providence helps to congregate most of the core cast back under the same roof. But there’s an absence felt throughout the first four episodes of Season 2, and it’s one that’s left room for New York’s seedier elements to move in.
Missing from the old stomping grounds is Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour), whose between-seasons arrest for providing abortions has forced her to lose a habit of a different sort. Thack’s return proves fortuitous to many characters, including his replacement, Dr. Edwards (André Holland), whose future as The Knick’s chief of surgery has become as blurry as his badly damaged left eye. There’s also lovesick Nurse Elkins (Eve Hewson), adrift in Thack’s absence, only to be driven towards her evangelical father after the doctor’s return. Through their needs, and research into his own addiction, Thack begins to make penance for his sins. Harriet, though, only has Cleary (Chris Sullivan), the foul-mouthed, barrel-bellied ambulance driver stumping for her salvation.