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The Knick S01E01: "Method and Madness"

For your listening pleasure, here's a track from the score of The Knick:


After watching The Knick's first episode, I felt compelled to kiss my calendar as a thank-you for living in today's modern world. The medical procedure that opened "Method and Madness" served not only as a gut test for viewers—if you can make it past the excruciatingly tense and bloody failed delivery of a premature baby, then you'll be able to watch The Knick with only mild bile interruptions—but as a worn and weathered bookmark for modern medicine. This is how things used to be, and The Knick makes no attempt to romanticize that.

"It seems we are still lacking," Dr. J.M. Christenson (an unrecognizable, beard-dunking Matt Frewer) said to the throngs of onlookers who'd observed the punishing operation that resulted in a dead mother and a dead unborn baby. "I hope, if nothing else, this has been instructive for you all." Then the guy shot himself, because he hadn't been able to pioneer a procedure that would keep such patients alive—in fact, he'd watched more than a dozen women, plus their preemies, die by his hands. 

But The Knick is much more than a show about the crushing defeats that surgeons once faced as they attempted to cheat God's intentions. Set in the 1900s at the world-famous Knickerbocker Hospital (a.k.a. "the Knick") in New York City, the series is ostensibly a period piece detailing the burgeoning era of then-modern medicine as doctors tried to understand the many mysteries of the human body. I mean, there are funny old-timey hats, the characters look like they're dressed for a dinner party at all times, and there are piles of horse poop in the streets. But in the hands of director and executive producer Steven Soderbergh (who's known around the Oscars as the man behind such modern classics as Traffic and Erin Brokovich, the blockbuster franchise Ocean's Eleven, and dazzling art films like Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Solaris, and The Limey), The Knick operates independent of time, pulling viewers out of the mindset of watching historical fiction as they witness the advent of change. 

It's no mistake that Cliff Martinez's anachronistic score is brimming with the pulsing keyboards and throbbing digi-sounds that are typically better suited for science-fiction fare, because to these dapper-dressed citizens of New York City, what Dr. John Thackery (a perfectly mustachioed Clive Owen) is doing with a scalpel and some stitches may as well be straight out of the works of H.G Wells. 

"We now live in a time of endless possibility," a hopeful and confident Thackery said of an era where people older than 25 was well past middle age and hospital patients were dying of diseases that we 2014ers knock out with a capful of syrup. And that's what makes The Knick less about the early 20th century and more about the universal challenges of launching full-force into the unknown, with zero hesitation. The show may be set against a backdrop of the medical challenges that arise from working with limited electricity and hand-crank instruments, but the message is all about pioneering and vision, and that's a story that can be fascinating no matter when it takes place. (AMC recently tried something similar with Halt and Catch Fire, which centered on the computer revolution of the 1980s, but there's something more potent about seeing patients die on the operating table than there is about a computerbox not working or a processor not reaching desired speeds.)  

Of course, it's Soderbergh's creative vision that really makes The Knick groundbreaking, or at least makes it stand out among the rash of period dramas that's currently taking television by storm. Admittedly, I would watch Soderbergh direct people to the bathroom, and he employs all his signature techniques in The Knick—voyeuristic framing, shaky camerawork, limited light, distinct color palettes, maximizing his actors' potential—instead of bowing to the typically straightforward approach of most historical fiction, which often lets the costuming, hokey accents, and dull music do most of the storytelling. The result is magical; The Knick screams off the screen and moves at a pace rarely associated with shows set before film was even invented. Thanks to its whirling cameras and a feeling of constant motion, The Knick would make Downton Abbey's Lord Grantham to spit out his tea and leave the Dowager Countess's knickers in a bunch. Just as the eye of True Detective director Cary Fukunaga was vital to that show's essence, Soderbergh's eye is vital to The Knick—probably even more so. 


Adding another head to The Knick's powerful hydra is the series' incredible cast of characters. Clive Owen is commanding as Dr. Thackery, a stubborn genius who's teetering on the brink of assholism but doesn't go quite far enough to make us hate him. He's brilliant, but haunted by his inability to conquer nature's way, plus he's dealing with a crippling—yet invigorating!—addiction to cocaine and heroin. In fact, it's so crippling that he had cocaine injected into his dick. Into his dick! This is the man who is going to revolutionize surgery, and he might be performing miracles while whacked out on the Devil's Dandruff. Eesh! I cracked up after he got his dick-jection and was practically skipping into the surgery where the patient needed his bowels shortened. And that's another thing about The Knick: The show is surprisingly funny, mostly due to Thackery's inappropriate wit ("You will have the honor of evacuating your bowels several seconds faster than any of your friends," he said while removing several inches of someone's intestine), the brutish ambulance driver Tom, and the insult-ready nun Sister Harriet. 

And then there's Dr. Algernon Edwards (André Holland, who was the best part of 1600 Penn). Edwards is the African-American doctor who's trying to become the Assistant Chief at the Knick. His role in the show will no doubt spur the social debate of the time period, but what I really liked about his character in Episode 1 was that he decided to remain on the staff. I'm sure I'm wasn't alone in expecting Dr. Algernon to step up and show his skills during that final surgery, in order to prove to Thackery that he belonged there and win one for the little guys. But instead, he saw Thackery's talent and decided not to resign even though he wasn't welcome, choosing to stay on and learn from Thackery's great intelligence. Edwards' time will come, but for now, the character will be even more successful as as the distraction Thackery can't get rid of (because the administration hired him) instead of the guy who's always trying to prove himself. 

When every facet of a television series is running smoothly, the result is a show like The Knick. It's gross and engrossing, historical but also groundbreaking, and beautiful in its brutality. The Knick is more than just a drama about the trials and tribulations of early surgeons, it's a work of art and an impressive step forward for a medium that continues to evolve.  


NOTES

– That final scene with Thackery—in which he performed a little miracle of medicine and then headed to his Opium den for a refill as the lights came on at the hospital—was amazing. It's the dawn of a new era! But first let me get high off my face.

– Jeremy Bobb, last seen in CBS's loathsome Hostages and Netflix's overrated House of Cards, may have found his breakout role as Knick administrator (at least I think that's his position) Herman Barrow. He's fantastic.

– That's Bono's daughter Eve Hewson as Nurse Lucy.  

– The Knick might be the best new show of the summer, but because it's on Cinemax, I have no idea whether it will get the eyeballs it deserves. However, the network seems confident that the series will expand the Cinemax reputation beyond "the home of action both in and out of the bedroom," and has already ordered a second season

– I suppose we should talk about the "gore," eh? Is it really gore? Or is it simply an honest depiction of what surgery was like in those days? I actually wasn't as bothered by it as much as I thought I would be, but after that first failed C-section, I was emotionally crushed—it was devastating to see. However, by the time we reached the second surgery at the end of the episode, I was eating lasagna while watching like it was no problem. What about you? 

– One great thing about the blood was the way the show handled it. Instead of using beeping machines to throw out numbers that mean nothing to most viewers, "Method and Madness" was full of visual cues. For example, during the C-section surgery, the blood that was collected (presumably to be transfused back in?) wasn't measured in CCs or milliliters, but in jars. When those three jars were rolled out, I never expected all of them to be FILLED WITH BLOOD. But they filled up pretty quickly, and suddenly things got serious. On modern medical shows, quantifying that kind of blood loss is difficult but here, it's pretty easy. And effective.


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 12/18/2015

Season 2 : Episode 10

54 Comments
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Can someone tell me how I can watch The Knick? I have charter and cannot find it on their listing.
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I agree on everything. Except that House of Cars is overrated. Little bit underrated if anything.
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Why, why WHY are there no weekly reviews for this?!?

Geezus H, it's a symphony of cinematography, acting, plot and music.
Easily the best drama on TV.

Honestly, I'm appalled at the lack of promotion that Cinemax has given to this, especially since it's the first thing they've ever done that made the channel worth ordering.
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Where is the latest review on the latest blood and gore fest?

Fair, not a good show. Guess that's why there is no review.

Oh, and I guess pigs are not horses, they are completely expendable.
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I was sooo bored. There are really good shows and there are shows that think too much of themselves to notice they are just mediocre with designer bags.
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You said it. It ain't no Manhattan, and Manhattan isn't even getting any respect.

I guess Soderbergh thinks gore without good writing will keep them watching, and Cinemax thinks blood and guts and gore will bring them back for another season.


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"but doesn't go quite far enough to make us hate him.""
Really? Someone that racist? I hated him alright. Yes I know he was a product of his time but I still found it very easy to hate him.
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Gee... Thanks for the SPOILER ALERT warning. Douche.
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I loved it. I really don't mind the gore. I love when a medical show goes there and shows what it is really about.
The nurse jumping the window and injecting cocaine into Clive Owen's penis was... Something you don't see everyday in a period piece.
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Firstly stop the hate for House of Cards already.

Now Cinemax has another good show beside Banshee.

The gore is nothing we have not seen on most horror TV shows. Since this show is on cable and a medical drama, I think most viewers would be forgiving.

This premiere is well directed, paced and acted. I do not really like Clive Owen but his acting here did not make me dislike him more. The rest of the cast seems to have gel well.

The "ambulance" drivers were the most fun.

Some shows go downhill after the first episode (read UTD).

Its good news that Steven Soderbergh is directing all 10 episodes. This likely means the rest of the season will be as good as the first episode.

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It was pretty good. Shot very well, great music and acted very well. i will probably give it more of a chance. Though, right now we are rife with period dramas and I am not sure as of yet this is more standout then the others. But I do think it has the ingredients to be so. This was an introduction to the players and now we shall see how they work together to bring about a show.
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Compelling stuff, the CGI is amazing if only because its all so slightly off which adds to the viewer's sense of dislocation...I'm sorry, my 2% solution seems to be wearing off, I'm talking bollocks...
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Didn't care for it and I do like period pieces. Just a bunch of stuff I don't really need to know.
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That's 99% of television.
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True...
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I had little interest in this series going in, but found it exceptionally entertaining the entire way through, although the soundtrack seemed awfully bizarre for the period, still a fun listen despite it feeling so out of place!
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I totally agree, I was kind of ambivalent going in...I tend to hate period pieces. Not because I'm not interested, (I am) but because they tend to tell the same tired story over and over again. I love Michael Angarrano, Clive Owen, and of course steven S, but I was wondering if Cinemax could catch lightning in a bottle twice. (Banshee fucking dominates) I was beyond thrilled when the credits rolled, and I immediately wished I had waited a few weeks to check it out so I could binge watch multiple episodes. The music was so out of place that it somehow actually worked perfectly. It was almost like, "man, I know this genre of music didn't exist during this time, but if it did this is exactly how these people would feel!" I'm impressed and hooked, and that's all you can really ask from a pilot on a network known for softcore reverse cowgirl scenes!
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Totally agree with you. As I've stated in many posts, my problem with period pieces is that they so rarely have much to do with the period they take place in, or the events and people that made said period noteworthy, but instead just use the setting as an elaborate backdrop to tell the same bland stories all over again about the same problems and the same relationships and the same dynamics caused by both.
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Exactly, dracula...wireless energy? I can only suspend so much disbelief before things get laughable and I can't help but point out the absurdity.
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Yeah, Dracula had some pretty fun and fresh ideas, but wireless energy wasn't one of them. And that poor girl playing Mina can't act to save her life (even worse on Arrow). The new dynamics they made between Dracula and Van Helsing, Renfield, and Harker were all really interesting to me. Sadly, they spent far too little time on this and only wanted to continuously show the "business" side of his endeavours.
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The soundtrack is definitely not more bizzare and annoying than the helix.
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Ahhh this is easily going to be my favorite new show! I am quite alright with the gore! I think gore is harder to watch when it's related to violence, it wasn't like that here!
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Gore doesn't really feel like gore when it's controlled and orchestrated. Take away the carnage, and it's all just anatomy.
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What a good movie.
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It was good.

I wonder when the Grey's Anatomy comparisons will begin? ;-)
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I never saw Grey's Anatomy, so no comparison there. Reading the comments below, I do they stay away from what that series is.

I did like Scrubs though Any comparison there?
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They are very similar ;-)
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Depends, did anyone on Scrubs ever need to get shot up with cocaine just to get out of bed and go into the theater to perform emergency surgery?
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They only used beer for that.
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:)
As far as we can judge right now after one episode I don't think any hospital-series will stand a chance in the comparison with The Knick.

And this has to little romantic drama for now to be compared to Grey's. I'm so glad about that - even though I'm sure some of that will follow as well.
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Awwww, I disappointed!
This means none of the Doctors will get "Mc" names - like "McDruggy", or "McRaciallyabused"
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If getting a subordinate to inject cocaine into the underside of your cock isn't romantic, I don't know that I want anything to do with romance.
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I thought that was part of her job
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Call me crazy, but the general vibe I got from this reminded me more of Ripper Street than anything.
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Its about a hospital whose Doctors are innovating, their personal struggles and relationships - EXACTLY LIKE GREY'S!!!
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Ha ha ! So true.
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I like it, I'll come back for seconds. You can (almost) always count on Soderbergh to deliver. Really liked the initial score, it really set the tone of the rest of the ep. Liked (and unliked) the characters, the surroundings were magnificent to watch and I liked the gore.
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One thing that I really liked was Cliff Martinez's score. I'm happy that you noticed it too.
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I really enjoyed the score, but found the odd electronic feel sort of misplaced for the period of the show. Still, very fun listen despite this!
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My first reaction to the music was also that it was misplaced, but only during the first five seconds. Then I realized that the contrast it created with the time period was what made it so brilliant.
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One couldn't help but notice it. It was the best thing about the show. Clive Owen was second.
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I hadn't planned on watching this series but you have convinced me to have a look.
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I didn't have much interest in it either, but it was pretty darn good to me!
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I found The Knick engaging and very interesting. The awful c-section did make me cringe a little. Medicine was pretty archaic and it really did not pay to get sick. Dr. Thackery was a neanderthal asshole. As a nurse for many years, I have known a few just like him. They will never learn you don't make the nurse your enemy but they think they are little demi gods and will never see that. The cocaine in the ol dick got me..Omg that was awful. He is a druggie big time but also brilliant. I kept thinking man Clive Owen looks really old in this and all that black hair and mustache didn't help any....but he is a great actor and will make the show. I am putting this on my list to watch because it had a rich way of story telling and the visual was top notch. Cinemax just may have a winner. Only time will tell.
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I think this show has great promise once I got past the surgery scenes, esp. the opening C section. I think they did a good job of capturing the period and (based on photo documentation) the look and feel of NY at the turn of the century. It had to have been a scary time for the patients and the doctors both at the forefront of modern medicine. There is none of the modern b.s. medical lingo to make viewers think it's technical when it is smoke and mirrors in many modern medical shows.

I was a little dissppointed at the cliche, in the first episode, of Clive Owens character being a cocaine addict but the whole cast seems pretty solid. It can be a slippery slope in 2014 to honestly and honorably deal with the racism and sexism of the time but I think that they handled it well and hope they don't infuse the show with contemporary ethics which did not exist then. It's an important time from a social and medical history that they show the tiny inroads happening at that time. We all know now the incredible political corruption,grifting and crime in NY at that time so I enjoyed the scenes of the inspectors getting paid off and the preferential treatment .
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an unrecognizable, beard-dunking Matt Frewer

Nah, I know Max Headroom's voice anywhere. He rates an 'and' in the credits, though? Interesting, he's not that good an actor. And isn't that Jack's son from Will and Grace? And yup, Clive has made his lovely accent go bye bye, I hate when Brits do that.

First things first - the horse at the beginning was apparently not killed for the show (unlike Luck), since the show got the AHA seal of approval. So that's good, even though it may have been a real dead horse. Blood and guts and gore I can take, dead animals I won't.

Best part so far - the music. If that's a snippet of the music, thank you Tim. And for the name of the composer, the credits sped by too quickly.

The show itself - engaging, but again, if Cinemax is going to enter the arena of top notch pay channel television shows, deep six the porn that came directly after its second run this evening.

I didn't watch the mother and baby, too much, thanks. But the rest, no problem.

Very good show, hopeful based on the first episode.

Imagine what surgery was like during the Civil War.
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Hell yeah he deserves an 'and'.

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Well, he's not that good an actor, so I guess he pays his agent a lot of money.
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He's not a "great" actor, but I'd say he's more than capable of short-lived guest spots and you could certainly do a WHOLE lot worse than him.
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