The Knick recap: ‘Williams and Walker’

28 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Knick’ Recap: Dance Hall Days.

Forget about the West Virginia church mouse that used to silently, shyly roam the halls of the Knickerbocker, her wide eyes taking — meet the baller version of Nurse Lucy Elkins, kicking ass and taking names. The “Get The Rope” of season two, “Williams And Walker” weaves every story and thematic throughline of the season together when a mob descends upon the Knick…charity ball.

The Cinemax drama series The Knick, created by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler and directed by Steven Soderbergh, is back for Season 2 and it’s 1901 in New York City, as The Knickerbocker Hospital faces upheaval. Like Cinderella’s sex-positive feminist alter ego, Lucy arrives at the Knick’s charity ball, French Chantilly on fleek (subsidized by a foot fetish loving fairy godmother named Ping Wu) and slays. But before we treat ourselves to a decadent night out with New York City’s philanthropic elite and the doctors they fund, we must see to some business. In this world of corruption, invention and progress, everyone is searching for the new path that will help him or her survive, but nothing will come easy for any of them. Fending off patronizing Robertsons at every turn, she reduces Henry to mush by withholding any gratitude the rich boy thinks he deserves for taking her to a fancy party and then shocks Cornelia by refusing to accept her narrative that the young nurse isn’t the right sort for her brother.

And when the clock strikes midnight, instead of turning into a pumpkin, Lucy gets hers. “Lie back and I’ll show you what I like,” she purrs to Henry, taking out the Thackery vial and flipping him over, “Isn’t that better?” Does she actually like the dashing aristocrat? You know, calling your girlfriend on the telephone and confiding your deepest fears, while she reassures you that you’re, like, the best surgeon in the city? Algernon Edwards, a bright, gifted surgeon who’s determined not to be held back by the color of his skin) talked about what it’s been like to collaborate with Steven Soderbergh, the biggest challenges in playing this character, preparing for the surgery scenes, keeping track of his character’s trajectory, the dynamic between Dr. Well, this former good girl has learned a lot since she came to the big city and is certainly able to buy herself one hell of dress after letting Ping Wu perform his Golden Lotus routine on her — the one where he uses her toes as poppers while he indulges in a little “quality control” with one of his girls. (And boy, is this a far cry from Bertie and Genevieve’s innocent coupling, which is about as erotic as a Saturday-morning cartoon.) Back at work, Thack’s up to his old tricks, snorting his cocktail of heroin and cocaine in preparation for separating the conjoined twins.

Before Abigail talked Thack down from the proverbial ledge on tonight’s episode of The Knick, he was an increasingly nervous wreck as he prepared to separate conjoined twins Zoya and Nika. Thackery, the women in Algernon’s life, how the issues with race at the time are still reflected in today’s society, and what he looks for in a role.

Even his resumed sexual relationship with Abby wasn’t doing much to calm his nerves, so instead a restless Thack spent the early-morning hours preceding the surgery visiting the grave site of one Sonya Smyslov, the little girl who’s been haunting him all season long. Thackery successfully separates the conjoined twins; Abby convinces him to do the procedure without first snorting drugs; Cornelia learns of her father’s deal with the docks to let plague-ridden immigrants into the city; and Herman gets Wingo fired after the architect threatens him with Junia-related blackmail. But it wasn’t until the phone call to Abby that the ever-present clanging in his head stopped, and he found the confidence to put on the show his standing-room-only spectators were waiting for in the surgical theater. More than just a showcase for Lucy 2.0, it brings together almost every couple in their finest fashions for dance, drink and disturbing era-appropriate racist entertainment. She’s lying in bed, apparently naked, and then Bertie strolls out of the bathroom with nothing but a towel around his waist and a top hat on his head.

There’s Bertie and Genevieve, basking in the glow of their first giggle-filled sleepover, gawking at the rich people and exchanging cute looks. (They are the healthiest couple this show has ever seen; writers, please don’t give her smallpox.) Then there’s John Thackery, proudly displaying his stunning, surgically-aided true love on his arm; he dotes on her like a princess. Bolstered by Abby’s belief in his talents, Thack heads into surgery to give the waiting audience exactly what they have gathered to see: a masterful procedure that is as risky as it is visionary. He’s also been a great supporter and friend, outside of work, in terms of talking about films and talking about careers and helping me navigate this next phase of my career. Unfortunately, Abby is still insecure about her nose, and on their walk home she’s asks for more procedures to correct it, which…well, it doesn’t sound like a good idea. Following his grandiose opening speech about how “this is [the twins’] last day as a sideshow attraction,” Thack makes the first incision — and then we immediately cut to his post-op briefing.

Everyone’s on hand — Edwards, Gallinger, and Bertie are on the floor, while Genevieve is in the bleachers with her notebook and Henry with his motion-picture camera, poised to record history. Apparently it’s both, although he clearly knows what he’s doing when he lets the towel fall and moves the hat to cover his privates with a showman’s sense of timing. And in a welcome respite from the usual unflinching display of the gory and the gruesome, we get to relive the success of the surgery as replayed on Henry’s celluloid (a material in which Thack seems quite interested). While Thack’s just wowed the board with his medical derring-do, the powers that be at the hospital are certainly less impressed with Edwards’s latest move — admitting D.W. Opal kills in red and black lace, and when an admiring Genevieve remarks that the doctor’s wife seems born to wear such garments, she tartly replies, “I was.” But the night ends poorly, when Opal presses a tipsy Captain Robertson to admit his pull is no longer enough to convince the board to employ Algernon, let alone treat black patients when the hospital moves uptown.

He proudly escorts her to the Knick’s charity gala, though despite a lovely evening — which includes witnessing Clive Owen do a minstrel-show impersonation on the walk home (it’s 1901, yo) — Abby can’t help but feel self-conscious about her misshapen nose. Thack, blissful in the knowledge that he’s finally back with the only woman he’s ever loved, and confident in his abilities once again, promises to look into reconstructive possibilities. Regardless, the two embark on an excruciating, endless exchange of giggles while trying to talk about sex instead of just letting their bodies take over. You have to learn about the procedures themselves, what the words mean and how to say them, and really hold the instruments and do whatever we say that we’re doing.

The same cannot be said for Cornelia Showalter, who started off this episode making further headway in her investigative pet project, only to be pushed back into her gilded cage by her father-in-law, husband, and of all people, Lucy Elkins. That’s the sense of the entire society: Cornelia looking down and away as her father-in-law pins on her brooch, Algie demurring when Opal gets too forward with Captain Robertson, Abby wanting to fix up her nose even more.

And then, they bring in a hundred background actors to be in the gallery, and you’re speaking to them while suturing and dealing with blood and saying the words. The inspector, who mistakenly thought Cornelia was in on whatever shady dealings her father had in place, lets his loose lips go wild: Robertson Shipping pays him to admit steerage passengers into the U.S., even if they have contagious diseases, in order to avoid the exorbitant fees that comes with sending them back — it’s way cheaper to do that (and to “upgrade” them to second-class). And the least pleased of all — you guessed it — is Gallinger, who refuses to attend to Carr’s plea for assistance in making himself more comfortable in his hospital bed. Admittedly, it’s a particular affair: the ambulance driver makes chops, the two drink whiskey, and decide to go into business together selling contraception.

Once again, Hobart Showalter barges into Cornelia’s bedroom while she’s in little more than her dressing gown, and, despite her protestations, won’t leave. With director Steven Soderbergh pulling double duty as the cinematographer, The Knick receives much deserved praise for its look, but the show’s sound design is often the unsung hero.

Using intimidation tactics and flat-out inappropriate touching, Cornelia’s father-in-law chastises her for, in straightforward terms, not being a subservient wife to his son (“You should be pregnant!” he booms). Even with music playing, the echo of hundreds of bodies trampling and trodding heavilyaround a wooden floor give the party scenes a sense of hyperreality and dread.

The night’s entertainment — real life vaudevillians Williams and Walker, two African-Americans who performed in blackface, calling themselves “the two real coons” — add an extra layer of oddness to the evening, as their footsteps and unamplified voices move across the assembled guests. Soderbergh’s choice to only show Juliet Rylance’s face here, as she gets progressively more frightened and suffocated by Hobart’s constant reprimands, is brilliant here.

After Cornelia tries to give her well-meaning advice in the closest The Knick has come to a Joan-Peggy scene, Lucy excuses herself, strides across the floor to Henry, and tells him she better like the drink he got her. Gallinger, who pulled the short straw and spends the evening working, although, it’s doubtful he would take his wife out in public after the poisoning — if, indeed, there was a poisoning. (Eleanor does not appear in this week’s episode, and no mention is made of Dr. Philip, not surprisingly, is of zero help in assuaging his wife’s terror, telling Cornelia, “My father isn’t a man you want to upset.” But just before you start telling ol’ Phil to go jump in the East River, he does provide some important insight: Apparently Robertson Shipping is, well, foundering, and the only keeping it, heh, afloat, is Hobart’s investment. Last year was so much about establishing the show and getting to know each other, as fellow actors, and getting to know Steven, so there were some nerves involved. Cotton – perhaps the psychiatrist is completely recovered and removing other mentally ill people’s teeth.) On the up side, Everett’s night shift allows him to sabotage Edwards’ upcoming surgery on civil rights figure D.W.

Robertson repay him the “enormous amount of money” her father owes him, she’ll shut up, play the dutiful wife and let Philip do all the thinking for them (yep, he tells Cornelia that last part almost verbatim). Once she informs the immigration agent at the docks that one of her family’s ships is expected in port the next day, he mistakenly believes that she is there to honor “their usual deal.” And that deal is: The Robertsons are bribing the INIS to admit sick passengers to New York so they don’t have to pay the heftier fine of shipping the infirm back to Europe. Later, during the procedure, the wrong dosage forces the patient into life-threatening paralysis, allowing Gallinger to “discover” the mistake and kill two birds with one stone – embarrass Edwards and maybe murder a black guy.

What I find fascinating about this episode, is that it’s hard to know if Cornelia would have approached Lucy at the ball, and said the things that she did, if the incident with Hobart didn’t happen. In light of Hobart’s intimidation, it seems as if Cornelia was trying to save Lucy — who did arrive on the arm of Henry Robertson — from the hidden horrors that come with being a society wife.

Without insulting her background or intelligence, Cornelia warns Lucy that her lack of placement on the New York social registers will likely preclude her from becoming anything more than a temporary plaything for Henry. Turns out, Cornelia’s sneaking around hasn’t been all that sneaky, and the man watching her from the shadows was dispatched at her father-in-law’s behest. Following her defeat at UFC 193, Trump tweeted that he was glad to see Ronda Rousey lose her Bantamweight title, because she’s “not a nice person.” While other fight fans – like Lady Gaga – uttered similar sentiments, they were mostly upset that Rousey refused to touch gloves with Holly Holm before the fight.

In Trump’s case, we suspect it had more to do with that time she told CNN “I wouldn’t vote for him…I don’t want a reality star running my country.” Regardless of his motivations, Trump’s take has angered one of Rousey’s UFC compatriots, Conor McGregor, and when TMZ cameras caught up with him at LAX, he let it be known that the GOP candidate should probably shut his mouth ASAP. “It’s easy for someone that’s not in there to comment, but it’s different when you’re in there. More importantly, without the rules of society controlling her every move, Lucy has a better shot here of changing things for women when it comes to relationship and sexual empowerment.

When you think about it, try as Cornelia may to enact reforms from her society pedestal, the real crusader here is Lucy, who is kicking down several different doors without waiting for permission. I’m able to make this place run better than it ever has before.” I think he really believes that that will get through to them, and he’s surprised when it doesn’t. Many of the scenes smash into one another like this is a Nolan Batman movie, but with greater fluidity, like when Wu thinks of Lucy so we cut to Lucy or when Neely says she has a dress fitting and we instead cut to her appointment at the immigration office.

But again, if this is happening, she’s damn well going to enjoy herself, as well as stay in control of this affair, so she introduces her new beau to the pleasures of sex on drugs. One is when Phillip asks if his father threatened Cornelia while we’re still in the scene where he is very much threatening her, just not in so many words. Later, after Gallinger successfully sabotages Edwards’ surgery, the horror motif paying off in this dastardly villainizing, there’s a montage of Algie licking his wounds where the fractured imagery finally catches up to him venting to Opal. He arrives in his apartment, where Harriet is counseling a group of women about effective methods of contraception, laden with chops, whiskey, and cobbler. The booze and food get his gears turning, and soon he’s proposing that he and the ex-nun go back into business, not doing “the fix” this time, but stopping trouble before it starts — in other words, manufacturing condoms and sponges.

This poses a conundrum for Edwards, who initially tried tiptoeing around the awkward subject last week by asking Thack to serve as a middle man with the hospital board. In addition to letting Genevieve report on his conjoined twin surgery, he also has Henry Robertson film it, putting the camera to better use, he says, than whatever Henry uses it for. I had that on my wall, so that I could always refer to it and say, “Okay, here’s where we are in the story, so this is where I am, emotionally.” And then, if we have to jump forwards or backwards, I can point very quickly to where I am in the arc, at that moment.

He knew the board would never have admitted the civil rights activist, which is why he didn’t put up a fight when Carr decided to sidestep the original plan. Then there’s a bit of awkwardness when Cornelia cautions Lucy (who looks great in that dress she earned the hard way) about not falling too hard for Henry since he’s a player, and their father harbors hopes of a more suitable match for his son than a southern nurse. Upon further reflection, Edwards realizes that Carr’s treatment has been unfair from the start, so he too will no longer wait for permission from the board: Edwards is on staff at the Knick, therefore he will perform the necessary surgery on Carr.

Robertson is certainly going to have his work cut out for him convincing Henry to stay away from Nurse Elkins after the post-ball bedtime show she puts on involving Thack’s old cocaine-on-the-genitals trick. Why do you think it is that Algernon is willing to overlook the possible risks of getting involved with the sometimes crazy things that Thackery is doing? Sure, she’s right to do so, but maybe she’s overstepping her bounds by continually fighting her husband’s battles for him, especially in public. Would it be possible to get something for my discomfort?” Gallinger declines and then walks back, the camera following him back to the window, but this time it keeps doing on up to the patient’s face, that of DW Garrison Carr.

It’s a punchline of sorts, and it sets in motion the next sequence, Gallinger alerting Thack and then Thack confronting Algie about Carr’s admittance, in accordance with the episode’s Rube Goldberg structure. Only we, in this case, are the hospital’s architect, whose contract is being terminated and whose silence on the shadiness of Barrow’s finances is being insured. It lacks the grandeur of the door of the hospital being yanked off by a zombie mob, but the adventurous way the visual evokes excitement by grounding us in the center of the action is similar. I think Algernon really felt like that relationship was a thing of the past, but what it brings to the present is that she’s a real ally for Algernon. Doesn’t the fact that it took no training for him to allegedly learn how to guide a patient’s behavior with something as slippery as rhetoric suggest maybe this isn’t actual medicine?

He switches Algie’s bottle of Curare (a paralyzing agent) for the more concentrated version he’d fired up over the Bunsen burner, which stops Carr’s heart. Even though there’s obviously some bad blood between them and things that need to be figured out, she really cares about him and will be there for him. How difficult is it for Algernon to be faced with what happened with Cornelia and still having feelings for her while he’s also dealing with his past?

Meanwhile Gallinger demonstrates such expert sleight of hand that nobody will ever catch him violating the Hippocratic oath by sabotaging Edwards’ surgery and letting Carr die. Once the abortion happened, she made it very clear that she’s not able to be with him and she doesn’t believe they can have a family together, so he closed that door. They’re laughing, not entirely out of politeness, and then he looks back to scope out the audience and she looks down in something like embarrassment if Opal had the capacity to feel embarrassed. That editing connection feels like a circuit, charge flowing from the uncomfortably assimilating black couple to the profiteers of black stereotypes to the preacher of black liberation.

Also, especially after having worked with Steven [Soderbergh] and Clive [Owen] and this group of people, I definitely want to work with people who are artists and who are interested in being their best version of themselves. Cleary: “I figure why the hell not?” Harry: “Because you scorn God every chance you get.” “Ah, in fairness, he scorned me first.” Then he puts her mind at ease. “The only thing cleaner than my mouth will be my fuckin’ shirt.” She goes back to her room as he gets dressed, and she can’t contain her smile.

He calls Abby. “I need you…to tell me…that I can do this.” “If I hadn’t believed in you,” she says, “I wouldn’t even be here.” The next scene is just as expressive. So there is no escaping Hobart for Cornelia. “So, what do we do?” she asks her husband. “What did my father ask of you?” “To make you happy.” “Then make me happy.” Cleary gets home to find Harry talking to some girls from her former place of residence.

We’re teaching em how to protect themselves from men.” “Ah, well, three swift boot heels to the scrotum, he’d rather be home on a beehive than ever come near you again.” Actually, Harry’s teaching them about contraceptives, specifically the useful art of soaking a sponge in vinegar and using it as a diaphragm. They’re going to educate men and women about how to prevent pregnancy and sell lambskin condoms and sponge-and-vinegar diaphragms. “This city is full of customers.” Captain Robertson has no defense, but he does have a sharp rejoinder for Opal.

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