The Knick Season 2 Episode 6 Review: “There Are Rules”

The Knick

Bertram Chickering Jr., of The Knick and The Knickerbocker, is a man born a hundred years too early. His softness, kindness, and overall compassion are out of place in a world that was rigidly defined by class, race, and gender strata around him. He feels deeply and is unafraid to express that deepness; he wears his heart on his sleeve, to use a cliché.

This is a man who operates on his mother to save her life, and fails. Can you imagine doing something like that? To hold the life of maybe the most important person in your entire existence in the palm of your hands? The responsibility of it all? How many people shirk their duties as a spouse, or boyfriend, or mother, or simply friend? Most of us have and will and are doing so right now. To accept the responsibility that he takes onto himself requires something more than most are able to give.

There is a scene toward the end of the episode; after the failed surgery, and the firing, and the return to the Knickerbocker Hospital. Bertie sits on a couch, alone, as men walk up and down the stairs behind him. They are carrying his mother’s things— to where, I do not know. They walk up and down the stairs, and past the couch, arms full of boxes. He hears it, but does not watch. He feels it, but does not look.

* * *

I’ll reiterate: Barrow’s storyline can go haunt a house.

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Perhaps the most dominant form of storytelling on television is the hybrid of episodic and serialized narrative. You have a story that is wrapped up in one hour (episodic) but with dangling plot threads that stretch the whole season (serialized). Most shows are a hybrid of both, with notable exceptions. But I am having a hard time placing The Knick as a hybrid, or as an either/or episodic/serialized. It’s not that they just dangle plot threads; it’s that they just pull them out of then air, in that episode, with little setup. This DW Carr thing, in which Algernon wants to perform a hernia surgery on him, is set up by only a few scenes that don’t provide enough information or context to explain why. Maybe I’m arguing for old-fashioned television values here, but something is getting lost in translation.

I also find that the parameters of the characters are drawn too broadly to make an impact. Elkins suddenly taking control of her own destiny is a welcome change for a character that I like, but also one that didn’t earn that transformation. Her arc has been muddled and ever-changing, and I’ve never been able to get a grasp on who she really is as a person. She feels like a plot device.

But then again, so do many other characters. If not a plot device, they exist solely as a way to highlight something about another character. Abby, for example, only exists to highlight Thackery’s awesomeness; it’s been toned down some, but it was really, really bad in the first season. Opal is a good example of pure plot device: she throws a wrench into Algernon’s plans. She’s been around for like four episodes, and we’ve seen her about four times.

I’m jumping around too much, but I also want to highlight the weirdness of the surgery on Bertie’s mother. The mother’s death under Bertie’s fingers is supposed to be a gut punch, and it is; but it could’ve been so much more if The Knick had spent a lot more time with Bertie and his mother. We didn’t get enough context on their relationship.

They should’ve followed the example of the Harry and Cleary story. Her punishment at the hands of the Sisters and Cleary’s insistence that she live with him, and that he’ll change his life to make her as comfortable as possible, is a really emotional moment. These are two characters who bonded, and who find happiness in one another. This is a season and a half of emotional development that knocked the wind out of you. “I think all the time: if it’s killing me, what’s it doing to her?” Cleary says to Harry, and she nearly bursts into sobs, and me along with her. He says, “You make any rules you like, and I follow them to a T,” and you feel the tears press hot against the back of your eyelids. The death of Bertie’s mother should’ve hurt more than it did.

* * *

A solid episode of The Knick. It has a lot of room for improvement.

[Photo via Cinemax]

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