This The Knick review contains spoilers.
The Knick Season 2 Episode 6
“Do You Remember Moon Flower?” opens in an environment we’re not used to seeing on The Knick: the great outdoors. It’s Nicaragua in 1984 and Steven Soderbergh’s camera is practically delirious with excitement over trading the dull blues of the Knick for the vibrant greens of nature. Dr. John Thackery is a wandering physician, drawn to this small village by the prospects of treating a yellow fever epidemic. Instead he finds both smallpox and a rich American industrialist tied to a tree. Dr. Thackery responds to these unexpected curveballs in the most-Thackery possible. “Whatever. I can probably fix all this.”
And fix it he does, by developing a rudimentary vaccine for smallpox from the inert boils of the survivors, which he then shoots into the villagers mouth via bamboo. This also buys the American businessman’s freedom, who was accused of bringing smallpox to the village. That businessman turns out to be August Robertson, who invites Thackery to work at the hospital he supports: the Knickerbocker. The two book-ending scenes are a wonderful departure for The Knick into the past, and are rich creatively and visually.
At first glance, however, they also seem out of place. By episode’s end Thackery is a catatonic shell of himself, reeling from the loss of his love, Abigail and his bowels ischemic from all the cocaine he’s ingested. Robertson has been accused of murder by his beloved daughter and is likely dead after jumping many stories up from the smoldering new Knickerbocker hospital. Why show these two men at their best only to later show them at their worst? Because The Knick knows that’s how being a human works. Thack is a wreck partly due to external influences but also to his own failings. He’s a remarkable man, capable of saving an entire village of Nicaraguans and two very happy and healthy now-separated Russian twins. But he’s also the cocaine-addicted fuck-up who responded with a shrug to one of his collegue’s practicing eugenics. “Do You Remember Moon Flower?” understands the conflict at the center of The Knick. The oath says “do no harm” but the human condition says “try not to do any harm but you’ll probably fuck that up along the way.”
Thackery never got better from his addiction; he just got better at hiding it. The only thing that seemed to work was Abigail’s talking cure and now even she is gone. “Do You Remember Moon Flower?” sees Thackery at his most despondent. The sight of his pristine white shoes traipsing around the Knick is usually a sign of hope but now the white shoes just collapse under him as he falls in the street from stomach pain. His mind and body are both breaking down. After hearing news of his ischemic bowel he defiantly turns down surgery in hopes that he can find an alternative cure, himself. It’s not because he’s suicidal, it’s because that’s the last problem he has left to solve. The twins are separate and safe and Abigail is dead and gone so this is the only thing on his plate right now – better milk it for all its worth.
“Do You Remember Moon Flower?” is a great episode of The Knick because Clive Owen as John Thackery is great in it. The Knick tends to go where Dr. John Thackery goes. What’s interesting and refreshing, however, is that even in an episode where Thack is confronting deeply personal issues and mostly succeeding, the show doesn’t let us forget where he fails. And that’s namely in his lame attempts at managing Dr. Gallinger.
Gallinger has become a monster. And it’s because his monstrosity is routinely tolerated, not the least of which by Thack. It’s sad but expected that the medical board hearing Edwards calls for Gallinger and his little sterilization experiments becomes a ringing endorsement for eugenics. The Knick has displayed time and time again that the world of 1900s New York doesn’t give a shit about Dr. Edwards or fairness. But Thackery is supposed to give a shit. Season two could have an impressive supercut and Thackery entering rooms and telling Edwards and Gallinger to stop bickering as though they were arguing over what to watch on T.V. instead of struggling over centuries of systematic racial and classical oppression. Gallinger cold-cocking Edwards, calling him the “n-word” and then rushing home to bang his institutionalized wife’s sister is an impressive douchebag triple-threat and it’s partially brought to you by the letter “A” for apathy and appeasement from men like John Thackery.
Most of the people of the Knick are usually fundamentally good but at the end of the day they’re still people. Harry and Cleary sell condoms out of the goodness of their heart but also to make a buck. Neely wants to keep the city of New York safe but probably tragically misidentifies who brought in the black plague. And then there are those who seem like villains: the Gallingers, the Barrows and the Elkins’ of the world. But still … they’re just people. Gallinger is just a rich guy with bad ideas in a world that continuously tells him those bad ideas are correct. Barrow just wants to get laid. And Lucy? Well she does take a fairly cartoonishly evil turn killing her father but not before telling him about all of her illicit sins and condemning him to hell. Still, she’s a young girl getting a crash course in the staggering hypocrisies of her elders.
It’s when characters set out to make boogeymen out of human beings that they falter. Neely’s a pretty good sleuth but by the end of “Do You Remember Moon Flower?” it’s pretty clear she’s got the wrong guy in accusing her father of endangering the people of New York. In the end it looks like August Robertson wasn’t a villain, he was just a person. But who knows. That’s the thing about people, even the good ones can cause harm when they don’t mean to. Dr. Robertson was a good guy and likely innocent of his crimes and all…but those Nicaraguans were probably right about who brought the smallpox.