“Not Well At All” is on of the weakest episode of The Knick’s run thus far. The Knick is too well-crafted to be ever be outright bad or boring but “Not Well At All” is about as close to bad as a show produced with such talent and purpose can be.
And it’s largely because this is just a “stuff happens” episode. Much like the Walker sisters’ eyes, it has a delicate and soulful appearance that hides pure crazy nonsense. I feel strangely guilty about it too because I’ve advocated through several reviews for The Knick to embrace a certain level of messiness and/or uncertainty. The themes of each episode can often be identified too easily and the “message” delivered succinctly, as I pointed out in “Whiplash.” Still, this episode, despite plenty of strange happenings occurring comes across as amorphous. The parts are nice but they don’t fit together. Like a collection of decent singles that can’t make a cohesive album
But let’s talk about those “singles” at least. After toiling around in the background, sterilizing an idiot here or there, the Gallingers come to the forefront in “Not Well At All.” Dr. Edwards finds incontrovertible evidence that Gallinger has been sterilizing the “dangerous” youth of New York City. He naturally decides to present this information to his superiors (Dr. Thackery) and like a young Pete Campbell before him, Edwards finds the people in charge of the world don’t really care.
This is an excellent example of where The Knick can use understatement to illustrate a profound point. The viewer wants an explosive confrontation where Thackery is scandalized and exiles Gallinger from the Knick forever because that makes sense and makes for good drama. But Edwards should know by now what makes sense doesn’t always work for people like him. Dr. Thackery treats the news of Gallinger’s crime with a “not my hospital, not my problem” wordview. The only dramatic arrow left for the Gallinger storyline is for someone to discover what he did to Dr. Carr in surgery. What excuse will Thackery have to come up with then what it is his hospital?
Given his extracurricular activities, you’d think Gallinger would be pre-disposed to treat the news his wife is in the good old -fashioned murder business a little more gently. It wasn’t hard to connect the dots that Eleanor had poisoned Dr. Henry Cotton, and it’s certainly an interesting turn for the doe-eyed Eleanor but I’m not sure what we’re supposed to be taking away from it. Maybe Eleanor has always had a mental illness, maybe she lost her mind when her children died or maybe killing the guy who took out all your teeth is an entirely sane thing to do. The show doesn’t take enough of a breath to explore any of that, however.
The depth of Eleanor’s suffering, while uncomfortable, is one of the strongest dramatic assets The Knick has had for awhile now. But now that Gallinger has tattled and Eleanor is locked away in another, seemingly gentler, asylum, I’m not sure what we’ve gained from all of it, aside from the knowledge that Everett Gallinger really only likes slight, wide-eyed, black-haired women.
Now that Eleanor is sidelined, perhaps indefinitely, the crown of womanly suffering must certainly now be bestowed upon Lady Barrow’s head. Man, what is WITH this fucking Barrow guy? I liked the scene a couple of weeks ago where Barrow coldly turns down his sweet and accommodating wife for sex and I like the scene between them this week, even with all its cruelty. Mrs. Barrow getting her hopes up that her husband is moving her downtown before finding out she’s actually being abandoned and evicted is some Leftovers-level bleak shit.
The scene does bring some much-needed humanity to an otherwise wooden episode, it’s just still not clear what it’s supposed to be communicating. In the history of The Knick the line graph of Barrow’s wealth shoots up at a near constant 45 degree angle, while his humanity craters down at the same pace. Thanks to skimming off the new Knick construction job, he’s bought his financial freedom from Wu along with the actual freedom of his prostitute girlfriend, but who cares? Barrow is one of The Knick’s weakest characters because both his motivations and shortcomings are so clear he’s just dull. Rich man on board of early 20th century hospital seeks more wealth, is sometimes an asshole? STOP THE PRESSES!
Even Harry and Cleary take a step back creatively in “Not Well At All.” Their long, innocent courtship has been so satisfying that the moment one of them made a move was destined to be disappointing. And disappointing it is when Cleary leans in for a kiss after they’ve confessed their mutual admiration for each other at a museum of curiosities. Thankfully, Harry’s reaction is at least logical and consistent with who she is as a character. She is undoubtedly in love with Cleary, it was just easier for her to deal with that when there was no romantic or sexual component acknowledged. After she’s spent a life of chastity and helping other women who experienced the worst consequences of sex, the idea of a kiss must be terrifying.
While I mentioned Eleanor’s “twist” earlier, let me go on record with another prediction. Henry Robertson is responsible for the Robertson shipping in sick immigrants scandal. He’s already proven himself a little too eager with his subway fiasco and otherwise the Neely scene tonight doesn’t carry enough weight. Poor Lucy’s going to have a rough time when she found out yet another man lied to her.*
*Fundamentalist preacher suffers stroke while being whipped in a whorehouse? Again: STOP THE PRESSES!
Funnily enough, it looks like the only man who hasn’t really lied to Lucy thus far is Sober John Thackery, who turns out to be a far different beast from Strung Out John Thackery. It seemed like his devotion to Abby would somehow come back to hurt her. But in the end it’s Abby who decides to hurt herself, taking a lethal drug concoction prior to surgery to fix her nose. This is another area where “Not Well At All” disappoints. While undeniably an affecting, strong scene, it’s still not clear exactly why it happened. Did speaking to one of Thackery’s patients who it was clear would never be done with alcohol make her realize that she would never get over the shame of her appearance? Who knows. Some ambiguity is great. Too much is a bore.
In a binge watch, “Not Well At All” won’t stick out much. A binge-watching viewer will gleefully move on to whatever answers and/or horrors episode nine holds. On it’s own, however, it’s no nickelodeon of a guy swallowing a camera.