This The Knick review contains spoilers
The Knick Season 2 Episode 10
We always run a perfunctory “This review contains spoilers” warning at the beginning of every review. I’ve always found it a little silly because if you’ve come to this page, you’ve likely seen the episode and are well-ready for some spoilers. Plus, my own personal relationship with the spoilers is a bit divergent from the rest of the population. I rarely mind having something spoiled and often find that it actually enhances my enjoyment of whatever’s been spoiled.
Having said that…please stop reading now if you haven’t seen the season finale of The Knick, “This Is All We Are.” I’m going to spend the rest of this paragraph listing off some countries I think it would be fun to visit and once that’s done you had better be the hell out of here or have your ass spoiled to pieces. Turkey seems like a beautiful place to go with picturesque cities influenced by both European and Middle Eastern culture. Japan would really be an amazing foodie journey. Colombia or Peru is definitely where I’d most like to go in South America. Ok, onto the review.
HOLY FUCKING SHIT.
Dr. John Thackery is dead. Or at least Dr. John Thackery appears to be dead. The 2015 TV season has earned a reputation for being a bit too cutesy with main character deaths. The Walking Dead played around with our emotions, as did The Leftovers (albeit briefly) and Game of Thrones has all but thrown in the towel on trying to convince us a particular character is dead. So, Thackery could not be dead. We never see a body and when Alge alludes to “owing it to him” to keep up certain work at the hospital, he could just be referring to the 100% confirmed dead Augustus Robertson.
Still, it looks about 95% certain that Dr. Thackery has cut through his last ischemic bowel at the Knick. And I’m going to operate under that assumption for the rest of this review. Should The Knick decide to make a fool of me next season, I’ll live with that. I’d like writing a review where the main character dies anyway.
There are so many interesting angles to explore regarding this development but let’s focus on one first: the heaving, glittering, monstrous, teeming brass balls on showrunner Jack Amiel and his fellow writers and producers. We’re deep enough into this TV renaissance of ours that killing of a main character in a show’s run isn’t new. The aforementioned Game of Thrones* killed the presumed main character in season one and Boardwalk Empire killed a central-ish, kind of co-lead character in season two. But I would argue that no show I can recall killed a character as important as John Thackery as early on as The Knick now has.
*Man, Game of Thrones is pretty great. It’s becoming the dramatic pay cable equivalent of “The Simpsons did it first.”
And that leads to what will eventually be an ugly secret about “This Is All We Are,” aside from Thackery…it’s not that good. A year from now, two years from now, ten years from now, whatever; no one will remember that it wasn’t that good. Even right now I don’t particularly care that it wasn’t that good. If you scroll to the bottom right now, you’ll see that I probably gave it four or four and a half stars or so*. Still, in some strange, perverse way that kind of makes the impact of killing Thackery even better. Thackery is the only component of “This Is All We Are” that truly, unreservedly works. The rest is a disappointing mishmash of clichés or poor character development. For the show to proudly point out its best feature before permanently removing it is questionable long-term but undeniably bold and truly great to experience.
*Note: I went with 4. I can’t in good conscience go 4 ½ stars for an episode of television that features an honest to goodness supervillain monologue.
Before we continue on with the Thack in memoriam, then, let’s take a look at just what makes the non-climactic and non-Thack elements so disappointing. There are two prime issues that season two struggled with mightily and that come to an ugly head in the finale.
The first is a lack of cohesiveness. There’s a moment early on in “This Is All We Are” where Alge sits silently at Augustus’ funeral and you remember “oh yeah, these guys had a very important relationship.” Aside from one explosive conversation, Alge and Roberston rarely shared the same room in season two. In hindsight it feels like character throughout season two rarely shared the same room even if they were all currently in the same one…if that makes sense. Each disparate plotline throughout the season felt particularly disjointed. Harry and Cleary’s courtship comes to a head with a passively accepted marriage proposal in this finale but they feel like they’re on a different show. As does Barrow, who aside from getting briefly wrapped up in the destruction of the new Knick seems like he’s just on a show about the world’s most randomly vindictive man.
Season two was seriously lacking an episode that unified characters even if briefly like season one’s “Get the Rope” and that unifying spirit was particularly lacking in “This Is All We Are.”
The other aspect that this episode struggles with is broader and more destructive. Season two of The Knick often confused what was interesting dramatically with what was interesting on a character-level. Too many times in “This Is All We Are” do characters behave in service of a plot twist than they behave like human beings. The heel turn of one Henry Roberston was expected but for him to get an extended villain monologue is inexcusable. As is pairing him with the now patricidal Lucy to form a strange, over-the-top villainous couple.
Then there’s Douchebag Prime Gallinger whose descent into eugenics feels rushed and seems to have existed only for the opportunity to have a winky line where he says Germany “seems like a good place to start” for his Tour De Eugenics.
Even the aforementioned Harry and Cleary engagement is marred by the inexplicable twist that Cleary got Harry arrested for her abortion practice so that she would be forced to be with him. An interesting twist, sure, but also an abominable decision from a character we had no reason to believe would behave that way.
Season two has plenty of issues and “This Is All We Are” plays like a greatest hits for all of them. Thankfully, the conclusion of Dr. Thackery’s storyline and life nearly redeems them all. Thackery’s death accomplishes something that little else in season two could: it give The Knick something to say. These two seasons of The Knick as a completed dramatic thought is an excellent mediation on the dangers of obsession and knowledge, particularly where they intersect.
This show opened with a brilliant physician killing himself because he couldn’t solve a mystery of the human body. The Thackery version of this show now ends with that physician’s protégé holding his own guts in his hands and sadly coming to the realization “this is all we are.” Why even bother trying to fix it? All we are is a gross collection of squishy parts anyway. It’s a fascinating, intriguing, heartbreaking bookend of tragedies.
As with most tragedies, however, life goes on. Should this show receive a third season, Algernon Edwards is going to pick up the brand of the Knick, both the hospital and the show. He is going to take up Thackery’s lost mission of treating mental illness and it’s going to be truly interesting.
My only complaint in my original season two review is that the show returned to the status quo a little too quickly and easily. I have a hard time seeing that happening in season three.