The Knick: Williams and Walker Review

You don’t want to know what Williams and Walker’s act in “Williams and Walker” is.

This The Knick review contains spoilers.

The Knick Season 2 Episode 7

Everybody’s just trying to help on The Knick. Well, not everyone as Gallinger has turned out to be a real racist, sabotaging, turd-burgler. But almost everyone else wants to help.

Part of Dr. Thackery’s motivation for separating conjoined twins Nika and Zoe is certainly fame, fortune and the advancement of medical science. There’s also just a part of him, however, that wants to help. It’s that part of him that makes him pick up a phone prior to the surgery, call Abby and tell her “I need you to tell me I can do this.” He doesn’t need her to tell him he can do this for his sake. The cocky, surgical part of him knows he can. He needs her to tell him for the girls’ sake. The scared, human side of him wonders what will happen if he cannot. He’s already out $65 for the prettiest headstone in Midtown Manhattan, he doesn’t want to have to buy one to two more.

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That’s John Thackery. He wants to help. Even after his failed experiment with hypnotism last week, he gives it another go with his sad alcoholic patient with the cleft palette. Convincing someone that all the alcohol in the world is his own mother’s bowel movements is a curious route to assist someone but it appears to have worked. Tissue, muscle and organs are sliced and diced judiciously on The Knick and it’s a credit to the show that each incision feels like an act of compassion. That’s what appealing about Dr. John Thackery, the character. He cares. He wants to help, sometimes in the bloodiest, messiest and most visceral way possible.

The most interesting thing about The Knick, however, is how quickly it proves its characters are incapable of helping anyone…especially themselves. Dr. Thackery is able to separate the twins successfully and in no time flat is hauling his home movies across the city from hospital to hospital showing how smart he is. It’s an undeniable victory for Thackery so he begins to imagine what will make it even better. By episode’s end, Thack is completely back with Abby. Sleepovers, dates to the Knick Ball, streetlamp-lit walks through the city – the whole nine yards.

John once hurt Abby and then he helped her. Now he’s addicted to the feeling of helping her. It’s not that his love for her is insincere, nor her love for him. And their relationship doesn’t undergo any traumatic moments throughout “Williams and Walker.” But it’s still clear that Abby will one day be hurt by Thack’s need to help her. As they walk down the street, she casually brings up whether John could straighten her nose out a bit. He seems taken aback but eventually agrees and they happily saunter on. One day, Thack is going to reach his technical limit with how straight he can make her nose, how much he can help Abby and provide for her. And he’s going to be devastated. Not a good place to be for someone still experimenting with both cocaine, heroin and now turpentine.

Thack, loath as he is to admit it also can’t help Dr. Edwards. Mr. Carr, the hernia patient who wanted Edwards to operate on him at the Knick, shows up to the hospital uninvited to be admitted. Mr. Carr was never going to be allowed to be a patient at the Knick, new or old so he forces the issue. Alge is thrown at first but then comes to appreciate the maneuver. Dr. Thackery, as it turns out, does not. “If you could have been more patient, I could have made this happen legitimately,” he yells at Edwards. “It’s the future,” Edwards says back. “You think it’s here too early and I think it’s here too late.” It’s a powerful moment (though strangely undercut by an immediate transition to Neely strolling around Ellis Island again) and reveals a lot about Thackery. He’s just trying to help, damn it, why can’t they get that? He just doesn’t understand that he’s not doing enough. And maybe he can’t do any more, given his time period, but Edwards doesn’t even get the benefit of that acknowledgement.

Edwards is on the receiving end of many people “Just Trying to Help” in “Williams and Walker.” The Knick Ball goes off without a hitch. Mrs. Barrow is a lovely host, Lucy looks great in her expensive dress and Algernon and Opal fit in nicely and have a good time. If anything, Abby is the outcast of the proceedings. Normally the outsiders, themselves, Alge and Opal, treat Abby with the same overly polite gestures they must be used to. And then “Williams and Walker” pulls a satisfying, racial double feint.

Something is going to go wrong for Alge and Opal because something always goes wrong for Black folks on The Knick. And at first the titular “Williams and Walker” seem like they’ll be the inciting incident when it’s revealed the duo is a breathtakingly racist minstrel act in black-face. It’s truly shocking and the audience’s eye is automatically trained to wait for the Algernon and Opal reaction shock. The Knick makes us wait and when we finally get it, Alge and Opal are pretty chill about it, awkwardly chucking and glancing around at their peers to gauge their reaction. Of course! While this may be terrifyingly awkard for the modern audience, Alge and Opal must be used to this by now and even make mention of seeing the duo on stage earlier.

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Instead, it’s after the Ball when Alge, Opal and the Robertsons stumble outside tipsy, that Alge has his inevitable “everything sucks: moment. Opal pushes Mr. Robertson to reveal what Alge’s role in the new hospital will be. As it turns out, Alge might not have a role in the new hospital altogether.

“I will do everything I can to ensure your postion,” Robertson tells him. And he means it. He’s just trying to help. But he can’t. He doesn’t have all the money in the world. The Knick has other investors and those investors aren’t too keen on integration. Robertson is condescending and will never fully understand just how condescending he is…but he’s trying to help. When he whispers “I’m going to do everything I can, Jesse,” to his Black carriage driver he may as well be screaming it in frustration.

Neely has inherited her father’s predisposition to try to help. She’s been trying to help the city of New York all season by tracking down a potential source of the bubonic plague and is continuously thrown into roadblocks. Her father-in-law proves to be the biggest one yet. He tells her in no uncertain terms that expects her to stop this investigation nonsense and simply be a wife to his son. That son later clarifies exactly why she must as well. The Roberstons rely on the Showalters money to keep the company afloat. Neely was just trying to help but if she helps the city, she’ll hurt her family.

It seems like two characters have found the secret to helping, however, at least in theory. Harry and Cleary are now shacking up but not having any physical contact as Harry is quick to point out. After Harry has an educational meeting with some girls from the convent about safe sex and contraception Cleary comes up with an idea to begin running a proto Planned Parenthood from their apartment. Whip up some sheepskin condoms, tell young men and women what to do and send them on their way. Of all the schemes to help in “Williams and Walker” it’s the one I have the most faith in because it’s the one that seeks out to actively help the least. The first part of the Hippocratic Oath says “first, do no harm.” Maybe the people of The Knick should try that before trying to help.


4 out of 5