The Knick: Where's the Dignity?
September 7, 2014 9:30 AM - Season 1, Episode 4 - Subscribe

Answer: There is only poverty in poverty and struggle in struggle.

Dr. Edwards creates an opportunity to do a legit surgery, discovers vacuum technology, and attends a party starring Mr. Edison and his recording machine. Barrows steals bodies. The nun and Cleary come to an arrangement.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden (5 comments total)
Birdie and Gallagher give up on trying to learn the new surgical procedure on their own. Instead, Edwards is told to walk them through the procedure, which he does until he stops at a crucial juncture, forcing them to give him the scalpel or risk losing the patient. He wins but it's an odd moment. 

Is Gallagher the better guy because he wasn't willing to let the patient die? Or Edwards better for being willing to risk everything to ensure the patient was in his capable hands? I loved that Edwards has enough ego and confidence to feel he might be better than Thackery. But, that confidence usually isn't allowed for such characters so I anticipate some (painful and humiliating) humbling of his character. 

At Mr. Robertson's invitation, Dr. Edwards attends an engagement party for their daughter. At the party, Ms. Robertson finds out that her fiancée will be taking her to live in San Francisco. Surprise! Mr. Robertson treats Edwards like a pet and his wife commits an incredibly hilarious faux pas by assuming Edwards wasn't invited. Surprise!‎ The way she just excuses herself and walks away when caught out is just priceless. 

The health inspector goes with Ms. Robertson to investigate a typhoid case and refuses to shake the woman's hand because he doesn't trust her hygiene. This‎ is awesome. I wish I could do this IRL when people want to shake my hand. The number of men I've seen leave a bathroom without washing is staggering. 

Cleary keeps Barrows from stealing the corpse of the girl who died. This makes me think that the ashes he gave the widow in the beginning weren't real--it was to cover that he'd stolen and sold her husband's body. ‎‎

Cleary has been solidified as the gruff blowhard with a heart of gold. Okay, whatever. Birdie has Daddy issues. Sure, whatever. (Is Birdie supposed to be secretly Jewish? The great line about Yiddish being more important than Latin or Greek seems to be indicative of something more.)‎ 

Nurse Eklins continues to pointlessly hang around and make cow eyes at Thackery. ‎Because, why not? (Apparently she is Bono's daughter.) Gallagher's wife has a really annoying high-pitched, syrupy voice. I'm almost positive it's fake. It is awful so I hope the actress doesn't really sound like that.

Good ep.

posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 10:00 AM on September 7, 2014

So I'm just finishing up medical school and have been in complete awe of this show since the first episode. The dramaturgy is spot-on, but Soderbergh uses the music and cinematography of our zeitgeist to demonstrate the connection between the political and economic struggles of their age and ours. For instance, the scene in the nursery where sister Harriet and Cornelia negotiate placement of an orphan child in one moment and are trivialized as "playing with babies" a moment later. This brief scene demonstrates a debate on which Medical reformer Abraham Flexner would write,
"Social work appeals strongly to the humanitarian and spiritual element. It holds out no inducement to the worldly—neither comfort, glory, nor money. The unselfish devotion of those who have chosen to give themselves to making the world a fitter place to live in can fill social work with the professional spirit and thus to some extent lift it above all the distinctions which I have been at such pains to make. In the long run, the first, main and indispensable criterion of a profession will be the possession of a professional spirit, and that test social work may, if it will, fully satisfy."- A. Flexner, Is Social Work a Profession? 1915
Watching the class-tinged interplay between charity (represented by Sister Harriet), philanthropy (represented by Cornelia), and gender immediately calls to mind our modern day debates about paid maternity leave. This instance (and indeed the show itself) also touch more broadly on the feudal roots of society's way of dealing with the poor-- crumbs from the table as opposed to a place at the table, further reinforced by scenes featuring the great Financiers/Robber Barons of the Gilded Age. Indeed, I'd be surprised if Soderbergh and the writers weren't taking pages directly from Twain and Sinclair.

The modernist soundtrack also captures the scientific/progressive spirit of the age, and the show's (only moderately anachronistic) featuring of electrocautery/suction, Edison's phonograph, and its quick nod to the development in 1894 of the McBurney appendectomy incision during Thack's flashback, is very similar in spirit to one of my favorite medical texts from the era: Sir William Osler's 1913 lectures at Yale, The Evolution of Modern Medicine and his shorter but no less important 1910 lay sermon at the University of Edinburgh, Man's Redemption of Man.

On a somewhat unrelated note, as a collector of old 78rpm records, I loved the scene with Edison demonstrating his phonograph. The distorted voices heard on old cylinders make it difficult to picture actual people delivering such stilted oratories, but again Soderbergh portrays an air of wonder and unfamiliarity with technology that makes it all seem more human and natural.
posted by The White Hat at 11:53 AM on September 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, and this interview with writers Jack Amiel and Michael Begler is quite good and underscores the intent with which these issues are raised in the series.
BEGLER: It was really important to us to play all of that because it was just the truth of the time. This isn’t just a hospital show. This is about an era.

AMIEL: And about characters dealing with the hospital and the era. It’s really character-driven, that way. It’s also an era of real entitlement. There was a white Protestant establishment that was being usurped suddenly by African Americans that were coming up from the South for a better life. You had Irish Catholics and Italian Catholics coming. There were Jews from Eastern Europe coming to America. They were settling in America in massive numbers, and the wealthy were moving uptown and away. You were seeing a whole new world transform in front of their eyes, and they were looking to maintain their hold. A lot of this era was about the people who believed they had privilege and the people who usurped it to create this country. We have big debates, these days, about immigration, and this was a time when some of the greatest minds came into our country and changed our country, markedly for the better.
posted by The White Hat at 12:30 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fantastic show. Really love almost everything about this. It really is a dip into another world but, as The White Hat describes, with very contemporary music and cinematography keeping us somehow rooted in the present day. The sound design (by Soderbergh's usual guy on features, Larry Blake) is so good and detailed. I especially noticed in this episode the way, as people carry on conversations, you can hear all the muffled conversations going on in other rooms nearby. When you're in The Knick, the soundscape is a big part of the sense of location you get. Also, the general illusion of turn-of-the-century lower Manhattan is surprisingly complete. Soderbergh sure knows how to get a lot out of not all that much money.

Apparently she is Bono's daughter.

Holy shit. That may go some way to explain why I keep thinking she seems oddly familiar.

Still wish more were watching and discussing this. Wonder if it was a miscalculation to put it on Cinemax. Well, for those who are missing it it'll make a hell of a Blu-ray set one of these days — maybe in time for Christmas giving.
posted by Mothlight at 8:55 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

The sound design (by Soderbergh's usual guy on features, Larry Blake) is so good and detailed.

The thing I keep noticing is the terrifying weight of the ticking clock in the operating theater; we never see the clock, but it looms over the surgery scenes nonetheless.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:23 PM on March 15, 2021

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