The Knick, Season 1 (2014)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
One of the more interesting costume drama series of recent years, The Knick revolves around events at the turn of the century Knickerbocker Hospital in New York. Many of the case studies are pulled from actual medical procedures and operations, which lends this fictional tale a degree of authenticity.
When the latest of half a dozen attempts to save a woman and her child's life during a risky birth procedure fails, the head of the Knickerbocker takes his own life, leaving the rest of the staff reeling. His closest friend and associate, Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) is left to pick up the pieces, but his raging but secret cocaine addiction makes him an unreliable and short-tempered physician, prone to excessive workaholic behavior and long hours. Nor is he that interested in accepting on staff a "Negro doctor" by the name of Edwards (André Holland). Though highly respected for his education and overseas experience, Dr. Edwards is "the wrong color," and finds it a challenge to earn the respect of his new colleagues. By chance, and through the influence of his biggest advocate, the hospital's financial backer and member of the board, Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance), Edwards is given a chance... but prohibited from practicing on most patients.
Not one to be stifled, Edwards commandeers the basement, hires and trains his own nurses, and proceeds to operate on those in need, off the books and out of sight. Meanwhile, the new nurse, Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson), gets off on the wrong foot with Thackery, but finds a friend in the cheerful, good-natured Dr. Chickering (Michael Angarano), whose father thinks his career would be better furthered at one of the more prestigious hospitals. Their associate Dr. Gallinger (Eric Johnson) wrestles with a devastating family crisis, while forces outside the hospital conspire to make things difficult, from racial tensions in the street to the selling of bodies for medical experiments, to their own head board member's unfortunate tendency to lose money to the wrong people.
Many cases are explored here, briefly or more in depth, from growing a new nose to a woman suffering from syphilis to major advancements in medical procedures. In some ways it's a convincing exploration of the period and in the other it stretches the times with modern morals (this is, after all, a world where people are shamed for getting pregnant outside of wedlock but that doesn't stop any of the ladies from indulging themselves with hospital staff). The opening moments feature a gruesome operation, and set the stage for all kinds of similar instances, some intending to tug on the heartstrings and others to reveal the sordid underbelly of the times (bullying ambulance drivers, rooting for their occupant to die so they can sell the body, for example). Drug addiction is explored, as well as its consequences (collapsed veins, shaking hands, severe withdrawal symptoms, and so forth). I marveled at the ingenuity of doctors forced to improvise on the fly, but at the same time find it a little difficult to like most of them, as they all display a lack of any kind of moral conscience or code of honor.
The costuming is lovely and the setting is interesting, but the overall tawdriness of it (including nuns willing to provide abortions on their "off hours," and the presence of naked prostitutes in the background for experimentation) got to me after awhile.
Women in brothels and elsewhere are frequently seen fully nude or topless, sometimes for scenes that last a long time; there are a half dozen graphic sex scenes (movement). A woman becomes excited at the thought of dosing his or her "sex" with cocaine to "enhance" the experience.
Dozens of f-words, abuses of Jesus' name, and profanities.
Operations are shown in all their gory detail, from taking out innards to pumping blood out of open wounds. Violence erupts in the street; men punch one another; a man puts a gun to his head and blows his brains out (mostly off-screen).
A woman has her pregnancy terminated -- by a nun. Anti-religious sentiments are expressed, scoffing that anyone would feel guilt for sexual sin.