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The Knick S2.E5: “Whiplash”

Season 2, Episode 5
Written by Steven Katz
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

“Even this brain is growing bored of this horse-shit!”

An explosion in the subway fills The Knick to capacity in this week’s episode, “Whiplash.” Ambulance after ambulance of bloody, injured people are carted in and every hospital bed is full. It’s a huge job to undertake, and the money hungry Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) wants to know how much they’re going to charge for all of this. Henry Robertson (Charles Aitken), acting as the head of the hospital has a firm answer: nothing. “No one makes a profit today,” he says solemnly.

And he has a reason to be solemn. Because even though his wealthy father forbade Henry to invest the Robertson money into the subway, Henry went ahead and did it anyway. Now he has debts to pay — specifically to the wealthy individuals of Park Avenue who had property damaged in the blast.

Disappointment and debt paying run through “Whiplash.” Harry, free from prison but now living in a hellish home for fallen women, tries to tend to another woman who is suffering pain from menstrual cramps. But no one wants anything to do with a “baby killer” such as herself. Even in a place full of “fallen women”, Harry is a pariah. Thackery (Clive Owen), meanwhile, continues his search for the medical cause of addiction. In a particularly ghoulish scene — even for this show — we, and an audience of doctors, watch as Thackery pokes and prods the exposed brain of a man who, due to an accident, has lost the top of his skull but is otherwise alive and well. Or, as well as someone who has an exposed brain can be, at least. On top of this maladiction, the man also is a morphine addict, and Thack believe’s he’s isolated the spot of the brain that craves the drug. He plans to cut it out, and thus cut out the addiction.

The increasingly vile Dr. Gallinger (Eric Johnson) has an idea of his own: castration. Thackery, who has a human brain out on a table to demonstrate his plans, is understandably confused as to how operating on the testicles rather than the brain could help, and Gallinger counters that while it might not help the addict, it will stop him from breeding more lowly creatures such as himself. Algernon (André Holland) instantly recognizes that Gallinger is embracing Eugenics, and calls it a pseudo-science. Yet Gallinger will not be dissuaded, and agrees to perform his castration techniques on a series of boys housed in a “Home for Idiots”. The Galinger plotline continues to be one of the more chilling things The Knick has done. No amount of gore or unsettling medical procedures will ever produce as unsettling a feeling as these moments with Gallinger.  

Speaking of unsettling: “Whiplash” contains an emotionally devastating moment that casts an unpleasant pallor over the entire episode. Barrow, with all his double-dealing and skimming of the funds to build the new Knick, is finally able to pay off his debt to Ping Wu. But being the complete slimeball that he is, he instantly chalks up a brand new debt: he wants to buy the freedom of his favorite of Wu’s prostitutes, so that they can start a new life together. Barrow has it all planned out, even going so far as looking for a brand new house — a house, he callously tells the realtor, that his wife and children will never set foot in. The gut-wrenching moment arrives when Barrow’s wife, aware that they haven’t been intimate in some time, attempts to seduce her husband by dressing in lingerie and playfully offering herself up to him. Utterly mortified by this, Barrow coldly grabs his hat and says he has an appointment — despite the late hour of the evening. His wife is understandably ruined by this, breaking down into torturous sobs while shamefully covering herself up with a shawl. It’s brutal, and the way director Steven Soderbergh keeps the camera on Barrow’s wife for just a moment too long — not cutting away when others would — makes it all the more hard to witness.

“Whiplash” isn’t all woe, though. Abby seems to be recovering nicely from the treatment Thackery attempted to cure her syphilis, although she’s not very happy when Thack attempts to snort his patented mixture of cocaine and heroine in her presence. Lucy (Eve Hewson), laid so low this season from Thackery’s ending of their relationship and from her abusive father’s visit, begins to take control. After performing a routine check-up on one of Wu’s girls, the prostitute gives Lucy the idea that once a woman has a man in her hand — be it metaphorically or literally — she can make him do whatever she wants. Lucy appears to put this theory to the test, finally giving in to Peter’s constant flirtations. The two go on a date, and while Peter tries to speak seductively and drop innuendos, Lucy remains calm, collected and gives him a run for his money. She plants a kiss on him when he drops her off at home, and he’s stunned, to say the least.

Bertie continues his quest to find a remedy for his mother’s cancer, and Algernon informs him about the practice of treating cancer with radiation. In a revealing scene, Bertie broaches the subject with his father. His father, the elder Dr. Chickering, who had been so judgemental of the wild, untested methods of Thackery and the Knick last season, cuts Bertie off mid-explanation and simply says, “Do it.” It’s a touchingly human moment, and a later scene with Bertie and his family is even more so. Bertie has brought Genevieve (Arielle Goldman) to dinner with his family, and during conversation the fact that Genevieve is Jewish comes up. Bertie’s family look taken aback, and Genevieve says she hopes that her heritage won’t be a problem, citing that Jesus himself was also a Jew. She drives this point home by saying the proof of Jesus’ Jewishness lies in the fact that “His mother thought he was a god and he thought she was a virgin.” One by one, the Chickerings crack up laughing. It’s a wonderful moment, with each actor in the scene playing their parts perfectly, from the way Bertie’s father tries not to laugh too hard to the near-tearful-hysterics his mother displays. It’s countered by a moment where Genevieve and Bertie’s mother sit together. The dying Mrs. Chickering wonders how her family will get on after she’s gone. “With help,” Genevieve tells her, helping the woman up as Soderbergh’s camera lingers in the background, letting the characters be bathed in shadow.

But disappointment rears its ugly head again by episode’s end. Thackery performs his surgery and removes the tell-tale chunk of brain from his patient, holding it up for his audience to see and triumphantly saying, “I give you — addiction!” But the celebration is premature: when Thackery later examines the patient, he finds that the man seems to be completely brain dead. Oops.


Doctor’s Notes:

— Arielle Goldman continues to be fantastic as Genevieve, her free-spirited nature and no-bullshit attitude a perfect counterbalance to the prevailing 1900’s decorum. More of her, please.

— Cornelia continues her quest to find out who killed Inspector Speight. Her big clue this week: a piece of burned paper she found in a fireplace. The game’s afoot, I guess! This goes absolutely nowhere this episode, but we’ll see where it leads.

— Harry, please get the hell out of that hell-hole and go live with Cleary, reputation be damned.

— As always, Soderbergh’s direction is superb. I particularly loved a moment near the episode’s conclusion, where he held the camera on the pile of money on Wu’s desk as Wu and Barrow conversed, deliberately not cutting to either man’s face.

— To read the actual newspaper story about the real New York subway explosion, go here!

Grade: B+


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Chris Evangelista is the Executive Editor of Cut Print Film & co-host of the Cut Print Film Podcast. He also contributes to /Film, The Film Stage, Birth.Movies.Death, The Playlist, Paste Magazine, Little White Lies and O-Scope Musings. 'The House on Creep Street' and 'Beware the Monstrous Manther!', two horror books for young readers Chris co-authored with J. Tonzelli, are available wherever books are sold. You can follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 and view his portfolio at chrisevangelista.net

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