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The Knick S2.E7: “Williams and Walker”

Season 2, Episode 7
Written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

“It’s the future. You think it’s here too early, I think it’s here too late.”

The Knick roars back to life this week after a somewhat middling previous episode. Both Thackery and Algernon perform rather significant surgeries, but only one goes according to plan. Lucy continues to be assertive to get her way. Cornelia’s Nancy Drew-like investigation hits a roadblock. And Harry and Cleary embark on a new business venture. But what tonight’s episode, “Williams and Walker”, does most of all is bring everyone together onto the same playing field, in this case the much teased charity ball for the new Knick.

First, though, we’re treated to a delightful moment where Bertie and Genevieve are finally ready to get their freak on. Steven Soderbergh lets his camera act as a spy, peering in on the bedroom as Bertie enters attired only in a towel and a top hat as Genevieve giggles nervously in bed, her hair let down for the first time on the series. The scene plays out with the two soon-to-be-lovers giggling and laughing like a pair of giddy kids as they try to reconcile their sexual passion with the prevailing inexpressive norms of the era — you’re not supposed to talk about sex, so the couple lack the vocabulary. Genevieve announces her knowledge of the act is mostly derived from one her uncles who raised beavers and mink on a farm. All of this could be awkward and slightly tragic, but instead it’s sweet and funny and charming. Bertie and Genevieve may not know how to put what they want into words, but they don’t have to.

Other characters in “Williams and Walker”, however, don’t have a problem saying exactly what it is they want. We get to look in on gangster Ping Wu in a sexual tryst with some of his prostitutes, and as he engages with one girl, he orders another to put her foot in his mouth. Soderbergh shoots this entire scenario in a tricky, sneaky way so much so that I’m not sure how much of it is really happening. Because after Wu gets the old foot-in-mouth treatment, it’s revealed that the lady offering up her toes is actually Lucy. Or is it? Is Wu fantasizing about Lucy, or is Lucy fantasizing about Wu? Without definitively answering, Soderbergh cuts to Lucy showing off a new dress for the ball to her roommate — a very expensive dress that Lucy proudly states she paid for herself. How? Did she pick up a little extra cash by paying Wu a visit?

Speaking of Lucy, near the end of the episode she reveals she’s just as assertive in the bedroom as Wu. After the ball, her enraptured suitor Henry works fervently, thrusting away, while Lucy looks bored. She stops Henry, goes to her bag, and pulls out some vials of cocaine. “Now we can fuck,” she tells Henry. Lucy has come a long way as a character this season, transforming from an innocent, used young lady into someone darker, and more calculated. On one level it’s intriguing to see her take control after being used by Thackery and by her abusive father, but on another she seems headed for some sort of dangerous disaster.

As for Thackery, he’s still trying to crack the medical condition causing addiction, and manages to successfully hypnotize a patient into thinking every time the patient sees any sort of alcohol, said patient will believe it’s a cup of his own mother’s feces. Thack has also settled into a sort of domestic bliss with Abby, and when he brings her to the charity ball they get along quite well. Abby, however, continues to be self-conscious about her reconstructed nose, and before episode’s end, Thack has vowed to look into ways to improve the cosmetic look of the nose. But Thackery’s biggest achievement of the episode is successfully separating the conjoined Russian twins. The procedure goes off without a hitch, and Thack also has the foresight to both let Genevieve into the operating theater to write about it, and have Henry film the surgery with his movie camera. And already, we can see the wheels turning for yet another project: Thack asks what is used to record the motion pictures, and is informed it’s celluloid — and that it can be molded into anything.

One thing Thack doesn’t get to do is honor Algernon’s request to talk the hospital board into letting  D.W. Garrison Carr be the first official African-American patient at the Knick. Before Thack has even attempted to bridge this subject, Carr shows up at the hospital and more or less forces Algernon into admitting him. Needless to say, unrepentant racist Dr. Gallinger is none-too-pleased about this, and he takes his displeasure to new, sickening heights (or, more accurately, lows). While Thack was able to perform his surgery to great acclaim, Gallinger has no intention of letting Algernon do the same. He switches out a bottle of Curare muscle relaxant with a concoction of his own, the result causing Carr to stop breathing during the operation. Algernon can’t fathom what has gone wrong, and Gallinger “heroically” steps in and saves the day. This is bad enough as it is, but it comes at the worst possible time, as Algernon has recently learned from the Robertsons that there’s a chance he might not even be asked to migrate with the new Knick.

The aforementioned Robertsons continue to fall from grace this week. In her sleuthing, Cornelia learns that her family has been paying-off the people at immigration to just let anyone into the country, even if they display signs of sickness. This is no doubt what got Speight murdered, but unfortunately there’s no one Cornelia can turn to. Philip’s father all-but-threatens Cornelia for her continued inability to provide a son to Philip, and when Cornelia turns to Philip for help, he reveals that the Showalters have been keeping the Robertsons financially afloat all this time — in other words, Cornelia and her family have almost no power whatsoever at this point. The conversation ends with Philip asking what his father demanded of Cornelia. “He wanted me to make you happy,” she replies. “Then make me happy,” Philip bluntly shoots back.

Harry and Cleary remain the two biggest outsiders on The Knick, and as such don’t get an invite to the big fancy ball. But that doesn’t stop them from having their own celebration at home, and there the subject that opened the episode — the inability of society to adequately talk about sex — comes up again. Cleary realizes, thanks to Harry’s ability to help out her fellow “fallen women” in regards to contraception, that there’s a profit to be made. He talks Harry into a new business arrangement, one far less illegal than their previous venture: they’ll provide both men and women with accurate knowledge about sex and birth control, and provide condoms to boot. Harry is slightly apprehensive at first, since their last scheme ended her in prison, but once she comes around to the idea she gets Cleary to agree to a 50/50 split, and the deal is sealed with a spit-enhanced hand-shake. Long live Cleary and Harry.

 

Doctor’s Notes:

— The title of this week’s episode, “Williams and Walker”, refers to the entertainment hired for the charity ball: the real-life minstrel show of Bert Williams and George Walker. As the Jas Obrecht Music Archive explains, Williams and Walker “found that by donning blackface and calling themselves “The Two Real Coons,” they could get booked into better vaudeville venues in Los Angeles, New York, London, and other major cities.”

— Thackery has developed a “gut problem” from his continued drug use. His solution? Drinking turpentine!

– When Thack comes up with the idea of filming the surgery of the conjoined twins, he’s asked if anyone has ever filmed a medical procedure before. “First time for everything!” is his reply, but it turns out a procedure had been filmed already. Per Discovery, “An 1899 film showing a rather gory surgical procedure has been confirmed as being the oldest known surviving film of a surgery, as well as the oldest known film showing the use of anesthesia.” Watch it below!

— This week on The Knick: gasoline is discovered! Philip has returned from a business trip to reveal a new use for the “waste” left over by oil — something that was previously dumped into lakes and rivers “to be safe” because it was flammable. Learn more here.

— Thack has bought an elaborate, expensive tombstone for the girl he accidentally killed on the operating table last season. There’s a quote from Isaiah 21:12 on the marker: “The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come.”

— Must I point out again how great Soderbergh’s direction is? Yes, I must, particularly in a sweeping, never-ending shot that follows Bertie, Genevieve, Algernon and Opal down a long hallway into the beautifully lit ball.

— Clint Mansell’s always-excellent score employs a great, unsettling moment of clinking metal for a scene before Thackery’s big surgery, where he is seized with self-doubt and the urge to get high.

— Want to throw your own Knick-themed ball and need a recipe for the “Whisky Flip” Henry gets Lucy? Sure you do:

Ingredients

    • 3 ounces whiskey
    • 1 whole egg
    • 1 teaspoon superfine sugar
    • 2 teaspoons heavy cream (optional)
    • 1/2 cup crushed ice
    • Nutmeg

Preparation

    1. Combine all ingredients except the nutmeg in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into a 5-ounce stemmed glass, and grate a little nutmeg on top.
    2. 2 or 3 dashes of rum are sometimes added to the whiskey in this cocktail.

 

Grade: A-

 

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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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