Beginning in the year 1900 in New York City, Steven Soderbergh’s first episode of “The Knick” opens with Dr. John W. Thackery (Clive Owen) receiving a gentle reminder of the time by a woman in what appears to be an opium den. After exiting the den, he enters a horse and carriage and requests transport to his place of employment, New York City’s famed Knickerbocker Hospital. While waiting inside the horse and carriage, he decides to shoot a liquid form of cocaine into his toes. Upon arrival, he is joined by Chief Surgeon Dr. Christenson (Matt Frewer) and they perform an intensely invasive procedure on a pregnant woman. The procedure results in the death of the mother and child, and Dr. Christenson retreats to his office to take his own life. This all happens within the first fifteen minutes.
We then transition to Dr. Thackery performing the eulogy at Dr. Christenson’s funeral. Not only does he praise his good friend and mentor, he also marvels at the wonders of “modern” medicine:
And it’s that eulogy that will more than likely provide the most insight into the narrative framework of the show–the mindset of Dr. Thackery. No matter how far they’ve come as doctors, there will always be the need to strive for more. No matter the burden, it is their duty to continue to push the limits. Especially when every diagnosis depicted in the show thus far is pretty much an educated guess. Think of the numerous times a doctor in the year 2014 has misdiagnosed or botched a “routine” surgery or procedure, even with our medical and technological advances. Now think about that happening in New York in 1900. Very little sanitation, not much of an adequate framework for modern medicine and most notably, doctors doing the best they can with very little understanding of the human body. But this doesn’t stop these doctors from experimenting.
However, this being New York in the year 1900, pushing the limits doesn’t extend to social issues. The suicide of Dr. Christenson inspires the hospital board to replace him with Dr. Thackery, and hire it’s first black surgeon as Thackery’s replacement. Which doesn’t sit well with the good doctor. He’s not “in the business of integrating” the hospital and feels no need to work with Dr. Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland). This subplot provides some weight, scope, and reality to the series, as issues such as class and gender will more than likely be explored as well for the remainder of the series.
And every aspect of the modern hospital is depicted. Even the inclusion of a social worker, who has the unfortunate duty of asking a young girl to translate to her non-English speaking mother that she is going to die of tuberculosis.
Change seems to be the common theme for the show. Change that is necessary and continuous. During Dr. Christenson’s eulogy, Dr. Thackerry states:
“We now live in the time of endless possibility. More has been learned about the treatment of the human body in the last five years that was learned in the previous five hundred.”
The same could be said of the year 2014.
(Cinemax is streaming the first episode of “The Knick” via YouTube)
Sources/Credits and Links: “The Knick” eulogy clip via YouTube