The Knick Season Two takes television into new territory in content and form. The title refers to one of the original surgical hospitals in New York of the 1900s. At this time, The Knick serviced the poor and rich alike. Often times the poor were an opportunity for doctors to experiment with new potentially life-saving techniques without as much concern for the consequences of a death along the way to perfecting the surgery. Being at the bleeding edge of science and technology, the show presents surgery of the day in all its horror and glory.
Picking up in Season Two, John Thackery (Clive Owen) our Byronic genius head of surgery, is completely at the mercy of his addictions. As a result, any medical procedures he is performing seem to border on mad scientist or Nazi science officer territory rather than seeing him as the the brilliant young surgeon we meet in Season One. This twist adds a new level of tension and danger to the new episodes and a wildness to the proceeding events.
Normal conditioned expectations of where this cast of characters or television storyline would go in a second season are immediately disrupted. We are treated to a more diverse cast of characters and taken deeper into their personal storylines and experiences making Season Two even more of an ensemble where Thackery is given equal or less screen time than many of the other characters. Some characters change behavior completely from Season One based on their experiences. Others rather than heroically succeeding for their better natured efforts, fall deeper into succumbing to their own personal demons or societal trappings. Soderbergh and the writing staff use the diverse cast to highlight racial tensions, social imbalances and gender inequality of the time period… and what we are shown ain't pretty. Despite being period, the issues brought to the surface feel as present and fresh as ever. As discovered through some of the surprising events in American culture of the past year, this show seems to suggest that petty tensions are constantly boiling just beneath the surface amongst our own friends and family and fuel every so-called justified or logical decision made.
The opening surgery scene of Episode One, Season One kept me from watching The Knick for over a year. Watching bodies being opened up has always been a personal discomfort of mine. This is a good example of what this show is doing; testing audiences and pushing boundaries for what a television show can be. While most of the hospital scenes are not as intense as that initial procedure, expect to have your emotional buttons pushed and grey matter challenged every episode both by the thematic content and cinematic choices.
The rendering of characters through the acting and writing is terrific. The period costumes and sets are strikingly detailed, enveloping the cast and audience believably in the 1900s. This seamlessness is challenged with the cinematography, which feels jarring at times. For instance, normal wide establishing shots are often handheld static rather than stable shots, presumably so that you notice a human presence behind the camera. Somehow this adds to the uneasy feeling of the narrative. Many of the framing choices are unquestionably bold and cinematic, presenting the story with striking style and communicating subjective perspectives of a specific character. Other times the camera winds around labyrinthine corridors with characters on Steadicam, content to create continuity of the environments they walk through. The lighting mixes a natural candlelight look with electrical source lighting reflected in the production design and technological advances of the time period.
The show is spread over four Blu-ray discs. Includes a Digital HD Copy available on Ultraviolet and iTunes. The image looks sharp and clean even in low light scenarios. All the gilded period details can be seen, you can practically count the beads and buttons. Most of The Knick interiors and exteriors have either a blue spectrum coolness or a reddish tungsten warmth. I didn't notice any distracting artifacts or encoding errors. 1080p high definition in 1.78:1 (16x9).
Impressive use of soundscapes. Juxtaposes the quietness or analog sounds of the period with a thumping, occasionally energetic electronica score. Presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio. Also included are dubbed DTS Surround tracks in French, Latin Spanish, Castilian Spanish and German. Subtitles are in English, French, Latin Spanish, Castilian Spanish, German, Brazilian Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish.
Noticeably absent from all interviews and commentaries is Steven Soderbergh. This is disappointing. Although we hear from many of his very talented collaborators, as the director, executive producer, cameraman and editor of each episode, it's clear from hearing everyone talk that Soderbergh is one of the key structuring visions behind the project. It could be argued that the work-load alone is on par with something like Kieslowski's The Dekalog. Would be nice to hear more about his personal perspectives on the material and how he went about approaching the work. That nitpick aside, this set is reasonably stacked with extras.
• Post-Op for each of the ten episodes. Discusses story development and re-cap of each episode. These range anywhere from two to eight minutes each.
• Under Construction (10:27) Built the hospital with limited shades of color to make it feel more like an old Black and White photograph. Ceilings painted with high gloss and practical lights. Combination of gas and electricity. The imagery from Season One is featured as well. Discusses how they tried to jive with Soderbergh's working style and tell the story through design. They used real old photo research even if they adjusted it. For instance, one of the rooms of beds was based off a cafeteria in an insane asylum. Built sets as continuous as possible. Created a new more welcoming color scheme for Mt. Sinai. They researched period hospitals from all over the world.
• Inside the Costume Shop (5:42) Discusses the carefully tailored period costumes and how it affects the performances and comments upon the specificities of the character. Everything is as authentic to the period and created and fitted to each individual actor.
• Invitation to the Ball (5:30) Discussion on how the collaborators went about the details of the elaborate ball in Episode Seven. Focuses on how the sequence was shot and the interplay between the writing and acting.
Behind the Scenes:
- Addiction: 1901 (1:40) Discusses how this thematic element is dealt with in the screenplay based on the time period.
- Feminism: 1901(1:33) - Focuses on how Season Two presents some of the issues women dealt with at the time period.
- Eugenics (1:39) Gallinger becomes a proponent of this white male elitism posing as science. "He's delighted there's a scientific basis for his anger."
- Race (2:44) Uses the character of Garrison Carr to portray leadership of movement of the black community towards equal rights at the time period. Also brought to life with the personal struggles of Algernon and his wife Opal.
- Corruption (2:29) Discusses how corruption and the political complexities for the people involved are presented in the show as being at every level of society.
• Knicktoids Each segment is about thirty seconds of video from the episode with written text facts. Discusses condom usage referenced in Episode Nine. Discussed conjoined twins in Episode Seven. Discusses Huber's Palace; the carnival freak show in Episode Three. Haymarket; combination bar, brothel and dance hall.
Inside the Body Shop creation of practical special FX
- "Ten Knots" (1:17) Leg abscess operation to create the false leg and puss.
- "You're No Rose" (1:20) Ocular surgery scene, done by digitally compositing a mix of the real actor and a puppet head.
- "WonderFul Surprises" (1:43) Discusses the effects creation for the autopsy for the heroin addiction study. High level of detail was put into matching total realism of the actor playing the part.
- "Whiplash" (2:00) Discuss the effects for the brain surgery sequence. All done practically and incredibly elaborate detail for a full photo real effect.
With The Knick Season Two I didn't personally find binge-watching, a practice that has become so effortless on many shows, to be enjoyable. However, nothing about the show promises to be easy for us to watch. Soderbergh lingers in bleakness and brutality just long enough to feel the appropriate unease. The show-runners and cast wrestle with social issues and present character arcs that intentionally avoid proper resolution. The end result might make you feel a little queasy about our species. This is not to say the show is without humor or human kindness. In fact, if anything loving moments of connection hold even more power as a result of their rarity.
I was convinced I would end up having a disease myself at any moment just by watching the show. The frail humanity presented in the surgery room was enough to produce in me fear of God and my fellow humans. Let's hope we all keep our good health as long as possible and have no need to rely on the well-meaning, but half-insane, doctors of The Knick.
Rating: Highly Recommended