Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A cyclops, a stranger, and an empty grave bring horror back to The Knick

Illustration for article titled A cyclops, a stranger, and an empty grave bring horror back to The Knick
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

In a way “Ten Knots” was easy. Almost all of the main characters were sequestered in separate storylines, give or take Gallinger’s boat ride or Harry’s visit from Cleary. Ten individual knots. Things are more complicated now that everyone but Harry is back at the Knick. There’s a lot more collusion and collision in “You’re No Rose.” Thack, Gallinger, and the venerable Dr. Mays reject Edwards’ new hospital routine. Wu’s prostitutes interrupt Barrow’s meeting with Cleary, and Lucy and Dr. Mays get drawn into that little scheme. Cornelia enlists Cleary in her murder investigation, and Cleary enlists Cornelia to pay for Harry’s lawyers. Thack breaks up with Lucy, and Bertie breaks up with Thack. And the first scene of the episode shows what happens when you start poking your fat nose in places it doesn’t belong.

The main theme of the reporting on Steven Soderbergh’s direction of The Knick is that his bold camera choices show you whose scene it is. The opening of “You’re No Rose” is a great example. It’s not a story about those two men who find a body in the river. We watch them hesitantly approach the beach, seeing something out there, but then they’re just fodder for wide shots. The scene belongs to the dead man in the river. When they turn him over, it’s practically a Contagion corpse shot. Inspector Speight is pale and frosty, his eyes are pearly blue, and his incorrigible prick smirk is only somewhat subdued by his heart having stopped. That’s just his resting face.

“You’re No Rose” is full of (has, like, three or four) standout single-take scenes, including one sequence in the aftermath of an automobile accident about, per the camera, not a random victim, whose identity Cleary could care less about, or the chattel in Cleary’s car, another person in need of medical care, but rather Cleary’s hapless assistant. Cleary transforms in different company almost as much as Cornelia. Here and at the gym (where he’s coaching a fighter, not running the place), he walks around like he’s cock of the walk, but watch him beg Barrow for money or jump into a grave for Cornelia and he’s a different man altogether.

As for Cornelia, it’s like a pot of water boiling when she sees someone she actually likes, like her brother or Bertie. As she tells Bertie, she’s just here to plan a party but it’s still nice to be back in the action. Walking around with Mrs. Barrow or sitting at dinner with her family, on the other hand, she could hardly be more bored. Maybe it’s the conversation. “You’re No Rose” is American nobility on full display. As Neely tells her brother, “My in-laws sat me down last night and told me,” and here she affects a haughty voice, “I must decide how to keep the Showalter name in the society pages.” No one in San Francisco has even heard of the Showalters she tells the table. A lady pipes up, “So how does anyone know who’s important?” At the tail end of her question she experiences the tiniest flash of embarrassment, like she actually heard herself, one of the highlights of the episode. Everyone agrees the upper class are there to be role models for the less fortunate. At the board of the new Knick, some stuffed shirt tells Thackery, “Addiction is a failure of personal morality.” Thack’s a scientist. “I’d like to test that theory. I’d happily inject you with cocaine and heroin for a week and see if your morals and character are still intact.” (“I’d like to see it,” says Henry Robertson, who has now shared a conspiratorial grin with Neely, Algie, and Thack each; it’s time to convert his potential into kinetic energy.)

The two highlights of the episode are two kinds of horror scenes, in keeping with the corpse opening and the grave-robbing. First, there’s a sermon by traveling preacher AD Elkins (Stephen Spinella). He’s come to town to check up on his daughter Lucy, who stopped writing home at a certain point. Her new friends and her new hobbies distracted her. AD doesn’t do or say anything to put us on edge quite yet. In one scene he’s warning about the dangers of being caught up in man’s miracles as opposed to God’s. In another he’s deflecting any personal glory, sending all praise on up to the big guy in the sky. The creepiest thing about him is how godly he tries to come off.

But then we see him preach. Is he starting up a new congregation? How long is he planning to be in town? We’re slightly unsettled to begin with. At any rate, the scene opens and closes on Lucy in the audience, and in between the camera travels around the room. Again AD doesn’t explicitly set off any alarms. He talks about the diversity of New York City and how all its exotic peoples have as much to learn from them, good God-fearing Christians, as they do from the exotic peoples. Okay, he speaks in tongues a few times. It’s a ballsy move after calling actual Earth languages he’s overheard on his visit “strange tongues from Babel.” He claims it’s God speaking through him. And then composer Cliff Martinez, whose work is often beyond my ability to express, ramps up the theremin sounds like it’s a classic sci-fi horror scene. AD invites the congregation to sing, and we pan back to Lucy, joining in with everyone else without hesitation. Soon the spooky sounds drown out the singing so we’re watching a silent group move in unison to the oooh-OOOH of the theremins and thump-thump-thump of the beat. There’s no clue in Lucy’s performance as to what could be the matter, but maybe that mindless conformism is the point, a demonstration of AD’s power. It’s a thrilling scene that somehow remains essentially elusive.


There’s a lot that eludes us in “You’re No Rose.” If Bertie really quit, where is he going? Jacob Speight’s coffin contains no body. We never do find out who Edwards’ friend from the black hospital wants to introduce him to (presumably some disgruntled black workers), even though we catch up with Edwards later. Thack seems to want to arrange a secret night surgery in order to have unfettered access to the medicine cabinet, but nothing comes of that. Instead he gets a line on coke and heroin from a prostitute, and the episode closes on his reaction as he takes in the news and looks forward.

As for that night surgery, it’s the other great horror sequence of the episode. After Thack sniffs out that something’s seriously wrong with Edwards’ eye, Algie enlists his one-time ally for the surgery. It’s to take place at night for privacy reasons, but that only heightens the tension: A deserted hospital in the middle of the night is a perfect horror setting. For anyone worrying that The Knick wouldn’t be able to match its grisly early surgeries, “You’re No Rose” has you covered. Instruments spread Algie’s eyelids on the side needing surgery so that his eyeballs are disarmingly mismatched. A needle pierces the eyeball. It numbs it so that it remains stationary while the other one moves around increasingly worried. The camera slowly pushes in on Algie as Thack approaches with a tiny scalpel. He’s supposed to make an incision but his hands keep shaking. He’s aware of the problem but too proud to stop. Closer and closer, Algie’s single eye freaking out and Thack’s jittery hand going through with it anyway. And just when the tension becomes too much, Algie pulls away, suffering only a small slice on the temple thanks to Thack’s addled nervous system. “You’re No Rose” is a horror episode, but it’s not the climactic bloodbath. It’s the early suggestion that things are amiss, there’s no authority to rely on, and the problem is a lot bigger than anyone realized.


Stray observations

  • “You’re No Rose” is written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler and directed by Steven Soderbergh. The title is something Cleary says to Harriet, who was born with the name Rose. Harriet is the name she took when she joined the order. Cleary thinks Harriet suits her better. “You’re no Rose,” he says. She sarcastically thanks him for the compliment, and he seems to realize his insult, grunting to himself, but that’s as far as his apology goes.
  • I wish I could describe what Cliff Martinez does better, especially for an episode with so much new scoring. Speight’s body is found to muffled wooden sounds giving way to water splashing. Lucy and Thack rekindle and separate (and reunite again, for her to check his body for needle marks) to a simple strings number that suggests both the romance and the tenuousness of their relationship. And the metallic clanking from “Ten Knots” resurfaces to taunt the “cured” Dr. Thackery.
  • Oners can be funny too: At the end of the silhouette-off between Barrow and Cleary in the garage, with the assistant in the middle, Wu leads a line of prostitutes across the background and up the steps to the hospital.
  • Dr. Mays butts in on Barrow and Lucy trying to sort out the prostitute check-ups, but lucky for everyone (except probably the girls, and possibly Mays himself given the way Wu appraises him), he’s happy to help. Only, he has a dated approach to medicine. When Lucy brings him stirrups, he asks, “What are those?” “So she can put her legs up.” “Oh, ridiculous. She can just rest them over my shoulders.” He’s also not going to culture any bacteria. He just needs eyes and a nose to tell if a woman is infected with microscopic organisms.
  • When Neely asks Cleary for help, he says, “Never pictured you for a repeating customer…I’ve got the name of an old Bulgarian lady who does it on Clinton Street, but from what I’ve heard you’d be safer fallin’ off a horse.”
  • Later, standing in the grave, Cleary laughs. “Over the years, I committed a petty crime here and there. It’s how a man survives in this city. But the two who dragged me into serious malfeasance are a society lady and a fuckin’ nun.”