This review contains major spoilers from this season of The Knick.

The Knick

Season Finale

In the season finale of Cinemax’s stunning new series “The Knick,” Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen, “Sin City: A Dame To Kill For”) kills a young woman during an experimental procedure. Was it the cocaine in his blood, or was there a greater flaw in the procedure? By the end of “Crutchfield,” the only thing we’re left with are dreadful ambiguities — Algernon’s current state following his beating, Barrow’s debt to Wu and uncertainty all the characters face as the Knick looks to move uptown.

“The Knick,” as of right now, is the best new show on television, and certainly the only new show that can join the ranks of “elite” cable programming such as fellow newcomer “True Detective.” The show’s finale mirrored its shocking beginning flawlessly. We began with one of the most grotesque sequence of events to take place on television. Within the first five minutes of the series, we see a gruesomely failed C-section with both mother and child dead, followed by the suicide of acting surgeon Dr. Christiansen (Matt Frewer, “Orphan Black”). Now, in “Crutchfield,” the season finale, Dr. Thackery hopes to make a breakthrough, using his own blood in an experimental blood transfusion. Unfortunately, he doesn’t consider the levels of cocaine in his blood and the impact it’ll have on the young girl. Or was it some separate fatal error in logic? In “The Knick,” nothing is ever gained easily in the pursuit of truth.

Unlike the C-section scene from the series opener, the failed blood transfusion focused not on sheer bloodcurdling shock value but on heart-crushing defeat in the face of death. To make matters worse, Thackery seeks redemption from the rehabilitation facility, but winds up in the exact same place he does at the beginning of the season: passed out on drugs.

Herein lies the logic behind much of “The Knick’s” social commentary. We are still talking about the things they did in 1900. But then again, should that exonerate bigotry? After all, just because we were doing it in 1900 doesn’t make it okay. As shown in this week’s episode, they also used to think toothaches caused mental disease and heroin cured cocaine addiction. “The Knick,” and “Crutchfield” especially, asks the question of where our body stops and our humanity begins, where the individual ceases and his or her society takes over.

Anyone who was wondering what racism had to do with medicine will undoubtedly understand it’s place in the final episode with the termination of Cornelia (Juliet Rylance, “Sinister”) and Dr. Edward’s (Andre Holland, “42”) unborn child. The final scene of him street-fighting juxtaposes tragically with Cornelia’s wedding, and you realize just how much you’ve come to care for these characters in the short time we’ve had with them.

A few surprises also made their way into “The Knick” this week. Notably, Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour, “An Education”) revealed herself to be personally performing the abortion procedures. The story of boozy ambulance driver Tom Cleary (newcomer Chris Sullivan) and Harriet remains one of the series’ strong points, but until this episode their arrangement remained a little unclear. Fortunately for fans, their story seems far from over.

Another thread hanging in the balance is Barrow (Jeremy Bobb, “House of Cards”) and his employment of Wu (Perry Yung, “The Carrie Diaries”) to murder loan-shark Collier (Danny Hoch, “The Good Wife”). But it’s not Wu’s shadow which haunts the viewer in Barrow’s storyline. Barrow got punched in the testicles and there was a definite “squish.” Even after the scene, Barrow carried himself in a way that was noticeably uncomfortable. If this means the first surgical castration on television, let’s be honest, “The Knick” is likely where it’d happen.

But then again, that’s the genius of “The Knick” and something very much intentional. This show can be considered just as much horror or noir as period and medical drama. Every scene’s filled with tension and refuses to let go, no matter how horrific things might be. Yet, despite the utter dread pervasive through every frame, there’s the promise of greater truth and understanding. The same can be said about surgery and research, and that’s ultimately what “The Knick” is: a long overdue medical exam on who we are as a people and as a society. It might not be pleasant to look at, but it also might just save our lives. It also helps that we’ve been given some truly wonderful characters to spend our time with, each played in heartfelt and affable performances by the cast.

Season two begins production in 2015 and it’s unclear if Soderbergh will return, but as long as Thackery and the rest of the circus at the Knick are there, any viewer will be in the very best of care.

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