'The Knick' season 1, episode 3 review: 'The Busy Flea'

By Will Ashton,

While growing slightly more repetitive in style—as most, if not all, shows do—The Knick is still finding ways to mix things up, if slightly, each week. Whether in terms of style, focus or narrative approach, the new Cinemax show is keeping its tricks still flowing. And, for this week's episode, the trick is to keep things as low-key and deliberate as they can possibly be. But, in a good way.

Where the first episode directed most of its attention on Dr. John W. Thackery (Clive Owen), and the second on Dr. Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland), this week's episode, titled "The Busy Flea"—a stripping dance done in the middle of this episode that, initially, has a double meaning here—keeps its mostly well-balanced, focusing on Thackery, Edwards and Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) most frequently and then here and there directing itself on various supporting characters established already in the show. While last week was hurt by the all-to-familiar narrative trappings of Herman's storyline, this episode handles his—and the others—with more of a soft-fisted blow.

As the show progresses, it becomes more and more apparent that Algernon is the show's most interesting primary character, but Thackery, as something of a Sherlock Holmes-light head doctor, continues to bring a great deal of complexity thanks to Owen's well-graced performance. As the show decides to slowly unwrap just who John is as a person, he becomes more deep in subdued ways.

The most notable and memorable example of this comes from the show's opening scene. When operating on a former girlfriend Abby (Jennifer Ferrin), whom is no longer with a nose. While this episode is less graphic in its gore, Soderbergh's direction is still as unflinching—if not more so—in the show's more soft-noted moments like this. This scene is so striking for the exact reasons it shouldn't be. It's more emotionally raw and slow-burning than most moments in the show, and is not afraid to keep things visually unflashy.

Which is basically the exact opposite of the episode's final moments, involving a drunken bar fight with Algernon late in the night. Through an unusual POV approach and some rather wonky editing, it is undeniably impactful, but comes across as a little too forced.

While the show still seems to lack at times the definitive stark visuals of Steven Soderbergh's finer work, there is something of a play-esque nature to this week's episode. With the episode primarily involving two characters speaking to one another in one location, it is a more subdued episode than the last two have ultimately been. And, for that, it is rather refreshingly character-driven and more simplistic, but still thoughtful.

The show never, for a second, sacrifices its stone-faced examination of this time period and characters, but this is easily the most delicately directed episode to date. Scenes from this installment often feel like something out of a fine-tuned indie movie than something out of a cable network TV show. Which, ultimately, was what I have been waiting and wanting from this show from the beginning. This is, by far, the most somber episode to date, and to see the show show any sense of mild-mannered emotion is impactful primarily for the reason that the show is almost afraid to so this hidden sympathy. Like a lot of its characters.

By slowing things down and keeping the subtly of the show more in check, "The Busy Flea" is able to recapture the small-scale but big-minded mentality of the show's initial episode. After last week's more dramatic and slightly more overwrought episode, this episode shows that there are still good things to come from this Soderbergh-helmed Cinemax series. Hopefully, this episode is showing that, as the show matures, it is also going to become more heavy-hearted, while not necessarily its slickly bleak integrity.

Image courtesy of ACE/INFphoto.com

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