'The Knick' review: 'Mr. Paris Shoes'

By Will Ashton,

In its sophomore episode, The Knick continues to encompass its mature, blunt vision, but also doesn't quite tip its toes as far into the politics of its era. Instead, it concretes its efforts on building its characters and added in some elements that will surely come up in future episodes. There's nothing wrong with that, but it does make for an installment that doesn't quite have the same punch of its pilot.

Where the first episode focused primarily on Dr. John W. Thackery (Clive Owen), this week's episode spends most of its time centered on Dr. Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland). Holland's performance was among the stand-outs of last week's episode, and his work here is just as good. It's definitely the most thoughtful performance of the bunch, showing only what needs to be communicated and making an impact squarely when it is needed most. This quiet performance especially stands out when one or two too many supporting characters are left to scream out their concerns or bluntly direct out their feelings and concerns. It keeps you silently aware, trying to dissect how this guy thinks.

But one performance that also stands out this week is Chris Sullivan as Tom Cleary, a character that is pretty much the exact opposite of Holland's character, but in a good way. Sullivan's portrayal is appropriately brash, being bombastic without being showy and capturing this character's broad-shouldered edge. He gets a little more playtime here than he did in the pilot, and his presence is becoming more and more welcomed. It's not certain where his impact on the show is going to lie, and that's a good thing.

The weakest element of this installment, though, involves a story line with the Knick's owner Herman Barrow's (Jeremy Bobb) money issues with an unfriendly local mob. Not only is this subplot tried, but its writing is too simplistic and uninspired. Director Steven Soderbergh makes these scenes have an appropriate tone of disdain and suspense. But its indecisive conclusion this week is meant to showcase that there's more to come, but it feels like this is going to be crossing familiar waters.

What is unusual about these segments is that the writing is usually quite good in the episode, save for these scenes. Written by showrunners Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, the episode contains some more wit and aggression than it did in last week's episode. Of course, this episode feels more like a TV episode than a Soderbergh film, unlike the pilot. There are obvious moments of inspiration, like the crosscutting between the rich and Edwards, and some choice montages. But this week feels a little less inspired from Soderbergh's end. Which may become worrisome as the show progresses week by week.

In a slightly unexpected move, this episode takes a moment to flash back on an early moment shared with Thackery and Dr. J.M. Christenson (Matt Frewer) in Thackery's earlier days at the Knick, complete with a fuller mustache and everything. It's a nice character moment, but it also doesn't really add anything as of yet. Besides building on Thackery's backstory and containing to show the impact his mentor had on his life and work. Of course, this was already created in the beginning of the first episode, so it's still not clear what this scene is trying to say.

Those expecting the gore scenes to get more intense and graphic in the new episode may come off of this episode a little disappointed, as it is less about the grim details and more about just showcasing blood. There are still surgery scenes, and deaths are going to keep being free-flowing. But this week is definitely a more tame effort in that regard. Perhaps they have to save some money for some future bloodbaths.

Despite these criticisms, the show continues to beat from its own drum and continues to build an delightfully odd rapport with its time and style. The score is excellent as it was last week. But, more so than last week, Soderbergh's usually keen eye for straight-faced, well-paced imagery is replaced by a more shaky-cam, free flowing camera. Nevertheless, the show still has a lot to offer, and while this episode is not as dynamic as the last, by no means should that be a sign to give up on this show.

Image courtesy of ACE/INFphoto.com

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