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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Knick: Paean to Scientific Method

I've been watching and much enjoying The Knick, now in the 7th episode of its premiere season on Cinemax.  Like Banshee and Strike Force on that network, The Knick has a style, pace, and storyline all its own, like nothing I've seen any place else on television or the Internet.

The pace literally percolates, as the backing music before and during the show brings home.  The beginning of the 20th century was a pivotal time in our scientific and cultural history, the last stance of the sheer Victorian optimism in the power of rationality and science to better our lives - an optimism that would soon be irretrievably doused by the First World War, and the ensuing horrors of the next half of the century.   Our current digital age has brought back some of that optimism, and the hope of attaining the global village foreseen by Marshall McLuhan, but we're still far below where Dr. Thackery is in faith in the future.

Medical treatment was beginning to fully emerge out of the Dark Ages, when patients were treated with herbs, later chemicals and drugs, and little was done to directly intervene in their bodies by surgery.  Thackery sees things differently - willing, always, to try to a surgical technique that either makes sense to him, or he's read about in some journal, or both.   As such, this part of the narrative makes The Knick a paean to the scientific method in medicine.

There's an excellent treatment of social illnesses of the time, as well - in particular the racism which sadly afflicts us to this very day, and was always beyond the power of science and surgery to cure.   Thackery at first resists the addition to Dr. Edwards, an African-American, as second in command on his staff.   Edwards is called the worst racist names you can imagine, and by other doctors in the hospital, not just the white trash in the street.   But Thackery can't help but be impressed by Edwards' talent and genius, and comes to be Edwards' champion.

The physical ills that the two and their associates try to get on top of - i.e., cure or provide lasting assistance for - range from difficult pregnancies to aneurysms.   And, true to the newness of the procedures Thackery and Edwards are attempting, they not always succeed.

Clive Owen is just wonderful as Thackery, Andre Holland puts in a memorable performace as Edwards, and the rest of the cast is as much a pleasure to watch as the series.  Highly recommended!

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