Cinemax’s The Knick, a period medical drama filled with cocaine and blood (review)

the nick clive owen

The Knick is Cinemax’s new medical drama set in the 1900s and is directed by Steven Soderbergh (Oceans Eleven), who directs all 10 episodes. The pilot episode does a great job of letting viewers know what they’re getting into in the first few minutes.

First is an opening shot of our main character, Dr. John W. Thackery (Clive Owen), waking up inside an opium den filled with naked ladies. Before getting ready to head to the fictional Knickerbocker Hospital in New York City, our good doctor shoots himself with drugs in the foot. The first operation we see is conducted inside a surgical theater as Thackery teaches new and innovative techniques…that aren’t always successful. He and his fellow colleagues operate a C-section on a pregnant woman. The result is a test of endurance as we see lots of blood.

Like Dr. Gregory House from House, Thackery is an unconventional and egotistical doctor who lacks sympathy for his patients while also having drug problems. It’s hard to imagine life without modern medicine, so seeing how surgeons operate in the past is very intriguing. If you’re squeamish about modern medical practices, this show will make you appreciate them.


There’s a lot of social commentary, as we get to see racism, sexism, and immigrant problems. Similar to Mad Men and Manhattan, the period show is mostly run by white men. Although Thackery is progressing in the medical field, he isn’t in the social field, as he protests the hiring of Dr. Algernon Edwards (André Holland), an African-American doctor from Harvard. He believes that patients would protest while also believing that it would cause more problems at the hospital. Administrator Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) agrees with Thackery, but doesn’t want to offend Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance), a patron of the hospital.

The setting outside of the hospital also shows a more “barbaric” world. We get to see ambulances that are basically a carriage and horses, with hand operated sirens. The ambulance drivers make money delivering living bodies to hospitals, so some of them will do whatever it takes; for example, bullying other drivers to give up the bodies with violence. Then we have the issue of immigrants living in crowded areas, a perfect place for breeding diseases.

If you’re tired of modern medical series and want to go back in time to witness simpler medical practices, then The Knick is definitely worth checking out. It’s also nice to see more period shows that aren’t revolved around a love story or crime.

The Knick premieres Friday, August 8th, at 10pm ET/PT on Cinemax.

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