Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Knick in the Bokkers

We’ve been watching The Knick on disks, a series that features what had once been the Knickerbocker Hospital in New York City. This is an HBO production. What it is, above all, is an illustration of how the past is distorted by modern entertainment media. True: the main character of the piece, John Thackery, played by Clive Owen, is modeled on a actual pioneering surgeon, William Steward Halstead. Halstead was also, like Thackery, a cocaine and morphium addict—but his chief activity was at the Johns Hopkins in Maryland, not the Knickerbocker, located in Harlem, NY. The Knick features—alongside some bloody operations—a cigarette-smoking nun who doubles as an abortionist, a black surgeon to whom one of Halstead's innovations is ascribed, opium dens and naked Asian females on whom, incidentally almost (and at an hourly compensation) Thackery tries out some of his inventions. There is ample violence, graft, and slews of Irishmen presented, almost exclusively, as grafters and members of mobs. As one review had it—something for everyone. The amusing theological content (something for everyone, remember) suggests that the abortion-performing nun will get to heaven for at least some of her abortions—those where the women were pregnant on account of rape by the boss in a factory…. All this had me contrasting fondly remembered historical dramas by Granada Television. HBO, alas, is all Now! even in an historical recreation.

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