The fatal stabbing of a corrupt police officer inflames New York race relations.
Credit: Mary Cybulski/Cinemax

Every now and again, television throws an episode at viewers that we can only discuss in hushed, reverent tones—there will be no levity when speaking of “Get the Rope,” because the idiocy of racial politics in the time in which Steven Soderbergh’s medical drama is set is no laughing matter. That statement begs the question, of course, of whether that certain idiocy still exists, and of course it does—in pockets of ignorance scattered across this continent, and, to a worse degree, in places around the world where hate- and intolerance-fueled genocide and terrorism exist. (Are genocide and terrorism fueled by anything else, really? Maybe we don’t want to know the answer to that, as the truth may be too despicable to bear—Money? Power? Spite?—but I digress.)

In short, the episode is about a mob of people of one race seeking revenge for one act of violence on an entire other race of people because one person of their skin tone was responsible for the crime—that is, rather than lawfully seeking and punishing the one true culprit.

Say that this does not still happen today. You can’t, and that’s what makes “Get the Rope” so devastating, because somewhere out there a group of people is devising some heinous plot to murder innocent people based on hysterical/nonsensical/malicious/all-of-the-above notions of justice or in support of their own contorted version of Truth—yes, with a capital T, since we’re feeling philosophical.

Hysteria feeds the mob violence in episode 7 of The Knick: An Irishman approaches an attractive young black woman outside of the infamous Haymarket Dance Emporium and propositions her to come ply her trade under gangster Collier’s care and supervision. The woman is no prostitute and is offended. When her man shows up, he shivs the guy, who turns out to be policeman Sears (Collin Meath). Cleary picks up the victim and uses some colorful language to describe the assailant that we won’t repeat here, because of our delicate sensibilities. Suffice it to say that Cleary is a racist of the first order (until he isn’t—more on that later).

Following a mourning period for his infant daughter, Gallinger returns to the Knick and has to battle his way to the front door through the currently angry, soon-to-be-enraged mob. Gallinger arrives in the surgical theater to see Thackery, Chickering, and Edwards operating on the cop. Thackery asks for Nurse Elkins to wipe his sweaty brow. Me, too, says Edwards. Thackery says that when they’re done, he’s going to write a love poem to the suction machine. It’s all so damned genial between the doctors now. Confused Gallinger scrubs in and tells Bertie to step aside. When he asks what the machine is, Thackery enthusiastically calls it the “miraculous Edwards suction machine.” Edwards reports that he’s building another. Jolly Dr. Thackery retorts, “For my birthday, I presume.” Gallinger looks like his world has been inverted—and it has! “Has everyone gone completely mad today?” he later asks Bertie. When he tries to disparage Edwards’ invention, Bertie cuts him off, “It’s ingenious, I know.” Mic drop. Chickering out.

NEXT: Momma Sears calls for lynchings

The police escort the Sears family—a hard-looking bunch—through the mob. In the hospital waiting area, Thackery informs the family that the lung is still a problem. The officer’s mom, Fionnula Sears (Mary Birdsong), gives sweet Cornelia a hard time, calls for the lynching of the assailant, and then drinks a toast to her son Phinny with the cops. (Everyone has a flask in The Knick. One day Cornelia will reach beneath her skirt and pull out one from a thigh holster—and that day will be hilarious. Just guessing.)

Cleary tells the mob outside to go home, that Sears is breathing, and it could be days before they know more.

Edwards checks on Sears, whose mother gives Edwards guff because of his race. The police officers in the room also make racist remarks with Edwards in earshot. Nurse Elkins later marches Thackery to Sears: “His pain seems worse, his fever has gone up, and his breathing has become more shallow.” They walk in to find mom pouring liquor down the patient’s throat. Thackery tells Nurse Elkins there’s no time and he has to operate in the room, but Sears dies before she can retrieve the surgical tools.

Staggering outside drunk, Fionnula calls for the mob to lynch all blacks. Thackery emerges from the hospital to see men from the crowd pouncing on the first black man they see. He brings the man inside to work on him in the clinic—the upstairs clinic, to be clear, not Edwards’ downstairs makeshift facility. The crowd continues attacking random black pedestrians. Thackery brings more victims into the clinic.

Momma Sears hears that wounded black patients are streaming into a back entrance of the hospital and calls for more blood. The cops break down the door along with the mob and rampage through the hospital halls looking for the black patients. Thackery pushes the black patients into the basement clinic.

Cleary sings a different tune when the cops fall in with the mob, and he tries to stop a white man who’s stealing the ambulance horses from beating up a black hospital worker. A cop comes over and beats Cleary. “Whose side are you on?” Cleary screams at him.

Gallinger is shocked and Barrow is livid when they see Edwards’ basement clinic–lab–operating room. In an effort to deflect some blame off of Edwards, Thackery claims partial responsibility. Cornelia is impressed: “Alge,” she coos when he says he’s delivered two babies in his basement facilities. Barrow wants every black person out of the hospital. It’s dangerous on the streets, Chickering notes. Sister Harriet agrees to bring the mobile patients to a friary down the street. (On the street later, awesome Sister Harriet wields a cross and defends the group in her care with the threat of hellfire and damnation for anyone who touches them.) With the horses stolen, the most vulnerable patients are loaded onto gurneys and pushed by the hospital staff to a “Negro hospital.” Cleary—having had an epiphany of some sort about the slippery-slope dangers of hate speech?—pulls the ambulance himself with additional patients inside. Edwards hides under a gurney. Someone stops the ambulatory hospital and demands to know where they’re going. Quick-thinking Nurse Elkins claims they’re going to the morgue to burn the bodies of leprosy patients and warns him to keep away. Her ruse works. Once at the Minetta medical facility, Thackery offers their assistance to Dr. Moses Williams, who Edwards knows from Harvard—”Moses was the one in his year, and I was the one in mine,” Edwards says, referring to being the only black students. Williams: “Pick a patient.” But, FYI, they’re completely out of supplies.

NEXT: Hardship begets—sexytime?

In the most adorable exchange over a bloodied body, Cornelia admits to Williams that she’s seen Edwards’ butt when they used to run around the yard naked. Edwards: “We were 3.” Cornelia: “And he saw mine.” Edwards: “For God’s sake, Neely!” This is officially the moment that the tone of the episode shifts—or it could be the moment that Barrow fears his favorite whore is in danger and busts in on her servicing a client, who assures him he’s almost done if he’d like to wait (which was funny, but still dark).

From attempted lynchings to sexytime—it’s a risk.

And, late in the night, after arms are sawn off, stitches are stitched, the last of the patients are seen, sexytime gets riveting: Edwards and Cornelia go check on the clinic, which miraculously remains intact. They talk about the babies he’s delivered. She says she was terrified for him today, pulls down her hair, and moves closer. Then they kiss like two people who have long practice kissing each other. And it’s lovely.

Thackery offers to walk Nurse Elkins home, eliciting a knowing smirk from her. When they arrive, she invites Thackery into her room and says she needs help taking her garment off. And it. Is. On. “Will it hurt?” she asks. He: “I can make it painless—and perfect.” With drugs. She looks slightly sedated in the morning, but seems to be having a grand time in flashes of their lovemaking the night before.

Did I miss something? What was that key on the table in the morning? Just a metaphorical key, hanging out for effect, saying “Young Nurse Elkins, you have discovered the key to the pains and passions of the whole of the human condition”—or something? Or did Thackery give it to her so that she can stop by later for brunch?

Whatever the case—boom—let the corruption of Lucy Elkins begin.

Episode Recaps

The Knick
Clive Owen and Steven Soderbergh team up for this 1900s medical drama.
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