'The Knick' Season Finale Recap: No Guts, No Glory

Confessions, calamity and one epic cliffhanger as Season Two comes to a close

Clive Owen in 'The Knick.' Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO

Need it be said? Spoiler alert. Thackery is dead. Or at least, he might be. While no one outright puts the tag on his toe, Cinemax has yet to renew The Knick for a third go-round, which means the Season Two finale — "This Is All We Are" — could mark the end of the white-shoed-genius-addict-iconoclast. [Right after the finale aired, Variety reported that Cinemax ordered an outline and premiere-episode script for Season Three.] Overwhelmed by grief, drugs and an experimental spinal block, our antihero took his own life in a gruesome self-surgery while his colleagues watched, paralyzed by a combination of respect, fear and incredulous nausea. The doctor's final vision as he succumbs to his exsanguination: a flash of the Haunting Dead Girl, followed by a diffuse white light.

It is, literally, a gut-wrenching death, with the good surgeon's bowels splayed out on his body. But if it is the last we see of him, at least this difficult man is going out on his own terms. The show's freshman outing focused on the effort to master science; the sophomore run, however, was all about the characters' attempts to control their own futures. Whether it was Cornelia's refusal to accept Speight's death or Bertie's heroic lengths to save his terminal mother, people tried to seize the reins and not allow power structures or providence set the pace. For Algernon, any real stab at autonomy hits an unmovable wall of bigotry, but almost everyone else found victories – big and small – throughout the season.

The prize for most successful goes to Lucy, who course-corrected after crushing disappointment to unleash an unforeseen well of sexual power, got achieved exactly what she wanted – which, unexpectedly, was Henry. The silver medal get awarded to Herman, who barreled forward undeterred by laws, marriage vows or human decency to accumulate the prestige he believed he deserved. Walking into the Captain's funeral with Junia proudly displayed on his arm, his new Metropolitan Club cronies around to back him up, he's confident of every douchebag move he's made. Similarly, Dr. Gallinger's choices may chafe against morality (if not legality), but every one of his maneuvers brought him closer to the life he wants — full of respect, racism and reverence from a woman who, if not Eleanor, at least looks just like her.

Even those whose actions seemed arbitrary proved to be in control in surprising ways. Far from meekly following her coast-to-coast husband and fearful of her father-in-law's every creepy glance, Cornelia is revealed to have been in cahoots with Mr. Showalter all along, brokering the deal to bring her back to the Knick. And then there's Cleary, who finally put a ring on it – a lovely end to an unlikely romance – only to have to come out that he's purposely getting Harriet arrested, evicted and ex-communicated, so he could swoop in and save her. Talk about playing the long game.

But no one plotted his moves as consciously or carefully as Henry Robertson. The finale reveals the depths of his sinister design: Not only did he oversee the scam to sneak contagious passengers into New York City, he had Speight killed, and set the new Knick ablaze to keep the Captain and Cornelia quiet. His cold-blooded confession to his sister, full of hurled invective and snarled threats (all that was missing was a mustache to twist) felt out of character with the slightly sex-crazed but thoughtful businessman we've come to know — not to mention it's just unoriginal. He now joins Lucy, Eleanor and Herman as outright murderers; throw in Cleary's accidental OD on his wrestler and the doctors' various lethal medical mistakes, and this is not a group with a good track record on mortality. Shocking plot twist or not, there is just something weird about making the majority of the cast killers.

Which points to an issue with this episode and the series as a whole. The further the show continues, the clearer it becomes that it succeeded most when functioning as a Stephen Soderbergh-directed phantasmagoria, and not as a believable narrative. In that way it's reminiscent of David Lynch and Mark Frost's Twin Peaks, which conjured a total, unique hallucination of a world, sucking the viewer in for the ride – a journey that only fell apart when the audience looked for the storytelling to make sense. The Knick operates on a similar plain. Tune out the dialogue and simply become immersed in the show's colors and textures, the hum of its hyper-natural sound and sparse techno score, the movement of the camera and the detail of every costume, haircut and panel of wood – it's a complete and satisfying dreamscape. But try and follow the plot, and it all comes crashing to earth.

If Thackery comes back (and fingers crossed he does – faults aside, this is still one of the most original hours on television), the ideal Season Three might work to the series' strengths if he actually is dead.  Drop the attempts at realism, and let Clive Owen's ghost run amuck around the hospital. He could reunite with Abby, Dr. Christiansen and everyone else offed over the years to haunt the halls. Maybe cure cancer from a cloud. Untether The Knick from reality and give Soderbergh's camera, cutting and creativity free reign. Let him control the fates.

Previously: Out of the Past