Hitch up your best white leather boots — The Knick is back.
As it was in its first season, the Cinemax drama is at once horrifying and beautiful. (The gruesome primitive surgery scenes aren't for the squeamish, but director Steven Soderbergh's vision for the show yields an end product that looks like nothing else on TV.) But Season 2, once again written primarily by co-creators Jack Amiel and Michael Begler and premieringFriday at 10/9c, aims to dive deeper into its characters' emotional lives, starting of course with Clive Owen's John Thackery, the brilliant surgeon whose crippling addiction to cocaine led him at the end of last season to rehab...where he was treated with a new wonder drug called heroin.
So what's in store for Thackery? And how have those he left behind dealt with his destructive wake? Read on to find out:
1. Thackery is still an addict. You didn't think he was going to be magically cured, did you? While it becomes clear early on that Thackery isn't really taking his treatment seriously, he does make enough strides to return to work. However, is a sober Thackery still a genius surgeon? "It was important to me that we treated the addiction properly," Owen says. "I wouldn't have been happy if he comes back and is a renewed, changed man. Addiction is a long, painful, hard battle to overcome. It felt very important that his journey in this season was treading that high-wire act of: Is he going to be able to pull it off?" Owen says. "Is he going to be the same guy and the same doctor without it?"
That's not to say that Thackery will be "without it" very long. In fact, Thackery earns his job back, not by promising to advance surgical medicine, but by studying addiction to find a cure. "We really wanted to reflect the era because there's a difference between how we look at addiction now and how we looked at addiction then," Amiel says. "We really wanted to discuss the origins, not just of medicine, but of addiction and the understanding of it. What we wanted to show was that really until the '70s and '80s we really hadn't bothered to understand addiction." Adds Begler: "He wants to be the better version of himself, to be the Thackery who can see if he's strong enough to get past this. But he's also wise enough to know that this is a real problem. He's going to set out to find what is the root of his addiction, why is he the way he is. If he can figure it out in himself, can he figure it out for everyone?"
2. Thackery wasn't missed by everyone. Although nurse Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson) has been pining for her former lover, most everyone else at the Knick has moved on, particularly Gallinger (Eric Johnson) and Bertie (Michael Angarano), the latter of whom not only lost his mentor but also suffered heartbreak after learning of Thackery and Lucy's affair. "From everyone, there's a sense of the fallen idol. "Begler says. "Here's this person that they've all put up on a pedestal and thought that he was almost superhuman, and now they're seeing behind the curtain."
Also not missing Thackery is Dr. Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland), who, as acting chief of surgery in Thackery's absence, has flourished. But don't expect Alegernon to be rewarded. "The hospital is doing really well," Holland says. "There are fewer deaths than there have ever been. They're creating all these new techniques, and yet the board is still unwilling to give Algernon the permanent position. He's come a long way, but he still has a long way to go. His head is in the place of realizing this racism and bigotry is so deeply embedded, that having the facts literally presented in front of them on paper is not enough to convince them to appoint him the chief of surgery."
3. Lucy has to grow up. It becomes clear pretty quickly that Thackery has no intention of resuming his relationship with Lucy. "He's realized it's inappropriate," Owen says. "The relationship was driven by the drugs and he feels it's inappropriate for her, as much as for himself. He's very fond of her, but he comes back and realizes that it was wrong. He was in a pretty wild state when they were doing what they're doing."
Naturally, Lucy will have to grapple with that rejection. "The last thing she saw was this man who needed her, and when you're a nurse, the question becomes, 'What can I give him?'" Amiel says. "She has to become more clear-eyed about him. Is she still in a dewy schoolgirl love or is she someone who's going to have to have that moment of reality with him? I will say that Lucy does grow this season. I think she has the biggest change of any character." That change will also be illuminated by the introduction of Lucy's father, a strict preacher who comes to the city to check in on his daughter and make some money evangelizing. Spoiler alert: He's no more a positive male presence in her life than Thackery.
4. There are a few new faces. In addition to Lucy's father, this season will also introduce Genevieve Everidge (Arielle Goldman), a fiery journalist who becomes a new romantic interest for Bertie, and Opal (Zaraah Abrahams), a woman with a bit of complicated past with Algernon. And although we met him last season, Henry Robertson (Charles Aitken), the brother of Cornelia (Juliet Rylance), will have a much larger role this season as he sits on the board for the Knick as it readies to move the hospital uptown. Also, Andrew Rannells (Broadway's Book of Mormon, Girls) plays the architect of the new hospital.
5. And the returning faces get more screen time. Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour) spends much of the early part of the season on trial for performing abortions last season. And, as her former partner in the illegal operation, Cleary (Chris Sullivan) spends much of his time trying to find money for a proper defense fund, including asking former patient Cornelia. Meanwhile, Cornelia has to adjust to her new life as a high-society wife in San Francisco while still longing for both her work at the Knick and her relationship with Algernon. (Needless to say, the latter issues become more complicated when Cornelia's husband's business returns the couple to New York.)
"We wanted to ask this season, 'How long can you fool yourself into believing?'" Amiel says. "How long can you live the life that is prescribed for you in that society before you need to break out and be your true self? Cornelia is an adventuress. She wants a thrilling life. She felt the real purpose when she was hunting down Typhoid Mary and working with Inspector Speight. And now she's buttons and bows and ladies' lunches. For her, the question will be, does she continue to head down that path of being a woman in this era or does she rebel?"
6. The surgeries are still gross... and Thackery's experimentation is wild. Although Thackery is haunted in the early episodes by the girl he killed by giving her a transfusion of his cocaine-laced blood last season, he is still every bit the mad scientist he always was. "He's a wild man. He's reckless," Owen says. "When he's bitten by a passion or thinks he's on to something, he lets go. We do some pretty extraordinary things this season and not all of them work. But some of them do."
However, one of his most experimental procedures - performed on his old friend Abby (Jennifer Ferrin), who despite a successful operation to restore her nose last season, still suffers from syphilis - may hold the answer to Thackery's path forward. "She becomes a very important person to him this season," Owen says. "She's his one old true love and he's struggling throughout Season 2. The thing about Thackery is he plows a lonely furrow. Even as appalling and inappropriate as his behavior can be sometimes, he is brilliant. When you step out there and are that brilliant and prepared to back your convictions, it's lonely. Any support is valued, and she might be the only one who can help him through it."
7. Thackery hasn't hit rock bottom yet. Although Owen says he thought there was no way to come back from Thackery's ill-fated blood transfusion, he gleefully admits that Thackery finds an even new low this season. However, he continues to love playing this character because, despite all his flaws, Thackery is healing people. "You can't just take the brilliant bits," Owen says with a laugh. "People would love him to curb all his appalling side and just be a brilliant doctor. But people aren't like that, and sometimes they do strange things. The same thing that pushes him to take massive amounts of drugs also pushes him to be a brilliant doctor. He's a driven guy. Most of the time — not all of the time, but most of the time — he's the guy you want coming in and operating on you because he's the best."
The Knick airs Fridays at 10/9c on Cinemax.