If there's any show you need to catch up on this summer, Cinemax's The Knick is it. Set at the titular Knickerbocker Hospital in 1900's New York, the show centers on a group of surgeons working at the turn of the century, using the era's boom in technological advancements to refine and improve their craft, and attempting to drive down obscenely high mortality rates.
So far, I've been thoroughly engrossed in watching the show unfold, but I've had a deep discomfort about the experience as well. As you may likely have deduced, 1900's New York was not.... a progressive time in the history of the United States, and much of the storyline revolves around the racism that Dr. Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland), the first black doctor at the hospital, must face not just from his colleagues, but also from the patients he treats and the world at large. The Knick does nothing to sugarcoat the prevalent racial attitudes of the time, nor does it make the show's protagonist Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) suspiciously enlightened for his time. Rather, the show goes to great lengths to reinforce that pretty much everyone is racist, and it refuses to let you forget it.
There's an element of respectability to Edwards' story too, that I didn't pick up on until I started writing this. Algernon Edwards is the best of the best. Having studied surgery all over Europe under the patronage of the family that owns the hospital (his mother is their longtime maid), Edwards is far and away the most qualified doctor at the Knick. He has co-authored and published papers in well-respected medical journals, and innovated surgical techniques and tools. His skills are unmatched by his fellow surgeons and yet, they refuse to work with him; Dr Everett Gallenger (Eric Johnson) is openly hostile to him within the surgical theatre and without, harboring perhaps understandable resentment that Edwards was appointed Deputy Chief of Surgery over him.