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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from HBO’s The Knick.]
While it’s true that none of The Knick characters have had a particularly glamorous time so far during the second season of the Steven Soderbergh series, André Holland’s Dr. Algernon Edwards has been kicked down a little more than most.
Shunned by the Knick board for the fact that he’s black, despite successful numbers in Thackery’s (Clive Owen) absence, and faced with losing his eyesight in the near future if he is unable to cure himself, Algernon has been up against some pretty high odds in season two. To make matters worse, during the final moments of Friday’s episode, “The Best With the Best to Get the Best,” Zaraah Abrahams made her debut as Opal — Algernon’s secret, and very angry, European wife.
To find out how this latest twist will affect Algernon and what kind of antics Opal will bring to the table, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Holland and co-showrunner Jack Amiel.
How accurate would Algernon’s struggles have been in the 1900s?
Holland: I did a lot of research and I found that there were a lot of black surgeons at that time, which I hadn’t been aware of before. I think this show does it pretty accurate job of depicting what it would have been like. That’s one of the things that people I’ve met who have seen the show really respond to. Algernon isn’t just this noble character who always has the right point-of-view and doesn’t have any flaws himself. He’s actually a complicated man. Both he and Thackery mirror each other in that they’re both in pursuit of new knowledge. They’re extremely ambitious people.
Amiel: From the start we worked incredibly hard to make sure that black wasn’t the character. Algernon was the character. Somebody being black is not a description of who they are as a human being. It could factor into who they are as a human being. It could certainly play into how they feel their points of view. But we didn’t want to somehow either create the overly noble black man without a flaw or any sort of character turn in the other direction. We wanted to create a human character who also is dealing with race and society. We never wanted to make Algenon perfect.
How does that imperfection evolve this season?
Amiel: This is a guy who has rage inside of him. He gets in these fights because he doesn’t know where to let his rage go. He’s holding it together so tightly in the white walls of the Knick that it’s going to come out somewhere.
What does Opal seeking out her husband add to that story?
Holland: She’s had a totally different life and upbringing than Algernon has had so she’s a little bit more impatient than Algernon. She doesn’t see the she doesn’t always have the most tact, I should say, from Algernon’s point-of-view. But that being said, she’s definitely accomplished a lot in her life and has her way of getting things done. With the two of them together, if they can find a way to find a sort of common ground, they could really accomplish a lot. That’s the feeling I hope people get when they watch the second season with these two characters.
Amiel: The idea for the wife was actually Soderbergh’s. We could have shied away from anything that made you question Algernon’s character. But the truth is he’s a human being and when you see his passionate love affair with Cornelia (Juliet Rylance) in season one, he’s a guy who’s deeply conflicted about the vulnerability of being in love and being in a relationship and revealing that side of himself. So this idea that he may have run away from a hard conversation with this woman in Europe isn’t surprising.
How will she affect things going forward?
Amiel: She walks in the door with passion. She is a woman in total command. He can’t out-calm her, he can’t outlast her, he can’t outrun her. And not that she’s desperate, but she’s determined. She’s not going to be ignored or be taken for granted. There’s something great in the alchemy of that because she’s a little bit of a hand grenade. You never really know when she’s going to go off. She’s is firmly rooted and she’s not going to bend to convention. Once again we have a woman who is looking at the place in society that she’s being backed into, and she’s elbowing her way out.
Holland: Opal is a pioneer woman. She’s very ambitious, smart and talented. She traveled somehow alone, apparently, from Europe to New York, so she’s a very capable woman. The two of them together can be a real power couple.
So there’s real love there?
Holland: We wanted to make sure that they were in love; there were genuine feelings between the two of them. In later episodes we’ll see, he came up with this really wonderful idea to understand the history of that transaction, and it’s a really sweet story. We leave them feeling hopeful, but also feeling a bit sad for them, because they really go through a lot together. By the end of the season you will understand why they got together.
What did you think of Algernon’s wife twist? Sound off in the comments below. The Knick airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on Cinemax.
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