The season two finale of Cinemax's period hospital drama The Knick sure felt like a series finale. A major character died. The story seemed to wrap up.
But in post-air interviews, director Steven Soderbergh — the Oscar winner who has directed all 20 episodes of the series so far — suggested the show would continue. The catch was that it would do so in radically different form … and without him. The plan, Soderbergh told Indiewire's Rodrigo Perez in December 2015, had always been for the series to proceed in two-year increments, with every new pair of seasons featuring new filmmakers guiding the story and potentially making big changes:
I told [Cinemax] that I’m going to do the first two years and then we are going to break out the story for seasons 3 and 4 and try and find a filmmaker or filmmakers to do this the way that I did. This is how we want to do this so that every two years, whoever comes on, has the freedom to create their universe.… [The new filmmakers] don't have to shoot it the way I shoot it. They don't have to score it the way I score it. They don't have to cast who I've cast. They have maximum freedom to come in and just go, "I want to wipe the slate clean."
There's something exciting about that idea. After all, the title character of The Knick is the hospital itself (the series takes place at New York City's Knickerbocker Hospital, a real-life medical facility that operated from 1862 to 1979). It could leap forward or backward in time from its early-20th-century setting to encompass literally any other point in the hospital's history. It could follow a completely new cast. It could do whatever it wanted.
But Soderbergh seems to be wavering a bit on one point of that initial plan. In an interview connected to the upcoming (very good) Starz series The Girlfriend Experience (which is based on a film Soderbergh directed — the show is produced by him, though directed and written by indie filmmakers Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz), Soderbergh told me that he's hopeful he can return to The Knick.
"If we can achieve what I'm hoping, story-wise, then I'd like to keep going," he told me. "What I hope will happen is that we will figure something out that I feel like, 'I have to do this.'"
Soderbergh also described the show's third season (which has yet to be officially picked up) as being potentially "extreme."
"We always envisioned The Knick in two-year increments with the idea of annihilating what came before every two years," Soderbergh told me. "What we're trying to do now — I just met with [writers and creators Jack Amiel and Michael Begler] yesterday — is build our idea of what three and four might look like to get ready to present to everybody. It's pretty extreme, but I think it should be."
Soderbergh, who famously retired from directing movies in 2013 after directing Side Effects, has since been responsible in some way for three TV series, with Amazon's Red Oaks joining The Knick and The Girlfriend Experience on his résumé. He's also working on the upcoming HBO program Mosaic, though few details about the project are available beyond the idea that it will somehow employ an interactive "choose your own adventure" format.
But The Knick has been his TV crown jewel so far, and his direction was by far the best reason to check out a very good TV show. Thus, when news broke that he was planning to make an exit, there was some concern as to what the show would look like without him. With him, however, The Knick will have steady hands at the wheel both behind the camera and in the writers' room — even if it's suddenly set in the year 2500 and centers on robot soldiers grievously injured in the endless war with Mars.