The story behind the shocking scene in this week's 'The Knick'

Mary Cybulski/The KnickDr. Mays on ‘The Knick.’

Warning: spoilers for the most recent episode of “The Knick” ahead.
“The Knick” is best known for its authentic look at early-20th-century discoveries in medicine by talented, albeit troubled, surgeons. But in season two, series director Steven Soderbergh (“Magic Mike,” “Side Effects,” “Out of Sight”) has presented us with the entertaining antics of the Knickerbocker hospital’s newest member, Dr. Mays.

The not-so-capable doctor with one of the most impressive mustaches on television came on staff at the Knick after Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) was put into rehab for his cocaine addiction at the end of the first season. Mays has made an impression, but for all the wrong reasons. He has an obvious lack of surgical knowledge and would rather flirt with the nurses and female patients than do his job.

Mary Cybulski/CinemaxDr. Mays having a little trouble understanding the chart.

But on Friday’s episode, his sloppy work turned fatal, as Mays, while flirting with his nurse, caused an explosion while doing a tracheotomy and burned his face off.

The death of Mays is a shock for fans of the show, but the actor who plays Mays, Ben Livingston, always knew his fate.

“I knew going in it was only going to be four episodes, so I knew of his demise,” Livingston said. “But I tried as hard as I could to talk Steven out of it. I would say to him, ‘You know, you can blow this guy up any time you want. Give him a few more episodes.'”

But there was no escaping Mays’ death, which was caused because of the use of ether and a cauterizing gun while doing the tracheotomy surgery. When he punctured the trachea, the ether and the heat of the cauterizing gun led to an explosion in his face.

To the casual observer, the scene looked like the handwork of a stuntman with a fireproof mask over his face. But Livingston said that’s him in the scene, and he wasn’t on fire.

“I flew out to Los Angeles to a special effects studio before we filmed the scene and a cast was taken of my head and face,” Livingston explained. “So on the day of shooting, they shot it once with me miming having my face blown off. And then they used the face they created of me, put it on a dummy, placed it exactly in the same place I was standing when they shot me, and set it on fire. In post, they digitally put the dummy face over mine.”

Livingston, who previously worked with Soderbergh on the stage play “The Library,” had a lot of fun playing Dr. Mays, but he can’t help finding it ironic that before taking on acting as a profession, he was in pre-med.

“I tell people as an actor I’m saving lives because I would have been an awful doctor,” he said with a laugh. “I would have been Dr. Mays.”

“The Knick” airs on Friday nights at 10 pm on Cinemax.

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