#931: Five to Try – Elementary, Season 2 (2013-14)

Five more recommended episodes of Elementary, the US TV update of Sherlock Holmes, this time from season 2.

Given the strong end to the previous season, it’s pleasing to see things get off to an equally strong start, introducing Rhys Ifans as Mycroft Holmes and Sean Pertwee as Inspector Gareth Lestrade of Scotland Yard. One of the things this series continues to do very well is to bring in existing relationships having given a lot of thought to how the people involved would relate to each other now. Be it the son of an ex-patient, the various Irregulars, or family members (and Elementary would introduce a lot of family members in the coming years…), the history of the relationships is always well-considered, so that you get a sense of characters interacting in a familiar idiom rather than someone who is new to the audience also being new to the person on screen.

The formula of the show is pretty well-established by now — generally we see someone become the victim of a crime in an odd way, then Captain Thomas Gregson (Aidan Quinn) and/or Detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill) learning of it and Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) and Joan (Lucy Liu) arriving at the scene and altering the interpretation of events in a surprising direction. From there, anything is possible, and one of the real successes of this series, alongside the growing relationship and respect of the central pair, is how quickly and surprisingly the mysteries develop week after week. How these writers manage to come up with some of these twists is amazing to me, considering this series is 24 episodes and the quality on display here continues, and arguably improves, over the years ahead.

Distractingly, Aidan Quinn starts the series with hair distinctly darker than it was last time around — I originally attributed this to actorly vanity, but since it comes and goes at random even within certain episodes, I’m inclined to believe he was just filming something else at the same time.

Anyhoo, onwards. Five episodes I’d recommend for the unconvinced/curious are…

‘Step Nine’ (2.1, o.b. 26th September 2013)
[Scr. Robert Doherty & Craig Sweeny, Dir. John Polson]

I promise I don’t just pick these because of their impossible crimes, the case here really is a good one: how could a man be responsible for shooting his wife when there’s no gun in the house and he had no opportunity to leave in order to hide one? Essentially an updating of ‘The Purloined Letter’ (1844), this uses the 21st century trappings of such an idea very intelligently. And, alongside all this, we’re introduced both to Mycroft (Ifans) and Inspector Lestrade (Pertwee) — showing that American TV really is the place for English character actors these days — without any of the detection or relationships feeling rushed. Ifans and Pertwee would both be underused this season, but it’s always wonderful to see them on screen.

‘Ancient History’ (2.5, o.b. 24th October 2013)
[Scr. Jason Tracey, Dir. Sanaa Hamri]

The main focus of this episode — an unsuspected murder, leading to Eastern European gangland connections — is fine, with intelligent little deductions (the $20 bills) to progress things tidily. But the B-story, in which Joan’s friend asks her to track down a one-night stand, is wonderful. It’s rare to want the murder plot to take up less space, but it would have been lovely to see these plots reversed in terms of screen time — the payoff is more than worth it. Plus, this episode marks the first appearance of medical examiner Dr. Eugene Hawes (Jordan Gelber), who would go on to become something of a fixture in the show and, like most of the show’s fixtures, is at his best when interacting with the lead pair.

‘The Marchioness’ (2.7, o.b. 7th November 2013)
[Scr. Christopher Hollier & Craig Sweeny, Dir, Sanaa Hamri]

Mycroft returns, so ask Sherlock and Joan’s to help his ex-fiancee, Nigella (Olivia d’Abo), who is having trouble at the stables where she houses her prize-winning mare Silver Blaze. The writers should get a lot of credit for not over-writing the relationships in Sherlock’s past, and the way he and Mycroft spark off each other over their shared history with Nigella is lovely to watch. The plot here again unfold very cleverly, and the denouement does a impressive job in tying up the loose ends in a way that feels definitive within the universe, which isn’t always the case with these 24-episodes-a-season series. Plus, this episode contains some of the best jokes in the run, and one of my favourite lines in all of the television I’ve ever watched.

‘On the Line’ (2.9, o.b. 21st November 2013)
[Scr. Jason Tracey, Dir. Guy Ferland]

Starting with a reference to the canon that goes far deeper than mere lip service, this turns into an investigation of a suspected murderer with a light-footedness that is characteristic of the show by now. Lots of little moments — the discussion about Sherlock’s treatment of the police, his reaction to the caller at the brownstone — show how well the writers fill in the details around the main plots which make this so enjoyable, and the air of irresolution throughout is well-wrangled…not least by a great reversal just past the halfway point. And the last three scenes are all rather lovely in their own way.

‘Ears to You’ (2.17, o.b. 6th March 2014)
[Scr. Lauren MacKenzie & Andrew Gettens, Dir. Seith Mann]

With Lestrade having fallen on hard times, he moves into the brownstone while trying to decide on his next step. Meanwhile, a man suspected of murdering his wife four years ago receives a package containing her severed ears, and a ransom demand follows. The revelations here are wonderfully worked — there’s some great puzzle plotting here — the writing extremely clever, and the explanation of how the central deception was worked is frankly brilliant. Plus, the time given to the two threads is perfectly weighted, with Lestrade’s rejuvenation and the context of the struggles he has faced feeling earned and terminating on a superb revelation.


Let’s assume I’ll get through all seven series and provide some links, eh?

  1. Season 1 (2012-2013)
  2. Season 2 (2013-2014)
  3. Season 3 (2014-2015)
  4. Season 4 (2015-2016)
  5. Season 5 (2016-2017)
  6. Season 6 (2018)
  7. Season 7 (2019)

8 thoughts on “#931: Five to Try – Elementary, Season 2 (2013-14)

  1. It’s always fascinating to compare where two people stand on the same show – especially when we clearly lack enough of a social life that we’re barreling through a five-year-old TV show!!! I absolutely agree that, with “Ancient History,” for once one wishes the side plot would crowd out the main case. I also loved “On the Line,” which was in the middle of a short series of excellent episodes questioning Holmes’ being a good fit with the police. “Ears to You” is the best of the Lestrade episodes by far, and it shows a more human side to Holmes.

    This is a strong candidate for “best season”, both for some of the original cases and for Rhys Ifans, who is simply wonderful as Mycroft. I think the Season Four arc with Morland is nearly as good, though.

    Oh dear, I really need to get a life!!


    • Ifans wasn’t in this nearly enough and — given his inability to reappear thus far — I’m guessing we don’t see him again, unless they pull out all the stops for a Big Finish at some point. Either way, his performance, and his chemistry with Liu and Miller, deserved better.


  2. Gosh, you are making me want to go off and rewatch some of these. I have fond memories of all of these episodes but Ears to You particularly lingers as one of the best. Pertwee was a joy as Lestrade and probably my favorite of the recurring characters.


    • Is Ears to You an impossible crime, I wonder. Given the apparent genetic impossibility at its core, are the tenets of fictional impossibility observed tightly enough?

      And liking Lestrade more than Mycroft is a drumming out offence in this household, so watch yourself 🙂


  3. I’d agree with all of this – and glad it wasn’t just me spotting the changing hair colour 😆 Having a season opener actually shot in London was a real treat this year and having it resonate, via Lestrade and Mycroft, for the entire season was very deftly done I thought. The Ears episode is very memorable!


    • Weird, innit? I had a moment of “Oh, now he realises the show will be popular he’s come over all vain” but then it vanished…and then it reappeared…and then in vanished. These actors’ schedules must be as confusing as anything.

      Thanks for putting me onto the show in the first place. I’m delighted to have gotten so much enjoyment out of it — moreso than probably any other TV show I’ve watched, of which there have been admittedly few.


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