#958: Five to Try – Elementary, Season 3 (2014-15)

Five more recommended episodes of Elementary, in which Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) solve mysteries in modern day New York. And this time it’s season 3 under the microscope. Or magnifying glass, whatever.

With the benefit of hindsight, the third season didn’t quite work for me, in part because the focus of the first half — Sherlock training Kitty Winter (Ophelia Lovibond) and his gradual reconnection with Joan, achieved in large part because of Kitty — feels completely disconnected from the second half, in which things become Case of the Week again with a final episode which suddenly ups the stakes a bit and leaves you on a cliffhanger that I, for one, wasn’t entirely sure how to interpret. There’s a tendency to rush some of the over-arching developments that run across episodes, perhaps so that this separation of the first and second halves of the season can be achieved. I can’t help but feel that Kitty’s story was complex and interesting enough to warrant a whole season of its own, but maybe that’s just me.

This was also the season in which the balancing of plot and personal elements reached its apotheosis, not least because of the sheer number of conveniently-timed text messages and/or phone calls that would interrupt the latter to enable the former to progress. Indeed, a fun game can be wrangled from trying to anticipate the exact moment at which someone’s phone will ping to enable a scene to change direction.

“Fine, but can you recommend five great episodes?”, you say. Gladly…

‘Just a Regular Irregular’ (3.3, o.b. 13th November 2014)
[Scr. Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Dir. Jerry Levine]

One of Sherlock’s Irregulars, Harlan Emple (Rich Sommer), stumbles upon a dead body during a game designed for higher order mathematicians, the hunt is on for others who might be involved. Whether the motive justifies the method is up for some debate, but the plot holds together well and the denouement is very entertainingly staged. And the dynamic between Emple and Sherlock, such as when they discuss their shared history, is great, giving yet another angle on the world Sherlock inhabits. The accelerated dynamic between Sherlock, Joan, and Kitty is the only slight wrinkle here — the disrupted menage isn’t what the show wants to be, so it’s being rushed through even while everyone does good work with the material provided.

‘When Your Number’s Up’ (3.15, o.b. 19th February 2015)
[Scr. Bob Goodman, Dir. Jerry Levine]

I think this is one of the best episodes of the show to date — Bob Goodman is surely the MVP of the Elementary writers — and opens with one of the best hooks: a woman (the magnificently empty-eyed Alicia Witt) shooting a homeless man dead and leaving $3,800 on his body. False leads positively bristle, and thoroughly enjoy this sort of two-hander where we skip between the detectives and the killer without a full understanding of the latter’s motive — the steady revelation of which is beautifully drip-fed. Joan moving back into the brownstone with Sherlock is also well-handled, picking up on a thread that I wondered might not be addressed from the previous episode. Thankfully, it is here, and with the sort of warm-hearted acuity that had become one of my favourite features.

‘For All You Know’ (3.16, o.b. 5th March 2015)
[Scr. Peter Ocko, Dir. Guy Ferland]

Every long-running detective series tries the old ‘does the protagonist bear responsibility for a murder?’ gambit, and this is a very good example: Holmes, while in the grip of his opioid addiction, having made an appointment with a woman whose remains have turned up three years later. This mining of Holmes’ past would pay off later in the series, but the balancing act of introspection and detection is expertly weighted — searching for clues where none might exist, with a fatal one turning up as a result of good writing rather than simple narrative convenience. And the final summary of events imbricates everything intelligently, while dealing with the prospect of Holmes’ guilt or otherwise very well.

‘Under My Skin’ (3.21, o.b. 23rd April 2015)
[Scr. Jeffrey Paul King, Dir. Aaron Lipstadt]

A miniature reunion for 90’s classic Hackers (1995) here, as Fisher Stevens features in a story which starts with two paramedics being shot and their ambulance, and the patient it contains, stolen. With the killer identified quickly, the plot of course veers in a new direction powered once more by good detection that highlights the combination of Sherlock and Joan’s specialist knowledge. They surely could have thrown in a reference to Zero Cool, but, that aside, this is hugely enjoyable stuff. And the subplot concerning a difficulty Alfredo (Ato Essandoh) is having with his employers is delightful, and has a lovely payoff. Have I mentioned how much I love Alfredo? I really love Alfredo.

‘Absconded’ (3.23, o.b. 7th May 2015)
[Scr. Jason Tracey, Dir. Guy Ferland]

In a rare case of the last two or three episodes of a season not making one larger story, the penultimate episode rests on — of all things — a risk to North American beehives. This again showcases how these episodes rarely stand still, opening with a mysterious death that is resolved quickly before we advance with an entirely different, though related problem. I enjoyed how one of the tiny actions of the culprits is the final nail in their coffin of guilt, but the overall design of this — and how a grand scheme is achieved by seemingly unrelated actions, a classic puzzle plot conceit — is very clever stuff throughout.

~

Elementary recommendations on The Invisible Event:

  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)

11 thoughts on “#958: Five to Try – Elementary, Season 3 (2014-15)

  1. Great fun and great choices here. I am fascinated that the splitting of the Kitty storyline seems to have not been more popular as I remember being quite keen on first viewing, especially as it laid in important elements for the relationship with Watson and was a great way of establishing her growth and independence. The finale is pretty damn brutal.

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    • I don’t mind the Kitty storyline, it just felt very Cliff Notes at times, like there was a more interesting, long-form version of those same events that could have played out very interestingly across 24 episodes rather than slightly well over 12.

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      • Do you really think it would have been sustainable? I think her darkness would have weighed the show down. Also, I suspect it’s a budget thing – the season arc guest usually gets about 8 or so slots I think

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        • Yeah, but those 8 episodes don’t have to be the first eight of the series, do they? They could be spread out a bit, and occasional nods to that thread sprinkled throughout, as has been done in other seasons.

          A moot discussion, perhaps, given that this happened several years ago 🙂 But this did sort of feel like two series in one to me: The Saga of Kitty Winter, then The Further Adventures of Sherlock and Joan. Still good stuff, but the disconnect didn’t quite work for me.

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  2. Since the droves of people who read my 3,743,982 word expose on the entire series consists of the two of you, this seems as good a place as any to discuss the SGSS (Season Guest Star Situation) on Elementary:

    It’s no secret that I didn’t cotton to Kitty Winters, but I’m in total agreement with JJ about her placement in Season 3. Perhaps because Olivia Lovibund was a less experienced, less well known, actor than, say, Rhys Ifans, John Noble, or even James Frain (who was not in Buffy the Vampire Slayer – you should know that, JJ!!!), she was never afforded the Guest Star status of these gentlemen (and Nelsan Ellis and the guy who played Michael) by having her name in the opening credits. Maybe this meant less pay, or her contract simply didn’t give her this extra status.

    Still, Lovibund was in the series as much as, or more than, these other actors, and yet her arc was treated differently than theirs. I agree that Kitty’s presence as both irritant and eventual aid to healing of the Holmes/Watson relationship was terribly rushed. Perhaps her episodes were front-loaded to get the pair back more quickly . . . but then the writers would do this again, more than once – split everyone up and then find an all too convenient way to get them together again. (The season 7 method is similarly flawed but perhaps the best since 1) the season was very short anyway, and 2) the situation is deeply personal and involves a hot, blue-eyed chief inspector who shall remain nameless here.)

    Future guest star situations would be far more spread out, and I’m sure Sergio is right that it had to do with budget. Still, it could be very vexing in terms of storytelling. Sometimes, the appearance of Morland Holmes was so brief, amounting to a cameo, that I wondered if they told John Noble they would only pay him by the lines he uttered – and then gave him ten. The situation with Nelsan Ellis may have been partly aggravated by his condition, and then one in Season Six by the network’s indecision over the length and finality of the season itself. But the interweaving “in and out” of these guest stars, sometimes with nary a mention of them over one or two episodes despite the crucial situations they inspired, proved frustrating to me.

    The season end here was the most devastating of them all, but at least it paved the way for the entrance of Morland Holmes, whose power over Sherlock had been teased out beautifully for the first three seasons. Also, I believe it’s in Rule 7 of Knox’s Decalogue that if a major character is a recovering drug addict, they must relapse in the middle of their series.

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    • The one flaw I can level at the series as a whole is how the longer arcs were always apparently forgotten in the episodes which didn’t directly pertain to them — this becomes especially egregious in season 6, but it’s evident throughout, with no real sense of continuity within the seasons. A sprinkle here, a mention there, would have made a big difference, and it feels like that problem really started with Kitty…she’s in it, then she’s done and gone and — oh no! — we still have 12 episodes to fill.

      But, meh, the leads are so engaging and the plots so much fun that I’m willing to forgive a lot. The further I get from the denouement to the series the more brutal it strikes me as being, and that’s no mean feat. Though I still maintain that there’s a degree of ambiguity in those final stages which would have been better if removed. That, or I’m exceptionally dense and missed something.

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  3. I know there are overarching plots in this show, but would it be possible for someone to just jump around to the best and skip the others? These sound great, but I don’t necessarily want to see every single episode of the show.

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    • As a general rule, you can take the episodes on their own. Sure, you’ll miss some continuity touches — the introduction of Everyone, the shifting relationship with Agent McNally — but any vaguely perceptive viewer will be able to fill in the blanks.

      As much as possible I’ve tried to keep away from episodes that are the second part of the (rare_ two-parters the series does, so the recommendations I’ve made can be viewed in isolation, I’d say. And then, when you realise how good the show is, you can go back and fill in all the gaps 🙂

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      • All right, thank you so much! I admit I did some some reading on the show after I posted that and gained some trepidation about it, but I’ll keep these posts in mind if I decide to give it a whirl.

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        • Hey, Dark One!

          My thoughts are a little different. Recently, a former drama student of mine guest starred on another CBS procedural called FBI. She played a spoiled rich woman who is kidnapped. I watched FBI for the first and only time so that I could watch her. Granted, the show looks like it is pretty bad, but I would say a quarter of it was devoted to the relationships between the series regulars, including some longer arcs that they must have been in the middle of. It was confusing and boring because I wasn’t invested in the characters.

          Watch one of JJ’s recommended episodes by all means and see if this happens to you. I promise that Elementary is a better series than FBI and at least Holmes and Watson have a more famous relationship to build off of!

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