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: