#988: Five to Try – Elementary, Season 4 (2015-16)

More Elementary, the modern update of Sherlock Holmes starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu in the lead roles. This time, my recommendations of five episodes from season 4, which first aired in the US between November 2015 and May 2016.

The start of the season sees the introduction of Sherlock’s billionaire father Morland (John Noble), which had the effect of reminding me that this version of Holmes is little more than a trust fund baby living off daddy’s wealth while professing to despise the source of said money. It’s a tricky line for the writers to walk, and one I’m not sure they always get right — criticising a criminal in a low-paid job for continuing with their malfeasance because they liked the money it brought it isn’t a good look for the son of a billionaire living rent free in New York and able to pursue whatever esoteric interests amuse him. Miller’s wonderful, and always finds something human in Sherlock when it’s there to be found, but certain elements of this season could be taken as a textbook example of why it’s often best not to reveal everything about your main character.

Elsewhere, and more pleasingly, the quality of the mysteries was very high this year, with some legitimately brilliant puzzle plots that hold together well, and a few — like episode 7, ‘Miss Taken’ — that run perilously close to spectacular, only to stumble in trying to link up their final disparate points. I have no notion of when this show is supposed to peak — let’s face it, something that runs for seven seasons is unlikely to get better and better as it goes — but it’s interesting to reflect that this set of episodes concludes feeling perhaps more confident than the already very, very good crop preceding it ever did before. The increased plot complexity does have one unfortunate side effect — it leaves little to no room for the Narcotics Anonymous meetings which have formed such a great basis for Holmes’ humanity prior to this point — but you can’t have everything, I guess.

Anyway, five episodes I’d recommend to the interested are:

‘Tag, You’re Me’ (4.3, o.b. 19th November 2015)
[Scr. Bob Goodman, Dir. Christine Moore]

A superb opening sees two identical men — one German, one American — executed, as the exploitation of the old detection trick of unsuspected twins is given a suitably 21st century twist. When a suspect is identified, and it transpires that he has a lot of information on doppelgängers, things get weird in the best Elementary way. I especially enjoyed how this one floats a possibility in front of you without pursuing it, only to then snake back and bite you with it come the reveal — the lack of fair play is the one thing I’d fix about this show, and this is a great example of why: the best surprises strike hardest when the audience is in on the jig. The B-plot, involving Sherlock’s father trying to get an agreement to build a wind farm next to a hotel actually has a neater payoff than you might expect, and shows the sort of malfeasance Holmes, Sr. gets involved in very well indeed.

‘Down Where the Dead Delight’ (4.11, o.b. 4th February 2016)
[Scr. Jeffrey Paul King, Dir. Jerry Levine]

One of the best cold opens of the series so far negotiates a typically superb Elementary chicane to look first in one direction then in another unexpected one, as events take on a new interpretation with almost every scene. The detection here is again just really solid, with developments hewn from intelligent reasoning, and the plot dense and realistic all the way through. Some episodes prior to this — ‘Miss Taken’, ‘A Burden of Blood’, ‘Alma Matters’ — have been wonderful up until a sudden leap that’s hard to swallow disrupts the flow of things, but this is the first time that density feels well-wrangled. And the subplot of Joan being asked for help by an antagonistic police officer raises some interesting themes that would, alas, go sort of nowhere as this series progressed.

‘You’ve Got Me, Who’s Got You?’ (4.17, o.b. 20th March 2016)
[Scr. Paul Cornell, Dir. Seith Mann]

When a man dressed as a superhero is found shot dead, Sherlock and Joan enter the world of New York’s costumed crime-fighters: ordinary men and women who patrol the streets of their neighbourhoods in disguise in order to discourage low-level criminals. This does what the slew of comic book movies in recent years do so well, and treats the absurd elements here with just enough of a straight face to make you invest in the people and their community, and so it works beautifully. And while the motive might come out of nowhere, there’s a pleasing circularity to the plotting. The B-plot, in which Morland asks Joan to identify a mole in his organisation, seems like a complete nothing, and is a weird little addition apparently just filling up extra minutes…and then the final scene hits and things become very interesting indeed.

‘Turn it Upside Down’ (4.22, o.b. 24th April 2016)
[Scr. Bob Goodman, Dir. Lucy Liu]

When Joan has good reason to believe that the shooting of the customers in a diner hold-up isn’t just a random act of violence, one of the show’s delightfully weird touches (the allergies) brings them to the door of the shooter quickly, only for a larger pattern to emerge. Not only does the plot thrash like a dying snake, the script does a good job of casting doubt in the direction of Morland and drawing together the various threads that have been running intermittently throughout this season. This is Lucy Liu’s third time directing an episode, and she has both a great eye for shot construction and a keen sense of camera movement that adds a lot to what would otherwise be fairly standard scenes. And she gets a performance out of Miller in one key scene that’s simply wonderful to watch.

‘The Invisible Hand’ (4.23, o.b. 1st May 2016)
[Scr. Jason Tracey & Robert Doherty, Dir. Guy Ferland]

I’ve generally tended to shy away from the concluding episodes when making recommendations, in order to highlight the quality found simply week-to-week, but this two-parter to finish out season 4 gets off to a superb start, retaining the small, detection-focussed milieu of the show’s usual operation and bolting it onto a plot with international stakes. You feel the increase in importance of events, and it doesn’t seem at all unlikely that two people who are usually catching poisoners could have a hand in something of this magnitude. You have to wonder if a man who knows there are people out trying to kill him should spend quite so much time standing on the unprotected roof of tall buildings while surrounded by even taller buildings, but apart from that this is a bolt of pure, giddy enjoyment all the way to the cliffhanger ending.


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)

4 thoughts on “#988: Five to Try – Elementary, Season 4 (2015-16)

  1. ‘Miss Taken’ deserved better, one of my favourite episodes from the season, though I definitely do agree with your picks here. ‘You’ve Got Me, Who’s Got You?’ has one of my favourite lines from the whole series, namely the one about the radioactive detective. You mention not knowing when the show would peak, and in my opinion, there will be a bit of a downward lull in Season 5, but it should pick up in Season 6. Can’t wait to read your thoughts on those!


    • ‘Miss Taken’ is superb until there’s a gigantic coincidence in the final few minutes to join everything up…aside from that, it would definitely have made this list.

      I’ve actually already watched the remainder of the show, I’m just spacing these posts out every couple of months because — like so much of what I post 🙂 — I’m aware that they have only a very limited appeal. So my choices for the remaining seasons have been made…it’s just a case of whether the three people who care agree with me.


  2. Apologies for being late to the party. I think you picked great episodes – and getting Paul Cornell to do the superhero episode was great as he knows the area so well. I know Brad thinks the show peaks this season as he loves John Nobke do much in this but I think the next year is just as good, albeit with a tougher edge. For the final two seasons there were production problems due to incredibly late pickups from CBS that are a bit noticeable.


    • This might be my favourite season, but it’s difficult to call. I can find flaws in the later ones that this doesn’t have, but I might also think that season 5 is pretty spot on. To be honest, it’s all a bit of a blur.

      Liked by 1 person

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