#1016: Five to Try – Elementary, Season 5 (2016-17)

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. Are we really up to season 5 already? Man, they grow up so fast.

The formula is pretty well-established by now, with season 5 being notable for the arc involving ex-con Shinwell Johnson, played with astonishing depth by the wonderful Nelsan Ellis. Folding a new character into a successful menage is always a tricky prospect — see the love-her-or-be-thoroughly-ambivalent-towards-her Kitty Winter (Ophelia Lovibond) of season 3, whose presence even confounded the writers at times — but Ellis is so compelling from his first appearance, not least on account of his shifting, unsettled physicality, and the gradual way he comes to be more and more involved in the lives of our central duo is far more intelligently integrated this time around.

Much discussion around any long-running show of this nature will centre on when the apotheosis of the endeavour is reached, and for me, in part because of the superb handling of Shinwell’s arc, this might be the peak of a show which has already set a pretty consistently high standard. The core cast remains both constant — not shifting out interchangeable police characters, because where else would you get the superb rapport of Jon Michael Hill’s Marcus Bell and Aidan Quinn’s Thomas Gregson — and excellent at what they’re asked to do, the mysteries are intelligent and develop quickly in surprising directions, and the business of entertaining you is treated seriously without ever taking itself so seriously that it collapses under the weight of its self-importance.

So, with that all said, what are the highlights? Well, it’s tougher to pick this time around but I’m glad you asked…

‘Ill Tidings’ (5.6, o.b. 13th November 2016)
[Scr. Ron Fortunato, Dir. Jeffrey Paul King]

“I just thought — with the secret key cards, snake venom, and foreign affairs — we’d be dealing with spies or assassins, not, y’know, tech support,” Joan is moved to lament, when the poisoning of a chef at a fashionable restaurant leads to another set of unsuspected victims, whose connection with the crime will turn out to be more obscure still. What I enjoy here is how the apparent dead ends that seem insoluble (“There’s nobody in the country named Daniel O. Lukic”) are swept aside easily, and the problems that should be easily resolved are spun, puzzle plot-wise, into superb complications and revelations. This is one of those great Elementary plots where you end up miles from where you started, and it all makes perfect sense along the way. Bonus points, too, for referencing The Princess Bride (1987).

‘How the Sausage is Made’ (5.8, o.b. 27th November 2016)
[Scr. Mark Hudis, Dir. Michael Pressman]

The opening discovery of this is strong enough to carry any episode at all, but it’s pleasing when such an original concept is followed up as successfully as it is here. What’s especially enjoyable is the way it shows Sherlock and Joan making false deductions — the albinism, say — without those turning out to be fatal to the case. Mix in the vegan meat sector, a father-daughter assassin team, and a mass-religious council and it would be easy to overlook just how well put together this is, and how pleasing the final developments which trap our killer turn out to be. And as a fan of the Narcotics Anonymous element of this show, I was pleased to see that aspect rear its head after apparently being too easily discarded.

‘It Serves You Right to Suffer’ (5.9, o.b. 11th December 2016)
[Scr. Kelly Wheeler, Dir. Aidan Quinn]

The directorial debut of Aidan Quinn in the series is also one of the best-written episodes to date, with the murder of a gang member of rival turf throwing out superb puzzle-plot observations (the time lag, say) from the very off. This is also the first episode to really grapple with the long-term arc that overhangs this series: Shinwell’s increasing involvement with Holmes and Watson as it appears he has been welcomed back into his old gang and will be linked to the murder and returned to prison. The plotting is first-rate, with the detection following intelligent leads, and the cast are all on top form — though, to be fair, that last one is always the case, especially Ellis, who underplays his grief and fear perfectly. And the final scene is just…beautiful. Five seasons have been leading to this, and it hits hard.

‘High Heat’ (5.19, o.b. 16th April 2017)
[Scr. Kelly Wheeler, Dir. Michael Hekmat]

The final tranche of episodes in this series is especially strong — I could easily have picked ‘The Ballad of Lady Frances’ (5.17) or ‘Dead Man’s Tale’ (5.18) — but the speed of the developments here, from two bodies burned alive to Chernobyl conspiracists and then out the other side before you’ve had time to breathe, marks this out. It once again highlights out quickly a well-developed plot is able to overturn your expectations, and the detection around matters like blood splatter analysis and the mysterious loud noise heard at the crime scene is good and surprising. The motive here is also sort of heartbreaking, one of those great situations where our killer loses no matter what happens, and something of this ilk will always appeal to me more than the usual suspects.

‘Moving Targets’ (5.22, o.b. 7th May 2017)
[Scr. Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Dir. Lucy Liu]

While divested of some of the showier touches of Liu’s direction — see the excellent tracking shots in the likes of ‘The Female of the Species’ in season 3 — this is a notable episode for the way it draws parallels within both its own self-contained story and the over-arching plot of this season. Ellis is again on fine form, with one scene between him and Liu’s Watson especially touching, and the final scene is a kicker. The plot this time is fairly standard fare, with the contestants in a TV show in which they hunt each other with paintball guns apparently targeted by a murderer, but little touches like the Pickachu-clad street performer and the false solution compel it as among the better offerings for all its familiarity,


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 “#1016: Five to Try – Elementary, Season 5 (2016-17)

  1. No disagreement from me – all superb episodes from a very good season. Interesting that Shinwell and Kitty originated in the same Doyle story (“illustrious Client”) – no idea what drew Doherty so much to this source.


  2. Ah, this is not my most favourite season of the lot, with the major plotline that spans the season not being that good as compared to earlier plotlines for me. Shinwell as a character was unlikable for me, and so I found it hard to sympathize for him. I enjoyed all of your picks for good episodes, and I would probably add “To Catch a Predator Predator”, “Over a Barrel” (which might not have a decent mystery, but superb emotional writing) and “The Ballad of Lady Frances” which you mentioned! Will be excited to know what you think about Season 6!


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