I decided to watch the latest episode of CBS’ Elementary as a sort of response to my viewing of the Sherlock premiere. Elementary has all of the trappings of the Holmes mythos mapped onto a CBS procedural à la NCIS or Criminal Minds. I watched the first few episodes of Elementary when it debuted last season, but there wasn’t enough there to really grab me. I heard the show got better, but I assumed that meant “better” in a sense that NCIS is better than NCIS: Los Angeles (I love this high horse. Everyone should get one). I expected a pretty disposable hour of television, so I was surprised to find a somewhat complex character piece hidden in the mystery-of-the-week.
For the uninitiated, Elementary depicts Sherlock Holmes’ (Jonny Lee Miller) adventures in modern day New York City, accompanied by his apprentice Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu). They consult the NYPD on cases handled by Captain Thomas Gregson (Aidan Quinn). Usually a younger detective (Jon Michael Hill) hangs around, but he is largely absent this week, recovering from something.
It seems that a lot of somethings have happened since the last time I watched the show. I was kind of lost at times, which I did’t expect since most procuedurals are built for syndication, where the order of episodes really shouldn’t be a concern (think of all of the people watching on USA in two years, CBS!). This wasn’t a bad thing, however, since I like character development. I’m actually pretty fond of it. The learning curve was steep, but not insurmountable.
The big piece of information that you need to know for this episode is a bit of a SPOLIER so turn back now lest ye be angry. This episode features the return of two important characters from the original Holmes canon: Irene Adler and Moriarty. Adler is often portrayed as the only woman Sherlock truly connects with, and Moriarty is the Joker to Sherlock’s Batman. In Elementary we have the very clever twist of both characters being the same person (Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer). This is a really inspired choice that seems obvious, but adds dimension to the show, even if it kind of stunts the Adler character you might have expected.
This is her episode, really. She was previously apprehended, but the central mystery of the episode requires her Hannibal Lecter-esque involvement. Everything plays out in a standard fashion that I won’t spoil here, but this episode, written by Robert Doherty (the shows’s creator) & Craig Sweeny, has these little moments of brilliance, particularly moments between Sherlock and Joan and between Sherlock and Moriarty. Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock is a little more evolved than Benedict Cumberbatch’s (that is not an indictment of the latter). This Sherlock feels more grown up and world weary, whereas Cumberbatch’s Sherlock has a child-like sensibility. Both are viable takes on the character, but Miller manages to show his character’s growth in subtle ways.
Then, of course, there is a rather unsubtle conversation about how Sherlock has changed, but you can’t bat 1.000 can you? The episode is probably more enjoyable if you’ve seen Dormer’s previous episodes, but such ignorance will not leave you completely devoid of a takeaway. I doubt I’ll keep watching at this moment in time, but I’ll add it to the list of things to watch at some nebulous future date.