Elementary episode 13 review: The Red Team

Review Frances Roberts
1 Feb 2013 - 20:14

Elementary delves into military secrets in this week's very decent instalment...

This review contains spoilers.

1.13 The Red Team

The stakes were high in this week’s gripping Elementary. Holmes had not only to solve a series of murders, but deduce the details of a military plan so cripplingly effective, that if executed, it would kill hundreds of thousands of people.

Suspended from his role at the NYPD after his distinctly criminal activities of the previous episode, Holmes was forced to look elsewhere for distraction, and found it in a favourite hobby: baiting conspiracy theorists. Beginning the episode with typical disdain for crackerjack theories, Holmes soon found a viable thread amongst the nonsense, one that led him to the Red Team.

The war games and secret plan plot puts The Red Team somewhere in the territory of Conan Doyle’s The Case of the Bruce Partington Plans or His Last Bow. A highly protected military secret was known only to a small group of people who were being steadily picked off, and it was down to Holmes to follow the trail. We’ll overlook the narrative convenience of Holmes’ chosen hobby leading tout suite to a murder case and concentrate on how much fun it all was once it got going.

This week’s episode combined a sound case premise with some satisfying emotional development for our hero, making it one of the series’ stronger stand-alone entries. We saw Holmes adopt a pet, take a punch, and proved wrong a couple of times (evidently there are such things as conspiracy theories and whistling like a demented referee turns out not to be the most efficient way of hailing a NY cab).

Incidentally, along the way came Holmes’ frankest and least pejorative description of his sober companion yet, introducing her to ‘Bob’ with the line, “This is Joan Watson. She stops me from doing heroin”. I’d call that progress, wouldn’t you?

Not one to let a pesky thing like suspension stop him from pursuing a case, Holmes continued the investigation, and fell afoul of Gregson by doing so. Since the series began, the pair’s working relationship has been based on mutual respect, but judging by that punch in the bar, respect is the last thing the Captain has for Sherlock now, despite grudgingly accepting his help. Aidan Quinn was as good as ever in the episode, and I look forward to seeing the pair work their way back to an even keel.

I’m probably pushing too hard for this (like Holmes and his tenuous “Napoleon of crime” Moriarty connection – what a lovely nod to Conan Doyle that was), but the Red Team plan seems to work as a metaphor for Holmes’ intellect. Like him, Dresden and co. were in possession of extraordinary knowledge that made them valuable but at a dreadful cost. As Dresden explained, knowing what they knew made them unable to lead normal lives, it made them see the world differently.

That’s part of what makes Elementary so engaging. The show intermittently probes just how inconvenient Holmes’ genius is to him. “I’m smarter than everyone I meet” he tells Watson, not an act of braggadocio (though he’s not above those judging by this week’s “Find five classified names?”/”Why not, it’s my day off” exchange) but a simple statement of fact.

Holmes’ eccentricity of mind distances him from other people, making him an unpredictable oddity. It’s a reputation that Jonny Lee Miller’s detective enjoys playing up to, but it’s also the root of the character’s loneliness. This week, seeing him ask Watson whether she really thought he’d eat Clyde the tortoise, and her reply that she didn’t know, was somehow sad. He’s an alien to her and the others, unknowable and one-of-a-kind, the last of the Time Lords if you like.

We left Holmes crouched over his tortoise-free soup like a sullen schoolboy, having lost the favour of a man he respects. Like Dresden, he claimed to act for the greater good and like Dresden, his actions in M were a weakness of love that led him to betray his principles. Perhaps he’s not so alien after all.

Read Frances’ review of the previous episode, M, here.

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