Elementary episode 16 review: Details

Review Frances Roberts 15 Feb 2013 - 07:30

Elementary disappoints this week with a dull case and clichéd characters. Here’s Frances’ review of Details…

This review contains spoilers.

1.16 Details

It’s a shame that in the week this website publishes a piece that eats a big slice of Elementary-praising humble pie, the show delivers one of its most generic, disappointing instalments yet.

Details wasn’t a Holmesian case, and it certainly didn’t take Sherlock Holmes’ peculiar talents to solve it (he didn’t in fact; Watson made the leap that took us to the perpetrator). The conclusion to Detective Bell’s framing was reached by sluggishly connecting a generic series of dots that any CSI type worth their badge could have followed. Case files were looked over, boot imprints taken, ballistics tested, and it was revealed yet another evidence-planting cop was out for revenge. So far, so unexciting.

It makes sense in a long-form TV serial to spend some time developing your surrounding cast, hence the tradition of handing over the odd episode to a bit player. The wittiest example I can remember was Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s The Zeppo, which confronted Xander’s side-kick status head-on and acknowledged the camera had temporarily swung in a different direction. Captain Gregson having had his past probed in One Way To Get Off, this week was the turn of Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill).

After a knockabout comedy exchange in which Holmes urged Watson to learn self-defence, a pre-credits attempt was made on Det. Bell’s life, or rather, something designed to look like one. The drive-by shooting was the first step in a scheme to frame Bell for the murder of a vengeful crim as payback for his having shopped his former boss for planting evidence years earlier.

The frame plot unfurled like a toaster bouncing down a staircase, thud by clunking thud. Bell’s colleague, Officer Reyes, was introduced all but wearing a red shirt, and was predictably unveiled as the guilty party. Most disappointing though, was the arrival of Bell’s brother André.

It’s hard not to be suspicious of a show that - set in New York City remember - chooses to characterise its only black detective as having had two career choices: cop or gang-member. Bell’s brother couldn’t have been say, a clarinet teacher, or a pet store owner, or a civil servant, no, in accordance with The Big TV Book Of Tired Race Clichés, he's an ex-con who used to run a corner.

Seeing as the vast majority of cases Sherlock investigates happen to wealthy white people in exquisitely turned-out houses (I can’t have been the only one to admire the square footage and interior design of previous crime scenes), the first time the show ventures properly into a black family it’s all shootings, drug-running, and gangland retribution killings. What next, an episode in which Watson wins a Mathletes championship then fails to parallel park?

The lazy stereotyping’s fast becoming a pattern. Think back to the last time Elementary gave young black characters any screen time. Bell aside, there was street rat Teddy in M and ex-junkie reformed car thief Alfredo in The Long Fuse. Add to that The Wire-lite scene of Bradford and co. on that basketball pitch this week, and the tedium continues.  

Holmes and Watson’s arrival at a partnership this week also failed to live up to its potential. Elementary has done great work slowing inching forward the friendship between the two, creating quiet moments of genuine connection (the closing moments of One Way To Get Off and You Do It To Yourself spring to mind), but this week’s proposition felt rushed.

It was as if a chart exists in an office somewhere with a big cross marking episode sixteen as the one in which Holmes offers Watson the role of partner, and she accepts. Holmes seemed too unguarded too quickly, offering up emotional explanations for why he wanted Watson to learn self-defence instead of more characteristic veiled excuses.  

At this stage, whether Elementary’s Holmes is or isn’t like Conan Doyle’s creation is almost beside the point. Sixteen episodes in, the show now only has a responsibility for its lead to live up to the behaviours and attitudes it’s established for him. For me, this one fell short of that target.

It’ll certainly take more than one below-par episode to put me off Elementary, which remains a witty, diverting procedural show built around a fantastic central performance, but too many more like this week won't do it any favours.

Read Frances’ review of the previous episode, A Giant Gun, Filled With Drugs, here.

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