Elementary episode 17 review: Possibility Two

Review Frances Roberts 22 Feb 2013 - 13:48

Elementary is back on track this week, with something of a reboot. Here's Frances' review of Possibility Two...

This review contains spoilers

1.17 Possibility Two

Now we know what to get the man who has everything: a bee in a box. I wonder how many of those Jonny Lee Miller will be faced with at the stage door during his next theatre role…

Possibility Two was something of a reboot for Elementary, and a necessary one for the show’s future. Holmes and Watson’s sober companion/reluctant patient dynamic could only take the relationship so far, so resetting the pair as pupil/teacher was a sensible shift to bring about. Last week’s episode set up the new relationship, and this one showed us how it’s going to work. Early signs, I’m happy to report, are good.

So many more possibilities are open to Elementary now that Watson has more to do than nag Holmes into attending support groups and tell him off. As Possibility Two demonstrated, she can chip in on his cases whilst pursuing a parallel investigation (albeit, in this instance, one set as a homework challenge by her teacher). Pairing the former surgeon with Detective Bell for the money laundering bust also presented us with a new possible direction for both characters.

So invigorated does this singlestick-practising, Jeremy Bentham-reading Watson feel in fact, that Possibility Two could in many ways have been a season opener. The episode moved apace, with plenty of intrigue, but there was little in the way of emotional development  or history-referencing for our two leads. There was nary a word on Holmes’ addiction or fractured relationships with his father or Captain Gregson, nor on his presumably continuing search for Moriarty. It went case, case, Watson’s powers are tested, case, case, the end.

That’s certainly no criticism, just an inevitability of Elementary’s procedural twenty-four episode structure. Not every instalment can inch us closer along the story arc, and Possibility Two, while an entertaining forty minutes, held the line rather than advancing it.

Written by former Aaron Sorkin compadre and first-time Elementary scribe, Mark Goffman, the episode brimmed with intrigue. It served up not one, but three separate cases. The car park shoot-our got the ball rolling, the genetics plot occupied pride of place, and Watson’s dodgy Eastern European Dry Cleaner’s assignment brought the comedy. Those layers, peppered with spots of Holmes’ eccentricity (the molecular dinosaur, cleaning the refrigerator with a toothbrush, his sixteen spoons, and whatever he was trying to prove by pouring acid onto that Cabbage Patch Doll’s face) were well-handled, even if the central case didn’t unravel in a particularly satisfying direction.

Poor Crabtree’s fate, which promised cover-ups and probing of the suspicious-looking Lyndon family, turned out to be little more than a mechanism to involve Holmes in the case. The Norwegian professor with the millionaire’s pad counter-signed by Lyndon’s son went nowhere too, as it was revealed the manufactured CAA originated closer to home. The geneticist being murdered by her fiancé also had nothing to do with her whistleblowing, which made the eventual resolution feel foundation-less and somewhat hastily reached. Saying that, having the face of the CAA-perp sprayed guiltily with blood almost from the off was a nice touch.

There was also some pathos, on reflection, in Holmes being ultimately faced by a genius losing his mental faculties. That type of neurological disorder would be a terrifying fate for any of us, and a particularly barbed one for someone with a mind like Holmes (an idea, incidentally, handled with surprising emotional punch by UK comedy sketch show duo Mitchell and Webb in the conclusion to their fourth series).

All in all then, it was a solid entry that reset the partnership for episodes to come. Watson’s instruction in the ways of deductive reasoning opens up new avenues, and shifts the power balance between the two once again (though not in a direction likely to please those unhappy with Lucy Liu’s subservient caretaker role, it should probably be said).

The image the episode left us with - that of Holmes slamming the jar down through blank air to trap his solitary bee - was also a good’un, a figurative look at his ability to see what others can’t and use it to deftly capture the bad guy. Elementary is back on track, now let’s see what the remaining seven episodes can do.

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

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I really liked the direction this show went in. In spite of Holmes' unpleasant invitation to her to serve as his paid "companion," this episode blessedly focused on them as business partners.

I really hated the earlier "I'll take care of myself by working at my preferred job as a detective only if I can still caretake your addiction needs by getting you to go to group meetings." I hope we never hear of that again. But Watson working as a detective with independent cases could lead to a reasonable level of equality in the show. The bit about dividing household chores is a nice start.

What I want to see from this show is Liu doing things other than sacrificing herself to look after Holmes' needs. I don't even want to see her make an effort to get cases that will earn money. Holmes is paying her a salary so it's his problem if he's using up his savings because he chooses to work for free. The treating-her-like-an-apprentice bit is fine for a while; that's what happens when someone goes into a new field working for an expert. And when she figures out what's wrong with the laundry place, she doesn't run to Holmes for approval and confirmation; she just summons the police and fills them in. Yay!

The original Conan Doyle Holmes/Watson dynamic of Watson following and caretaking worked fine for Victorian England because a wounded retired military man and a brilliant consulting male detective from about the same social class came across as equally respected, no matter their personal relationship. But applied to a modern white man as Holmes and a WOC as Watson (and a Watson with no military background or successful medical career, or even an original relationship as a chosen respected friend, to establish her own credentials), it just brings up too many old familiar patronizing cliches.

This show needs a new dynamic if it's to be everything so many of us want it to be. Maybe this episode is the first step in creating that new dynamic. We'll see. But for the first time since that ghastly sexist first episode, I have hope.

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