I love Elementary. Almost without exception, week in and week out, it’s been extraordinarily good. Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu have long since distinguished themselves from their BBC counterparts (sorry, folks…I don’t recognize the Downey/Law films) and have, at least in the eyes of this Holmes fan, earned the right to explore Sherlock and Watson for as long as CBS sees fit. They keep making ’em, I’ll probably keep tuning in. It’s simple, really.
Now that that’s out of the way, there’s a few things I have to get off my chest, and they all have to do with the most recent episode, “M.” For the most part, Elementary has avoided direct adaptations of the Arthur Conan Doyle source material. This is probably wise, especially considering how much the BBC’s Sherlock draws directly from those stories. Elementary was at an immediate disadvantage with fans because it was perceived as an attempt to cash in on the success of the “original” modern Sherlock Holmes take. Elementary has succeeded primarily on the strength of Miller and Liu and its fast-paced, crime drama approach. But for long time Holmes fans, there’s always been that nagging question of WHEN they were going to expand the mythology a little further.
It’s spoiler time, folks. Click off to one of the hundreds upon hundreds of other great Den of Geek articles if you haven’t been keeping up with Elementary. In a sense, we’ve already seen a number of minor Sherlock Holmes characters pop in and out. Some of Sherlock’s less savory “associates” (“he doesn’t have any friends” is something frequently repeated) are certainly stand-ins for the Baker Street Irregulars, and, of course, Aidan Quinn is wonderful each week as Captain Thomas (the literary “Tobias”) Gregson. We’ve even had repeated mention of Irene Adler, but, at least according to what we’ve been told, she’s quite dead, and there’s no danger of her showing up any time soon. Which brings me to “M.”
“M.” is, of course, a misleading title. The entire episode makes use of our expectations as we try to figure out exactly why “the most dangerous man in London” has been reinvented as a serial killer. A serial killer played by Vinnie Jones, no less. Yes, THAT Vinnie Jones. You see, “M” killed thirty-something people (via quite distinctive and gruesome methods) in London, leaving not a trace of his presence, except for, y’know, about ten pints of his victim’s blood. Holmes had been assisting Scotland Yard with that case back in the day, until his addiction rendered him useless.
And what was it that finally sent Holmes spiralling over the cliff from “recreational drug user” to “hopeless addict?” Why, it was the death of Irene Adler, of course! Right away, that should set alarm bells ringing. And (to nobody’s surprise) HOW did the lovely Ms. Adler end up underground? At the hands of the mysterious “M,” of course. This is surely a new twist. But a problematic one. And I don’t even mean problematic in the “Sherlock purists should be furious” sense (as “Sherlock purists” don’t need to be watching Elementary, anyway), but in the “Wait, doesn’t this contradict stuff they’ve already established on this show?” Because, I’m pretty sure it does. Is it my imagination, or wasn’t a stack of letters which Holmes had received from Irene Adler while he was in rehab IN THE UNITED STATES well after the “M” murder would have taken place, a plot point a few episodes back? Either this is a major continuity goof, or Sherlock is lying about something and the writers are setting us up for a MAJOR swerve down the road. (note to readers: please feel free to correct me if I’m totally off the mark)
So, while M’s sudden emergence in New York City sends Sherlock into a more obsessive and driven mode than usual, we still have to deal with the ending of Joan Watson’s professional relationship with Sherlock as his sober companion. They’ve been teasing us for weeks, and I gotta say, it’s kinda interesting that Elementary has essentially been unfolding in “real time,” with each episode accounting for roughly one week of their time together. While nobody doubted that they’d find a way around this little problem, I wasn’t too fond of Joan’s portrayal in this episode. Lucy Liu has been tremendous, and her chemistry and interplay with Jonny Lee Miller is a real selling point. So why did Joan mope around like a lovesick school girl for half of her screen time? The lingering glances, the heaving sighs, the “we need to talk, but I know you don’t like to talk about things” attitude. This isn’t the Joan Watson I’ve come to know since September. Just remember, Elementary writers, what happened to Moonlighting when they took THAT relationship to the next level.
Are you still reading this, my little spoiler bloodhounds? Beware! MAJOR spoiler here. Last chance. Of course Vinnie Jones’ “M” isn’t Moriarty at all. He’s Sebastian Moran, another character from the Conan Doyle canon. He does, however, WORK for Moriarty as a hired killer. The “M” crimes weren’t serial killings after all, they were assassinations, and Moran, with his military background, is the perfect assassin. So, the first time the viewer actually hears the name “Moriarty” spoken on Elementary, it’s also the first time Sherlock hears it. I’m fine with that. “Leave ’em wanting more” and all that. But it still doesn’t answer the Irene Adler questions, solve the Joan Watson characterization problems, or account for why Moran changes his story once he’s in custody.
While I’m a fan of the source material, I’m certainly no purist, and I’m a little perplexed by the way Elementary has chosen to expand the scope of “their” Sherlock Holmes universe. Clearly, things aren’t as they appear with Irene Adler or Moriarty, but those are pretty hefty characters to roll the dice like this on. Then again, Elementary has thrived on subverting audience expectations. I should probably trust them. Do you?