It can sometimes be said that Elementary is a typical network police procedural masquerading as a show about Sherlock Holmes. I’m not sure I agree with that assessment, especially since it’s usually deployed by the show’s detractors as a way to dismiss the show as unworthy of the character’s legacy. It’s a pretty lazy argument. Elementary is primarily a character-driven show that just happens to borrow heavily from the ubiquitous crime drama format that is inescapable on network television. However, this week’s episode, “Details,” does feel a little more like a cop show than a Sherlock show, but that doesn’t mean that it’s without merit.
“Details” might very well feature the most straightforward plot that we’ve seen on Elementary thus far. Detective Marcus Bell (a character who has been growing on me pretty steadily since the first episode) has been framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Granted, it’s a crime that nobody would blame him for committing. It would appear that Detective Bell has taken some rather personal revenge on a criminal he once put behind bars. A criminal who, it would seem, wanted to take some personal revenge of his own on Bell. There you have it. There’s this week’s episode of Elementary. Doesn’t exactly sound like a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes, does it? It isn’t. But in a way, that’s almost the point.
For once, this isn’t really about Sherlock the master deductionist. It’s about his evolving relationships (I hesitate to call them “friendships”) with characters like Detective Bell, Captain Gregson, and, of course, Joan Watson. Sherlock and Bell have never been what you would call “close.” Bell is usually the obligatory nay-sayer when Holmes leaps to one of his typically brilliant conclusions. In the earliest episodes, Bell looked poised to be “that cop.” The “I don’t like you, and I don’t trust you, and one of these days, it’s gonna be YOU in handcuffs” cop. Thankfully, they didn’t go down that road, and Bell has become a fine personality for Sherlock’s madness to bounce off of.
Sherlock would seemingly have every reason to believe that the suspicion cast on Bell for this murder is justified. But that would be too obvious, and he senses it as well. Jonny Lee Miller and Jon Michael Hill (as Bell) play well with each other, and the evolution of their relationship is quite believable. Bell’s grudging respect for Sherlock is palpable, and it’s clear that Sherlock considers Bell to be, well…not a friend…but whatever it is that Sherlock considers someone that he doesn’t completely disdain. We’ve seen Sherlock have these “breakthrough” moments with Joan and Captain Gregson in the past, but I can’t really remember there being one with Marcus Bell before. Using this episode to focus on Bell (who gets more screentime than Sherlock or Joan in this episode, it would seem), not only makes him a stronger character, but it finally puts that final piece in place for the main four characters on this show.
In many ways, “Details” is an episode of The Marcus Bell Show. On the one hand, it’s fine. Jon Michael Hill has plenty of screen presence and charisma. We get to see some details of his personal life we never would have otherwise. We even learn he has a brother, who is (in what I feel is an unfortunate, obvious, and hokey turn) an ex-con. Sherlock is reduced almost to the status of guest star in his own episode, hanging back while Bell and Gregson interrogate suspects, puttering around the brownstone madly, conducting ballistics tests in his living room (in an amusing sequence), and annoying Joan. In fact, I was thoroughly disappointed that what appeared to be a major subplot involving Sherlock and Joan was barely explored. Early in the episode, Sherlock decides that Joan needs to be able to defend herself from attacks better (after the events of the previous episode), and promises to surprise her with simulated attacks so that she can be better prepared. I was hoping for these somewhat insane Inspector Clouseau and Cato surprise attack sequences, but sadly, there weren’t very many.
There is however, one hugely important matter of business that “Details” does attend to. The question of Joan’s status as Sherlock’s sober companion. Sherlock DID make that phone call to his Dad last week, and it WAS Sherlock’s Dad who had told Joan that her services were no longer necessary. And Joan did kind of fail to relay that message to Sherlock so that she could stick around. And this IS Sherlock Holmes we’re talking about, right? Yeah. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I tell you all: he figured it out. Unless you were speculating that Sherlock’s Dad never hired her in the first place and that it was Sherlock masquerading as his own father, or that Sherlock sent the termination e-mail himself…in which case, you’re insane, and there’s really nothing I can say to you that will make you feel any better about this. Needless to say, Joan isn’t going anywhere. But the way this exchange takes place, and the way Miller plays it (and Lucy Liu’s reaction) is rather touching without being remotely cloying or emotional. Now that all of this “sober companion” pretense is gone, we have a more traditional Holmes/Watson relationship in place, and I feel like this show can take off at any moment.
So, other than a resolution to the crimes that I felt was far too out of left field to be believable or satisfactory, “Details” was still rather entertaining. Not the weakest episode of the series (that “honor” is reserved for the one about the Russian spies, which I wouldn’t watch again on a bet), but far from the best. But somehow, thanks to the forward movement of the characters’ relationships, it manages to be an essential episode of Elementary. Isn’t this what good TV is, then?
Best Sherlock-is-a-dick Moment: “Can you think of a reason why Detective Bell would have a lingerie catalog in which your head has been superimposed on all of the models?”