Elementary, Season 1, Episode 17: Possibility Two (Review)

When a billionaire hires Sherlock to figure out who has deliberately infected him with a rare illness, things get pretty weird...

The thing about this week’s episode of Elementary is how straightforward it is. Sure, there are the usual twists and red herrings, but really, when it comes down to it, it hinges on the oldest trope in the whodunit book: “Who benefits?” “Possibility Two” asks that question indirectly for most of the episode, and then gets right down to it in its last act. While Elementary is often more police procedural than traditional whodunit, the shift with this week’s episode may have served another purpose. As we saw in the previous episode, “Details,” Sherlock and Watson have now taken up the more “traditional” Holmes/Watson dynamic. No longer is Joan his “sober companion” but is, instead, his friend and colleague.

As a result, Sherlock is training Joan to be a detective in her own right. It’s working. After spending at least four months with Sherlock (remember, Elementary takes place in, more or less, “real time” from episode to episode), she’s bound to have picked up some observational tricks. Joan’s progression towards thinking like a detective adds a nice fresh coat of paint to their relationship. What “Possibility Two” builds its plot around is a rare genetic disorder known as cerebral amyloid angiopathy, which, among other things, brings on a form of early onset dementia in patients. It’s very rare, and its hereditary, so Sherlock and Joan (who is, as you may recall, a doctor), are understandably skeptical when a billionaire named Gerald Lydon informs them that somebody has managed to infect him with this disease. Sounds like a classic case of denial, doesn’t it? Sherlock refuses to take the case, despite Lydon’s insistence.

Things change pretty quickly when Lydon, perhaps in a dementia induced fit, kills his driver. Ah, but this isn’t really the case. Not yet, at least. The issue here isn’t whether or not Lydon killed his driver, it’s whether or not he was infected by a disease that works on the genetic level. Sherlock decides to take his case because, in an uncommon moment of empathy, he feels like failing to do so would be like denying a dying man his last wish. Sherlock may not be a believer at this point, but he’s willing to entertain the possibility that things might not be as they seem.

What follows is a rather standard connect-the-dots series of crimes and crime-solving, with little interludes where the usual red herrings are introduced and dismissed. It’s not much, really. But as usual with Elementary, even the mediocre episodes are given remarkable entertainment value by the cast. It’s not even worth going over (again) how terrific Miller and Liu are together, but it does bear repeating what a joy it’s been watching Liu’s Joan Watson grow as a character over the course of this season. I suspect that when Season One is finally finished, she truly will BE the Doctor Watson we’ve come to know and expect from other incarnations of these characters, in terms of her ability to stand on her own two feet. Sometimes I feel like Elementary is really about Watson’s journey rather than Sherlock’s. Sure, we’ve seen some progress with him, but really, how much work can you do with a character like that? The entertainment value is in Miller’s frenetic portrayal, not in the potential for revelation. But Liu’s wonderfully underplayed Joan Watson is another story entirely.

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Aidan Quinn and Jon Michael Hill get a terrific “Sherlock is driving us nuts” moment, and Quinn often says more with a scowl than he could with a paragraph of dialogue. I still think that another recurring character or two might help Elementary, but perhaps those are best saved for Season Two. I feel that the more personalities we have for Sherlock to irritate, the more fun the viewers can have…even if it’s at their expense. The primary “red herring” suspect in “Possibility Two” has a tremendously amusing scene with them, (and his “alibi” for why he didn’t commit one of the related murders is absolute gold), but it’s not enough to save the plot.


And therein lies the weakness of this episode. If you don’t buy the genetic angle and its attendant technobabble, you don’t buy into the mystery, and, as you might expect, the “who benefits” becomes rather obvious, even if it would have made no sense early on. We get the scientists, the douchebag sons of the billionaire, the jealous lover, and the “incurable sociopaths.” It’s a veritable kitchen sink of suspects but somehow, it all ends up feeling a little too neat and tidy. Even Watson’s little spotlight mystery of her own, which leads to at least one genuinely hilarious scene, doesn’t totally elevate the episode. It’s fun getting there, because, again, this cast is top-notch and they get better and better at working together with each episode, but sometimes, I’m just not buying the case or the solution.

Best Sherlock-is-a-dick moment: “You’re a detective now, you figure it out.” (several times)