I’ll confess, when Elementary was announced, I was skeptical. It sounded to me like CBS was looking to capitalize on the success of the BBC’s wildly successful Sherlock, and I wasn’t sure I had room in my life for more than one modern interpretation of the world’s most famous detective. Sometimes, it’s great to be wrong. Elementary has quickly become a favorite of mine, thanks to a terrific cast and tightly-written, fast-paced, and suspenseful episodes. November 15th’s installment, “One Way to Get Off,” was exactly the kind of quality storytelling I’ve come to expect from this show.
This week’s episode opens with a terrifying home invasion and graphic double murder. A slender, silent, masked figure has tied up two individuals, binding pillows to their faces with belts as blindfolds, before calmly killing them both. While Elementary isn’t a show that relies on violence, from time to time they will give the viewer a glimpse of particularly violent or disturbing crimes without lingering on them. In this case, the little we see, combined with the general horror one feels at the thought of a home invasion, is more than enough.
When last we left Sherlock and Watson, the existence of the mysterious Irene Adler (a name that should be familiar to a fan of any incarnation of Sherlock Holmes) had first been revealed. Joan, as Sherlock’s sober companion, has an interest in any failed relationships and traumatic experiences in his past which could potentially impede his recovery. Sherlock, as we’ve come to expect, is petulant and uncooperative, refusing to share any details of his personal life with her. Jonny Lee Miller (Sherlock) and Lucy Liu (Joan Watson) have good chemistry and what makes their relationship work is that neither overplays little moments like this. Watson, understandably frustrated, decides to leave Sherlock to his own devices and does a little investigating of her own, looking for answers at the rehab center where Sherlock had begun his recovery.
As it turns out, the home invasion and double murder bear striking similarities to a crime which Captain Gregson had solved back in 1999. Gregson is understandably hostile to the idea that he put the wrong man behind bars, despite Sherlock’s surprisingly gentle (for him) suggestions to the contrary. Regardless, there’s a crime to be solved and similar murders continue throughout the episode. In many ways, this is Gregson’s episode. Solving these murders made his career, and you can feel the tension rise as he wonders whether he got the right man. He orders an investigation of old suspects, in the event that there was a second person helping to commit the crimes, or that details had been missed.
In the meantime, Watson has made some discoveries of her own at the rehab center. While the administrators recall Sherlock as a man who, unsurprisingly, shared nothing of himself and was withdrawn and non-participatory in group therapy sessions, a friendly groundskeeper is able to provide her with a small stack of Sherlock’s personal belongings, including a sheaf of letters from Irene Adler. It’s a brief, five-minute sequence, but it’s amusing. Part of Elementary’s appeal is witnessing how Sherlock’s abrasive personality affects people. Here, we see that even months later and miles away, the very mention of his name can irritate those who know him. Sherlock doesn’t appreciate what he perceives as snooping by Joan and his reaction, when presented with the stack of old letters, is priceless.
Elementary thrives on misdirection and this episode is no different. I might not be the best person to evaluate this show, as I have virtually no familiarity with the one-hour crime drama format that has become so ubiquitous on network television. However, every episode of Elementary gives the viewer a pretty good swerve by the halfway mark. It’s gotten to the point where you know that the first answer or most likely suspect is almost never the correct one, and often the second or third one isn’t, either. In this episode, the elimination of one of these likely suspects actually raises the stakes on the mystery being solved. If he’s cleared of being the current murderer, it makes the man behind bars, who may or may not have committed the original murders, that much more likely to get exonerated. Kudos for turning what was quickly becoming formulaic into one of the episodes strengths!
Of course, Sherlock puts all the pieces together in the end, but not before two particularly tense scenes. The first of which is at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, where Sherlock and Captain Gregson confront the man Gregson put away all those years ago. The other is in Captain Gregson’s office, where Sherlock raises the uncomfortable possibility that evidence was falsified to get that man behind bars. It’s probably the most that Aidan Quinn has had to do in the role of Gregson so far and it’s nice to see him stretch beyond the usual, affable, incorruptible cop act that has been the main feature of the character.
As usual, everything is resolved in the end, but not in the way any of us would have guessed. But, also as can be the case with Elementary, occasionally the viewer is left wondering if the writers tried a little too hard to get us to look the other way. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the crime’s resolution in this episode, but I can’t deny that it was creative, and it took me by surprise! Elementary is nothing if not consistent, and even the occasionally weak solution doesn’t change the fact that the show is one of the more entertaining hours on television!
Best “Sherlock-is-a-dick” Moment: His “personal ringtone” for Joan.