This review contains spoilers.
2.1 Step Nine
It was with some trepidation that we rang Elementary’s doorbell a year ago, bottle of generic wine in hand, muttering under our breath that we hoped this whole thing wasn’t going to be too awkward. After some polite chit chat about a murderous psychiatrist and a bag of rice, we began to lower our guard. This could actually be okay, you know. We could even make it a weekly thing.
Over the twenty-odd episodes that followed, the relationship went from one of tentative curiosity to knockabout warmth. It wasn’t the most brilliant of shows, this new friend of ours, but Elementary had more than its share of great moments and never failed to entertain. A calendar year on, we bounded up the Brownstone’s steps, ready to embrace season two like an old friend.
Not that anyone was home. The second season premiere had relocated Holmes and Watson to London, a temporary palate-cleansing move that swilled out the aftertaste of season one’s closing Moriarty arc and readies us for adventures new. Indeed, there was no mention of the M-word at all, Natalie Dormer’s switcheroo character going unmentioned in a story that took in Holmes’ past wrongs against two men in his life; brother Mycroft (Rhys Ifans), and former Scotland Yard colleague Lestrade (Sean Pertwee).
Like greeting an old friend, it was reassuring to find much of Elementary unchanged. Jonny Lee Miller’s performance was as twitchy and captivating as ever (I’ve never made the connection before, but there even seemed to be a touch of Rik Mayall in The Young Ones during that last recalcitrant meeting with Mycroft). As always, the case was diverting enough but the resolution easily won and ultimately broke no new ground in the context of modern TV police procedurals. In fact, the milk intolerance/veganism conceit broke no new ground in the context of Elementary, seeing as the exact same routine was used in the season one pilot, just with an incongruous sack of rice in the pantry of a rice-allergic suspect instead of a pint of milk in the refrigerator.
Against the familiar though, Elementary’s many gentle evolutions since its season one premiere stood out in stark relief. Lucy Liu’s Watson is no longer an exasperated nag, but a true partner of Sherlock, and, as Mycroft comes to realise, Holmes’ only friend. The once-central issue of Sherlock’s addiction is still present (addressed in the meeting he left in pursuit of pigeons and this episode’s twelve step emotional catalyst) but it’s been shifted sideways to make room for Watson’s apprenticeship in the art of detective consultancy. It was good to see the self-defence thread carried through from last season with Watson performing that Miss Piggy hi-ya! on the absconding baddie in the park.
It’s the same but different then, a drama changed and made satisfyingly richer by its past. You don’t have to have been frustrated by the tabula rasa approach of any number of short-memoried network shows to know what a pleasure that is.
This week’s London setting – despite always having a ring of that Friends trip to Ross and Emily’s wedding when seen on an American screen – was an attractive diversion, and served chiefly to introduce two new players to the board. Sean Pertwee was solid as Lestrade, a detective who, like his Conan Doyle namesake, was in the habit (and that’s the opportune word) of taking the credit for Sherlock’s brilliance. The real joy though, was Rhys Ifans, who did what no co-star managed to do in Elementary’s entire first season: made you want to look at someone else when Miller was on screen.
Dressed like Razorlight’s seedy step-dad, Elementary’s version of Mycroft is both a treat and an enigma. A Michelin-starred restaurateur with more meticulous taste in home furnishings than his brother but a similar flair for the dramatic (boom!), he’s neither the unmotivated wastrel of the Conan Doyle stories, nor the mirror of Sherlock’s emotional stiffness as seen in Mark Gatiss’ BBC Mycroft. Does he share Sherlock’s extraordinary mind? What is the reason for the siblings’ estrangement (other than the obvious fiancée “misadventures”)? Mycroft’s introduction here had the intended effect on me: my interest in the mysteries of Sherlock and the Holmes family has been rekindled. Let’s see him back, and sharpish.
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