This review contains spoilers.
2.20 No Lack Of Void
Just last week I tutted at Elementary’s short memory when it came to introducing and then ignoring promising supporting characters, only for one of the first season’s more intriguing bit-players to reappear this week.
That Roger Rees’ Allistair turned up posthumously didn’t deprive us from seeing more of Holmes’ childhood thesp pal thanks to Elementary’s first experiment with magic realism. Holmes’ hallucinations were unexpected in a drama that’s so far existed on the bonkers side of real life, but not a jarring departure; it was more Six Feet Under than Ghost.
That said, it does change things. Opening a door into Holmes’ largely unreachable inner life introduces the possibility of more narrative tricks in Elementary’s wheelhouse than a bit of mucking about with chronology. Should that door stay open, consider who else could walk through it: Moriarty, Mycroft, Holmes’ as-yet unseen parents…
Even if it is just the once, using Allistair to dramatise Sherlock’s grief was both affecting and effective. Holmes’ graveside declaration of love for his friend and ersatz father once again showcased Jonny Lee Miller’s rare abilities in the role. When it comes to showing a character utterly broken beneath a peculiarly British bottled-up, stiff outer shell, there can be few better actors on television. Martin Freeman in Sherlock, in fact, is the only comparison that springs favourably to mind.
As well as pathos, Holmes’ hallucination also provided Elementary with some self-aware commentary, another new direction for the series. Allistair’s criticism of the clichéd graveside visit, (“If this was a scene in a play, I’d refuse to do it”) was a novel addition to the series, evidence of a show flexing its creative muscles. With a further twenty-four episodes to play with next season now guaranteed, well they should experiment. It’s not as if they lack for screen time.
The revelation that Allistair was a recovered addict who fell at the last hurdle was an uncontrived way to bring Sherlock’s addiction back to Elementary’s fore. The character’s fear – made tangible by Miller’s tremendous performance – that even after decades of sobriety, relapse is always a possibility, was a poignant and honest one. We saw Holmes crack over just the same worry in season one’s The Deductionist, obsessing over a prediction that he would never be able to control his self-destructive impulses. In that instance, and in this, Watson helped him to separate his addiction from the experiences and opinions of others. The choice to not be an addict isn’t a one-time deal, but made daily, hourly, by the minute, Elementary reminds us.
Alongside the grief and addiction was the anthrax case, which began as tense and diverting but unspooled into something less riveting with much lower stakes. Had the case echoed some of the themes played out in the Allistair storyline – friendship, relapse, grief – the two halves of the episode might have felt more tightly fused. Writers Liz Friedman (Dead Man’s Switch, Risk Management, Poison Pen, Tremors, Corpse De Ballet) and Jeffrey Paul King (The Long Fuse, The Red Team, Solve For X, Dead Clade Walking) are both in the habit of stuffing their episodes with plot until it spills out of the sides, so it’s no surprise their first Elementary collaboration felt similarly crowded with incident.
Was Jeremy, Allistair’s son, introduced for a reason this week, for instance? Or will he end up like Watson’s biological father, as another of Elementary’s loose threads?
Overall, No Lack Of Void (a quote from Beckett’s absurdist Waiting For Godot, the first play in which Holmes saw Allistair perform) kept us interested, experimented with new things and rang emotionally true. It showcased Miller’s strength in the role, and, for a bit of fun, his Derry accent too (more of that please).
Though that’s most likely it for Roger Rees in Elementary, I half hope we’ve not seen the last of Holmes’ hallucin-Allistair. Should Watson ever decide to return to medicine, he’s my choice for a reboot partner. Just imagine, it: Sherlock Holmes meets Touched By An Angel meets Quantum Leap meets Fight Club. Doesn’t that sound… well, pretty awful, now we come to think of it. Let’s stick with the existing formula. If it aint broke, etc.
Read Frances’ review of the previous episode, The Many Mouths Of Aaron Colville, here.
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