Elementary season 2 episode 9 review: On The Line

If Jonny Lee Miller weren’t so brilliant as Sherlock, how many of us would still be watching? Here’s Frances’ review…

This review contains spoilers.

2.9 On The Line

Like the character he plays in Elementary, Jonny Lee Miller is extremely strong on detail. This week’s kitchen confrontation in which Watson told her mentor off for riding roughshod over the egos of the NYPD serves as a snapshot of how entirely he inhabits the role (and how entirely he surpasses his co-star). From the click in his jaw to the twitch of his neck, his clipped delivery to his wide eyes, every inch of Miller is great as Sherlock.

It’s just as well.

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Without Miller’s performance keeping our attention, this week’s serial killer case would have been indistinguishable from any other procedural show. Kidnapped women kept by psychopaths in secret rooms are ten a penny on network TV (we’ve even had them on Elementary before), as are the precinct tensions that formed part of On The Line’s tepid drama.

The case was designed to prod at Elementary’s characterisation of Holmes, exploring the guilt he experiences when his deductions lead to the wrong guy walking free. His abandoned plan to frame Bunch, lacking the evidence for a conviction, at least rang true. Both Conan Doyle and Elementary have established Holmes as a character with much more respect for justice than for the law.

From that opening suicide to the grisly reveal of Bunch’s secret room though, it was a nasty case. TV doesn’t need another wheelbarrowful of raped female corpses to tip into its charnel house. Where are Elementary’s scampish, fun criminals I wonder? Its glamorous gentleman thieves? 

It did have a proper ending, I’ll give the episode that. After weeks of wishy-washy music fading in and cameras panning away, Elementary finally went out on a beat. First came Captain Gregson’s speech to his colleagues – inspired by the emotional reunion of the husband and wife Sherlock’s work had brought together – and then came Sherlock’s speech to Joan. Both men restated their purpose, putting their foot down with their respective audiences and insisting that things weren’t going to change.

For the viewers’ sake, I hope that’s not the case. As diverting as Elementary has so far been in its second season, the last few episodes have dulled the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes.

Perhaps over-familiarity is the problem. It’s difficult to sustain Sherlock-level a-ha moments week after week without the returns diminishing to some extent. The BBC’s Sherlock, though it bears considerable pressure on individual episodes because of it, has an easier task in the creation of three feature-length cases per series. Elementary’s network-sized portions are attempting to duplicate the formidable volume of the original Holmes adventures, which is no mean feat. It’s worth remembering that not even all of Conan Doyle’s cases for the consulting detective were zingers.

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That said, take the realisation this week’s case hinged upon: Sherlock only considered that Bunch must be feeding and watering his kidnap victims after Watson’s prompt and days of working the case. For clarity’s sake, that’s Sherlock Holmes, the most brilliant deductive mind in literature, failing to make the most ordinary of leaps.

Being charitable, perhaps the very banality of the leap is what stopped Holmes from making it. Watson’s role this week was to pick Sherlock up on his blind spots when it comes to interpersonal relations (that, and, disappointingly, to make deductions based on a victim’s fashion choices). Sherlock’s brusque manner alienates potential allies and lands him with restraining orders. The Bones to his Spock, Watson advises that he extend his zone of courtesy for the sake of all concerned. As a Sherlock Holmes and Elementary fan, I could care less about his social niceties as long as Holmes is always the cleverest one in the room. In this week’s episode, he wasn’t even the cleverest one in my living room.

Predictably, the most interesting thing about last week’s episode – Mycroft and that tantalising phone call – was entirely absent from this. Will that be picked up in episode ten? We’ll have to wait until December the 5th to find out.

Read Frances’ review of the previous episode, Blood Is Thicker, here.

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