Elementary season 2 finale review: The Grand Experiment

Elementary’s second season finale starts with a bang and ends with a change of plan. Here’s Frances’ review…

This review contains spoilers.

2.24 The Grand Experiment

Elementary really knew what it was doing when it cast Jonny Lee Miller and Rhys Ifans as the Holmes boys, didn’t it? Namely, working towards an episode like this one, with proper emotional wallop and tremendous central performances.

As we saw in Sherlock’s response to Alistair’s death in No Lack Of Void, Miller’s character isn’t demonstrative with emotions, but corseted by awkwardness and traditional British reserve. That Miller manages to convey a depth of feeling while straight-jacketed by his character’s stiff outer shell is testament to his strength as an actor. The scene in which Sherlock pledged to fix his brother’s predicament, having learned of the sacrifice Mycroft made for him despite – in his words – owing him nothing, was masterfully and affectingly played.

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As was Mycroft’s goodbye to his little brother, which saw Ifans cut off Miller’s tirade of insults with a warm embrace and declaration of fraternal love. Sherlock might have remained characteristically incompliant throughout the scene, but his taking MI6 up on their job offer is no doubt step one in a plan to eliminate Le Milieu and win Mycroft his life back.

It won’t last. It can’t possibly. Not the Holmes boys’ truce (which has every chance of surviving now that Sherlock has acknowledged his ability to change and announced his determination to repay Mycroft’s enormous favour) but Sherlock’s new MI6 role. As his brother told Sherrington last week, Sherlock Holmes is no company man. The collaboration does present some intriguing possibilities though, for the start of season three and beyond.

The Grand Experiment verged on being the perfect Elementary episode. Not quite perfect for me because its sombre mood didn’t allow for any of the show’s offbeat comedy, but close enough. It certainly balanced emotional heft with a tense, interesting case and moments of real menace.

When Watson unveiled her cyber bullet-proof vest to Sherrington, my sigh of relief can’t have been the only one exhaled in living rooms around the country. We noted a fortnight ago that Watson’s kidnapping lacked peril as nobody was going to murder the co-lead with season three around the corner, but nowhere did it say that she would make it to next year uninjured.

Sherrington’s eye-gouging threat was a particularly nasty line, one that hinted at the character’s true nature. It was a shame the latter was revealed so late in proceedings; no sooner had we fingered Sherrington to be the mole than he was lying in a morgue drawer, a tantalising but wasted opportunity. Never before has a shepherd’s pie been eaten with such enjoyable villainy.

The baddies though – British and Iranian clichés and all – weren’t The Grand Experiment’s priority. This episode was about Sherlock experiencing family love (something new to the motherless, ex-boarding school bullying victim with a Lovecraftian monster for a father) from Mycroft and for Watson. If your family are the people you try to protect regardless of duty or debt, then that’s what he and Joan are to each other.

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Not that it’s enough to keep Watson where Sherlock wants her: by his side night and day. Lucy Liu’s speech about gravity and orbits was an eloquent way to express her character’s predicament, even if it felt a little “you had me at hello” to begin with. It made a change at least from her acting as audience catcher-upper in the first half of the episode and barking out exposition recaps disguised as dialogue.

Canonically, Watson does move out of Baker Street to marry, so Elementary sending Watson packing to a new apartment falls in with Doyle’s original, as did a number of the script’s lines this week. From Sherlock’s cry for “Data! Data! Data!” to Mycroft picking up where last week’s episode title left off and completing Holmes’ description of his lack of ambition or energy, The Grand Experiment was swimming in Doyle. Elementary’s use of the original has so far been more of a ventriloquist act than an adaptation proper, putting names and lines from Doyle’s stories into the mouths of its characters without many of the accompanying case details. It’s enough to pay its respects to its inspiration without being a slave to it.

We’re left wondering how Watson’s departure will affect the show’s dynamic. Will the two pursue more separate cases? Will she, like her nineteenth century counterpart, eventually find someone with whom to settle down? While we’re on the topic, will Joan actually be given some consistent character development next year, or could she be sent right back to the start? Taking into account Sherlock pocketing that wrap of stolen heroin at the end of this episode, there’s a chance thatJoan will wind up back at the Brownstone next season in her former role as sober companion. Unlikely as it seems, this week’s ending invites us to consider the possibility, once again, of Sherlock’s relapse being imminent.

Whichever it is, at the end of this uneven but entertaining second run, it’s safe to say that Elementary‘s own grand experiment, like the pairing of Sherlock and Watson, works. It really, really works. 

Read Frances’ review of the previous episode, Art In the Blood, here.

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