Elementary season 3 episode 4 review: Bella

Is Sherlock Holmes man or machine? That’s the poser this week’s AI-themed Elementary episode asks…

This review contains spoilers.

3.4 Bella

All the best Sherlock Holmes stories start like Bella did. Not with the great detective covered in leeches and contemplating his pet tortoise (hey Clyde!), but with a client coming knocking. The best Holmes stories don’t, however, end like Bella did: on a cliff-hanger of a moral quandary.

Will we ever find out whether or not Holmes betrayed a fellow recovering addict to put a murderer behind bars? My money says we won’t, but the revelation’s immaterial because the point of the episode, like that of last week’s, was to explore Holmes’ peculiar personality. Is he man or machine? Warm-blooded creature or automaton?

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To Sherlock, the AI programme represented an intellectual opponent rather than a mystery. Parcelling off the boring find-a-thief bit of the case to Watson, off he went to engage in a bout of mental single stick with Bella, pitting his considerable wits against the programme and fine-tuning The Turing Test as he did so. Eventually though, he resorted to using Bella as a high-tech Magic 8 Ball to solve his dilemma and was duly frustrated.

So, does Sherlock’s reliance on logic and deduction align him closer to machines than humans?

Nah. He may be all about the data, but he’s as human as the rest of us. He’s experienced love for his mother (now there’s a future casting prospect), for Irene and for Watson, even if it did take a chat with a jumped-up Siri for him to admit it. And despite what he told Kitty, he doesn’t even need to outsource his conscience and moral reservations to Watson, as the final scene proved.

Unfortunately for fans of nuance, the writers didn’t trust their audience to pick out the Sherlock/machine parallels unaided, so had Professor Pike voice them explicitly in his closing speech. (A script moment almost as clunky as Watson’s cul-de-sac, “so how did you feel after the support group meeting the other night?” to Kitty, but not quite.) That, and some baffling plotting aside – why dispose of the whole Raffles idea so quickly? Was it recycled from the ‘no’ pile to add colour to this story? – Bella laid an ingenious trail to its murder and made for a pretty decent episode of Elementary.

A great deal of that, as ever, is down to Jonny Lee Miller, who this week proved that he can make a scene riveting even when his co-star is a plastic doll. Sherlock’s wordless response to the news that the programmers had, for reasons best known to them, channelled Bella’s voice through said doll was priceless – almost as good was Ophelia Lovibond’s wry pronunciation of “Goatwhore” (a real death metal band apparently, fact-pickers).

Speaking of Kitty, this whole threesome thing isn’t really working is it? Yes, the cast are good and the characters are fine, but there’s real clumsiness in the way Elementary’s pieces are being moved around the board at the moment. If Sherlock is to have a scene alone with either Watson or Kitty alone, the absence of the other one has to be explained, and when all three are present, one or other fades into the background. Perhaps an extended break for Watson in Copenhagen might be the smoothest course of action? At present, she’s been reduced once again to ‘explainer of things for viewers not paying attention’, so a trip away might be kinder all round. If Kitty’s going to be around long-term, then something needs to change, because three is most definitely a crowd.

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Would the loss of Watson detract from Elementary’s Sherlock-ness? In theory, it’s an horrific idea for Doyle purists, but Elementary has never been one for fealty to the source material. Miller’s Holmes is the best thing in the show, but how close to the original character is he really? This week even saw him scoffing at Watson and Kitty’s cigarette butt deductions – a Sherlock Holmes classic. The temporary absence of Watson would allow Kitty and Sherlock’s partnership to evolve so we can find out what this girl’s really made of. Whatever happens, however intriguing the case, the current juggling act isn’t quite cutting it.

Read Frances’ review of the previous episode, Just A Regular Irregular, here.

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