by Kyle Trembley
When “M.” aired earlier this season, it came at a time where ‘Elementary’ was really struggling creatively. The show felt like what would happen if ‘Criminal Minds’ starred a guy with an English accent – a grim slog through only occasionally interesting cases that we’ve seen versions of for years on network TV.
At the time, “M.” was something of a revelation. It was the first time ‘Elementary’ showed any interest at all in telling an over-arching story, and every aspect of what was on screen – acting, writing, storytelling- transcended anything we had seen from the series to that point.
In the months since “M.”, it’s safe to say that ‘Elementary’ has figured itself out. The dynamic between Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu’s Joan Watson has been warmed considerably, allowing the two to develop genuine chemistry. The episode-specific cases have gotten more interesting, and while the show still struggles to inject a strong mystery element for the audience into most weeks, it’s become a lot more fun to watch Holmes unravel the mysteries himself. Finally, with the focus shifting away from Holmes’ drug addiction and recovery, the tone is noticeably lighter most weeks now than it was in the series’ early days.
So with the series-long arc picking up again in this week’s “A Landmark Story”, ‘Elementary’ wasn’t under nearly as much pressure to deliver a great hour of television. Luckily for fans of the show, it did anyway.
The action kicks off with a pacemaker hacking scene cribbed from ‘Homeland.’ Turns out the victim is a city councilman, and the assassin is representing an unknown party with an interest in the city council voting to revoke the landmark status for an old speakeasy, which would allow the party to bulldoze it and build something more profitable. Later the assassin, Gottlieb, kills a real estate developer associated with the project via falling air conditioner, then attempts to kill the landmark’s most vocal proponent via bee stings (ASSASSIN BEES!).
That’s the point where Sherlock and Watson catch up to Gottlieb and take him captive for questioning. They were put on the case by Moran, who Moriarty has been trying to kill in prison. He asserts that Moriarty is behind the city council murder, and once foul play is established (through an amusing breaking-into-the-mortuary scene), Holmes believes him to be right.
But unlike in “M.”, where Holmes was hell-bent on killing Moran, he has no intention of killing Gottlieb or his bosses. This is driven home through one of the best scenes of the series to date, as Holmes explains to Watson that his relationship with her is the biggest reason for his change in outlook. It’s a superb scene, one that serves as a metaphor for the series as well, which has improved dramatically since Holmes and Watson became partners.
Anyway, a sharp bit of train-obscured surveillance leads to Holmes figuring out that the man who ordered the assassination is John Douglas. Holmes abandons Watson and tracks him down, but before he can talk he’s killed by a sniper’s bullet. Meanwhile, Gottlieb receives a coded message that Holmes foolishly asks Moran to translate. The message, as Holmes figures out later, is ordering Moran to kill himself lest his sister be killed. Moran does, and the episode ends with our first brush with Moriarty himself, as he calls Sherlock and announces that it’s time they met.
“Elementary” is not a pulse-pounding action show like ‘The Americans’ or ‘Homeland’, but it will occasionally feature a surprisingly well-done scene that feels a little too good for a network crime procedural. The Holmes/Watson dialogue mentioned above certainly qualifies, as done the sequences where Holmes decodes the message while Moran prepares to commit suicide. It’s these moments that make it distinct from a network-mate like ‘Criminal Minds’, and with two episodes left in the season, ‘Elementary’ is stating its case to be called CBS’ best drama.