Rating: 8.1 / 8.9
‘Elementary’ closed out its freshman season with a two-hour finale Thursday night, and for anyone thinking the CBS Crime Drama would end on a small note: nope. Not even close.
The first hour, entitled “The Woman”, explored the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. Packed with flashbacks to their previous time together (about two years prior to when the series occurs), the hour also deals with the present-day story of treating a PTSD-afflicted Irene, who has been held captive since she was abducted on the night she was revealing her first original work of art to Sherlock.
Or, that’s what she wants Sherlock to think.
Now, one of my consistent complaints with ‘Elementary’ is that it tends to telegraph the resolutions to its cases – that for a mystery show, the series does not deliver particularly compelling mysteries on a week-to-week basis. Depending on how you look at it, the finale either spoiled its own biggest reveal, or provided just enough clues for it to make sense to the audience.
I lean towards the former, though I’m sympathetic to the show’s attempts to give the audience an “ah ha!” moment prior to the reveal of Irene Adler as Moriarty.
First, the flashback where Sherlock notes Irene’s birthmarks felt ham-fisted. On a show that mostly operates broadly and tends not to pause its stories to provide character moments that don’t tie in to some larger plot, such a specific and seemingly pointless scene set off all kinds of alarm bells. Then when it’s called back in the present day, Holmes directly confronts Irene about being involved with Moriarty, and she leaves in a huff and makes some cryptic comments. This broaches the subject of Irene and Moriarty being linked, without the audience having to make that connection.
Note that at this point, the story of the last two episodes makes absolutely no sense – last week, Moriarty gave Holmes a case to solve, then rewarded him by revealing the location of Irene Adler. Why in the world would Moriarty do this voluntarily, only for Irene’s (fictional) keeper Mr. Stapleton to immediately come after her? Coupled with the assassin knowing exactly what room Irene was in, something was very clearly up.
The only possible explanation was that Irene either was Moriarty or was working very closely with him. With the other clues, even I, as someone who is generally bad at figuring stuff like this out, was able to conclude with a fair amount of certainty that Irene Adler was Moriarty prior to the actual reveal.
I wish ‘Elementary’ would have played its cards a little tighter to the vest and went for the big surprise reveal, rather than obviously (in my opinion) building up to it. There was no need for the birthmark scene, nor the subsequent fight between Sherlock and Irene. The obvious telegraphing of the moment spoiled it just a bit, at least for me.
Still, that’s probably too much complaining for what was overall a very good first hour of the finale. The episode moved at a brisk pace, felt suitably high stakes, and featured the usual excellent performance from Jonny Lee Miller as well as fantastic work by Natalie Dormer (WHAT UP MARGAERY FROM GAME OF THRONES!) as Irene/Moriarty.
The second hour, though? That’s when ‘Elementary’ kicked it up a few notches.
“Heroine” opens with Irene, now Moriarty, explaining how her plan unfolded to Sherlock (mostly for the benefit of the audience. Just call her Irene Exposition!). In his time working with Scotland Yard, Holmes foiled one too many of Moriarty’s schemes, so she planned to kill him. But upon researching him, she became fascinated with him and decided to study him up close. So she concocted the Irene Adler character, and lured him into a relationship. When she was done, she faked her death to incapacitate him emotionally, so her plans could resume unobstructed.
With that out of the way, the focus of the finale shifts from the introduction of Moriarty to figuring out and stopping her current plan.
It turns out to be a rather complex operation: Moriarty kidnaps the daughter of a Greek trader known as ‘The Narwhal’ and blackmails him into killing a famous Macedonian national. This will set off a chain of events that will deny Macedonia’s entry into the EU, thus squashing the country’s transition to the Euro, thus restoring the value of Macedonia’s current currency. And who just bought a lot of that currency at rock-bottom prices? Moriarty, that’s who.
It’s not exactly a Dr. Evil take-over-the-world style plot, but it accomplishes what it needs to accomplish. Mainly, the task of figuring out this plot coupled with the earth-shattering news about his former lover drives Sherlock Holmes to the brink of madness, and we see him appear to lose it and fall back into addiction once he fails to stop the assassination. Finally, after a season of talking about Holmes’ addiction without ever seeing him actually under the influence of drugs, we do see Holmes passed out with a needle next to his arm.
Moriarty visits Sherlock in the hospital, not just to gloat but to offer him a spot in her organization. Neither of Sherlock’s options at that point are any good: either he joins Moriarty and becomes a criminal, or rejects her and has to live with his personal and professional failures. For all intents and purposes, it appears Sherlock Holmes has lost.
I would actually have been fine with the finale ending here, although it would have been a somber note to end on. But ‘Elementary’ gave Holmes and Watson the victory they probably earned, and I can’t begrudge the show for that.
Turns out the overdose was staged, a plot developed by Watson to lure Moriarty into that hotel room, where she unthinkingly confessed to being involved in the assassinations and currency shenanigans. Holmes, still sober, was recording the conversation, which implicates Moriarty and will get her in a world of trouble.
Exactly how much trouble is left up in the air, though there’s no way the show can write Moriarty off (I suspect the decision to leave her situation undecided is related to Dormer’s availability, given her increasing prominence on ‘Game of Thrones’). Either way, it’s a satisfying and worthy ending to the season.
The final scene is a fitting one: Sherlock’s been breeding bees (of course he has), and informs Watson that he’s named an entirely new species of bee after her.
The Holmes/Watson relationship is probably the single biggest accomplishment of ‘Elementary’ season one. After a rocky start, the series smartly devoted a lot of effort to building its central relationship, and that paid off wonderfully not just in the finale, but throughout the much-improved second half of the season.
When ‘Elementary’ began, I compared it (a little derisively, I admit) to a cross between ‘The Mentalist’ (a show about a too-clever-for-his-own-good genius crime solver with a platanoic female partner) and ‘Criminal Minds’ (grim, dark, and mostly humorless). I’m pleasantly surprised that ‘Elementary’ has transcended both those shows, and in my opinion, become the best week-to-week crime procedural on CBS.
So while this two-hour finale may not have been perfect, it was interesting, fun, and transformative to the series. I’ll take it.