CBS’s ‘Elementary’ stands on it’s own
Published: Sunday, October 6, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 6, 2013 22:10
Two years ago, the news that CBS greenlit a modern adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories was met with mass ridicule. The general consensus was that it would be another failed police procedure and that the casting of Lucy Liu as a gender and race-bent John Watson was a desperate gimmick to attract viewers. To make matters worse, devoted fans of the BBC version of Sherlock immediately decried the new show as a pale copy of their beloved show, which had ended its second season on a cliffhanger.
Despite its beleaguered beginning, “Elementary” soon proved to be an earnest and clever show (the finale of its first season in particular put the audience through an emotional and intellectual wringer). Eventually, even some Sherlock fans tired of waiting for a third season (which has inexplicably failed to materialize even now) began to admit that “Elementary” was a legitimate interpretation of Sherlock Holmes.
After a season premiere last week that sent Sherlock and Joan back to London and reconciled both the characters and the audience to the show’s source material, this week’s episode saw “Elementary” return to its procedural norm in New York City. The A plot of the episode centered on the murder of a mathematician, whose doodling can apparently solve a problem that will result in the breakdown of computer security everywhere. Despite this escalation of consequences, the main plot is wholly transparent and even the double reversal at the end is predictable.
The saving grace of this episode is the subplot. In a refreshing departure from the norm, it deals with Joan Watson’s backstory instead of the dissected events of Sherlock’s past. In the previous season, Sherlock’s more exciting past has overshadowed Joan’s story. However, the events of last season’s finale and this episode makes it clear that Watson is no longer going to be just a spectator.
For example, it is finally revealed exactly why Watson gave up her lucrative career as a surgeon. Previously, it was suspected that she had been sued for malpractice, but it turns out that she had resigned from her job after one of her patients died under her care. It is strongly implied that Joan had been close to her patient and still has some guilt issues. Those issues rear their head when she encounters the patient’s son Joey, who asks her for money.
The premise of this subplot isn’t original, but what is interesting is Joey does not blame Watson for his father’s death and his request for five thousand dollars stems more from desperation than from vengeance. In the end, Joan offers twenty thousand dollars with the condition that Joey uses it to go back to school and he refuses. The whole story is handled with the nuanced realism the main plot lacked. Though Joan has reached some level of reconciliation with Sherlock’s help, it is clear that emotionally she has a ways to go before she can truly forgive herself. These displays of understated humanity are what sets “Elementary” apart from other run-of-the-mill procedurals.