Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller, left), his new apprentice detective Kitty Winter (Ophelia Lovibond, center), and Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu, right) work out their issues while working on another ridiculously complicated murder mystery on this season’s premiere episode of Elementary, which aired this past Thursday night.
Warning: the usual alert about spoilers, although I’m not sure how much you can spoil the predictable and cliched.
Missed the final couple of episodes of last season’s Elementary. Apparently, something drove Holmes out of New York and back to London where he went to work for MI-6. I hope that means he went to work for Mycroft but that would mean that even more was revealed about Mycroft than had already been revealed which was that Mycroft wasn’t just the playboy restaurateur he had passed himself of as but was in reality an international man of mystery, a double and triple agent working for MI-6 instead of running it (as he would if he was really the 21st reincarnation of Conan Doyle’s Mycroft) or a rival but more secret intelligence agency (like his counterpart on Sherlock who is a 21st reincarnation of Conan Doyle’s Mycroft only dragged a hundred and twenty years into the future through a looking-glass so that his personality is inverted making him permanently irritable and disdainful of human beings of lesser intelligence, which is to say the entire human race including his younger brother, instead of easy-going and amused by other people’s inability to keep up). When last I saw Elementary’s Mycroft, he was working for MI-6 under duress. They had something on him and were making him do things that until all was revealed looked nefarious.
I’m guessing it turned out that what they were making him do was recruit his brother into coming to work for them. I don’t know if it also turned out that Mycroft had his supposed spymasters outfoxed and he was actually the spymasters’ spymaster. I could go back and catch up but I don’t care.
There’s no reason to care.
Holmes going to work as a spy could have provided a story arc for at least five or six episodes if not the entire new season. It may yet. There might be plans to tell us what happened in flashbacks. Whatever happened, though, happened. It’s all over. Holmes was fired or, more in character, he got himself fired after less than eight months on the job. (Eight months is how long he’s been away from New York. Sometime between being fired and coming back to the United States he had time to take on a new apprentice and make significant progress in training her. More about her in a bit.) He’s returned having said goodbye to all that and for all it appeared to matter in last night’s episode he might as well have been away on an extended vacation in Ibiza or mountain climbing in the Himalayas or wowing international audiences as a concert violinist under the name of Sigerson. Holmes’ adventures as a spy was just an excuse to have Watson and his friends on the police force mad at him.
Elementary has always been as much about relationships as it’s been about solving mysteries. So is Sherlock, but Sherlock’s writers tend to treat that as a source of comedy. Elementary’s view of life is therapeutic and it approaches people’s personal problems through the the methods and attitudes of group counseling, using the language of self-help. Individuals’ emotional needs are paramount and require constant looking after and relationships must be worked on continually.
Holmes and Watson have a lot to work on.
Watson took Holmes’ abrupt and unexplained departure personally. Instead of worrying that he might have been in trouble or considering that he had a life of his own to lead, she took the therapeutic view and saw the situation as being all about her and her needs. She made little if any attempt to find him or contact him to ask what was going on and see if he was all right. What she did was sulk. Now that he’s come back, she’s full of bottled up anger and resentment that she clearly expects him to understand and accept without her having to understand and accept what’s he’s been dealing with. For his part, he’s feeling guilty and embarrassed but also defensive---he has needs too, you know---and he expects her to understand and forgive him, without his having to understand her in return, so they can both move on. So he has to work on getting back in Watson’s good graces and she has to work on getting over the hurt and they both have to work on acting like grownups with each other.
They have so much to talk about.
Something else happened while he was gone that will cause emotional friction, as well.
With Holmes out of the picture, Watson has taken over the job of being Sherlock Holmes, much like how when Batman was dead and had to travel back to the land of the living through history and alternative universes Dick Grayson took over the job of being Batman.
It appears the NYPD has laid off or transferred all of its homicide detectives except Bell and the city is now entirely dependent on the former apprentice of an erratic, eccentric, and unreliable consultant to solve all its murders. Watson is so important and indispensible that she’s allowed to order Bell around. He’s her legman.
Continuing the producers’ not really feminist feminist idea that Watson can only be interesting if she’s not just Holmes’ equal but his equivalent as a detective. She might even be his superior because she knows how to work and play well with others. That she was a doctor, a brilliant surgeon, and therefore a trained observer and problem solver in her own right before she met Holmes has never mattered much to the show’s writers except as backstory. It’s their excuse for making her carry heavy psychological baggage that can be unpacked whenever they want to work in a dramatic subplot or stage an emotional confrontation between her and Holmes.
They’ve rarely taken advantage of the opportunity it gives them to show her living a useful, productive, successful, and grownup life of her own apart from Holmes.
I’ve never liked the way Watson’s been used as a junior detective. I’ve liked even less the consultant angle because it makes him and Watson something they’re decidedly not: cops.
The first fact about Sherlock Holmes is that he’s not at the beck and call of the police. He has set himself up in business as a private consulting detective. In Conan Doyle’s stories he’s insistent that he is not a creature of the official constabulary and he and Watson are rarely seen working directly for the police. Often, it’s the opposite, and they’ve got the police working for them. But most of their cases are brought to them by private individuals who for one reason or another have nowhere to turn except to Sherlock Holmes.
He’s a private eye.
All the adaptations I’ve ever seen---movies, TV, books---except Elementary have treated him as one and used the fact in building their plots. Either Holmes and Watson are working on a case that for one reason or another doesn’t or can’t involve the police or they’re working against the police or they’ve been dragged, reluctantly, into an official police investigation by special circumstances: the mystery is beyond the police’s ability to solve or in trying to solve it they would have to go outside their legal purview or their investigation is compromised by politics or personality.
Here in the early going of the 21st Century, private consulting detectives aren’t as necessary as alternatives to official law enforcement agencies as they might have been in the late 19th Century. Elementary’s producers may have thought it would have been stretching things to build twenty-two episodes a season around cases the victims didn’t want to involve the police in or the police weren’t interested in or that they were too stupid, too inept, too busy, or too far out of their depth to solve.
With only three episodes to work on every two or three years, the producers of Sherlock don’t have that problem. They’ve also been clever at implying the many other cases Holmes and Watson have worked on when we weren’t watching and leaving it up to our imaginations to fill in the details. But the producers of Elementary have to come up with a reason for their Holmes and Watson to be on a new case every week and it’s just easier to work it so that they’re on the case because they’re on the job.
(They’ve wisely rejected going the Murder, She Wrote route which was to have Jessica Fletcher always on hand to pitch in on solving the crime when a murder was committed, something that happened so often that cynical fans began amusing themselves with the theory that Jessica was the world’s most successful serial killer and especially brilliant at pinning her murders on other people. The Talented Mrs Fletcher.)
But in putting Holmes and Watson under contract to the police force, they didn’t have to make them quasi-cops in their attitudes and approaches to solving crime or imbue them with a TV cop show cop’s self-righteousness. Last night, after the crime’s been solved, Watson and Bell show up at the villain’s mansion and it’s Watson who announces, “You’re under arrest!” as authoritatively as McGarrett saying, “Book him, Danno!”and Bell doesn’t even give her the side-eye.
She’s in charge.
And she likes it.
She likes it for the authority it gives her, and that means both the professional and moral authority. She likes being able to tell Bell what to do and she likes being able to tell suspects off. Just like just about every TV cop these days, she’s a self-satisfied moral bully.
She isn’t aware of this about herself. Within the conventions of TV cop shows that would be tantamount to her being aware of herself as a fictional character. But within the limits of her consciousness, she enjoys the status and privileges that come with her job and she congratulates herself at every opportunity in a way we’re not meant to see as evidence of vanity: she’s just giving herself her due. And, naturally, with Holmes back in town she’s worried it’s all going to be taken away from her, along with her independence and her newfound sense of self-worth and identity, and just as naturally she can’t help suspecting that Holmes has returned deliberately to take it all away from her. And maybe, subconsciously, he has.
So they have that to work on.
And as if they don’t have enough issues to talk about, there’s that apprentice.
Holmes’ new protégé is a sullen young Brit named Kitty Winter, which sounds like somebody started to give her a name like a Bond Girl but thought better of it at the last minute before the camera rolled. [Note: Since I wrote this, I’ve learned where her name comes from, and I’m chagrined. See the update at the bottom of the post.] The actress playing her does have a name like a Bond Girl. Ophelia Lovibond. But Kitty herself is not like a Bond Girl, except in being potentially violent and deadly. Despite her name, she’s not a sex kitten, but she does have cat-like reflexes and speed and, possibly, a cat’s killer instinct. It looks like she’s being set up to be Holmes and Watson’s personal ninja. Ken Mannion calls her the new Robin.
He doesn’t mean that as a good thing.
He’s talking about the second Robin. Jason Todd.
Todd, who came along after Dick Grayson outgrew his role as sidekick and set off to have a grownup life on his own on his way to becoming Nightwing, was reckless, headstrong, impulsive, and full of issues he refused to work on. His short tenure as Robin did not end well.
Going by what we’ve seen of Kitty, Holmes is a lousy judge of character when it comes to picking apprentices. (He didn’t pick Watson. She forced him to take her on as junior detective after she’d proven her mettle as his “sober companion”.)Kitty is talented, brilliant, and a quick-study but impulsive, impatient, and full up to her pout with backstory. And she’s too much like him. She resents authority, thinks awfully highly of her own talents and skills, and is not the type who works and plays well with others. She has to work on that, and he, because she’s very young, practically still a teenager by the looks of her, almost young enough to be his daughter, has been put in the position of surrogate father, a role, thanks to his troubled relationship with his bully of a father, he has no idea how to play except by being a demanding bully himself. He has to work on his parenting skills. Watson, meanwhile, is jealous, so she needs to work on that along with her other issues.
Issues and more issues. They all need to talk, and, I’m afraid, they probably will, ad nauseam.
As for the plot of last night’s episode, it was to typical of the show, another bizarre and ridiculously complicated murder mystery that Holmes solves not through observation and deduction but by having read ahead in the script. As has been too often the case, when after the who, how, and why are explained, instead of exclaiming “Oh, I should have thought of that!” we groan, “Oh, come on!”
At least the onscreen body count was lower than usual, with the murders being investigated having been committed before the opening credits. Two additional murders take place off camera.
Still, there’s potential in the new arrangements.
At the end of the episode, Holmes has gotten his job back with the NYPD. He’s not taken on to replace Watson or to partner with her, though. He’s re-hired as an additional consultant. Like I said, there’s no one else around to investigate murders besides Holmes, Watson, and Bell. There appears to be a move to privatize the homicide unit but on a shoestring. Holmes and Watson will be working on separate cases. This means, if the writers know what they’re doing, every case doesn’t have to be sensational, every case doesn’t have to be a murder, and every case doesn’t have to be an opportunity to prove to us that Sherlock Holmes is the world’s greatest detective. Cases can be interesting for the same reasons they’re interesting in Conan Doyle’s stories, because they present Holmes and Watson with an interesting problem to solve or because they involve interesting characters---up to now, Elementary has not been good at introducing characters who are just there because they’re interesting as human beings as opposed to as plot devices---or because they are a way into an interesting story---Conan Doyle often used Holmes and Watson to frame romances and adventure tales that really didn’t need their presence except as lures to readers who might have skipped stories without them. And some cases can be just for fun. They can be comic.
So I’ll keep tuning in hopefully for a while to see if that happens.
And to watch Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes.
He’s not my favorite Sherlock Holmes, even if he happens to look like my boyhood ideal of Sherlock Holmes, but he is a Sherlock Holmes.
A fan’s got to take what a fan can get.
It’s still two years before we get the next series of Sherlock.
Updated with more data: Reader Craig Moffit, a fan of Conan Doyle and Elementary, stopped by in the comments to let me know where the name Kitty Winter came from, which made me feel like Watson after Holmes explained one of his deductions, that is, like an idiot. In my defense, “The Illustrious Client” was never one of my favorite stories, and so it isn’t one I re-read when I get on one of my yearly Sherlock Holmes kicks. But Craig’s right. It’ll be interesting to see how much Conan Doyle’s Kitty and Elementary’s have in common.