ELEMENTARY Recap: “While You Were Sleeping”

     October 4, 2012


If while watching Elementary you feel like certain elements are too familiar, you can thank (or curse) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for creating such an unforgettable character that we have kept remaking him in endless forms since his inception.  Sherlock is not a maverick detective, he is the maverick detective, yet his brilliance as a crime solver has become commonplace with so many procedurals made in various forms of dedication to him.  Last week I mentioned that what made the BBC’s Sherlock stand out was not just the strength of the acting and relationship between its stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, but the stylization of the series itself: the way it uses technology and visual display to not just recreate Sherlock Holmes but to bring something new to the “maverick detective” genre as a whole.

Though Elementary does have a great strong central relationship between Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu (and a blessedly asexual one), the show does little to distinguish itself from other Sherlock-esque copycat series.  Still, for now, it’s a bit of fun that could seemingly get better and better.  Hit the jump for the specifics, plus why it’s essential to distinguish between a dash and an ampersand.

elementary-imageFor a series like Elementary, the Case of the Week is important as it’s the show’s raison d’etre (and Sherlock’s, too).  A weak COTW (like last week) can be forgiven here and there, but while we do want to keep learning about our protagonists along the way, the main thing is the murder.  It’s what CBS has built its ratings and audiences on, and it’s what people like myself intuitively love (like the weird addiction to Top 10 lists, police procedurals are somehow deeply ingrained our subconscious — most of us simply cannot look away when presented with a whodunnit).

So last week, the COTW was little more than a distraction as we got to know Holmes and Joan, but this week it had a life of its own.  The twists are too twisty to recount, but they seem to have to be now that we viewers are so much wiser about investigations, and most fans of the genre have been weaned on enough Law & Orders and CSI shows to be able to guess most outcomes.  The only way to fool us now is to defy all possible sense, like with the coma-that-wasn’t this week.  In the end it came together (I suppose …) though the reveal was rushed through quickly before too many questions could really be asked.  The point was, the coma was fake and Holmes knew it without being able to prove it.  He was right, he always is — and, furthermore, he even incorporated his nemesis-turned-alley Detective Bell to assist in the deception that lead to the uncovering of the killer. Brilliant indeed.

Speaking of nemeses, one interesting piece missing from the Sherlock canon (besides Mycroft, so far unnamed, but believed to be Holmes’ father in this adaptation) is of course the presence of Moriarty.  So far Sherlock’s only foe is his past, the mysterious happenings in London for which he is doing penance, reasons unknown (though potentially tied into his rehab).  The return of his violin (his real violin, not the one he burned) seemed an important and difficult moment, and those sorts of clues will clearly be revealed slowly.  Elementary should be careful though not to make those reveals too painfully slow, because the reality will never live up to the hype.  Further, it creates an artificial narrative mountain that once we’ve scaled it we look around and say “so? What now?”

lucy-liu-jonny-lee-miller-elementaryThere are moments of Joan’s life peppered in here and there, too, but the idea of her being so distraught over losing one patient seems thin.  Hopefully there’s more to that story, too.  There’s the ex-boyfriend and her parents disapproval to consider but, again, like most Watsons the private life isn’t the interesting thing to us, it’s Watson’s relationship to Holmes and how Holmes dominates it and ruins it with everyone else (in the BBC’s Sherlock that’s shown through Watson’s endless rotation of girlfriends and everyone’s suspicions of the nature of his relationship with Sherlock, usually played for laughs at Watson’s expense, though with an underlying tenderness).

Johnny Lee Miller continues to be a great, messy, twitchy whirlwind to watch as Sherlock, much more in the Robert Downey, Jr vein than Cumberbatch or Basil Rathbone (so far).  He keeps Sherlock’s necessary maddening ways while making his brilliance believable (no clairvoyant baseball games this week).  Lucy Liu is a little more difficult to read as Joan, but the two have good chemistry that doesn’t translate as romantic, and hopefully won’t.  The joke about Joan being Holmes’ “valet” is so good because Watson in all incarnations of the Sherlock story really is a bit of a caretaker to the strange man.  The “sober companion” role that Joan plays here is also good in that it’s clunky enough to be typically Watson-esque, and additionally gives her some leverage over her strange ward.

Overall, the series continues to be worth watching, and despite a strong lead cast, it still seems to be struggling to define itself.   Also, a programming note: CBS will be skipping a week of momentum for its new series before bringing it back October 18th.

Episode Rating: B+

Musings and Miscellanea:

  • — As a violinist, it always irritates me to see actors portray playing the violin so utterly badly.  I loved that they never showed Holmes playing the violin in the episode, we just heard the music from it.
  • — “This side of my face is leathery from all of the slaps.  This other side?  Like a baby’s bottom …” — Holmes
  • — Loved Bell referring to Holmes as Harry Potter.
  • —  “Her coma is quite real” — Holmes.  Not exactly …
  • — Would Sherlock ever really wear a “good lookin” t-shirt?  I’m also curious about the tattoos, still feels out of character to me.
  • — Ha ha at Holmes calling group therapy an “addict festival.”
  • — Sure, that zipper mask is “for a friend” …
  • — Hopefully Gregson gets more of a personality too and not just as a yes man for Holmes.