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Friday 19 October 2012

Elementary 1x03: Child Predator

Previously: Elementary 1x02: While You Were Sleeping.

The opening scene of this episode was so dire that I was straight-up boggling at the screen. A twelve-year-old gets into a car with a strange man, who then leaves "THANK YOU" balloons behind as a taunting gift for the kid's parents? WHAT. First of all, this is cheesy as hell, but also it doesn't make sense once we know that the boy has the emotional intelligence to begin manipulating his captor almost immediately, and within two years is masterminding his own crimes. Our society is so riddled with paranoia about child abduction and paedophiles that the "get into my van" narrative is something that children are warned about from a very young age, making this episode's opening scene rather difficult to believe. I realise that putting it this way does sound somewhat like victim-blaming, like smart kids "shouldn't" get kidnapped, but considering the characters involved I feel like it's a fair point.
It would have made more sense if the writers had implied that Adam had shown signs of psychopathy even as a child, and that he might have "allowed" himself to be abducted out of curiosity. There was already some hint of that in the form of Adam saying he enjoyed seeing his grieving parents on TV, but it was never really followed through. Either you can have a manipulative teenage genius serial-killer who forces an adult man to be his accomplice, or can you have a character who at the age of twelve is naiive enough to get into the car of a complete stranger in a scene that seemed like it was lifted directly from a PSA video. I just don't think that they can plausibly be the same person, even allowing for the effects of trauma.

The crime stories in the first two episodes of Elementary were kind of so-so, but 1x03 made me think that there's a real Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde thing going on when it comes to the writing in this show. On the one hand we have the witty, thoughtful writer who deal with all the Holmes/Watson scenes and drops e e cummings references into the dialogue, and on the other we have the cliche-dependent moron who writes the crime subplots using some kind of CBS-affiliated Random Crime Generator.
Aside from the general sense of mediocrity, my main impression of the crime-writing in Elementary is that it belongs in a crime show from at least fifteen years ago. It seems superfluous for Holmes to explain that he likes to bounce his ideas off someone, because anyone anyone who watches crime TV (ie, most of the audience) already knows how this type of show works. The main character is some kind of maverick genius detective, and the sidekick is there so he has someone to talk to. It's the basic Sherlock Holmes formula, seen in everything from House MD to Psych to Monk. So even though I enjoy every Joan/Sherlock scene and I liked the insight we got into Holmes' lonely life in London, I feel like this type of exposition just highlights the absense of any substantial writing regarding Holmes' deduction methods. Having the main character in a show like this spend an entire scene explaining that he needs someone to bounce his ideas off is akin to the main character in a new CSI-style show spending half of the first episode explaining what fingerprints are.
There weren't enough Joan-centric scenes this week to see much of how the Holmes/Watson relationship is progressing, but I'm still absolutely loving their dynamic. I've written before about how impressed I am with this show's willingness to break away from the "asshole genius" archetype, but not only does Holmes apologise to Watson when it's warranted, he apologises well. Maybe this is a weird thing to pick up on, but well-written, heartfelt apologies aren't something you see on TV unless it's regarding something really major and emotionally frought. In a similar vein, Holmes thanks Watson for her help in a very direct and genuine way, which you don't see very often either. Apologising for minor slights doesn't usually make good television unless the show is aimed at very young children, but I think it works really well in this context because in many ways, this version of Holmes is quite childlike. The only other show I can think of where the characters regularly make sincere, specific expressions of gratitude or apology is Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is aimed at children and has significantly better writing than pretty much anything else on TV.
I don't know whether I want Holmes' Anders Larssen to be real or not. It's all too believable for an upper-class English character like Holmes to have been utterly warped by his experiences in boarding school, but I'm not so sure if I'm happy with the possibility that this ties into the earlier hints that he's a masochist. But that's still just conjecture at this point. Based on what we know from the previous two episodes it does seem like the Anders Larssen story is true, though -- whatever that means to the present-day Holmes. In all three episodes so far Holmes has solved the case thanks to his ability to empathise: first for the mentally ill stalker who was preyed upon by his psychiatrist, then for the drug-addicted private detective who leaks information to Holmes and the police, and now for the perpetrator himself.
Costume-wise, this episode brings sweet, sweet validation to my theory that Holmes doesn't give two shits about what he looks like. Not only do we hear him state that showering is a low priority (a stark contrast to the BBC's eternally well-coiffed Sherlock), there's a scene where he literally did not notice whether he was wearing a shirt or not. Which was actually kind of impressive considering the fact that it seems to be autumn in New York. In the first couple of episodes it was cold enough that everyone was bundled up in sweaters and scarves, but maybe the heating in Holmes' apartment is just really good?
Holmes' comments about his personal hygeine and fashion sense helped me pinpoint what it is that I love so much about Jonny Lee Miller's appearance. It's that unlike most actors on mid-level American TV, he looks like an actual human being who is made from cells that deteriorate and die. Compared to Lucy Liu, a 43-year-old elf with flawless skin who may or may not be immortal in real life, Jonny Lee Miller looks positively decrepit. He has wrinkles, and fluffy hair, and when Watson says to him, "you look tired," he actually looks tired. Do you have any idea how often you get scenes on TV and in movies where someone says "you look like shit" and the other character is played by a world-class beauty with nothing more than slightly messy hair and a hangdoc expression? I find it kind of amusing that the only other well-known character who looks this "bad" is Hugh Laurie's Gregory House, strongly implying that America has to outsource to the UK for middle-aged actors who haven't had a facelift yet. (Unfortunately there will never be an equivalent female character to these guys because that would require a woman to go on TV with unshaven legs, and that's illegal.)
Since I apparently can't stop myself from making comparisons between Elementary and BBC Sherlock, here's my thought for this week: Elementary Holmes is a better scientist than Sherlock. I don't mean in the sense that he exhibits more scientific knowledge, because BBC Sherlock is still superior when it comes to classic Holmesian deductions, but Elementary Holmes does seem like far more of an enthusiast and a purist. Basically, he's more devoted to the Scientific Method than Sherlock ever can be, and this all boils down to ego. One of BBC Sherlock's most commented-upon characteristics is the way he appears to care more about being right than he does about human suffering, which is why it's so easy for Moriarty to convince everyone that Sherlock is a sociopath and a fraud. Jonny Lee Miller's Holmes differs from this in two ways: he's already far more emotionally sensitive than Sherlock, and he seems to take genuine pleasure in Joan teaching him new things and helping him develop his own methods. While John and Sherlock's relationship is more intense than Joan and Holmes', Sherlock can be incredibly condescending towards John. John's role in BBC Sherlock is to humanise Sherlock, and to a certain extent that happens, but Sherlock still doesn't empathise freely the way JLM's Holmes does, because Sherlock's self-image is so tied up in the belief that he's set apart from the rest of humanity.

  • Disappointed by the lack of BEES.
  • Disappointed by the lack of VIOLIN.
  • Angus the phrenology skull is a prop from House's office in House, MD. Head writer/producer Peter Blake (co-writer of this episode of Elementary) stole it from the set when the show was wrapping up.
  • "From a drop of water a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other." -- I loved this ACD quote, just dropped casually into dialogue. Happily, JLM's Holmes has the correct voice and inflection for this to work as something he'd actually say.
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  1. Idle crossover wishes: Richard Castle and/or J.B. Fletcher. Just saying. ^^

  2. DevilinaCardigan19 October 2012 at 12:31

    I agree with you about the crime side of the series lacking something. I don't really care about that half of the show anyway, though. I'd be happy if they just got rid of the cases (or pushed them way to the background) and gave us 45 minutes of Watson and Holmes walking around the city, eating take out, snarking at one another and tending the bees every week.

  3. The pyscho kid thing was kind of out of left field and what not but the actor (Johnny Simmons AKA Young Neil from Scott Pilgrim) did a great way of selling the hell out of it. It reminded me of when we all saw John Lithgow in Dexter be terrifying and suddenly you couldn't look at him the same way only to a lesser extreme.

  4. This show reminds me of Castle in that the cases are shit but you watch for the characters.

  5. Agreed -- Young Neil did the bait and switch incredibly well!

  6. Sure, yes, he looked tired, but goddamn, did you see that man's musculature in the scene where he forgot he was shirtless? He has those devil's horns on his hips that, in the immortal words of Kat Dennings as Max in 2 Broke Girls, "make smart girls dumb".

  7. i think this show will probably hold my interest longer than castle, unless it gets super terrible, though.

  8. Man, I am there with you re: the crimewriting in this series so far. I'm so happy with how Holmes and Joan have been written, but the story...sigh. And absolutely to the "fifteen-years-old" idea with how they're explaining things. I kept questioning the police's/Holmes's actions simply because I've seen enough procedurals.

    (For instance: The genders of the abducted children were never discussed. At all. I kept trying to keep track of the names, but.)

    Anyway, I'm hoping that part will get better as the series moves away from the pilot.

  9. To be fair about him getting in the car he did know the guy.

  10. Strange question for anyone here: does anyone have any idea what kind of jacket Jonny is wearing in this episode? The grayish one with the small lapels. My almost 17 y/o son loves it & is bugging me to figure it out! I appreciate any info anyone has!

  11. I come from Taiwan,I love This and Sherlock !
    But I can't speak English,can't show my notion...
    BUT I agree you!!!