The format changes up a bit this week by showing us exactly who the killer is right off the bat, and it’s perennial TV staple Alicia Witt! You know, the redhead from Friday Night Lights. And Justified. And Law & Order. And The Mentalist. And House of Lies. And Ally McBeal. Okay, you get the picture, she’s been in a lot of stuff. But she’s a killer here! And a really petty one, too, but definitely in keeping with Elementary‘s tradition of its killers being evil rich people. Here, she plays the worst kind of evil rich person: the entitled coattail rider. Bleagh. Anyway, Joan’s back at the Brownstone and Sherlock is reluctant to embrace her return fully, worried she may be merely running back to safe territory in the wake of the events of last week. The important thing to take away from this, however, is that Clyde’s parents have gotten back together and now he won’t have to grow up in a broken home. Or terrarium. Whichever.
There’s a bit of screenwriting wisdom that says when spinning a mystery yarn you should never let your audience know more than your protagonist. It has the odd effects of taking all the urgency out of a story and also making your heroes look like idiots for not putting the pieces together sooner. Instead of hanging on every new clue, every word spoken, every peripheral detail, the audience just taps its collective foot and thinks to itself, “Gah, this is so stupid, the killer is obviously _____! Why can’t you figure this out?!” The truth of the matter is that the protagonists probably aren’t doing anything different than they would normally, but Joe Q. Couchsurfer doesn’t care because it’s the narrative equivalent of watching someone take an hour to prove a math problem they told you the answer to already. While the genre Elementary exists in is the procedural, there isn’t much engagement when the narrative is literally just describing police procedure. If you’re looking for a good single-serving cinematic offering that commits this sin, go check out the Sandra Bullock crime drama, Murder by Numbers, and you too can be bored for two hours instead of one. Alternately, David Fincher’s movie Zodiac tries to subvert this problem by instead focusing on the case itself, he tells the story of how the detectives’ inability to conclusively solve the case affects their personal lives; at that point, it’s not about finding who the killer is, it’s an examination of the existential damage that can occur when dedication turns into obsession, and when having answers isn’t good enough if it doesn’t change anything.
Alicia Witt’s character was, despite being yet another in this program’s enduring crusade against the affluent Caucasians of the Empire State, a deviation from the mold typically offered here — in many ways, she’s much more loathsome. She’s a spendthrift heiress who we find out didn’t even go to school, and she’s willing to construct a complicated scheme of deception and murder simply to maintain the lifestyle to which she was accustomed to prior to her late husband’s infirmary, and later, death. Most of Elementary‘s villains and villainesses are guilty of avarice, but most of them at least have the moral saving of being hardworking individuals prior to their decisions to engage in criminal conduct; the killers often take the form of high-powered white-collar types looking to angle a bigger score. They’re bad people, but at least they’re putting in the effort. This week’s loathsome perp is little more than a life-long leech, lampreying along from host to host in oblivious, self-centered monovision, content as long as others are providing for her. The show uses the right term to describe the nauseating reality she lives in: she thinks she deserves her affluence, and she’s willing to kill for it. So, so gross.
Unfortunately, the follow-up in the B-plot for Joan and Sherlock isn’t as electric as last week’s final minutes may have suggested, and while Andrew’s death is referenced a few times, Joan doesn’t mention Irene’s letter to her partner, and I have to wonder if that’s purposeful. Our boy tends to lose focus when his old flame pops up, and with everything going on with Joan and Andrew and Kitty, maybe dear Dr. Watson is trying to save him some grief for the time being. I hardly think it’s not going to come up again. Instead, however, we are treated to Sherlock soft-padding Joan’s return to the Brownstone, concerned that she may be making big choices as a defense mechanism against the recent tragedies, to which she responds, “Yeah, maybe . . . and?” which is a fair point, actually, so stop being a jerk, Sherlock. Homegirl just went through some serious business, so maybe staying in a familiar place with a close friend is what she needs right now, ya think? Stop being so disaffected for a minute, ya big doofus. The episode closes with the two partners finding a way to live in a separated-but-commingled relationship, as Joan takes over the basement to renovate and use as her office for her own cases (so apparently she’s still doing that?) but resumes her old quarters above in the Brownstone. Everything old is new again.
I’ll keep waiting for Irene to show up again, as something tells me its right on the horizon, but in the meantime we’ll all have to hold tight for a couple of weeks, as Elementary goes dark next week. In the meantime, friends, try not to freeze to death. I’ll see y’all when we return!