Home > TV and anime > Elementary: Season 1, Episode 17. Possibility Two. (2013)

Elementary: Season 1, Episode 17. Possibility Two. (2013)

Elementary poster

There are slightly more spoilers than usual in this review. You may prefer to watch the episode before reading this review.

Well it seems we now have a new game to play and, to be honest, I’m not entirely convinced it’s a positive development. To understand the scriptwriters’ problem, we need to go back to the beginning. Arthur Conan Doyle prescribed that, for most of the series, there be a single household containing Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Dr John Watson (although he did get married and find other reasons not to be around all the time). Hence, in strict canonical conformity, we’ve now arrived at a point in our subversive modern version with Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) formally enrolled as a member of the team. The only feature we’re missing in this New York brownstone is a Mrs Hudson (although presumably we have a turtle named Clyde lurking comfortably somewhere in a drawer — see The Red Team). So the first sixteen episodes have played with our expectations as to how this unlikely pairing will seal the deal. Now that’s all behind us, the scriptwriters must decide how to fill the time gap. They could produce more interesting and complicated crimes for Holmes to solve with Watson’s help. That would be a major statement of intent and reassure us that, in the final analysis, the program makers are interested in a Rolls Royce series of high-class investigations. The second possibility (sic) would be to keep on with modest mysteries and find something else which which to distract us — a much less desirable option.

In Elementary: Season 1, Episode 17. Possibility Two. (2013) we have a client referred by [Reginald] Musgrave (he of Ritual fame in the Memoirs). He’s been diagnosed with an hereditary condition except there’s no history of the condition in his family. Perhaps surprisingly, one of his delusions is that, “someone has done this to him”. OK so this is the science fiction episode. We’ve moved into a new technological age where scientists can design molecules that, when ingested by humans, give them [the symptoms of] an incredibly rare genetic disorder. There’s another marginally more likely scientific development thrown in later, but the damage has already been done. If you remember the famous quote, “When you have eliminated the impossible. . .” Sadly, the scriptwriters decided to introduce the impossible and let Holmes deduce the existence of stuff that doesn’t exist. Worse, the entire murder plot is actually complicated. Perhaps I lost concentration but I’m still not sure who killed the chauffeur. I suppose it must have been the demented client who just didn’t remember. I think it would have made for a better ending if the dynamic duo had been to see him, even if only to hold his hand while telling his uncomprehending body they had worked out who killed his mind. Then there was the whistle-blowing geneticist. We cracked that case. What happened to the Norwegian who had bought the royal estate he could not afford? And all this stuff about the family of the client came to nothing. I could go on but you should get the message that there was enough in there for at least two episodes but it all flashed by with such speed, we were not supposed to see how weak it was in the telling. There are red herrings and clues that go nowhere with everything stitched up at the end.

Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) now formally a partnership

Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) now formally a partnership

The rest of the time, we had Holmes encouraging Watson to develop her own deductive skills. In strict terms, this is anti-canonical. Every attempt the original Watson made to think his way out of a paper bag ended in misunderstandings and confusion. The only thing he could do efficiently was accurately report what people said to him. Holmes would then interpret this in his unique way. We have to remember that this Watson is presented as a highly professional surgeon with an above-average level of technical skill. Yet to encourage her to compete with Holmes is a little daring. Indeed, in this episode, she does conduct her own investigation and gets a result. Perhaps this series will have to be retitled Holmes and Watson Investigate. Personally I’m not sure I want to see Watson endlessly humiliated, i.e. every time she gives an incorrect or only half-right analysis, Holmes publicly explains what she’s missed and where she’s gone wrong. In the earlier episodes, part of the fun was Watson inadvertently helping either by a casual remark based on her specialised knowledge or by being herself. Frankly I can’t think of anyone less well suited to be a teacher than this Holmes. He’s a deeply sexist, patronising, intellectual bully. The only virtue is that his inability to relate successfully with those around him gives him a position of isolated objectivity from which to assess the world. Trying to force this Watson into a new worldview threatens to be painful to watch as she will almost certainly fail to measure up to his high standards. The test case was faintly ludicrous as two men lay dead with a gun between them. The answer featured some tortured thinking in the style that reminds me of the old riddles, e.g. a man is found hanging from the ceiling in a room locked from the inside with no furniture, etc.

In the usual slightly jokey way, we have Holmes seduced by a solitary bee and Watson struggling with the need to hit the dummy with a big stick. As a final thought, there was absolutely no reference to addiction or meetings in this episode. Now that Holmes has his Watson, is he cured? Worse, there was little or no emotional development in the relationship between the new partners. They seemed exactly the same as in previous episodes. I was hoping they might be more comfortable together. Inspector Gregson (Aidan Quinn) and Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill) put in their usual token appearances. Put all this together and Elementary: Possibility Two was a poor episode.

For the reviews of other episodes, see:
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 1. Pilot (2012)

Elementary: Season 1, Episode 2. While You Were Sleeping (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 3. Child Predator (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 4. The Rat Race (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 5. Lesser Evils (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 6. Flight Risk (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 7. One Way to Get Off (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 8. The Long Fuse (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 9. You Do It To Yourself (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 10. The Leviathan (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 11. Dirty Laundry (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 12. M (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 13. The Red Team (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 14. The Deductionist (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 15. A Giant Gun, Filled With Drugs (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 16. Details (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 18. Déjà Vu All Over Again. (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 19. Snow Angel. (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 20. Dead Man’s Switch. (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 21. A Landmark Story. (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 22. Risk Management. (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episodes 23 & 24. The Woman and Heroine. (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 1. Step Nine. (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 2. Solve For X (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 3. We Are Everyone (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 4. Poison Pen (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 5. Ancient History (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 6. An Unnatural Arrangement (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 7. The Marchioness (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 8. Blood Is Thicker (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 9. On the Line (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 10. Tremors (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 11. Internal Audit (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 12. The Diabolical Kind (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 13. All in the Family (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 14. Dead Clade Walking (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 15. Corps de Ballet (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 16. One Percent Solution (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 17. Ears to You (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 18. The Hound of the Cancer Cells (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 19. The Many Mouths of Andrew Colville (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 20. No Lack of Void (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 21. The Man With the Twisted Lip (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 22. Paint It Black (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 23. Art in the Blood (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 24. The Great Experiment (2014).

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  1. February 25, 2013 at 1:20 am

    I agree. In the beginning, Holmes and Watson had an interesting chemistry based on their conflict (her goal to be a good Sober Companion and his disgust and impatience at having one), and Watson stood her own when clues entered her field of expertise. Based on this beginning and actual Holmes canon, I had anticipated developments that kept this original dynamic somewhat intact while bringing them closer to the original story’s living arrangements.

    For example: Holmes’ father cuts off all support of Holmes, but Watson uses her savings to buy the brownstone and turn the bottom floor into a GP clinic. She allows Holmes to remain in his own rooms so long as he remains sober, and, with a slow medical practice, has time to follow Holmes around since she finds his work so fascinating. Mrs. Hudson could have been Watson’s practice manager.

    Or something else, but certainly not this. I will continue to watch developments, but right now I’m writing it off as a failed experiment at reimagining the Great Detective.

    • February 25, 2013 at 2:08 am

      There have been patches where the chemistry between this Holmes and Watson clicked and/or the investigation was classy, but the overall trend now seems confirmed as doomed to fail. I think the problem is the need to produce so many episodes in such a short period of time (two more episodes were added to the schedule when the commission was confirmed). It’s just too difficult to keep the level of invention high when you have to write and shoot the shows under pressure. Even the six episode British Sherlock failed with the rehash of the Bound of the Haskervilles although the general standard has been good to excellent. I suppose I’ll watch this to the end of the season but it’s becoming a bit of a chore.

  2. February 25, 2013 at 5:12 am

    Well put, David.

    It is nearly impossible to deliver 20+ plus episodes of consistently high quality.

    Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat were smart enough to give us 3 episodes a season deal.
    I like their show especially for the Canonical References.

    As to Elementary, I agree with you: It is becoming a bore to sit through the episodes. The Bee Canonical nod has been overused. Even the single stick has been used twice.
    Can’t see this show becoming a classic Holmes adaptation, from the way things are progressing.

    B2B.

    • February 25, 2013 at 10:04 am

      In recent years, the only first season that managed to maintain a reasonably good standard of mysteries with an interesting narrative arc was Monk but, as is always the case, it slowly died from the second season on as the pressure to come up with new ideas proved too much and the characters failed to develop sufficiently. The limitation to only 45 minutes or so of running time further trivialises the plots. This latest plot idea, for all its SFnal imperfections, could easily have been spread over two or three episodes showing a detailed investigation. We don’t need to go back to the Steven Bochco days of Murder One spread over forty one episodes. That has audience access problems which limit the number of new people joining the series as word-of-mouth spreads. But consistently allocating, say, three episodes for each mystery would give time to show Holmes at work and give the scriptwriters the opportunity to allow proper character development (including the token police officers).

  3. GaryL
    March 6, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    I’m watching Elementary because I like detective mysteries, not because I want to see a “Canonical Holmes and Watson” TV show. Even in its current format, it’s still better than most TV cop shows (I don’t like CSI, NCSI, Law and Order etc). It’s at least as good as Monk or “the Mentalist”. Anyway, I expect there to be some “loose ends”. I’m happy so long as there’s some original idea or mystery to emerge from an episode. Yes, it would have been nice for them to have resolved the chauffeur killing however it wasn’t the main mystery.

    Also, how can you claim that a poison that induces a medical condition that mimics a rare genetic disease is in the same category of “impossible things” as say Black Magic, Ghosts or Hounds from Hell when there are plenty of examples where “man made” substances induce genetic mutations leading to rare forms of cancer or leukemia etc. Watson’s stick molecule explanation of enzymes disrupting the zzz gene sounded plausible to me (says me, tongue in cheek). Anyway “medically impossible events” happen all the time on “House, M.D.” and no-one complains about them.

    • March 7, 2013 at 1:06 am

      I would not disagree with you if this was a free-standing show but it’s advertising itself as being about “the” Sherlock Holmes, albeit brought forward in time and given a female Dr Watson. In a more extreme vein, I have no problem with Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century with a female Lestrade. The whole point of transposing the character to different times and different settings is to watch how the great mind works. So, by definition, we’re being canonical, borrowing plots and quoting from the original stories. As it happens, I agree with you about NCIS and the multiple Law & Order series except for Law & Order: Criminal Intent. I thought Vincent D’Onofrio was impressive. Most of these canned shows are superficial and rather tedious.

      As to this particular episode, I would have no problem if the poison mimicked the symptoms of a genetic disease, but the experts perform genetic marker tests which confirm the condition. This is not a case of what we might call a chameleon poison, hiding itself by pretending to be a heart attack or some disease. This substance induces a real change in the genetic make-up of the individual and is therefore science fiction. It’s the same with the modification of the blood to give a particular identity. As to House MD, this is ludicrous science with tests performed on demand and instant results suggesting often completely implausible sets of medical conditions. The only thing that makes the series watchable is the performance of Hugh Laurie and even that paled after the first season.

  4. GaryL
    March 7, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Yes, I liked Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal even though I only watched Criminal Intent ocassionally.

    Yes, I don’t like the way the show was (and is being) promoted as a “modern take on the Holmes” legend. It’s a recipe that will disappoint fans of the Conan Doyle stories. Personally, I like the Basil Rathbone/ Nigel Bruce B movies more than the endless lame retellings of “Hound of the Baskervilles” or “Sign of Four”.

    I can imagine a “gene splicing enzyme” poison that inserts fake DNA sequences at specific locations in the DNA … at least one good enough to fool the “gene marker” tests used to diagnose the rare genetic disease … although it would probably kill the victim straight away. It’s just as plausible as the disolvable knife that I saw in an Ellery Queen episode. You’re not supposed to think about it for too long.

    Anyway, fooling a crime scene “gene marker” blood test is more within the realm of “do-ability” … it’s just that our current gene splicing techniques are like doing brain surgery with stone knives, however, since scientists can create artificial molecules with nanotechnology (moving individual atoms around) then it isn’t too much of a stretch to envisage someone manipulating DNA sequences as if they were Photoshop-ing a fake UFO photo.

    • March 8, 2013 at 12:45 am

      I quite like the ideas behind the Rathbone/Bruce series but the acting style and pacing are so much of the period that I find them almost unwatchable today (for the record, I last tried about three years ago and gave up after twenty minutes or so). I actually paid to watch some of them in the cinema. Although I missed out on the early ones as propaganda, some of the later ones turned up as second features in our local cinema during the early 1950s. Even then I found them cringeworthy. They ran them all as a series on British television in the 1960s so I’ve seen them all. I thnk the most successful “modern” approach was Ben Kingsley as the great detective in Without a Clue. The other rather different take is the manga and anime series Meitantei Conan. Although they draw as much on Arsène Lupin as Sherlock Holmes, most of the anime episodes are fun in an undemanding way although I have only watched about one hundred or so of them. There are nearly seven hundred altogether plus films. You should try dipping into them if you enjoy mystery stories. Here’s a dubbed version of the first episode: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6taBHuicyAo

  5. GaryL
    March 8, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Thanks for the link to Meitantei Conan. I couldn’t watch “Closed case” (there’s a block that stops me from watching it from Australia), however I was able to watch a bit of movie 6, “the Phantom of Baker St”. The makers don’t mind “borrowing” stuff from famous American movies, eg. there’s a character named “Thomas Schindler, Tsar of IT” who looks very much like Liam Neeson. Looks interesting. Certainly beats “Tom and Jerry meet Sherlock Holmes”.

    • March 8, 2013 at 4:03 pm

      As I said, Conan is not intended seriously but, in bite-sized instalments, it’s enjoyable. And, yes, it borrows from everywhere and anywhere even vaguely relevant to mysteries and their solutions — that’s mostly why it’s fun. Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century is more serious (insofar as anything animated can be serious). Here’s the first episode: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxmoOUsZzOs

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