Home > TV and anime > Elementary: Season 1, Episode 6. Flight Risk (2012)

Elementary: Season 1, Episode 6. Flight Risk (2012)

Elementary poster

As I have commented in other reviews, the need to cram plot into a confined space leads to often intractable problems for the scriptwriters. There are two basic ways to mitigate the damage (assuming the advertisers care, of course). The first is to work on the basis that simple is beautiful. The script never calls for any complexity. The cast is kept to a minimum and as little as possible happens. That way, a potentially elegant story may be told. Of course, it’s equally possible no real story is told and the few characters have to talk too much to fill in the time. Swords cut both ways (and have a pointy end). The alternative strategy means you rotate the featuring roles in each episode. Everyone gets their turn in the sun with more screen time and a better written part for that week. That, of course, runs alongside one fairly pervasive phenomenon. The majority of television shows and films are written by, produced by, directed by, and feature men. This institutionalises sexism. Most “stars” are men with women in the support roles. The scripts tend to give the men more interesting things to do and better dialogue. In the first episodes of Elementary, the token woman as sidekick was given very little time. Yes, there were moments she had to shine, but it was not until episode 4 that we saw some life in her. I was beginning to think this show was also racist. There are four regular cast members. A Brit, an American man, an Asian-American woman and an African American. Jonny Lee Miller, a Brit, is there because the British are cheap and work for less money than American actors. Lucy Liu is there because she’s distinctive and gives the show a better racial and gender balance. Aidan Quinn has gravitas as a senior police officer. But Jon Michael Hill is seen only in the background and has almost nothing to say. He’s a token presence. This has been reinforcing the stereotype that African Americans rarely get into the starring roles and, in their representation of real-world jobs, rarely shine. Frankly it’s a disgrace we should have to wait until episode 6 to see this actor get a chance. I expected better from an America that declared itself post-racial after electing Barack Obama as president (twice).

Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller ), Joan ( Lucy Liu) , Gregson (Aidan Quinn) and Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill) get more equal billing

Anyway, in narrative terms, poor Jon Michael Hill is on a complete loser. Even with a fair wind behind him, he’s the sidekick of the token NYPD officer. That makes him the gofer with no more brains than is required to get the right snack from the machine in the corridor outside the interview room. At best, he comes in to announce a fact or to stand beside the token officer while the latter fails to get a confession from the suspect. So in Flight Risk, he gets to be Holmes’s sidekick while Watson goes off to meet Holmes’s father. This means he actually gets into the foreground a couple of times. He never gets to say anything intelligent (he’s the sidekick who has no special skills), but at least he’s more visible this time round. In this, Watson is better equipped with medical knowledge and can correct Holmes when he sees a photograph of a suspect. Holmes sees an old pager on the man’s belt. Watson sees an insulin pusher on the belt of a diabetic. Years of training as a doctor were not wasted on her.

Roger Rees doing a good turn as a Brit in New York

Ironically, the best role of the night goes to Roger Rees, a classically-trained Brit actor who manages to do multiple accents in this episode, none of them very convincing. This follows the general rule that, if you’re gong to spring enough cash for foreign talent, you should get your money’s worth by having them show off the different funny ways they can talk. The scenes between him and Lucy Liu are pleasing and advance her in the series. She’s beginning to get somewhere with three episodes in a row offering her character development and the chance to contribute something positive in plot terms. As to the murder, this plays the old game of guess-the-victim. When a small jet crashes seconds after takeoff, were all the passengers from the same law firm the target because they were suing an “evil” chemical company for millions, was it personal, or did someone want to kill the pilot? It’s professionally put together and Holmes works out whodunnit and why as everyone else looks on with eyes of wonder. The problem is the perfunctory way in which Holmes is shown solving the case. We see the initial set-up for a few seconds and then Holmes tells us, “It’s murder!”, He didn’t do it!”, “This is the wrong engine oil!” and so on. There’s no time for reflection. It’s like one of these video games in which the lead character jumps from one floating rock to another with nothing in-between. We don’t even get to see the trail of breadcrumbs before he’s on to the next crumb. If there’s no crumb in sight, a deus ex machina crumb must appear from the hours of reading he does or from a fact brought to his attention by someone else. This is cheating by the scriptwriters. In this instance, the outstanding event is Sherlock’s analysis of all the records and consequent discovery that exactly 66 pounds of excess baggage is carried on all the key flights from Miami. What a convenient way for the criminal(s) to give him/themselves away. If there’s a positive note in Flight Risk, it’s the interesting sting in the tail with the mention of Irene (Adler), the first Sherlock Holmes canonical reference for a few episodes. So I’m just about maintaining interest in Elementary the series with Flight Risk one of the better efforts but I’m slowly moving to the view its limitations will outweigh its potential.

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 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 17. Possibility Two (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).

  1. November 10, 2012 at 3:50 am

    Overall I agree with you about the limitations the show’s format imposes–there are really few good ways around it (an example of it working is, perhaps, Castle). But I disagree with your statement: “This has been reinforcing the stereotype that African Americans rarely get into the starring roles and, in their representation of real-world jobs, rarely shine.” Hill and Quinn are really bystanders in this show, there to be “the police” Holmes continually shows up with his brilliance. At least Holmes isn’t as contemptuous of them as the original Master Detective was of Scotland Yard.

    The problem really is that the writers are trying to stick too closely to Conan Doyle’s original storytelling framework. The original stories were all about each puzzle and about Holmes; even Watson was a shadow, whose life the reader only glimpsed through references. Whomever filled Hill’s part would be very much a gofer in this show, just as Quinn is criminally underutilized. Only Liu’s character is getting anywhere enough to do, and I don’t think this will get better–which is a shame; Quinn, at least, deserves his own show.

    • November 10, 2012 at 4:25 am

      More generally, I agree with you but I seem to faintly disagree with you on the racial issue. Apart from Omar Epps supporting role in House, how many other shows heavily featuring African American cast members survive more than one season on US network television? Shows like Defying Gravity, Hawthorne, Southland, and Undercovers were all quickly cancelled. Yet when you turn to cable, Luther, True Blood and The Wire demonstrate that well-written shows featuring black actors can be successful if they are properly promoted to American audiences. I suggest the networks shy away from promoting shows with a high-profile African American presence. Indeed, I would go further and assert that what the networks choose to put on the screens of the mass-market viewers reflects the white experience of America and leaves the other groups marginalised. In this, Jon Michael Hill is just one more victim of this tendency to show the occasional African American in potentially important roles but never let them shine. I should perhaps clarify that America is by no means unique in this form of racism. Yet instead of being a leader in trying to present a more balanced view of the races in in their own country and being a flag-bearer for equality, the networks are way behind other countries.

      We should start on online petition for Quinn and Hill to have their own series showing how efficiently they solve the more routine crimes without the need to call in Sherlock.

  2. November 11, 2012 at 12:24 am

    We could debate this one at length, and you may well be right. But to point out one countervailing trend, while African Americans may still be experiencing a dearth of leading-character rolls, they are becoming well represented in authority rolls. To go back to Castle as an example, Beckett and Castle report to an African American superior (actually there has been two–the first much better developed as a character, but both black and competent). Hollywood has at least moved far away from confining African American to middle and lower-class careers.

    Personally, I keep waiting for a traditional romantic-comedy series to star a biracial couple–you’d think it would have happened by now, since we now have shows with gay couples and nobody thinks twice about it (we even had a show, Dharma and Greg, that paired a liberal and a conservative). But ironically, the US is trending away from biracial couplings (black/white, that is–Asia/European and Latino/European is fine). I say ironically, because the trending prejudice is coming from the black community; many black people consider blacks dating or marrying across the color-line to be sellouts. It makes me want to laugh and cry.

    • November 11, 2012 at 1:58 am

      There’s noting so complicated as people’s prejudices. As to biracial series on primetime, how about bispecies with Roswell? Sorry, only joking. I offer HawthoRNe with the relationship between Jada Pinkett Smith ad Michael Vartan, Private Practice with Taye Diggs and Kate Walsh, Happy Endings with Damon Wayans Jr. and Eliza Coupe, Wonderfalls between Traci Thoms and Lee Pace. I could go on but this seems a respectable start.

  3. November 11, 2012 at 2:14 am

    I was aware of Wonderfalls but wasn’t counting it due to its short run (a crime–I own the series on DVD and watch it at least once a year). Didn’t know about Happy Endings, which shows how restricted my TV watching has become (less than 10 hours a week, mostly action-drama). Maybe Hollywood is doing it’s job after all.

    • November 11, 2012 at 2:36 am

      Actually, you’re right in spirit. I was just provoking you with a tiny number of shows out of the several thousand broadcast since the turn of the century. US network television is sexually conservative (which includes racial divides). Hollywood in the sense of movies is marginally better because more of its product is designed for the international market. As you will know, I’m heavily into Korean drama at present and have largely stopped watching broadcast television. Contemporary Korean culture is fascinating both in the real world and as it’s portrayed through the television shows it makes. It’s still somewhat mediaeval, intensely nationalistic and quite hostile to outsiders — it’s very rare for anyone darker skinned to be shown even as nonspeaking extras when we have contemporary dramas shot in foreign locations. Korea takes its prejudices very seriously.

  4. November 14, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Nice review. I enjoyed your analysis of Jon Michael Hill’s character.

    The scenes between Roger Rees and Lucy Liu were definitely the best in this episode. I also think Miller is putting his stamp on the role.

    • November 14, 2012 at 10:25 pm

      I’m still reserving judgment. I’m not convinced the writers can overcome the lack of time in which to move the narrative arc along while solving individually interesting problems.

  1. April 5, 2014 at 12:38 am
  2. April 12, 2014 at 12:04 am
  3. April 26, 2014 at 1:48 am
  4. May 3, 2014 at 1:38 am
  5. May 10, 2014 at 12:09 am
  6. May 17, 2014 at 1:17 am

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