Home > TV and anime > Elementary: Season 1, Episode 16. Details. (2013)

Elementary: Season 1, Episode 16. Details. (2013)

Elementary poster

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

I suppose I should start this review of Elementary: Season 1, Episode 16. Details. (2013) with the cliché, “there’s good news and bad news”. From the outset of this series, I’ve been very conscious of the fact that there are four names in the frame: two white guys, one woman and an African American. At first sight, this is a balanced piece of casting. Then comes the process of watching the show. Obviously Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) get the lion’s share of each week’s script. The two NYPD officers, as in the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, are there as set dressing. They are the necessary trigger mechanism to introduce the detective duo to the latest crimes to be investigated and, when input is required to move the plot forward, one of them will be given the key lines of dialogue to feed Holmes. Apart from M J Trow who wrote sixteen novels about Inspector Lestrade (some of which are actually rather good), no-one really cares about the police officers. Their sole function is to be failures, entirely dependent on Holmes to solve the cases for them. We should therefore not expect the actors in those roles to be given much to do. In this, we are not disappointed. Except, Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill), as the junior detective, has been the classic gofer, there to fetch and carry, or to lurk in the background doing detective-like things while the others do more exciting things in the foreground. I have noted in each episode how little the actor is being given to do and have been hinting, without any subtlety, that this is classic Uncle Tomism. He’s the black detective who acts in a subservient manner to Holmes and Inspector Gregson (Aidan Quinn). He’s also a member of a police force that’s often perceived as having problems of racism in its relationship to the African American community. The good news is that, perhaps out of a sense of guilt, Jon Michael Hill was given a leading role in this latest episode. The bad news is that it was one of the worst examples of racist stereotyping I’ve seen so far this year.

Let me list the key factors. He comes from a broken home and was brought up by a caring mother. Andre (Malcolm Goodwin), the older brother joined a gang. In due course, the two brothers fell out because Marcus is a straight arrow and breaks the mould by joining the NYPD. Naturally, the older brother is arrested. Despite all the efforts of Marcus to help behind the scenes, the gang ethos wins out. The brother will not inform on any of those he knows. He prefers to go to jail. It’s literally impossible to come up with a more clichéd backstory. Now Andre is released, Marcus does the caring act, trying to help and, of course, the siblings continue to squabble. Before long, Marcus suspects his brother may be involved in further crimes (because he’s black and newly released from prison). This is a slow-motion crash and a classic example of everything that’s wrong with American television. Why could Marcus Bell not have been written as a slimmed down version of Alex Cross or a modern Virgil Tibbs? What does it cost scriptwriters to have their characters located in calm middle class surroundings?

 Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill) and Dr Watson (Lucy Liu)

Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill) and Dr Watson (Lucy Liu)

The second piece of bad news comes from the detail of the plot. It was obvious from the first scene in the NYPD who was responsible. That’s how these episodes are put together. If an NYPD officer is to be framed for any crime, the first suspect is always a fellow officer who might have reason to dislike, if not hate, him. The way the investigation runs is therefore a travesty in that it shows nothing of the process. At the end of the episode, we’re simply given a summary of how the evidence was collected to prove the case. I, for one, would have been fascinated to hear the argument before the judge to get a search warrant for the suspect’s home. To say that, at best, it was likely to be a speculative fishing expedition is to be polite. The whole point of these episodes is supposed to give us the chance to watch the detective in action. In fact, most of the action we see is directed to the third piece of bad news.

The third problem with the episode is the way in which the narrative arc for confirming the partnership between Holmes and Watson is resolved. Watson has been discussing the future of her relationship with her therapist who strongly advises her to move on. Meanwhile Holmes is working through an extended joke recreating the relationship between Inspector Clouseau and Cato Fong. In the Pink Panther series, you’ll recall they attacked each other unexpectedly until the scriptwriters decided this was a racist subplot. In this case, Holmes wishes to encourage Watson to learn self-defence skills and so ambushes her, throws a tennis ball at her, and so on (ostensibly sexist behaviour). She retaliates with clumsy childishness by pulling down his display of locks and throwing a basket ball in his face. This trivialises what should be a measured discussion. It actually comes down to just a few lines of dialogue from Holmes. “I know my father stopped paying you. I think we make a good team. I can pay you. You can stay in the brownstone. How about it?” “Oh. . . OK.” So all that effort in previous episodes to build to a dramatic climax is thrown away in ten seconds and we move on.

In real terms, this makes Elementary: Details the worst episodes to date. It’s a pathetic mystery for Holmes to solve. The catastrophic stereotyping confirms the thread of racism running through the show. And it avoids a meaningful discussion on the question of the partnership relationship between Holmes and Watson. Three strikes and you’re out!

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 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. February 17, 2013 at 3:01 am

    Just a couple of notes. I found Andre to be a rather admirable character. We don’t know why he joined a gang, but from what I’ve read about the environment his family came from, it might not have been entirely voluntary; also, his refusal to “rat” on his former comrades is an ethos shared by police, military, and other honor-societies (the reason all Hollywood cops hate IA, among other things). Out of prison, he’s holding a job and working his way back into society, hurt by his brother’s shame and distrust, but risks his parole in order to try and help–and then tries to make sure Bell isn’t framed for his murder. Even Holmes was rather astonished.

    I did mention earlier that, when Holmes found out that Watson was staying under false pretenses, he would not begrudge the lie. Nailed that one–but you’re right, it wasn’t well done. I did find Holmes’ “attacks” on Watson entirely characteristic, however; Holmes doesn’t show his concern very well. Watson’s response was not in character, however. It was also interesting watching Holmes try to be persuasive when he made his proposal. He was uncertain and obviously uncomfortable admitting he needed her help.

    Overall, though, it was pretty lazy writing. The criminal or ex-con sibling is an old trope in these kinds of shows. Just off the top of my head, Bones and Rizolli & Isles also currently lean on it (in Bones’ case, her whole family). And, yes, it would have been better to see more of Holmes’ deductive work. The attraction of Sherlock Holmes stories has always been the puzzle and Holmes’ brilliance–not much on display here.

    • February 17, 2013 at 10:37 am

      The message on the floor was a singular example of the dog that barks in the night, a stunning portrayal of the uncritical trust and love supposed to exist between brothers. At best, this is a highly romanticised trope, in this episode aggravated by the convenience of Andre not dying despite being shot my the ace “marksman” so we can have the mawkish ending.

      This version of Holmes is supposed to be socially dysfunctional (in the original, Holmes had the common touch and could blend in anywhere when in disguise or chatting with lower class people who might give him useful information) so, yes, he would struggle to articulate and admit his need. That doesn’t lead me to forgive the script’s use of the “fight sequence” between the “couple”. A reasonable amount of time should have been devoted to him building up to asking her to stay with a proper emotional payoff.

  2. February 23, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Excellent analysis of the episode. I too find the show to be increasingly boring. The latest episode (# 17) broke the last straw.

    Have you seen the Russian adaptation with Vasily Livanov as Sherlock Holmes.


    • February 23, 2013 at 2:40 pm

      I’ve just watched the trailer on You Tube for the series featuring Vasily Livanov as Sherlock Holmes. I confess I was not aware of this. It looks interesting. Thanks for the recommendation. I will add it to my list of things to do.

  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 12:10 am
  6. May 17, 2014 at 1:18 am

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