Home > TV and anime > Elementary: Season 1, Episode 20. Dead Man’s Switch. (2013)

Elementary: Season 1, Episode 20. Dead Man’s Switch. (2013)

Elementary poster

Elementary: Season 1, Episode 20. Dead Man’s Switch. (2013) had a better balance between narrative arc and individual mystery to be solved. Let’s start off with the general character development. The fact we’re seeing Alfredo (Ato Essandoh) for the third time is encouraging. If we’re going to be even remotely canonical, there should be several characters representing the Irregulars: those convenient urchins who know their city like the backs of their hands and can move around largely unobserved. This character is ideal for the purpose. As a car thief and recovering addict, he could be well-connected and supply lots of different services as required. We’ve already seen him teaching Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) how to break into and steal cars (an invaluable skill for an investigator). He’s also useful to sit outside places in his car and keep watch (or try to follow people escaping the scene in cabs and lose them which is hardly what you would expect from an expert car thief and driver). So as Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) comes up to the one year anniversary of his last fix, we’re into a mini-drama as to whether our hero will go through a ceremony to collect a small token signifying the achievement. Naturally, Sherlock views this as an entirely private matter. Alfredo points out that’s a typically selfish attitude. He should show addicts newly entering the program that it’s possible to get clean and stay clean.

Of course, being a man obsessed with details, Holmes is failing to admit he had a lapse and so has not yet reached the full one year. Having failed is deeply embarrassing to a man who prides himself on his strength of mind. Hence his unwillingness to go through the ceremony. The subtext of the episode is therefore whether he will tell the truth about his lapse. That he eventually trusts both Watson and Alfredo is a sign he’s consolidating the recovery by sharing the burden of “sobriety”. There’s hope for him.

Lucy Liu, Jonny Lee Miller and Ato Essandoh

Lucy Liu, Jonny Lee Miller and Ato Essandoh

As to the mystery element, we have Alfredo introduce a private client. This should be happening more often rather than leaving our hero waiting for a summons from NYPD with another challenging homicide to solve. Appropriately, this is a blackmail case and we’re quickly given the name as Charles Milverton, a blackmailer who features in The Return of Sherlock Holmes. As in the original story, one of this blackmailer’s victims shoots the villain and stamps on his face. However, apart from this significant borrowing, the story then veers away into rather unnecessary complexity as Holmes runs around trying to find the titular Dead Man’s Switch. As in all good blackmail schemes, there’s a failsafe: someone hidden who will release all the incriminating information should anything happen to the more easily detectable blackmailer. The convenience of the internet as a mechanism for releasing this information is a pleasing modern development. At just the touch of a mouse or pad, our back-up can punish all the victims for killing their blackmailer. Except, of course, this assumes only one victim. In this case, Milverton is a professional who has information on many so, if one victim takes revenge, all suffer.

At this point, I need to express frustration that this Holmes can find out so much information on people and events in America through Google and whatever else he can use to dig out data online. It’s remarkable and, by my standards, unrealistic. For example, he can produce a list of nuisance claims against service providers alleging discrimination on the ground of weight that were quickly settled. I know that the identity of litigants is a matter of public record once proceedings are filed in court, but Holmes is finding cases that would probably have been settled by the attorneys before going to court became necessary. The whole point of nuisance actions is for the targets to make them go away as quickly as possible. Anything settled in this way would be covered by confidentiality agreements and inaccessible. For Holmes to not only come up with a list of such litigants, but also to produce newspaper photographs of two of these claimants, is magical. As is Watson’s ability to recall the identity of an ambulance-chasing attorney from a few scattered details of description.

Put all this together and you have an episode with such a high death count among the actors, there was only one left to be the killer. Worse, the killer had an accomplice who never actually made it on to screen. We have to be told about this person’s essential contribution to the plot by the semi-triumphant Holmes and Inspector Gregson (Aidan Quinn) who does get to deal with a minor moral dilemma in this episode and comes out of it all looking better. The relationship between Holmes and Gregson also seems to be healing. If you blinked, you missed Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill) who, in terms of dollars earned per words spoken and seconds on screen, must now be one of the highest paid actors on US television. He’s the most embarrassingly underused actor in a prime-time show. Would this treatment be given out to a white actor? I don’t think so. So put all this together and Elementary: Dead Man’s Switch is an average episode that moved us along in broad narrative terms but offered little of substance on the use of deduction to solve mysteries. Arthur Conan Doyle would not have approved.

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 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 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. April 29, 2013 at 12:14 am

    You make valid points about the ease of getting information so easily about litigants and the attorney.

    I noticed that Miller’s Holmes only made deductions about the aforementioned attorney’s license (the quality of paper and then analyzing his handwriting). The deductions about the scars on Milverton’s face was also made by Joan in the end.

    Holmes did not do much in this episode, after all.


    • April 29, 2013 at 1:02 am

      I despair of the attorney element. This is a sufficiently high-profile guy that Watson immediately knows who it is. Are these scriptwriters trying to tell us no-one noticed he had no qualifications? It’s absolutely ludicrous. Then for Holmes to be able to see across a room and notice a licence is printed on the wrong quality of paper and has fake signatures. . . This is just lazy scriptwriting designed to produce a result no matter how illogical it may be. And yes, Holmes was not at all interested in reading the autopsy report and needed Watson to save him. Yet despite all this, the drug addiction element was enough to balance out the awfulness.

      • April 29, 2013 at 8:56 am

        Well said. Even that one deduction by Holmes does not stand a close scrutiny (pun intended).


  2. April 29, 2013 at 1:32 am

    For me the whole episode felt flat because the blackmail scheme was wildly unrealistic; the concept of a “fail-safe”, as used here, was incredibly broken.

    Good fail-safe: retain a respected law firm, with instructions to, in the event of your death, deliver a package to a third party you believe would continue the blackmail. DON’T TELL THE THIRD PARTY IN ADVANCE.

    Bad fail-safe: arrange for another person, WHO YOU CAN’T TRUST SINCE HE’S AS VENAL AS YOU ARE, to have access to your blackmail gold mine in the case of your death.

    Best fail-safe: never blackmail someone who knows who you are, and tell your victims you have a fail-safe. “Burn” one of your blackmail victims publicly so that the others know you will publicize their secrets if they even try and find out who you are. (Preferably the burned victim should be someone whose secret was a criminal one; that way you can burn him through a cut-out reporter who will protect his source and the police won’t be interested in finding you.) Don’t bother with an actual fail-safe.

    The problem is that blackmail is one of the most corrupt of crimes, and there are only two possible motives: revenge or greed (or both). If revenge, then you can find a trusted fail-safe only if the other person shares your motive. If greed, you CANNOT trust another person who shares your motive; I mean that literally–a blackmailer would not trust himself, therefor he cannot trust others. So the blackmailer in our story would never have set up his fail-safe system the way he did, not with the fat man, and certainly not with the stepfather (after all, on top of his willingness to conspire with a man blackmailing his family, he showed himself perfectly willing to kill for greed as well).

    But as has been pointed out in other Elementary reviews, the workability of criminal plots takes second seat to drama in this series.

    • April 29, 2013 at 2:15 am

      When you put it that way, I can’t think why we’re both still watching this.

      • April 29, 2013 at 2:19 am

        Because we like the setup and hope springs eternal.

      • April 29, 2013 at 2:32 am

        I think my hope sprang a leak some episodes ago and has been sinking steadily ever since.

  1. April 5, 2014 at 12:38 am
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  3. April 26, 2014 at 1:48 am
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