Home > TV and anime > Elementary: Season 2, Episode 2. Solve For X (2013)

Elementary: Season 2, Episode 2. Solve For X (2013)

Elementary poster

This review discusses the plot so, if you have not already watched this episode, you may wish to delay reading this.

The prologue of Elementary: Season 2, episode 2. Solve For X (2013) is actually an interesting hook with the mugger being in the wrong place at the wrong time to see a murder through a window. The arrival of Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) also has an interesting set up with Detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill) observing empty walls in the apartment murder scene and our great detective smelling significant mathematical effort. As the title of the episode then asks, does the hidden calculation have anything to do with the murder? As an irrelevant aside, the difference between this series and CSI could not be more apparent. Both Bell and Holmes repeated step over and around the body without taking any measures to avoid contaminating the scene. If nothing else, this signals that brain power on its own will always be enough to solve cases. Great detective have no need of scientific support, e.g. one glance at the photograph of a dog hair immediately identifies it as coming from a Boston terrier. Meanwhile Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) is visiting the grave of a former patient and meets a young man, the son of the deceased. They depart for a quick coffee. So are the seeds of mystery planted and watered into the consciousness, particularly when said young man not only announces he’s dropped out of the education rat race, but also hits on Dr Watson for a loan — sorry, offers her a business opportunity to invest.

Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Watson (Lucy Liu)

Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Watson (Lucy Liu)

Meanwhile, back at the brownstone (yes, we’ve abandoned the idea of shooting any more expensive scenes in London), a semi-naked mathematician is evaluating the hidden calculations. It turns out that if it could be completed, it could qualify for a $1 million prize for solving difficult maths problems, i.e. it’s a motive for murder for the man he was collaborating with. A great theory until said collaborator also turns up dead. But Holmes combines with Bell to establish someone was spying on this second mathematical genius. The trail of breadcrumbs is developing nicely which leaves us time to do some of Watson’s backstory. We’ve always known she was burdened by guilt. That’s why she gave up being a surgeon. This episode gives us a nice emotional moment as she replays what went wrong during the surgery and why she has given money to the son and now wants to give him some more. Back on the crime trail, we arrive at the encryption company that would have a motive for preventing the solution of this problem. It seems the solution would make it possible to crack encryption, no matter how sophisticated. The NSA and other domestic and international spying agencies would desperately want access to this formula. It would save the spies from having to ask nicely to see the contents of emails. These fiascos involving companies like Lavabit would be redundant. And, for the commercial world, nothing would be secure and companies offering guaranteed privacy would be out of business. Put all that together and you’ve got a complex web of potential motives to spy on and/or kill the maths folk who were coming ever closer to a solution.

At this point, I need to come back to the perennial problem of the time constraint. This episode is just over 43 minutes of screen time which seriously limits the scope of the plot that can be developed. Because this series is as much about the relationship between Holmes and Watson as it is about solving crimes, each episode must represent a compromise. If the script team get it right, we have a reasonably interesting crime to investigate and progress on the metanarrative. If they get it wrong, the inevitable murder is boring and our detective duo tread water in midstream and go nowhere. This episode gets it right. Watson was vulnerable and, for once, Holmes managed signs of empathy. Although there’s no real opportunity for much real detective work, the solution depends on some nice observation. The only other feature of interest is the demotion of Captain Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn). In the first season, Marcus Bell was occasionally seen and rarely heard. It seems this is now changed with Jon Michael Hill number three and Aidan Quinn reduced in the ranks. The politics of casting and the rules on when the production teams calls on cast members to contribute remain opaque. So Solve For X recovers after the disastrous start to the new season. Perhaps there’s hope this improvement can be maintained.

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 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 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. October 5, 2013 at 5:33 am

    I agree; this one was quite good. IMHO the formula for Elementary episodes should follow more closely to CSI New York or NCIS (engaging mystery, fun Holmes quirkiness, a dash of character story), and this one nicely struck that balance.

    • October 5, 2013 at 10:29 am

      I fade in and out of the long-running series. I think Bones is more consistent in striking the balance between the characters and the mysteries to be solved.

      • October 5, 2013 at 1:11 pm

        That may be why I have seen every Bones episode…

      • October 5, 2013 at 2:38 pm

        I’ve been toying with the idea of writing an opinion piece about a feature of Bones and one or two other long-running series. I suppose I should set to and write it.

  2. October 5, 2013 at 11:46 am

    Agree with your review. This was weak on plot, but the episode was fun overall.

    B2B.

    • October 5, 2013 at 2:41 pm

      The problem is time. In forty-three minutes, it’s very difficult to show a complex plot. Almost all mystery puzzles to be solved are trivial unless the character of the detective/investigator is embedded into the show. Monk was interesting just being who he was, leaving more time to devote to the solution of the puzzle.

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