Home > TV and anime > Elementary: Season 2, Episode 5. Ancient History (2013)

Elementary: Season 2, Episode 5. Ancient History (2013)

Elementary poster

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

Elementary: Season 2, Episode 5. Ancient History (2013) starts with Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) at a loose end, wandering the bric-à-brac stalls with another of her friends, bemoaning the lack of a murder case to solve. Although she’s deeply embarrassed, her friend asks Watson to find Tony, a one-night stand who’s apparently a photojournalist and good in bed. When this is put to Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), his response is to go to the morgue in search of an interesting case. In the nineteenth drawer, he finds the corpse of someone killed in a road accident. How he died is not in dispute, but our hero believes he had just killed someone else. It’s all in the scars on his hands which suggest he’s used a wire garrote. When Marcus Bell runs his fingerprints, it turns out he used to be a Polish professional assassin but seems to have retired, settled down and taken up work as a nurse (under a false name, of course). There’s just one problem. Without a corpse or a missing person’s report suggesting foul play, there’s no case. Holmes and Watson therefore go to discuss married life with the grieving widow. She knew he had a dark past because of his tattoos, but believed he had found God and committed himself to good works. Holmes is hot on the trail of people our reformed assassin might have killed. The first theory is a builder with whom he had an argument. Then it’s a loan shark who lent him money from an old robbery. Who would have thought it was so hard to find someone dead.

Watson (Lucy Liu), Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill) unnecessarily wearing body armour

Watson (Lucy Liu), Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill) unnecessarily wearing body armour

From this brief description of the set-up, you’ll understand this is intended as a lightweight episode. There are to be no “heavy” murders to solve. This time, the scriptwriters have decided to do faint humour. We’re to smile when the crooked builder who was supposed to be working on our deceased’s clinic took the money and spent three days partying on hard drugs with “cheap” prostitutes. The moneylender who lent that money sits in his sister’s nail salon all day next to an autoclave with a padlock on it waiting for customers to come in and borrow money. The only time the script gets it right is in the last scene which gives Watson the opportunity to score a glancing blow on Sherlock’s feigned indifference.

So what is the episode really about? Thematically, we’re interested in the notion of trust. Looking first at the deceased, he had a past which involved death to order and theft from his own organisation. Could his wife really believe he had reformed? It seemed they shared the same religious convictions. They were working together to raise enough money to open a clinic. Was he really going to be able to realise their dreams? Would the moneylender really have trusted the man with $25,000? Would the deceased really have given the $25,000 to the builder knowing his track record? Then we come to Watson’s friend and her missing lover. After Watson improbably makes progress in her solo investigation, Holmes admits he was “Tony”. This happened at the beginning of their relationship when Watson had just arrived as a sober companion. Holmes did not know anything about her. Could she be trusted? So he took to following her. When she met with her friend, he decided to follow that friend after they separated, picked her up and took time to get information about Watson. That was the “ancient history”. As a result of his investigation, he found Watson eminently trustworthy and has now formed this unorthodox partnership with her. Should she be upset about what Holmes did? Should she tell her friend the man she had slept with was Sherlock?

It’s good to see the four principals have a reasonable chance to interact. Captain Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn) and Detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill) actually have more than the usual token lines of dialogue. Nevertheless, this is not one of the better episodes. What might have been quite an interesting investigation ends up feeling trivialised, and the metanarrative between Holmes and Watson is not constructively advancing an understanding of their relationship. Early on, Holmes met the Watson family but there’s been remarkably little attempt for him to meet the no doubt wide circle of friends Watson has (or had before she quite her job as a surgeon). If he really was investigating her, why did he not look into the surgical case which caused her to quit? There was no hint of this when the son of the man who died later appeared to “borrow” yet more money from her. Knowing what had gone wrong professionally would inevitably have been of interest to Holmes when it came to the question of trust. If she had proved incompetent, he would never have allowed her to get close to him or intermeddle with his cases. So Elementary: Ancient History comes across as contrived without any groundwork laid in previous episodes to give it credibility.

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 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 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 26, 2013 at 6:32 am

    Have to disagree with you about this one–I found it delightful. Sure the case was light-weight and the whole Holmes-The-Stalker thing simply popped up, but from beginning to end it was Holmes being Holmes. Searching for cases in the morgue because you’re bored? Pure Holmes. Being disappointed as you find each suspected “victim” alive? Absolutely Holmes. Holmes investigating Watson and ending up in bed with her friend? Holmes again, at least this Holmes. It was also fun to watch Holmes do what he does best: spin mysteries out of things that don’t even appear to be clues.

    And I’m willing to bet that Holmes did look into Watson’s professional past; he displays no need to confess to anything he isn’t caught out at.

    • October 26, 2013 at 12:00 pm

      Having slept on the episode, I’ve come up with a reason for my less than happy response. No matter what the historical context, the character bearing the name Holmes is usually held out as being relatively mature. The expectation is that we’re going to be impressed by the man and his thinking power. Even when he’s strung out on cocaine because of boredom and fractiously driving the neighbours nuts by endlessly playing his violin, the script usually requires us to suspend judgement and retain respect. Being invited to smile when the investigation is not going quite as smoothly as it should is not usually on the agenda. Worse, he’s slightly embarrassed by the threat of being caught having “investigated” Watson and slept with her friend. In the character we’ve seen built up, he would just admit it and dismiss it as unworthy of discussion. That’s what he does and we should have moved on quickly. Yet the timing of going to the morgue suggests it as a diversion. On two subsequent occasions he seeks to end continuation of her search for Tony. This is childish and not worthy of this version of Holmes.

      • October 26, 2013 at 12:34 pm

        I think the reason it didn’t strike me as out of character is that this Holmes has become very careful of his relationship with Watson–he didn’t seem embarrassed so much as concerned that being caught out would negatively impact their developing friendship (which while more platonic than romantic, is still new territory for Holmes).

      • October 26, 2013 at 12:48 pm

        This is the man who started off having hookers visit with him in the brownstone, has a transsexual in his social circle and, more recently, was called into a case by a dominatrix he “knows”. The script has shown him as a sexual animal, although quite when he has the time to fit all this R&R into his heavy thinking routines is anyone’s guess. I’m not sure he would be worried about how this Watson would react to him sleeping with her friend. Indeed, I suspect it shows him misjudging her. As it happens, she’s not shown as shocked. The diversion into the morgue is unnecessary. As mature adults, he just needs to confess. She accepts his apology. Honesty and transparency wins the day. Builds trust. Life goes on. Whether she should be upset is a different question. In other words, the episode seems contrived.

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