Home > TV and anime > Elementary: Season 2, Episode 10. Tremors (2013)

Elementary: Season 2, Episode 10. Tremors (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 10. Tremors (2013) starts us off with an inquiry into whether Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) “screwed up”. That’s technical jargon used by someone who might actually be a judge, but not in the federal or state sense of the word. Nevertheless, even though Judge Brewster O’Hare (Frankie Faison) might, in Holmes’ eyes, have an equivocal status, it’s his allotted task to decide whether the “screw up” was of sufficient magnitude to justify a formal order being made to ban the dynamic duo from ever working for the NYPD again. So, again using technical jargon, this hearing is no small potatoes and, more importantly, it proves the development of a more formal narrative arc between this season’s episodes. In the first season, there was little effort made to develop characters or to build a metanarrative. Although we did get to see glipses into the lives of Captain Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn) and Detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill), with one exception, they were always rather perfunctory. The exception was an episode giving prominence to Bell’s background and a chance to meet his brother. Otherwise, we were in typical US television series land with standalone episodes, too short in length to allow for character development in more than the two leads.

We see a significant shift of emphasis this season. The scriptwriters have finally decided to explore the real dynamics in the relationship first between Holmes and Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) through the arrival of Mycroft, and between Holmes and the NYPD. It would be a facile approach to assume everything should always be sunshine and light between the emerging partners in detection. Holmes is self-absorbed and antisocial. Watson has more empathy and prefers to work co-operatively with others. At first, their relationship was relatively equal insofar as she controlled his life as a sober companion. This is not to say they were actually equal because Holmes’ personality is always to test boundaries, or to ignore boundaries when he considers he has a higher moral purpose to fulfill. Whatever his faults, and they are many, he’s always been her intellectual superior. When her role as sober companion ended and she signed up for this crash course in how to be a detective, the practical equality was abandoned. She became a guest in his home, giving up her own home. She became dependent on him financially. As a “student”, she followed his lead when it came to developing investigative skills. This is not a comfortable basis on which to build mutual trust and respect.

Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller)

Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller)

It has been the same with the NYPD. No-one can deny the case closing record of the man and, subsequently, of the duo. In practical terms, they have become indispensable to the police. But there’s a cost because Holmes has little interest in the law, particularly as it applies to the collection of evidence and the conduct of interviews. By his lights, the ends justify the means. Hence, whether he’s saving the innocent from wrongful arrest or bringing the guilty to book, he’s feels entitled to break into people’s homes and offices, conduct unauthorised forensic tests, and bully people whether as suspects or members of the NYPD. This is a real problem because the police must always work around his illegal methods. If evidence might be tainted by the manner of its collection, other corroborating evidence must be independently sourced. If an interview might be excluded because Holmes interrupted it and failed to follow protocol, work must be repeated and reports written to explain the reason. If Holmes was more of a team player, the police officers would take the occasional irritation from Holmes. But he fairly consistently shows nothing but contempt for them. In previous episodes, we’ve seen resentment surface. This episode sees the relationship almost fractured because Marcus Bell is wounded in defending Holmes from attack by an outraged private citizen.

The structure of this episode is particularly pleasing because it buries the murder investigation inside the judicial inquiry into Holmes’ behaviour. For once, we’re allowed a proper chance to broaden the perspective of the script and to explore the different sets of relationships between Watson and the others, and between Holmes and the others. The two pleasing features that emerge from this are the real sense of guilt displayed by Holmes, and the protectiveness of Watson and Gregson who offers the advice, “Be nice in court. It’s the smart play.” The exchange with Cassandra Walker (Elizabeth Marvel), the attorney conducting the inquiry is interesting. He has recognised her as a recovering addict like himself and, as an obsessive and addictive person, he does his best to tell her that the world does not always work in ways the majority understand. Unfortunately, the fact she can empathise with him and invite him to an AA meeting is an admission of the limits of the bridges he can build. The relationships with others will always tend to be at arm’s length because he feels vulnerable if they get too close. Put another way, his ability to function is now threatened by the extent of the guilt he feels that Bell has potentially become one of his “victims”. He probably judges himself more harshly than Judge O’Hare ever can. That he exacerbated the problem by delaying the visit to Bell in hospital simply confirms the extent of his dysfunctionality. I’m now actually looking forward to the next episode!

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 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 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. December 7, 2013 at 10:10 am

    This was, indeed, an excellent episode. The title nails it perfectly; Holmes’ world has been shaken. In dramatic terms, a “threat” is an event which threatens the coherence of a character’s world, threatens his ability to deal with it and carry on in any meaningful way, and in this sense Holmes’ addiction and Irene Adler didn’t really come close (well, they did, but the major beats of that plot happened offstage and as prologue). So this is the first real and dramatic threat to Holmes’ internal character that we have seen so far.

    What does this mean, dramatically? Well, the situation was primed with the previous episode where Watson pointed out that Holmes’ attitude and behavior created unnecessary friction and problems, and he essentially blew her off with, essentially, “That may well be, but I am who I am”. This episode, however, has greatly raised the stakes by presenting Holmes with a cost of being who he is which he finds hard to bear. Now he has to face personal consequences–greater police oversight and a heavy weight of guilt. Certainly Detective Bell will quickly recover, as injured officers always do in these shows, but Holmes will now be working with a man whom he has injured and whom he respects, and this will be a constant reminder of his actions. So Holmes stands at a character-redefining moment; he can justify his actions, reinforcing his misanthropy, or he can acknowledge his responsibility and change. Of course, this being TV, my money is on the second possibility.

    Will he ever be warm and fuzzy? Um, no. He’s Holmes, always the smartest man in any room and impatient with the monkeys around him. Most of them, anyway. But there’s nothing like negative reinforcement to inculcate new habits; I think he will start listening to Watson more and relying on her vastly superior people skills. That will puncture, just a little, his blind sense of pride. And as he demonstrated with the attorney, when he sees other people as people, if only by recognizing that he shares their flaws, he is capable of empathy.

    • December 7, 2013 at 1:13 pm

      On one of the forums discussing this episode, I came across a thread discussing whether it was necessary for Holmes to be likeable to be the star of a US television series. The concept of hero, for these purposes, has almost universally meant that people with disabilities have not been seen on screen. The situation is slightly different in comics with Professor X and Niles Caulder being confined to a wheelchair like Ironside, Doctor Mid-Nite and Matt Murdock being blind, Count Vertigo and Echo being deaf, and so on. On television, blind and deaf people tend to be potential victims in need of protection, i.e. patronisingly assumed to be incapable of defending themselves. If people have emotional or mental problems, they tend to appear so that the obvious hero can have the patience of a saint or the nursing capabilities of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Apart from Monk and Emma Pilsbury (Glee) with OCD, Jimmy McNulty’s alcoholism in The Wire, etc. there are very few characters who admit to mental disorders. It’s supposed the audience will be uncomfortable and not consider they have the stuff of heroes in them.

      So Holmes has usually been whitewashed. If he’s an addict, he takes drugs in private and rarely displays the results of shooting up and/or excessive alcohol on the page or in his film or television appearances. He’s always portrayed as a high-functioning addict, i.e. we need not acknowledge his weakness. This show is pushing the envelope by showing a more real Holmes, the Holmes that’s offstage when he does or says something the majority might consider embarrassing. That the folk in this forum thread can seriously be discussing whether Holmes should be made likeable and should avoid being rude to people suggests they have never understood him as a character. They want him to be something he has never been.

      Of course, this should make us consider whether Holmes is self-critical. If he did not understand or care what others thought, this would make him sociopathic, i.e. suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder in modern medical jargon. Yet he does have a moral code, albeit bent to conform to his self-interest, and is aware of how others see him. Although I agree that he’s proud of his ability to see what others fail to see, he also lonely and vulnerable if he lets down his guard. That’s why he adopts this aggressive manner. It’s a shield to keep others away. It’s obvious we’re moving toward some television epiphany in which he will transform himself from the equivalent of Scrooge into the Santa Claus of detectives, distributing the whodunnits like presents to children watching their television sets. Or not. There may well be incremental changes over the rest of the season, but the pragmatism of the Police Commissioner rings true. The world needs him as he is, not as the few he damages might want him to be.

      • December 7, 2013 at 3:11 pm

        Absolutely. And as I said, I don’t think the writers are ever going to give us a warm and fuzzy Holmes. Instead I think he will find that he and Watson work as a team because he can respect her intellect enough to build a real partnership and she will provide the “human touch” with others (and brake on his own ego) that he needs. The whole of the team will indeed prove to be more than its parts.

      • December 7, 2013 at 3:48 pm

        You have nicely captured why I want to see how this plays out. The only problem I foresee is that this insistence on a murder to solve each episode is going to get in the way of developing all four interdependent characters along realistic lines. As it is, Gregson and Bell are little more than ciphers. More meat is needed on their bones if this version of Holmes is properly to come to life.

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