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

April 28, 2013 13 comments

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).

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