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Elementary: Season 2, Episode 12. The Diabolical Kind (2014)

January 12, 2014 6 comments

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 12. The Diabolical Kind (2014) starts in the brownstone world of Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller). He’s happy up on the roof with his bees where, close to his heart, he hides the letters he has been exchanging with Jamie Moriarty (Natalie Dormer). In these letters, he reflects on his own unhappiness and the problems of those around him. If nothing else, this shows an evolving empathy through which he begins to see how unsatisfactory life is for the others in his life. Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) is engaged in a serial dating ritual in which she meets potential mates only to be disappointed. Captain Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn) remains in love with his wife, but equally seems tinged with sadness and regret at the way things have turned out. Detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill) struggles with his disability and so is wrapped up in himself to the exclusion of others who might help him reach an accommodation with himself. While Holmes himself cannot avoid melancholia. Perhaps his inability to stop thinking about Moriarty is a sign of weakness that can only be put in abeyance when the next interesting case comes along, but he does at least feel.

Now we come to the trigger event. High-tech kidnappers abduct a girl and demand a ransom of $50 million. Holmes recognizes the voice as belonging to a man who acted as Moriarty in previous dealings. He therefore discloses the twenty-seven letters from Moriarty, explaining he has maintained the connection out of scientific interest. Now, it seems, he has a reason for actually going to see her. It turns out that, instead of being inside a supermax prison, she has relatively comfortable surroundings in a black site run by the FBI in the Brooklyn Naval Yard. Moriarty has made no admissions of criminal wrongdoing, but has been trading information for “concessions”. Not unnaturally, the appearance of Holmes, Watson and Gregson in her warehouse holding facility elicits a smile and an offer of help in return for more “concessions”. The FBI has a list from which they could choose. Given the seriousness of the case and without asking for Gregon’s permission, the US Government release Moriarty from custody so she can help.

It’s a pleasing set-up even if not terribly credible. So now let’s come to what this episode is actually about. If we go back in time, we have a man who was always on the verge of a breakdown: brilliant but unstable, easily bored and so at risk of addiction to distracting substances. The trigger for pushing him over the edge was manufactured by Moriarty. He spent at least two years scraping the bottom of a physical and emotional barrel and then, to his surprise, a rescue operation succeeded. The mechanism is inherently ironic. He was tipped into an abyss through his love of a woman and he’s shown how to climb out of it by another woman. In contemporary times, these two women therefore hold the soul of the man. He still loves the first and, in a so far platonic way, he’s dependent on the other. Perhaps not surprisingly, the relationship between these two women is strained. The first woman is potentially jealous. The second being an empath, is protective of the man she rescued.

Natalie Dormer is back as Jamie Moriarty  with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu in oils.

Natalie Dormer is back as Jamie Moriarty with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu in oils.

In many contexts, both insect and animal, there are lifecycles in which the young go through a metamorphosis. What begins with one shape later emerges into the world with a different shape and behaviour. For these purposes, let’s assume that two individual humans are born with a psychopathic disorder, i.e. with diminished empathy and a general lack of remorse. They meet and form an attachment. I would like to call it love but, in this early state, it’s probably not something the rest of humanity would recognise as love. Then one falls into a pupal or resting form from which he emerges with a changed point of view. He’s now able to modify his own behaviour depending on how others perceive him. We can think of this as being the first step in becoming a more social animal. While it may not be true empathy, it does depend on the ability to observe and understand how others feel and see the world. So if the first can transform, can the second follow in his footsteps?

For these purposes, let’s assume the second individual is a woman and she can be threatened in a primal way. For example, no matter how great the degree of disorder, a woman who has given birth is always vulnerable to a threat to her own child. This is something she would take as a personal threat. She would respond to it in a protective way. Having dealt with that threat, would she run away? Well, here’s the rub. If she escaped, she would have to go on the run and might never see the man again. This might be distressing to her. Now let’s assume she might have enough information of criminal activity to be able to “buy” her freedom. If she sincerely believed the US government would give her freedom, she could also believe it possible to resume an open relationship with the man — assuming he would have her, of course. That might induce her to surrender herself back into custody. She’s removed the threat. Now she can resume planning for the possibility of freedom and a relationship with the man. To perfect this plan, all she has to do is transform herself. She felt for her own child. She feels some emotion for the man. Can she take the next step? He would have to believe a metamorphosis possible, otherwise he would never wait. The one fly in all this ointment, though, is that she’s just slaughtered several men (and attacked the nice gay jailor). So the government has a steeper hill to climb if it’s officially to free her.

Both in the intelligence of the ideas and in the sensitivity of the acting, this episode of Elementary has proved to be one the best pieces of television I’ve seen in the last year. Let’s hope The Diabolical Kind signals the start of a year of not less than good episodes — as a final thought, Marcus Bell was seen but not heard for ten seconds. There’s just not enough room in such meaty episodes for everyone to have a good part.

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 10. Tremors (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 11. Internal Audit (2013)
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).

Elementary: Season 1, Episodes 23 & 24. The Woman and Heroine (2013)

Elementary poster

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

In discussing Elementary: Season 1, Episodes 23 & 24. The Woman and Heroine (2013), the question that must perforce occupy us for the next thousand or so words is a simple one. What do we expect from the final narrative contributions to conclude a twenty-four episode series? Note that I said series and not serial, i.e. that almost without exception, each episode has been a standalone and the average viewer’s enjoyment would not be affected by whether previous episodes had been viewed. Except, of course, this series insisted on showing the final two episodes in sequence on the same night. This signals a slightly greater level of ambition. Indeed, there are references back to the last two episodes (A Landmark Story and Risk Management) although, again, the average viewer might not even notice. So is this a success and so, to some extent, redeem the series?

Jonny Lee Miller looking tense

Jonny Lee Miller looking tense

I suppose the first part of the answer is that it reaches a climax and there’s quite a pleasing emotional pay-off in the naming of the bee. Whereas other series have chosen to leave cliffhangers with viewers supposedly left on the edge of their seats during the summer, desperate to discover which of the series characters have been killed off, this satisfies us with the identification of Moriarty (Natalie Dormer) and offers an explanation of why she staged her own death and now chose to reappear. Although it fails to tie up loose ends, e.g. whether Moran survived, it does rather neatly leave us poised to start the new season with a clean slate. As an aside, I note the obvious failure to end canonically with the death of Moriarty. Since a woman with her talents and connections is unlikely to spend too long in an American jail, I look forward to seeing more of Natalie Dormer in the role. I thought she made a very good villain (as she has to a slightly lesser extent in Game of Thrones). Resuming the game with Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) would be an interesting possibility in Season 2.

So to the crux of the matter: Holmes has “recovered” Irene Adler from the clutches of Moriarty. There she was calmly painting. The next minute, Sherlock is clutching her to his heaving bosom. This has come as a shock to our eponymous hero and he’s mentally AWOL for most of the first episode. This leaves Watson in the driving seat and she’s more than equal to the task. In the private consulting business, you never know what small piece of information may prove critical, so even though Watson plays fair by admitting the coincidence of recently studying paints, it does enable the police to track down a key New York hench-person who, to put it mildly, is upset by his unmasking. Meanwhile, Irene Adler is cycling between PTSD and a version of Stockholm Syndrome which serves the purpose of keeping Holmes off balance. However, the flashbacks to London show Holmes stopped thinking the moment he set eyes on Irene. From the outset, he correctly identified her as a master forger, but he never takes the further step of associating her with the commission of any other crime. I don’t care how besotted he is and how diligently he chases her, this is a woman worth pursuing for her intelligence. He should suspect her of further criminal behaviour. I confess I had rather been assuming this was a long-term relationship with the couple getting to know each other rather well. What we see here is lust at first sight and the abandonment of common sense by our hero in a relationship based on a two actual and one anticipated sexual encounters, one following an expedition into a Roman sewer to provide the requisite level of uniqueness. I can’t say I find the subsequent breakdown even remotely credible. He’s far too self-centred for a casual sexual relationship to destablise him to this extent and so quickly. Perhaps we’re supposed to attribute the breakdown to guilt. He thinks Moran killed her because of his interest in her. Surely that just makes him angry, motivating him to greater efforts?

Lucy Liu gives Natalie Dormer the guided tour of the brownstone

Lucy Liu gives Natalie Dormer the guided tour of the brownstone

Now let’s look at this from the other side of the coin. Here’s this man chasing her. Obviously they have a good time together sexually but he’s dangerous because he’s sitting up in bed beside her analysing the assassinations performed by Moran. It’s therefore entirely reasonable for her to decide to fake her own death and disappear so she can get on with being a criminal mastermind without having to worry about the man in her bed. But we’re supposed to believe she’s fallen in love with this emotionally shallow man who’s being led around by his penis. Worse, when he collapses into self-destructive addiction, she’s supposed to “love” him rather than feel contempt for the pathetic weakling. I don’t think so. In terms of intelligence and in personality terms, she’s obviously better than him, i.e. ignoring the fact she’s using this intelligence for criminal purposes. So why reappear? Ah well he’s rebuilding thanks to Watson and with a big crime set in motion in New York, there’s a risk Sherlock might get in the way. Since she’s set everything up, it’s credible for her to set out to distract him. That he’s immediately reduced to a quivering jelly is a further nail in the romance stakes. How can she feel anything but contempt for this embarrassing wreck?

I think the scriptwriters painted themselves into a corner and, having done so, failed to come up with the best solutions. I’m not saying it’s a complete failure. Indeed, I think it’s a very brave shot at something very difficult, if not impossible, given the way they planned for the narrative arc to work out. But I just don’t buy into the idea that Irene Adler loves this man and wants to rescue him from himself. To make that work, the backstory has to show a real relationship between equals stretching over a significant amount of time and not snatched moments based on uniqueness. As to the major crime underway, the Greek shipping magnate Christos Theophilus (Arnold Vosloo) is primed to assassinate the key Macedonian politician’s son so that Moriarty can collect on a massive currency deal. This is a very ingenious crime based on a good understanding of the regional politics. The device of having New York’s finest driving through traffic to prevent the assassination is a tiresome cliché but it does at least give an extra few minutes of screen time for Inspector Gregson (Aidan Quinn) and Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill). They have deserved better from this series. So we end up with Holmes and Watson in a more solid relationship, and Moriarty lives to fight another day, i.e. to order the assassination of both Holmes and Watson from her jail cell during the summer recess. That’s makes Elementary: The Woman and Heroine as good an ending as we could have expected to an indifferent season. One or two of the episodes were pleasing but the overall standard was poor to middling. If the television company had commissioned only ten episodes at ninety minutes including ads, we might have achieved a reasonable standard. As it is, we got no better than we deserved.

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 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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