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Elementary: Season 2, Episode 20. No Lack of Void (2014)

April 12, 2014 2 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 20. No Lack of Void (2014) demonstrates the value of building a strong narrative arc for each of its characters. In a way, this highlights the slightly deceptive nature of the show’s structure. Ostensibly, we’re supposed to push each episode into the mental pigeonhole of a mystery show. In reality, this is a show about a recovering addict who shares his house with a professional sober companion. To pay the bills, they solve crimes as consultants to the NYPD. This means the real test for Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) is to be able to rise every morning and not do drugs. There are times when it’s hard for him not to relapse. This is one of those times.

We start with Sherlock looking to add another accent to his repertoire — this time the Derry accent from Northern Ireland (just in case he ever has to blend in with IRA or Provo terrorists) — while Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) goes to drop off files with the NYPD. It later appears that the actor and informal accent coach, Alistair Moore (Roger Rees), has died of a heart attack. While at NYPD, Captain Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn) asks Watson to look at a prisoner called Apollo Mercer, a known pickpocket. Surprisingly, he’s lying dead on the floor. This is more serious than expected. Surely one of the officers should have noticed he was dying? Anyway, Joan looks at the “stuff” coming out of his mouth and suggests this is a case of anthrax poisoning. Really? No-one in the custody suite even thought of turning over the body of the man to see if he needed medical assistance? Perhaps they held a sweep to decide who should call Gregson and ask him what to do.

Our four principles negotiate to buy the farm

Our four principles negotiate to buy the farm

Anyway, all this excitement brings Holmes to the hospital where the police are being tested for possible infection. So far, no-one else seems to have been exposed — thank God no-one turned over the body and touched the “stuff” coming out of his mouth. Detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill) gives Holmes Mercer’s file. It seems he ingested the anthrax. Ergo, he lifted a packet from a mark in Union Square, thought it was cocaine, and decided to get high (which rhymes with die). Our duo reviews all the footage from Union Square (impressive it can all be collected together so quickly), and identifies a man who used his mobile to pay for a cup of coffee. This gives us our first suspect. When the police arrive at his address, the landlord confirms he used to go out for regular walks. Holmes is busy calculating how many footsteps in a ten minute walk, while Watson opens his mail and finds he was renting a storage locker ten minutes away. It’s always good when things come together. Wearing suitable protective clothing, NYPD enter the storage locker and find a body plus many empty trays where the anthrax would have been cultured (40 pounds is the estimate of quantity). Could be we have a bioterrorism episode on our hands. A fingerprint shows a known member of the Sovereign Army was present at some time! They are dangerous homegrown terrorists!

So Bell and Watson go upstate to talk to the new suspect’s brother, while Holmes goes to talk with Alistair’s partner. This all leads to Sherlock arriving at an address in Queens before the police units where he sees a van being loaded. Such are the decisions out of which drama is constructed. Except it’s not the anthrax. That’s a relief. I thought the series was going to end with Sherlock’s funeral (not). Meanwhile Alistair’s son comes round to the brownstone. It now appears his father overdosed. He’d been clean for some thirty years. Holmes has only been clean for two. The death disturbs Holmes on multiple levels. This is a close friend but, as one addict to another, it distresses Holmes that a man can relapse after being clean for so long. It’s a betrayal of all that effort. Holmes knows he’s overreacting a little (well, a lot if truth be told) — it’s upsetting him he’s so upset over his friend’s death. Then the dead body of the suspect turns up. He visited his brother’s farm. They fought. Exit one brother.

As mysteries go, this is serviceable. It’s one of these “but for” crimes where fate intervenes to disrupt an elegant plan and forces those involved to take evasive action. The problem comes with the dilution of any tension. If this was considered a real terrorist threat to New York, there would be a major incident approach with multiple federal agencies involved and political oversight. Yet all we see is a few precinct officers coming in for a briefing by Gregson. It’s not a sufficiently serious response to engage our interest even though there’s a news report of people disposing of their milk and dairy products. I suppose this is intentional to allow a proper focus on Holmes and the resolution of his pain caused by the loss of his friend — he has so few, the loss of one is significant. I’m always somewhat disconcerted when scripts call for the “ghost” of a recently deceased to interact with one of the living. Such a cliché smacks of a little desperation. In this case, however, it does introduce a certain poignancy and is a convenient visual mechanism for allowing Holmes to say goodbye. This makes Elementary: No Lack of Void (2014) a slightly better than average 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 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 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, Episode 6. Flight Risk (2012)

November 10, 2012 14 comments

Elementary poster

As I have commented in other reviews, the need to cram plot into a confined space leads to often intractable problems for the scriptwriters. There are two basic ways to mitigate the damage (assuming the advertisers care, of course). The first is to work on the basis that simple is beautiful. The script never calls for any complexity. The cast is kept to a minimum and as little as possible happens. That way, a potentially elegant story may be told. Of course, it’s equally possible no real story is told and the few characters have to talk too much to fill in the time. Swords cut both ways (and have a pointy end). The alternative strategy means you rotate the featuring roles in each episode. Everyone gets their turn in the sun with more screen time and a better written part for that week. That, of course, runs alongside one fairly pervasive phenomenon. The majority of television shows and films are written by, produced by, directed by, and feature men. This institutionalises sexism. Most “stars” are men with women in the support roles. The scripts tend to give the men more interesting things to do and better dialogue. In the first episodes of Elementary, the token woman as sidekick was given very little time. Yes, there were moments she had to shine, but it was not until episode 4 that we saw some life in her. I was beginning to think this show was also racist. There are four regular cast members. A Brit, an American man, an Asian-American woman and an African American. Jonny Lee Miller, a Brit, is there because the British are cheap and work for less money than American actors. Lucy Liu is there because she’s distinctive and gives the show a better racial and gender balance. Aidan Quinn has gravitas as a senior police officer. But Jon Michael Hill is seen only in the background and has almost nothing to say. He’s a token presence. This has been reinforcing the stereotype that African Americans rarely get into the starring roles and, in their representation of real-world jobs, rarely shine. Frankly it’s a disgrace we should have to wait until episode 6 to see this actor get a chance. I expected better from an America that declared itself post-racial after electing Barack Obama as president (twice).

Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller ), Joan ( Lucy Liu) , Gregson (Aidan Quinn) and Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill) get more equal billing

Anyway, in narrative terms, poor Jon Michael Hill is on a complete loser. Even with a fair wind behind him, he’s the sidekick of the token NYPD officer. That makes him the gofer with no more brains than is required to get the right snack from the machine in the corridor outside the interview room. At best, he comes in to announce a fact or to stand beside the token officer while the latter fails to get a confession from the suspect. So in Flight Risk, he gets to be Holmes’s sidekick while Watson goes off to meet Holmes’s father. This means he actually gets into the foreground a couple of times. He never gets to say anything intelligent (he’s the sidekick who has no special skills), but at least he’s more visible this time round. In this, Watson is better equipped with medical knowledge and can correct Holmes when he sees a photograph of a suspect. Holmes sees an old pager on the man’s belt. Watson sees an insulin pusher on the belt of a diabetic. Years of training as a doctor were not wasted on her.

Roger Rees doing a good turn as a Brit in New York

Ironically, the best role of the night goes to Roger Rees, a classically-trained Brit actor who manages to do multiple accents in this episode, none of them very convincing. This follows the general rule that, if you’re gong to spring enough cash for foreign talent, you should get your money’s worth by having them show off the different funny ways they can talk. The scenes between him and Lucy Liu are pleasing and advance her in the series. She’s beginning to get somewhere with three episodes in a row offering her character development and the chance to contribute something positive in plot terms. As to the murder, this plays the old game of guess-the-victim. When a small jet crashes seconds after takeoff, were all the passengers from the same law firm the target because they were suing an “evil” chemical company for millions, was it personal, or did someone want to kill the pilot? It’s professionally put together and Holmes works out whodunnit and why as everyone else looks on with eyes of wonder. The problem is the perfunctory way in which Holmes is shown solving the case. We see the initial set-up for a few seconds and then Holmes tells us, “It’s murder!”, He didn’t do it!”, “This is the wrong engine oil!” and so on. There’s no time for reflection. It’s like one of these video games in which the lead character jumps from one floating rock to another with nothing in-between. We don’t even get to see the trail of breadcrumbs before he’s on to the next crumb. If there’s no crumb in sight, a deus ex machina crumb must appear from the hours of reading he does or from a fact brought to his attention by someone else. This is cheating by the scriptwriters. In this instance, the outstanding event is Sherlock’s analysis of all the records and consequent discovery that exactly 66 pounds of excess baggage is carried on all the key flights from Miami. What a convenient way for the criminal(s) to give him/themselves away. If there’s a positive note in Flight Risk, it’s the interesting sting in the tail with the mention of Irene (Adler), the first Sherlock Holmes canonical reference for a few episodes. So I’m just about maintaining interest in Elementary the series with Flight Risk one of the better efforts but I’m slowly moving to the view its limitations will outweigh its potential.

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 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 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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