Modernizing Sherlock Holmes has been a popular trend in film and television lately. We have seen two slick action film adaptations courtesy of Guy Ritchie, a contemporary BBC adaptation (Sherlock), and now there is Elementary, which transplants Sherlock Holmes and his loyal companion Watson from Victorian Era England to modern New York. We might be a long way from Doyle here, but the possibilities are very intriguing. This is the season that Elementary really finds its legs.
Jonny Lee Miller’s portrayal of Holmes makes me want to start drawing comparisons to the title character in the medical drama House. Both shows surround an eccentric, drug-addicted savant who blazes beyond socially acceptable behavior to a series of “aha!” moments. Granted, said “aha!” moments are much less contrived and formulaic than they are in House. It takes a little while for the show to get its legs, but it does. The creators are clearly hoping the eccentric charm of Holmes can shoulder the burden of maintaining audience interest. Said eccentricity can come off a bit aimless at first. Sherlock has the ability examine people almost perfectly, yet the writers do not seem to have the character fully figured out, and there are too many moments where Holmes’ odd behavior seems a bit tacked on, such as when he hypnotizes himself to get through an addiction support group meeting.
Each episode features a mildly captivating crime puzzle for Holmes to solve. Lucy Liu plays Watson. This incarnation of the classic character is a disgraced former surgeon who is assigned to keep Holmes from falling back into his heroin addiction. Very soon she begins assisting him in his investigations as she demonstrates a great aptitude for it. The platonic chemistry between Holmes and Watson is a bit of an issue for this show. Watson is more babysitter than partner, but they do start to grow closer as the series progresses. There is no real hint of romantic connection between them, which I enjoy. This show avoids the laziest possible device for character tension, and I applaud it for that. For you non-bookworms out there, Holmes’ drug use is actually taken from the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There are numerous references to Holmes’ use of various drugs and stimulants, many coming from Watson’s perspective, which means that this adaptations method of having Watson be a caretaker of Holmes is more closely related to the original than one might assume.
The season begins with Sherlock falling off the wagon once again. It started at the end of Season 3, and now there are the consequences. He’s beaten the crap out of a guy, and he’s kind of out of control. So he’s back in recovery. What he doesn’t need is more stress. Along comes Dad, who is so wickedly and perfectly cast to be John Noble. This was teased as the last season ended, and it’s a casting that brings up the level of this season immediately. Morland Holmes is every bit of the enigma his son is. You never quite know if he’s a good guy or a bad guy. He’s charming, but he’s holding dark secrets. While Sherlock doesn’t want to be bothered, Morland is his ticket back to working with the police force. The man has some juice. Of course, like all deals with devils, that favor comes at a price. It doesn’t help that Holmes believes his father might be a killer. On the brighter side Holmes might have made a bit of an emotional connection with Fiona, and that struggle puts a nice evolutionary moment on the character. The arrival of Dad also means the revelation of who his mother is.
As for Watson, she puts herself in the role of Holmes’ protector. She helps to bring the clues Holmes needs to decide if his father is a killer or victim when Morland’s lover is murdered. Watson takes a case from Morland without Holmes knowing. She’s searching for a mole in his company. This is one of those lazy plot devices used on almost every detective/agency series out there. I have to say that there are some twists here that keep this quite interesting. It also leads to discoveries that Morland would rather remain undiscovered. Watson also discovers that she has a sister and all the sibling rivalry that entails. They have a kind of love/hate thing going on.
There’s an episode with a kooky costumed hero who sees himself a character out of the comics. We also meet the famous Henry Baskerville, and we all know how his story turns out. The season ends with a chilling new bad guy who wants to see Moreland dead. The team realizes that they didn’t take the threat seriously enough until it’s too late. Without revealing any spoilers, you can be sure the price is going to be steep here. It’s by far the most exciting season finale of the series to date. You get all 24 episodes along with some extras. There’s the traditional 30-minute season summary, a gag reel, a feature on the season’s villains, and a profile on John Noble/Morland Holmes. The show still has legs, and it’s the sleeper hit of the network. Plenty of places left to go. Anything can happen here. “There is a vast gulf between ‘impossible’ and ‘impossible to imagine’”.