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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

ELEMENTARY Best When "Diabolical"

Article first published as ELEMENTARY Best When "Diabolical" on TheTVKing.

CBS's Elementary has improved a bit in its second year. While it still kowtows to a dumb case-of-the-week format, the writers have begun working in more ongoing character arcs, which are most welcome. Sherlock's brother, Mycroft (Rhys Ifans) stuck around for awhile, and his story is unresolved. Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill) is healing from a bad bullet wound and nursing a grudge against Sherlock (Johnny Lee Miller). Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) is unhappily separated from his wife. And Watson (Lucy Liu) is searching for a soul mate. All of these make the series a little deeper, and a smidgen more enjoyable.

This week's winter return, "The Diabolical Kind," opens with Watson on yet another failed date, while Sherlock's voice-over ruminates on the foolishness of such an exercise. While Sherlock would have one believe that it's logic and science that have soured him on monogamy, I believe his mindset is more solidly based in pain over the betrayal by the woman he loves, Irene Adler / Moriarty (Natalie Dormer).

Thus, we have layers to examine, and room to grow. Will Sherlock ever find a way to come around to Watson's viewpoint? Certainly not with Moriarty, who will never change, but perhaps with someone else? Or will Watson side with Sherlock, finally giving up on her quest for love? One thing that appears certain is that Watson and Sherlock won't find it with one another.

Instead, Watson represents something else to Sherlock, a fitting companion and professional partner. Watson is an enigma that is hard to figure out, intelligent, yet also emotional. She bridges the world between the work that they do together and the personal element. While in most series this would lead to a couple, as the two move close to one another, Sherlock and Watson have a collegial relationship instead, despite their differing genders, and their chemistry just does not have a feeling of two people who want to have sex. I like this a lot.

Sherlock isn't the only one fascinated by Watson's apparent contradictions. Moriarty resurfaces in "The Diabolical Kind," and as she does so, she reveals an obsession with Watson, an x factor Moriarty didn't count on during their last encounter with her. Moriarty admits to being drawn towards Watson because she's a puzzle that isn't easily solved, but one day Moriarty expects to figure her out, and when that happens, Watson will be of no use to her.

Moriarty is wicked enough to tell Watson that Sherlock feels the same, although viewers (and hopefully Watson) will understand that it's not true. Through Watson's influence, Sherlock has developed a number of interpersonal relationships, including with Gregson and Bell, though the latter is in need of repair, and Sherlock has come to see these as valuable. She is responsible for leading him to this conclusion. This indicates he won't be abandoning Watson just because he might come to understand her.

I am one of the few, it seems, pleased by the fact that Moriarty is Irene Adler. It is really cool that Sherlock's greatest love is also his greatest foe, and it makes sense that he would be attracted to someone so complex. She represents an enigma in him and his feelings for her, and I love how the show progresses when they get together.

Although these levels and intricacies are what draws me into Elementary, they (sadly) are not the main point of the installment. Moriarty's daughter is kidnapped by an old associate, and she assists the police, who don't immediately realize the girl is Moriarty's, in trying to get the child back. Sherlock is reluctant to seek Moriarty's help in a limited fashion, but to save the girl, he agrees to work with her, which leads to not only a successful rescue, but a greater comprehension of his feelings for Moriarty.

This is all well and good, but the abduction could have taken place in any episode. The clues that the main characters follow to save the day could also have played out similarly should Moriarty not be connected to the case. Which makes that part of the episode too similar to other crime genre programs, and a bit boring. Even the twist that the girl is biologically Moriarty's is predictable from the start.

Ramses Mattoo (Faran Tahir, Warehouse 13) also represents wasted opportunity. Here, we have someone carefully selected to be Moriarty's jailer. Yet, we see very little in him that makes him equal to the task. He recognizes ten different ways she might escape, but makes no effort to guard against those. And when it becomes clear she is about to flee, he spends a lot of time examining blood on the floor rather than acting. He should be a much more competent, interesting character than he comes across as.

More interesting is how Moriarty and Sherlock relate to one another, and the game Moriarty is playing with the system. This continues their dynamic from last spring's excellent finale, and the door is left open for it to pick up again soon. The more Elementary focuses on this, the better.

One thing I wondered while watching "The Diabolical Kind" is if Mycroft might be behind the kidnapping. When last seen, he mentioned wanting to go after Sherlock from a different angle. Could this be his doing, forcing Sherlock and Moriarty back together for some unknown purpose? I hope that various threads are pulled together down the road, revealing a larger story arc.

Overall, Elementary still lingers in the procedural land that plagues too many otherwise good shows, keeping it ever on the list of shows I consider dropping when my TiVo gets full. But more of this character stuff could save it, and though the show is on CBS, which makes it even less likely to turn into something better than it is now, the hope still lingers that it might.

Elementary airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.

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