As the investigation at the heart of “Snow Angels” unfolds, Sherlock Holmes makes an observation: given how skillful the thieves were in orchestrating the theft of millions of dollars of worn-out bills, he has a certain degree of respect for them. Indeed, he notes that “if they hadn’t killed someone, I’d have half a mind to let them get away with it.”
Sherlock’s motivations to solve a crime depend on two things: either there is an injustice that needs to be rectified (in this case, the death of the security guard), or there is something about the case that makes it interesting to him on an intellectual level. In the case of “Snow Angels,” Sherlock isn’t all that interested in the security guard’s death until he learns he’ll be solving the crime in a snowed-in New York City suffering from massive power failure. And he only becomes really interested in the case when it’s discovered that the phones they initially believed to be central to the crime were just a red herring for a larger score (the aforementioned currency theft). As the Elementary writers construct cases, they’re not so much crafting a coherent narrative as they are putting a carrot in front of Sherlock, creating new twists and new obstacles that will entice him to remain engaged with the crime in question.
The effectiveness of these techniques with viewers can vary, as it does in “Snow Angels.” The central mystery is never exactly dull, but it changes so many times that there’s never much to latch onto. The episode becomes less about the nature of the theft—I never particularly cared how it was pulled off—and more about how solving it gives the show an excuse to make some small inflections on the traditional procedural format. We know from the beginning who committed the crime, and the how of it was more interesting to Sherlock than it was to me, which meant that the conclusion of a corrupt FEMA official was not so much predictable as it was inert. I couldn’t have predicted it was her—although her early line of dialogue made her an ideal Scooby Doo-villain-style reveal—but I also had no emotional response whatsoever to Sherlock’s revelation. The episode defines her motive as “She’s not paid very much,” as though that is sufficient characterization, and then sweeps the details of the case under the rug to focus on other, more important details.
Those details were in how the crime was engaged, which helped to elevate the episode beyond the plot itself. This begins with the snowstorm, which is frankly just refreshing to see given how many other shows that film in New York City don’t engage with weather on this scale. Yes, it involved a lot of CGI snow and dodgy green screen, but there were a few scenes where the weather made the episode feel almost novel as far as crime procedurals go. The loss of power also forces Sherlock to make some concessions, and takes the Internet out of the picture as a research tool, giving characters like Bell a little bit more work to do. There iss some enjoyable old school policing here that, while far from revelatory, nonetheless gave the episode a different kind of feel than other episodes of other procedurals.
It also helped that the episode continues to passively work Joan into the detective process. There’s a great moment in the initial investigation where Sherlock arrives at the bullet hole in the wall, stops, and just waits for Joan to piece things together. It’s a nice pause, one that creates a more interesting flow than Jonny Lee Miller just talking his way through an entire scene. They pick up on that issue of flow later on when Joan, after Sherlock has revealed half a theory to show his intelligence without piecing together how he reached the conclusion, throws out a bunch of random theories—one involves canine lupus—to demonstrate what Sherlock sounds like to her. The show’s storytelling hasn’t changed since the two became partners, but the flow of the investigation scenes is shifting slightly, and I’m enjoying seeing those inflections play out. As much as other procedurals have become stuck in predictable character interactions, there’s still a bit of room for this dynamic to shift, something that the episode uses to good effect in those small moments even if it does nothing to elevate the story on the whole.
That being said, “Snow Angels” is not interested in prioritizing story, at least in the traditional sense. Instead, it takes time to introduce one more piece of the Sherlock Holmes canon and another character that enters into his network of associates. In the former case, the introduction of Miss Hudson as a transsexual muse who will become their regular housekeeper is one of those changes that depends on execution, and transgender actress Candis Cayne does a really great job with the role. There’s a certain familiarity with Sherlock that makes her an interesting foil, someone that Joan can talk to and who can also simultaneously understand Sherlock’s obsessive tendencies. While certainly on a smaller scale as far as characters go, the change reminds me of the shift of Watson to a woman; while the idea on the surface feels like a provocation of the original canon, the execution is more subtle and character-driven, creating some fun recurring potential moving forward.
As a procedural moves forward, it has to be thinking about fleshing out its world, and Elementary isn’t really in a position to expand its central characters: there’s no room for another detective, or another consultant, or another police figure. Where the show can build in recurring elements, though, is in characters like Becky Ann Baker’s Pam. Baker isn’t given a whole lot to do, but the scenes in the snow plow were a fun diversion within the main story, and the idea that Sherlock now has another associate he can call on should he need something contributes to the show’s world-building even if the character never actually returns—even the possibility adds a larger narrative space for viewers to fill in. I’d love to see the show keep building out his list of associates, and bring enough of them back for viewers to get excited about the next “Pam Episode.”
Case in point: “Snow Angels” is perhaps most meaningful to me as a viewer as our most sustained glimpse of Clyde—yes, the tortoise—since his introduction into the story back in “The Red Team.” I had the somewhat unique experience of watching the episode with a group of friends, and Clyde was the part of the episode that got them most excited (none of them watch the show normally). And yet for me Clyde has taken on special meaning, become a recurring stray observation; his absence had been noted among the viewership (at least here in the comments section), and his return was likely triumphed among those same viewers. As much as a procedural needs to keep our attention with each week’s narrative, it’s not going to be able to excite us about a murder every week, even if Sherlock finds something be interested in. Instead, it’s going to be moments like Clyde with red tape on his back role-playing as an ambulance munching on some lettuce that builds the kind of engagement that lets you look past a somewhat dull mystery and get excited about the show’s future.
- Speaking of which, since we last met Elementary was officially—if not surprisingly—renewed for a second season, so there is now an official future after the final five episodes still to come.
- I was glad to see them Jill Flint—Royal Pains, The Good Wife—as the criminal we knew and someone I didn't recognize as the FEMA organizer. I had actually successfully forgotten about the latter, since casting hadn't tipped me off, and I generally enjoy Flint's work.
- There’s something comforting about fake cell phone names like the Toshiwo Verzia 8—I’ve missed how product placement has robbed us of great fake electronic names.
- I think the only way the end of the episode would have been particularly exciting for me is if they had really been stealing onesies from a Baby Gap.
- One of my colleagues groaned audibly when Sherlock implied that Joan had numerous black belts—while I’m not sure if, with context for the characters’ relationship, I would read that as an explicitly racial statement (I think he was just joking with himself about her lack of physical prowess due to a lack of training), I see my colleague's point.
- It wasn’t particularly substantive, but I really enjoyed the final scene: There was something about Sherlock casually splattering blood on the floor and the promise that they were about to have a lesson that gave a nice sense of them living lives beyond this particular story, that their training would be continuing between this week and next. That sense of continuity isn’t big, but it endears me to the show.
- Clyde Watch: I figure Clyde earned a mention in the main review what with his appearance, but I think we can all agree that a tortoise makes a better ambulance than a stapler. If nothing else, “Snow Angels” taught us that.