When I returned home from dinner, I discovered my DVR had not been recording the first eight minutes of “Blood Is Thicker.” Cursing the box for its betrayal, I quickly started the recording, and for a moment considered the proper course of action: should I dive into the episode and catch the first few minutes later, or wait until I could see the entire episode?
I offer this bit of autoethnography because it reinforced something that’s sometimes easy to forget when we break down episodes of Elementary in such detail. While we isolate and analyze episodes like “Blood Is Thicker,” they are often built with a less attentive audience in mind. Although the show’s various serialized elements and character moments are meant to be experienced by devoted viewers, the rhythms of a procedural intend for any viewer to stumble onto the channel, catch up on the storyline, and dive into the narrative (as I ended up doing in the interest of getting this review done more quickly).
And so when I turned on my recording to discover Sherlock and Joan searching through a woman’s apartment, I had no idea that apartment belonged to Haley Tyler, nor what fate had befallen her outside of the fact that she had been killed. However, as the episode progressed, the majority of the gaps in the narrative were filled in: I learned she had been stabbed before falling off a balcony, information that was communicated to me multiple times as Joan and Sherlock investigated and eventually solved the case. Although it helps that Tyler’s murder was ultimately a small part of Natalie Gale’s plot to murder her billionaire husband to avoid a pre-nuptial agreement, there was never a point where missing the first eight minutes rendered “Blood Is Thicker” impossible to follow.
This is often used as a way to criticize procedural storytelling, as it must function within clear limitations. It needs to be simple enough to be understood at a quick glance, while simultaneously being interesting enough to hold one’s attention; similarly, details of the case must be repeated constantly while nonetheless changing enough to provide a sense of forward momentum. In this instance, the case uses the classic double back technique, eliminating a suspect in Haley’s murder before backtracking to discover Natalie was truly guilty of murdering her husband and Natalie—this backtracking also functions as a key for the audience, piecing together details you could have forgotten or—as in my case—you might have missed due to a DVR error. The episode is also kind enough to develop Ian Gale as a Steve Jobs stand-in, re-imagining Jobs’ public and recognizable health problems within the realm of the crime procedural, where every health crisis is a harebrained murder scheme involving antibodies and estranged daughters waiting to happen.
I was particularly struck with the episode’s efforts to create clarity in its storytelling during two particularly long sequences in Ian Gale’s hotel suite: one when he first reveals the nature of his condition and his relationship to Tyler, and the other when Sherlock, Joan, and the NYPD return to confront Natalie regarding her plot to murder her husband. In both cases, the episode drags under the weight of exposition, connecting dots and filling in blanks in the interest of ensuring comprehension. The absence of uncertainty is par for the course, but there were moments in that sequence that may have in other circumstances struck me as redundant or overbearing. However, while I normally have copious notes to refer back to, I more than usual appreciated the clarity the scenes provided, and found myself relating to that imagined viewer who procedurals think is tuning in at the 15-minute mark because they’re surfing the channels and feel they have a better chance of following a standalone case than whatever madness is happening on that crazy broadcast drama with ludicrous political storylines airing at the same time on another network.
It’s true that this isn’t what draws us into Elementary, or what tends to drive our conversations here at the site. We’re in it for Sherlock and Joan’s relationship, here bolstered through Sherlock confronting Mycroft’s warning about their father’s displeasure by affirming that his support structure in New York is something he values and desires to maintain, and that he has no intention of returning to London any time soon. In a scene similar to the one where Sherlock first revealed his desire to continue his partnership with Joan in “Details,” Sherlock finds this small moment during a reinvestigation of Tyler’s apartment to nonchalantly introduce the subject and reveal his feelings on the matter. He hesitates the way he always does, at one point claiming that what he wants is irrelevant, but he discusses how London gave him perspective, and that he values his New York team—“even Detective Bell”—and what they offer him. It’s a pivotal scene, and Joan’s support leads Sherlock to make an even greater sacrifice: a letter to his father, expressing his gratitude and his desire to remain in New York.
The stakes of this storyline should have been non-existent. There is no way Elementary is moving to London—as Sherlock suggests when talking with Joan—nor is there any way they’re moving out of the Brownstone when it’s become such an iconic set for the series. However, Sherlock’s struggles to express himself have become a central conflict in the series, and so to see him confront those issues head on carries weight even when the actual circumstances make his decision inevitable. There was certainty driving Sherlock’s final decision, perhaps, but the show’s ongoing character development has made that certainty meaningful in a way that a single procedural story cannot be, and continues to demonstrate the depth of the show’s characterization and the strength of Jonny Lee Miller’s performance at its center.
This would have all made for a solid episode of Elementary, one that acknowledged the somewhat predictable rhythms and utilized them effectively to feed characterization: in the scene in the morgue, I noticed the Latin saying on the wall—Taceant Colloquia. Effugiat Risus. Hic Locus Est Ubi Mors Gaudet Succerrere Vitae. Loosely translated—loose as in I found it on Yahoo! Answers, as the site has yet to require its writers to be able to translate Latin—this reads “Let idle talk be silenced. Let laughter be banished. Here is the place where Death delights to succor life.” It is apparently a common phrase used in morgues, but it also captures Sherlock’s approach to life, foregoing pleasures like prepared meals not because he doesn’t enjoy them—dinner at Mycroft’s restaurant was exquisite—because he feels he should be ever-vigilant and focused. Elementary has never banished laughter, but it has done a good job of keeping its character dynamics from feeling like idle talk, and in general has done well to talk to its weekly corpses and transform them into a sum more compelling than its parts.
In “Blood Is Thicker,” though, we can return mystery to those parts. After the mystery of Irene Adler was solved—if not resolved—at the end of last season, the show has largely avoided serialized mysteries in favor of foregrounding Sherlock’s evolving relationship with Mycroft. What I missed at the beginning of the episode was in line with this choice to foreground this character dynamic, as it featured Sherlock and Mycroft on the roof with single sticks sharing a moment of fraternal bonding—and fraternal violence—that itself carries the show and its characters forward. The end of the episode, however, reframes all of this as a plot between Mycroft and an unseen character, who are trying to solve an unidentified problem that requires Sherlock to return to London. In an episode where Sherlock expressed with certainty his desire to stay in New York, and an episode where the case was solved with absolute certainty, it was invigorating to be met with the spectacle of mystery to carry into conversation as the season continues.
- I believe there was some discussion regarding Mycroft’s potential nefariousness in last week’s comments, so props to those who made the tie between the restaurant name and the character’s place in the canon, or who just saw they cast Rhys Ifans and knew he had to be up to something.
- A slightly more active episode for Joan this week on the detective side—the medical details kept her central to the investigation, and she got some solo detective time while Sherlock met with Mycroft. I appreciated the shift in balance.
- Not a whole lot for William Sadler to do from his hospital bed, but I always enjoy his presence, and was glad the show got more mileage out of Margaret Colin, who I know best as Eleanor Waldorf on Gossip Girl.
- “This is one of those so many questions moments”—Joan, on Sherlock’s steady moose milk supply.
- Mycroft suggests Sherlock and their father haven’t interacted directly in years, and yet “A Giant Gun, Filled With Drugs”—if I remember correctly—implied that Sherlock contacted his father directly for the ransom money. I know Mycroft is mainly noting the two are unlikely to compare notes over his gambit any time soon, but I just found myself thinking about how Sherlock has connected with his father, and whether Mycroft has been pulling even more strings than we realize.
- I was glad Sherlock was profiling the Horse Racing program on the DVR as the boyfriend’s based on cruelty-free cosmetics and not simply on gender.
- Clyde Watch: While I had a brief flash of hope that he would show up in the few minutes I missed, we are once again Clyde-free.