We—as viewers and critics—often make distinctions between episodes of a crime procedural that focus on a weekly, episodic narrative and those that contribute to an overarching narrative. We often refer to the latter as “serial” episodes, ones that abandon the traditional form of storytelling in order to contribute to a broader character study or an ongoing mystery. However, this seems misleading to me: Despite the fact that “A Landmark Story” explicitly returns to Elementary’s take on Moriarty, the episode is structured in much the same way as a normal episode of the series. There are murders, Sherlock and Watson discover clues regarding those murders, and then we reach a conclusion.
In other words, “A Landmark Story” is just as procedural as any other episode of the series, but its procedure is more explicitly designed to speak to that overarching mystery. This does change the stakes of the episode, and I felt that extra bit of excitement from seeing Vinnie Jones’ Moran and returning to the mystery of Moriarty’s identity; there’s no question this feels different from last week’s episode. However, the episode does not register as being entirely abnormal if not for this sense of recall: If a viewer were to drop in on this episode having seen no previous episodes, they would get a fairly accurate depiction of how the show tells stories on a regular basis.
This is both a criticism and a compliment. On the latter point, I appreciate that the show doesn’t need to explode its storytelling model in order to speak to character or plot development. The episode uses the pace of Sherlock’s investigation to slowly escalate tension and push him further toward both Moriarty and his personal breaking point he nearly reached when dealing with Moran when he thought he was Moriarty (or rather when he thought he had been the one who killed Irene). With each new development, he becomes more and more certain that Moriarty is the one behind these mysterious yet apparently accidental deaths, and the closer he gets to certainty the more Joan becomes worried about where this is heading. Given how intrinsic Sherlock’s deductions are to his identity, it only makes sense that solving crimes would be what would trigger both his personal growth—like his great scene with Joan on the bench waiting for their killer in the park—and his potential downfall.
However, I have two concerns about “A Landmark Story” as it fits into the broader scheme of the series. The first is that while F. Murray Abraham’s unnoticed serial killer was clever, and I enjoyed Sherlock’s glee at discovering that he had used bees as a murder weapon (he literally skips while deducing his way through that one for Watson), I was unnerved by how unaffected I felt by the introduction of a serial killer. I understand that we’re supposed to consider this a serial killer of intellect, and liked the detail that the character has been living as a psychopath in plain sight until he was picked out by Moriarty’s associate, but it calls attention to just how many people die on a weekly basis on Elementary. In suggesting this episode largely used the same storytelling as previous episodes, it’s acknowledging that the show often stacks murder onto murder, which has taken some of the impact out of the act of murder in and of itself. While the rather inventive murders that Gottlieb commits are interesting, they aren’t exactly resonant, and that’s a pattern I think works against the show’s storytelling moving forward.
Tied to that point, “A Landmark Story” is also treading in dangerous waters as it relates to Moriarty himself. To the episode’s credit, we meet Moriarty at the end of the hour over the phone: It would have been easy to leave his message to Moran as his final word, and to not provide the phone call that allows us to hear a—if not his own—voice to represent the man. However, the writers have now twice pulled the “Hey, here’s someone who could totally be Moriarty, oh wait it’s totally not” card, first with Moran in “M.” and then here with John Douglas. The problem is that John Douglas is an underdeveloped character, and his showdown with Sherlock is the biggest disappointment in the episode. The setting is nondescript, the conversation is generic, and there’s none of that fire and uncertainty that characterized the climactic scenes of “M.” It’s a false climax, we learn. In truth, the episode is building to Moran’s attempted suicide and Moriarty’s phone call. However, falsehoods nonetheless reflect on the show’s approach to its ongoing serial narrative, and many of those—like The Mentalist’s Red John, for example—depend on constant variations of “Your princess is in another castle.”
“A Landmark Story” is still an episode that reflects on what the show has done well in its first season. The early-episode autopsy is a nice piece of comic timing from Miller and Liu, the aforementioned scene in the park features some nice discussion of the characters’ partnership as a meaningful connection in Sherlock’s life, and Vinnie Jones’ Moran is a startling, violent presence that I’m hopeful continues to recur (and may well given how purposefully the episode left his fate open-ended). However, whereas I was startled by “M.” and felt it signaled a dramatic change for the series, “A Landmark Story” registered as just a variation on the same theme: another serial killer tied to Moriarty, another roundabout chase around the man’s identity, etc.
It may seem unfair to judge an episode based on the uneasiness it creates for the narrative’s future, but it’s inevitable when writing a review of an episode that ends on a clear cliffhanger. In addition, however, “A Landmark Story” has the clear goal of building anticipation for the storyline about to unfold with Moriarty, and while I remain invested and interested in that storyline I’m also less convinced than I was coming out of “M.” that the show is avoiding some of the pitfalls that a show like The Mentalist ran into. For what was supposed to be the beginning of the show shifting gears in preparation for its finale, “A Landmark Story” felt strikingly familiar, which was at the end of the day both a comfort and a concern as we move toward the end of the season.
- While I don’t want to actively spoil Homeland’s second season in case any of you haven’t watched it, I do have to wonder how aware the writers were of the F. Murray Abraham connection when the writers cribbed from that particular plot point. The episode wasn’t built around it, but I nonetheless found it distracting.
- My first thought when writing notes about Gottlieb’s methods was about Terra Nova’s now infamous “How do you kill a man with a dinosaur?” question, which would totally be the “Futuristic Pre-history” equivalent to Gottlieb’s crime spree, and which says a lot about how my brain works.
- “Myles Tries To Spot Canon References”: As noted in last week’s comments, I missed that “Dead Man’s Switch” was adapting a specific Conan Doyle story. This week, however, I was paying double attention and caught the nod to “The Problem Of Thor Bridge.” So I’m learning!
- “I am dissecting a body in the middle of the night. We are not having a moment.” I like that Joan says this—after Sherlock clearly tricks her into performing the autopsy by hesitating—before later having a moment while staking out a hive of killer bees.
- I didn’t see this news many places, but CBS announced a Baker Street Irregulars webseries, which I’ll be curious to see—I’ve said a few times that recurring players help expand the series’ world, and so I think a webseries could be a great way to cultivate characters who could then pop up within the series itself.
- Based on the previews—and, let’s be real, the casting—it’s clear that we’ll be seeing at least some sense of Sherlock’s past with Irene Adler in the weeks to come. I’m curious how people feel about that relationship—I’m wondering if my lack of connection with the serial narrative in this episode has something to do with my mostly unchanged, fairly underdeveloped sense of who Irene Adler was. The more the show talks about her in vague terms, the less interested I become, so the sooner that becomes concrete, the better.