This episode of Elementary opens with a ludicrous case being solved by our protagonists. It is suggested that a man organized a flash mob of Raggedy Andy mask-wearing individuals in order to create a diversion so he could stab his boss, and he was caught because the police traced him to the purchase of a bobbin for his antique sewing machine, and then to the murder weapon in his mother’s furnace.
Unfortunately, “Absconded” also ends with one. The episode centers on the case of husband and wife professors who teamed up with a rogue bee researcher—who was sleeping with the wife, unbeknownst to the husband—to instigate cases of Colony Collapse Disorder in the U.S. Northeast so they could hold a conference and lure a member of a royal family from the United Arab Emirates that the wife was seducing online from his palatial estate so they could kidnap and ransom him, a plan that is nearly undone when the rogue bee researcher is being investigated by a man that the wife then poisons in order to induce a heart attack.
There are elements in this case that I appreciated. It was good to see Sherlock’s interest in beekeeping have a more prominent place in an episode, and his investment in this case was both logical and entertaining. I enjoyed the return to AgriNext, and Sherlock’s rant about colony collapse during the episode in which the company first appeared. I liked how the reference to the rogue bee researcher’s lack of credentials—he was an entomology minor, not major—in that meeting ended up becoming a part of Sherlock’s solution to the case.
But at some point, those elements failed to bring order to chaos, in what was one of the most nonsensical stories the show has delivered. Even ignoring that I knew Sutton Foster did it the second she popped up in the credits (since I know I harp on that often), at a certain point in the episode Sherlock and Joan just completely gloss over the fact that the Harpers—I just realized I accidentally made a pun with harp back there—apparently used some sort of elaborate winch system attached to the balcony above in order to lift the Sheikh from the balcony below, as though that’s something people would actually do. Wouldn’t people have seen this happening from below? And more importantly, does the episode ever realistically give a reason why these two professors participated in this elaborate scheme beyond greed?
I will be frank: I just don’t care about anything happening in this case. Sherlock makes the point that there are in fact over one million victims in this case, but yet the episode never circles back around to think about the bee population damaged by the case, caught up in stretching out this elaborate crime with no thematic value. And although I adore Sutton Foster, and appreciated her sass in the midst of a well-designed revolving interrogation scene with the husband, the scale of the crime just grew to the point where it felt disconnected from both the people perpetrating and the people investigating the crime in question.
The one bit of character that came through in the episode was with Gregson, who gets his own B-story for the first time in a while. And yet it’s a B-story that is purposefully withholding: we get Joan doing some cursory investigation into the person who could potentially succeed Gregson should he take a promotion, we get a nice moment between Gregson and Joan as she offers some advice on making big career moves, but the storyline leaves on a note that suggest it’s all setup for something else. Someone is gunning for his job, which creates possibilities for next season, but also makes this storyline fairly inert on its own. Sherlock’s point about them being outside the bureaucracy opens up an interesting angle, but “Absconded” doesn’t get to do much about that.
Like all episodes of Elementary, there is a base level of charm and fun here. There’s Sherlock purposefully getting stung by bees to prove a point! There’s Sherlock arguing that he gets to go investigate a lead simply because he got up first! There are purposefully terrible, generic sexy photos of a blonde Sutton Foster! But there’s just a point at which those fun little moments exist in support of something bloated, and dull, and failing to take advantage of the potential of Sherlock investigating a bee-related mystery. There’s a point where Elementary is capable of better, and a point where a string of episodes that seem stuck in neutral starts to wear on me as a viewer.
Next week is the show’s season finale, but it doesn’t feel like it. This is not, I would argue, inherently a problem—there have been bits and pieces of cumulative storytelling throughout the season that can be activated in the course of the final hour, and could well have been subtly activated in the past few episodes. And yet I can’t help but feel like I should feel some kind of anticipation without having to watch CBS’ preview for next week, and “Absconded” completes a string of episodes that failed to balance the show’s short- and long-term storytelling into the kind of cohesive whole the show is capable of, and which the show delivered earlier in the season.
- In my synopsis above, I didn’t even have time for the red herring bodyguard who, upon discovering his charge was missing, started pawning all his stuff for reasons I’m still not entirely clear on. Just so much happening.
- Interesting use of the real-life UAE Mission to the United Nations—I’m not always in favor of more explanation, but I wish they had gone into more context as the political side of the story played out.
- I appreciated that the callback to the zoo client in “The Female Of The Species,” who is the moderator of BeeCircuit.com, wasn’t actually dealt with specifically. It’s a nice Easter egg, and another part of the continuity that gave this case such potential.
- I’m very curious to see if the writers shake up the NYPD side of the equation—after having messed with the Joan/Sherlock partnership at the end of last season (after establishing it the previous year), it seems like a productive place to shuffle things up, but how to specifically accomplish that is going to be a question for next season.
- Speaking of next season, we’re in the think of the network upfronts, but know that Elementary is almost assuredly coming back, although a move to Friday seems probable.
- We’ll get to the absence of Clyde in a second, but can you believe that the show acknowledged the existence of a Golden Retriever but refused to show it? You don’t get to make jokes about dogs without delivering dogs, Elementary. Bad form. [Edit: So it turns out there’s a “blink and you’ll miss it” shot of the dog in the episode, so I amend my complaint to there not being enough screen time.]
- Clyde Watch: Do you think sometimes Clyde—absent from the episode, perhaps over a contract dispute over how much attention the bees were getting this week—overhears the case that Sherlock and Joan are trying to solve and just rolls his eyes? Can turtles roll their eyes? All Google is giving me is a piece about what the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can teach us about life, which, not helpful. All I’m saying is this: Clyde would like smarter cases.