Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Elementary: “The Long Fuse”

Illustration for article titled Elementary: “The Long Fuse”

It doesn’t take a metaphor scientist to know that “The Long Fuse” has created a conundrum of sorts. Should this review open with a discussion of Sherlock’s “Memory Game”—watching seven televisions and reading a book simultaneously and trying to retain all of the information—as an apt metaphor for the weekly procedural, a test of our brainpower to reassure us that we’re still able to piece together carefully constructed clues to solve a mystery? Or do I instead go with the crossword puzzle as a metaphor for the same phenomenon, the daily “solutions” becoming easier the more you play and learn the basic generic codes of puzzle-making?

Perhaps revealing my aspirations to achieve the rank of metaphor scientist, why choose? Both are activities generally seen as stimulation for the brain, which helps keep your mind sharp as you age, but the difference comes in the type of gratification. A crossword puzzle gives you the opportunity to “solve” a puzzle each day, reaching a point of completion at which the day’s stimulation comes to a close. By comparison, Sherlock’s memory activity offers no clear form of gratification, at least not initially: His memory exercise lacks clear meaning until he needs to remember something, as he does when an antiquated nautical term inexplicably rings a bell. The crossword puzzles are the procedural crimes that begin and end with each episode; the memory game is the serialized character-based storytelling, small nuances that could become important or might rather prove basic color for a weekly story.

Speaking of metaphors, “The Long Fuse” seems an ironic title given that Sherlock has a short fuse, and that the show has officially activated the ticking clock on Watson’s time as Sherlock’s sober companion. While it makes more sense when applied to the episodic storyline, where a bomb is accidentally detonated four years after it was meant to go off, the title nonetheless suggests a type of storytelling the show has mostly avoided. The sudden appearance of Irene Adler’s existence was followed by the sudden dismissal of Irene Adler’s existence, and she bears no mention in tonight’s episode. Although the talk of Watson’s looming departure raises a degree of serialized storytelling, it still doesn’t feel like there’s any long-fused bombs sitting around waiting to be remembered at this point in its run (particularly when you consider there’s no way Watson actually leaves Sherlock’s side, therefore necessitating some kind of intervention yet to be determined).

As with “One Way To Get Off,” the weekly side of “The Long Fuse” works fairly well as a series of smaller mysteries. Learning the date of the bomb moves Holmes and Watson onto solving the identity of the eco-terrorist, which then leads to the writing on the paper, which forces Sherlock into the employee files, which gets us to the dead body in the wall, which eventually circles back to the video tape that reveals the bomber was Lisa Edelstein’s public relations executive with the prostitute past. Sherlock’s discovery of the dead body in the wall was particularly well-structured, letting us see enough of Sherlock’s thought process but leaving the punchline—the fact he bashed in the wall—for the final shot. The integration of the memory game is sharp, the crossword puzzle connection is clever (giving meaning to the otherwise random “Novocaine” writing on the newspaper), and enough of the smaller mysteries reached enjoyable solutions that I didn’t mind the general familiarity of it all.

However, where the storyline falls apart is if we apply any kind of logic to it. Indeed, while the clues all add up to suggest that Edelstein’s character was the culprit, the episode never bothers to reveal a number of key details, chief among them why any public relations executive would turn to a pipe bomb to eliminate a blackmail threat. The logic of wanting to do something to eliminate the threat makes sense, and I’ll even accept the ham-fisted “Your father taught you how to drywall” nonsense that Sherlock used to justify leaving him in the wall, Dennis Pearson-style. But the quick flashes of Edelstein building a pipe bomb are laughably implausible, and the show makes no attempt to match up her character with the nature of the attack. Edelstein wasn’t given enough to work with in the script to reveal the kind of character who could—back up against the wall—build a pipe bomb and hatch a plot to blow up her blackmailer. While that is the logical end of the storyline from a clue-solving perspective (using the eco-terrorist letters as a cover, had the bomb actually gone off when intended), it doesn’t add up with the characterization, and the end of the episode needed to do more to link character and action to create a satisfying solution.

It’s strange, really, since the show is doing a much better job of that outside of its episodic storytelling. The question of finding Sherlock’s sponsor is handled in ways that feel consistent with the characters we’ve come to know, with Watson’s insistence and Sherlock’s stubbornness continuing to prove an engaging dynamic. Alfredo’s introduction is carefully designed (the lock-picking connection seeming a desired endpoint), but I like the idea that Sherlock’s initial impression of his potential sponsor—that Watson would hate him—is revealed to be false. There’s another moment during the case when Watson points out an exception to a rule about bomb makers offered by Sherlock—a rule that Edelstein’s character meets, to the episode’s credit—and he accepts it, acknowledging that his general ideology is not without room for disagreement. It’s a reminder that Sherlock isn’t always right, and that his confidence does not come free of vulnerability. Although discussion of Sherlock not wanting Watson to leave seems a bit on-the-nose, laying out the increasingly mutually beneficial nature of their arrangement too plainly, the inevitability of their continued partnership didn’t keep this from being an engaging and enjoyable search. Indeed, it rather reinforced that the first eight episodes have done enough to make me actively want to see that partnership continue.


“The Long Fuse” is another episode that functions as a linear collection of mysteries that eventually circle back to a logical conclusion. With each word solved, you get closer to completing the puzzle; with each piece of information committed to memory, you get nearer to solving the riddle of it all. Regardless of which metaphor you go with, the episode provides enough of a mental stimulus to make for a pleasurable—if, yes, illogical—way to spend an hour.

Stray observations:

  • This Week In Casting: Lisa Edelstein really did feel wasted (with nary an opportunity to draw out any House parallels), but I will say that her flirtation with Sherlock over crossword puzzles did enough to make me think that she was hired as a potential love interest as opposed to a cold-blooded murderer.
  • I’m tempted to reduce the letter grade for the ridiculousness of that web design office. Skateboards? “Of course he’s like 45 or something?” Is this what television writers think young professionals act/speak like? I bet Jeffrey Paul King is like 45 or something.
  • So given that Cheech And Chong’s Next Movie came out in 1980, how old were the writers suggesting that tape was precisely? I’m not disputing the suggestion that Edelstein is attractive enough to play a much younger version of herself, but how long ago was she in business school, exactly?
  • Appreciated the callback to Sherlock’s dislike of bankers—a small bit of continuity, but a welcome one.
  • The bomb was counting down until it was going to explode; I was counting down until the terrible CGI explosion.
  • Pickup lines, care of Sherlock: “You want sex? I’m not averse.”
  • I suggest above that Sherlock was wrong about Alfredo being a poor choice for his sponsor, but is it possible he actually knew he was the right choice? I didn’t read it that way initially, but it seems plausible.