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TV Review: Elementary – “M”

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Last night’s Elementary was, by far, the best (and most fearless) episode of the series debut season with the intriguingly titled “M.” When helping Gregson (Aidan Quinn) investigate a brutal murder, Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) recognizes the earmarks of an adversary he thought he’d left behind in London. 

Holmes had been assisting Scotland Yard in apprehending a sadistic serial killer whose signature was to hang his victims upside down and eviscerate them, allowing them to bleed to death. As Holmes had gotten closer to catching him, the killer had gotten very personal, choosing Holmes’ girlfriend Irene Adler as his next victim. Irene’s death plunged Holmes into an abyss of heroin from which he’d only emerged much later, in New York where we, and Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) meet him at the start of the series. 

But now he has apparently tracked Holmes across the pond, leaving his mark and further tormenting the consulting detective. Holmes is read, this time, and rather than catching him and turning him over to the police, Holmes is intent on torturing and murdering (who he thinks is) Moriarty. It is a cold and calculated revenge Holmes seeks, vengeance for the murder of Irene and for all the other murders committed. 

But can anything be that easy? Not bloody likely (although pretty damn bloody, to be sure). 

Last night’s episode had everything that makes this series superb, and what compelled me to both watch and write about it in the first place. The past few episodes had edged into the largely procedural with a few touches here and there of the character exploration that drives the series beyond mere “crime drama.” 

When Holmes catches up with the murder, catching him nearly in the act of another evisceration, he brings “M” to a dark, empty building, stringing him and preparing first to torture him, and then to let him die. This is a very bold move for a network television series, and I was wondering how the series would deal with its central character murdering even such a despicable villain in cold blood. 

Of course, in the end, Sherlock realizes it’s not really Moriarty, but not easily. The killer, a hired gun, has been dispatched by Holmes’ adversary to torment and terrorize. And while Holmes injures him, he also believes that this murderer will ultimately help him catch up with Moriarty. 

Watson is understandably worried about her client, whom she’s about to finish with and move on to another recovering addict. She’s reluctant now to end her time with him, but it’s not only her concern for him and how close he is to the frayed end of his emotional rope. She is also reluctant to leave the chase, the puzzles and the excitement she gets from her affiliation with Sherlock. 

Jonny Lee Miller is superb in “M.” It is a controlled, but emotional performance. He is cold and calculating, methodical in intent. His eyes and tightly coiled body language reflect not only the ruthlessness with which he intends to deal with “M,” but also the deep emotions this encounter has brought to the surface. There is a sense that Holmes is somewhere else in his head entirely, frightening to Joan and to us. 

Miller is also great in conveying to us his feelings about Watson’s departure. He says little until the emotional reveal to her at the end of the episode, but it is clear that his reticence says more than words can. Holmes’ admission at the end that he truly values what Watson has done for him is a great payoff coming at the end of an emotionally exhausting night for Sherlock. 

It is both Watson’s worry about Sherlock’s emotional state and her desire to keep working with him that compels her to phone his father, requesting to stay on as his recovery companion. Although he declines to continue her services, she chooses to lie to Holmes, telling him that his father will continue to pay her. I believe she does that to protect her own conflicted feelings as well as not reveal the extent of her worry about Holmes at this point. Liu also does a great job at conveying Watson’s emotions while trying to keep them in check. 

It is a great place to leave the story as the series takes a short break before returning with new episodes at the end of the month. In case you missed last night’s episode, you can watch it on the Elementary  official site. Elementary airs Thursday nights at 10:00 p.m. on CBS.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her debut novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse comes out October 11 from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • I think this was one of the best episodes so far. I like the direction in which the show is headed.


  • Action Kate

    Barbara, did you post this in a hurry? You have a number of small mistakes:

    • To eviscerate is to remove the viscera, the entrails or the guts. What Moran did was slit the victims’ throats, for which there is no particular verb, thus exsanguinating them (removing all the blood).

    • Third paragraph: Holmes is ready, not read.

    • Also in the third paragraph: Holmes is intent on torturing M. He has not heard the name Moriarty yet, or Moran for that matter.

    • Last para on page 1: The first sentence is doubly confusing and should read: “Of course, in the end, Sherlock realizes that Moran is not the one who killed Irene, but that acceptance doesn’t come easily.”

    I found Miller’s performance at the very end on the sofa to be much more powerful than the torture scene. I’m sorry, but in this series Miller mostly comes across as a slightly bored, formerly spoiled scion of a wealthy family who learned the hard way what it’s like to be without money. He’s brilliant, no doubt, but this character is broken and didn’t mend quite properly.

    When he announced to Liu that he was going to torture and murder M, it was with the same dispassionate glee that he used to announce that he was thinking of turning her room into an apiary. I really saw no anguish, anger, vengeance, disgust, anything.

    Same in the scene where he’s interrogating Moran: His lips tremble briefly, but he smothers the reaction so quickly that the audience doesn’t have time to identify with him. And the director shot him in partial shadow, so we can’t see the rest of his face.

    Now, the moment when he’s sitting on the sofa with Liu, and she has her hand gently on his leg — when the only movement is his eyes, trapped, because he isn’t sure if he’s allowed to look at her, allowed to reveal what he’s feeling — that was powerful acting.

    This episode moved the arc of the series forward, to be sure, but Vinnie Jones blew Miller off the screen.