I’ve almost given up watching CBS’s Elementary on multiple occasions. It’s not that the show is bad; I do find it enjoyable. It’s just that it far too often is a case-of-the-week procedural, something CBS airs a lot of. When the story plays out basically the same week after week, I get bored and lose interest, especially with the plethora of high-quality programming on cable networks, and a limited amount of time to watch television. I tend to prefer writers that stretch themselves and tell an original story.
The reason I stick with this series, however, even when there’s a string of repetitive drivel, is because the characters and the actors playing them are just so darn good. Few would dare criticize Johnny Lee Miller’s take on the emotionally damaged, brilliant, socially challenged detective. Perhaps more surprising, though, is Lucy Liu’s version of Joan Watson, who at first seems gimmicky, but has grown into a solid part on her own that deserves equal billing with the great Sherlock Holmes. Add to that some wonderful recurring characters boasting complex relationships with our leads, especially Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft (Rhys Ifans), and it’s hard to turn away from the show.
Last spring’s finale ends on quite the cliffhanger when Sherlock accepts a job in London, presumably leaving behind his partner and housemate, Watson. This week’s premiere, “Enough Nemesis to Go Around,” picks up months later. Watson is now working independently as an investigator for the department, and is none too pleased when Sherlock shows back up, a new protege named Kitty (Ophelia Lovibond, Titanic: Blood and Steel, in which she was also named Kitty) in tow.
The way Liu plays Watson in this episode is extremely impressive. This is a hurt Watson, deeply betrayed when Sherlock leaves without a word. You can understand her desire to have nothing more to do with him, ever.
But even through that, she still has compassion for the broken man she’s played a huge role in putting back together. She sets boundaries so that Sherlock knows what he does is wrong, making him take responsibility for his actions. At the same time, she allows him to come back to work at the department, albeit not as her partner, unable to turn him back out on the street. Liu is able to convey the inner turmoil and layers of this duality and make it look easy.
Joan’s sympathy likely stems from the fact that Sherlock is brutally honest with her. He admits why he left, why he replaced her with Kitty, and why he has come back. He isn’t trying to manipulate her. He really exposes his vulnerabilities, and that gets to her. He still doesn’t deserve everything going back to normal, and you cannot blame Watson for refusing to let that happen. However, she leaves the door open for him, and should Sherlock work valiantly to repair their relationship, which he will because he needs and misses Watson, then some day, they can be friends again.
Given how fond CBS shows usually are of the status quo, this will likely happen sooner than it should. I give it three episodes, max, before Kitty is out and Joan is back to working with Sherlock. It should be more like ten, but for now, I’m trying to just enjoy the delicious drama and tension Elementary is delivering.
Part of why Joan is able to stay as strong as she is, not giving into Sherlock’s demands, is because he helps make her who she is just as much as she has helped him. She is a bit adrift when she first comes to stay with Sherlock. By “Enough Nemesis to Go Around,” she has things so together that she’s become an invaluable police asset on her own. It’s telling that Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) only allows Sherlock to return to work with Watson’s permission. Part of that is because Joan has formed close bonds of friendship with Gregson and Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill). However, emotion would not override talent, and Watson has proven herself quite capable at her job.
At the same time as Joan soars, Sherlock is at his weakest, able to figure out why he is the way he is, but unable to fix it. It’s funny that he tries to mold Kitty into the new Watson, not understanding that what he has with Joan is not something that can be copied. There is an ineffable quality to their relationship, and in typical Sherlock fashion, he only concentrates on the quantifiable qualities, which is why he fails to bond with Kitty in the same way he has with Watson. One day, he will have to learn better.
Elementary would be smart to remember how good the dynamic is between Sherlock and Watson in “Enough Nemesis to Go Around.” Their chemistry is ever-changing and they play very strongly off of one another. These are two personalities that belong together, but aren’t yet a perfect fit. The character-study aspect of the series is one of its best elements, beautifully developed. With Liu and Miller helping shape them, this is a duo I’ll keep watching for years to come.
Elementary airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00P0ME9XM]