Wednesday , September 23 2020
Holmes investigates as series of suspicious hospital deaths. Is murder at play?

TV Review: Elementary – “Lesser Evils”

A chance encounter with a corpse while experimenting in the morgue leads Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) to discover a hospital angel of death in this week’s Elementary episode “Lesser Evils.” Bringing Watson (Lucy Liu) into her native professional territory, she ably assists while reconnecting with a former colleague and close friend. As she dabbles in her abandoned field using her newly-honed deductive skills, Watson also saves the life of an old colleague’s young patient when she suggests that the girl may have a serious heart condition that will kill her on the table. Her association with Holmes is obviously rubbing off!

Having believed that Watson gave up medicine because she’d had no choice, Sherlock is surprised to learn that she’d given up surgery voluntarily. Whatever medical error she’d made yielded only a suspension; she might have returned to her surgical practice at any time.

Watson clearly misses some of medicine’s thrill, but like Holmes giving up drugs and alcohol, Watson has given up something that maybe gave herself a false sense of herself. Doctors, especially surgeons (not unlike this week’s villain) can gain enormous egos, dealing so often with life and death situations, rescuing the dying from the clutches of death. God complexes are dangerous, and unfortunately the wakeup come with tragic collateral damage.

Was the god-like position of surgeons in the medical pecking order, and the adrenaline rush of the operating theatre Watson’s drug of choice? And was the patient she lost her tragic wake up call — a crisis not terribly unlike Sherlock’s dark night of the soul back in London (whatever it was)?

The fascinating thing about this week’s case is that the serial killer himself provides the red herring for solving the murder mystery, and a completely new take on “the janitor did it.” I sympathized with the janitorial Angel of Death and his position as an immigrant of the Former Soviet Union. I know so many immigrants from the FSU: engineers, attorneys, doctors and scientists who have come here over the last few decades only to work as housekeepers, taxi drivers, and, yes, janitors.

My children’s nanny and her husband, both from the Ukraine (15-odd years ago) were both highly respected physicians in their home country. The retraining takes many years and is a challenge because of language, age, and other barriers. So to find a janitor in a hospital who had been a physician in the Ukraine is not at all a stretch of the imagination.

Yes, the janitor did it, but what had he done but put already dying patients near death out of their misery. What he had done is illegal, but is at least understandable. The episode’s real villain, Dr. Baldwin (The Newsroom’s David Harbour) had known of the Angel’s activities, and rather than stopping him, he had chosen instead to exploit the well-intentioned mercy killer. 

As a surgeon, the reckless Baldwin has a terrible track record, insisting that his experimental, risky procedures save many lives — more than he loses. He seems almost a Dr. Gregory House, but with neither House’s mad skillz nor his hyper-objectivity and self-critical attitude.

Baldwin is a menace, believing that he can do recklessly experimental surgeries that may, indeed, save lives, but in his case, his fatalities are too numerous to ignore. Having known that one more error would mean the end of his illustrious (at least in his own inflated opinion of himself) career, he sets up the janitor when he accidentally leaves a clamp in a patient. Instead of admitting the error and removing the clamp, he falsifies her records to make it seem as if she was terminal, knowing that Angel would end her life. His easily fixed mistake is now buried with (and inside) her. But the patient is just the anomaly Holmes needs. Her death doesn’t fit the janitor’s MO. And uncovering the reason why solves the case.    

I’d had Baldwin pegged as the killer early on, but then was thrown by the contrary evidence. I’d been wondering about the janitor as well, and eventually figured it out just slightly before our hero. 

We learned little additional about Sherlock this week, but loads about Watson. I wondered up until she hit “delete” on her past career whether she was going to retain all of those images of her past life. Does she regret making the change to this new life? I would imagine she does, which is why she feels compelled to interfere in her friend’s case. 

I think that for Sherlock, the biggest puzzle is figure out his new partner in crime-solving. And with her increasingly finely honed deductive skills, I think Watson’s most challenging puzzle is Sherlock. I don’t think either of them will ever grow bored of trying to solve the other. 

Elementary airs Thursday nights at 10:00 ET on CBS.

About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out 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)."

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