Saturday, January 04, 2014

Review: Elementary Episode 2.12, "The Diabolical Kind"



That was an interesting start to the New Year.

After the show dragged its feet through the muck of trying to contrive a scenario where New York Police could have some kind of beef with Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), we’re treated in this episode with the return of Sherlock’s No. 1 enemy, the nefarious Jamie Moriarty (Natalie Dormer). Tonight, a little girl gets kidnapped from wealthy parents, being held for an unconscionable ransom of $50 million. It sounds like your rudimentary kidnapping…until Holmes hears the voice of the caller demanding the ransom- it’s none other than Devon Gaspar (Andrew Howard) the very lieutenant who posed as Moriarty on the phone in Episode 1.22, “Risk Management”. Moriarty is involved? What could she possibly want out of this?

Predictably, at first everyone’s just a little bit skeptical of Moriarty’s motives- after all, she’s a master criminal, adept at the art of manipulation and cunning, a fact that hit too close to Holmes after the Irene Adler mishap. The episode begins with this part of the narrative intact, as we find out that Moriarty’s been moved to a shipyard under the care of federal agents, where she’s free to continue writing letters and engaging in her favourite pastime of painting (complete with a wonderful picture of Joan Watson (Lucy Liu)). Moriarty, it seems, has been asking for a lot of favours from the federal government, which the government seems too happy to give her since they feel like she’s an important “asset”. Given that Moriarty’s personality would make Narcissus blush, it’s no surprise that Moriarty milks the government for all she can, and tonight it seems like Moriarty is continuing this trend, hoping to rope Holmes in along the way.

Holmes isn’t fooled, though, and deduces that a series of numbers found in the crime scene are some kind of a code that Moriarty planted. At that point, Moriarty’s gravy train crumbles in the light of Holmes’ exposition, as the federal agent that’s taking care of Moriarty decided that she has to wear her locator bracelets even when she’s inside her cell. Moriarty complains about this, telling the agent that the cuffs make it hard for her to paint, but the agent rightly tells her that if she hadn’t abused the government’s trust they wouldn’t need to place the cuffs on her in the first place. It’s here where Moriarty reminds the agent about how much smarter she is than he is by pointing out that she’s devised 17 plans to escape the shipyard, six of which involve shimmying out of the bracelets by cutting herself. Then it appears like Moriarty is putting the plan in motion by taking a handkerchief and strangling the agent assigned to her care.

…but wait…there’s more!

Holmes decides to crack this code, and see what message Moriarty is really trying to send. He then realizes the code firmly established that Moriarty is actually the missing girl’s mother, having agreed to be a surrogate for the other mother due to her infertility. Holmes realizes that Moriarty wasn’t actually behind the plot to kidnap the girl- no, this was all a plot by her lieutenant to get back at her. Moriarty, then, hatched her escape plan just so she could save her daughter, which she does by the end of the episode, but not before bringing Holmes and the rest of the NYPD to take her back to prison once her deed was finished. It’s revealed at this stage that the agent Moriarty strangled wasn’t actually killed- a choice made by Moriarty- and that Moriarty invited Holmes to the scene just so she could share a moment with him. Moriarty, it seems, wants to know how to care for and about people, a skill Holmes seems to have picked up and one she’s hoping to learn. It’s a genuinely touching moment, leading to what appears to be an “almost kiss” by Moriarty and Holmes as a result.

In context, the whole episode got to be appreciated in a different light- the little girl gave Moriarty a purpose in life, and, having discovered it, Moriarty hoped she could learn how to give up the life of crime and start doing good for a change. Of course, given Moriarty’s history of manipulation, it’s hard not to think that even this show of kindness and a pursuit of happiness is not just another Moriarty ploy- but the ending felt so genuine and Moriarty showed uncharacteristic vulnerability that I tend to lean on the “real” side. I guess we’ll see what happens at the end of the season.

The Good:

-Natalie Dormer. She had a lot of fun playing Moriarty and it showed, as she invigorating and charismatic playing up Moriarty’s characteristic smug snake style. Dormer also showed great range in giving Moriarty an emotional depth we hadn’t seen before, and her chemistry with Miller was on full display. If Dormer became a series regular (on this show or another), I’d support it- she’s earned it.

-Tonight, aside from seeing Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill) struggle to steady his firearm, we didn’t see much of the contrived storyline of “Sherlock vs. NYPD”, and thus the characters behaved normally. I hope this means that the NYPD arc becomes just a blip, or, at worst, its inherent faults get fixed so it becomes more palatable- because when the characters act naturally, the story shines.

The Bad:

-The pacing for the first quarter of the show was slow and awkward. I get that there needs to be exposition but sometimes I’d wish the show would just “get to the point already” instead of dithering.

-The girl’s “adoptive” mother- and, for that matter, the girl herself- wasn’t used enough. Shouldn’t we at least have been afforded a scene or two where the mother is curious about her daughter’s fate, and shouldn’t we have seen Moriarty at least emote over the daughter she helped rescue?

-In the autopsy scene, we hear Captain Thomas Gregson (Aidan Quinn) try to piece together the crime and exclaim, “does this make sense? Does any of this make sense?” I might have understood the lines early in Season One when Gregson was just getting started in Holmes’ crazy world, but he’s worked with Holmes for almost two years now- he should be expecting the cases to be strange. Since he didn’t play much of a role solving the case, lines like this make Gregson look stupid- and he’s a far better character than that.

-It would have been nice if the reveal of Gaspar was left near the end of the episode, or at the very least until his name was actually mentioned. Although Gaspar had made brief appearances before this was the first time we learned his name, and being a voice on the phone gave him an air of mystery- seeing him before knowing his name removed that mystery.

The Questions:

-While I like how Moriarty has been given depth and seems to be a “grey” like Holmes is- Holmes has evil in him, while Moriarty has goodness in her- I’m not sure if I like the idea of Moriarty eventually becoming a “good” character, or even getting involved in Holmes in some way. Rob Doherty, the creator of the show, has done nice work in challenging what we’ve come to expect from the Holmes mythos, but I’m leery about how a “good” Moriarty would play, given how synonymous Moriarty is with evil. Still, the show has done wonders challenging ideas before, so if they do decide to make Moriarty “good”, I’ll wait until it plays out to pass judgement on the character.

The Verdict: B-

A good start to the year. It’s not one of the series’ best but it was still an entertaining hour and opened up some new plot twists to explore; and it made far more sense than the nonsensical NYPD vs. Holmes plotline we’ve had to endure lately. Hopefully the show can build from here.

-DG

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