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Review of Elementary 2.06: "An Unnatural Arrangement"

Cathryn Humphris writes her first episode of Elementary with this solid entry in the series, directed by Christine Moore in her second outing for the show. Apparently, new blood is good, as this is a strong episode, building on the characterization not only of Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller and Watson (Lucy Liu) but also of Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn), here given a relatively rare opportunity on the show to be a bit more than the gruff but tolerant police Captain. The episode also riffs on a classic Arthur Conan Doyle Holmes story, "Silver Blaze," in which the "curious incident of the dog in the nighttime" (i.e. that it did nothing) is a key clue to solving the mystery. Elementary seems to make such references relatively rarely (either that or the fact that I haven't read the original stories in over twenty years means that I'm missing them), so such a nod to the ultimate source material is nice to see. And it's also a nice touch that Watson rather than Holmes is the first to grasp the significance of the dog that didn't bark.

Admittedly, the plot gets off to a bit of a rocky start, relying as it does on the cliché of the big coincidence: a home invasion apparently targeting Gregson goes awry when his wife (guest star Talia Balsam) proves equal to the task of defending the home. However, it turns out that the intruder meant to target the house across the street, so Holmes, Gresgon and company are drawn into the action by mistake, basically. I confess I'd have preferred the cliché of the personal vendetta to the one of the unlikely coincidence, but that's a hiccup in an otherwise well-crafted episode.

Most interesting, as usual, is the character interaction rather than the mystery, though this mystery is satisfactorily twisty and unpredictable. The thematic focus of the episode ends up being partnerships, as is reflected in the title's referencing Holmes's definition of marriage as "an unnatural arrangement" ultimately deleterious to all parties involved. And indeed, Gregson and his wife are currently separated as a result of him putting his job ahead of his wife for twenty-eight years. How their relationship might heal plays out in the secondary plot while the relationship between Holmes and Watson plays out in the primary one. The episode contributes to the gradual growth of Holmes's character by having him begin to recognize the benefits of partnership, which are more rich and intricate, he acknowledges, than he had hitherto realized. He and Watson behave amusingly like a bickering married couple, notably over Holmes's solving a case Watson had taken on on her own, which leads to a confrontation over what it means to be equal partners. When detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill) walks in on this tiff, its resemblance of a lovers' spat is cemented.

Gregson and Holmes are paralleled in the episode, as each must try to come to terms with how to reconcile themselves to their partnerships. Amusingly, Holmes tells Gregson that if the latter needs to talk about his domestic troubles, Homes will be glad to make Watson available. However, and as expected, Holmes comes through at the end by using his deductive skills to give Gregson the pointers he needs to work towards saving his marriage. Holmes also works on building his relationship with Watson by answering for his crime of solving her case by giving her his "most loathed" piece of furniture, the trunk of his cold cases, for her to practice on--and perhaps even, as he suggests, "succeed where I have failed." By Holmes's standards this is a remarkably generous and trusting gesture, and both Miller and Liu hit its subtleties effectively.

The murder itself is as usual secondary, but nevertheless a clever enough plot involving architectural skulduggery and the theft of artefacts. Ironically, what has seemed at first to be a crime of passion, a jealous husband trying to hunt down his wife's lover, turns out instead to be the result of a different sort of partnership than the spousal; though the criminals are indeed spouses, their crimes are motivated by greed, not passion. They, too, therefore, have a sort of unnatural relationship. They are, however, fairly forgettable villains of the week (the husband never even appears on screen, in fact), supernumeraries in an episode stronger than usual on developing the core characters. Aidan Quinn especially shines in giving Gregson hitherto unexpected depths (who knew he was a kitten video fan?).

What did you think of this week's episode? Let me know in the comments below.

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