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Review of Elementary Episode 2.05 "Ancient History": Russians

Warning: spoilers below.

     Jason Tracey scripted this clever and amusing episode of Elementary. He has served as a consulting producer and wrote  a couple of episodes last season, and his familiarity with the show and characters is evident in the sharp dialogue and carefully-placed indicators of how Holmes and Watson have changed since they met. Director Saana Hamri has also worked on the show before and shows a good eye for ensuring that key details are visible for those who want to play along (e.g. the fabric used as a tourniquet was seen earlier, for sharp-eyed audience members to remember).

     The main plot here is pretty much a by-the-numbers Holmes/Watson investigation--which means that it's sufficiently clever and convoluted to stay a step ahead of the audience (or me, anyway--though I did have my suspicions confirmed, I have to admit that I was not sure I was right until Holmes pulled it all together). Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller), bored by having no interesting case to work, goes trolling for possibilities in the morgue (the chess for corpses competition with the coroner is a nice touch), and is rewarded when he finds an apparent accident victim who, Holmes deduces, died shortly after committing a murder.

     The minor matter of there being no murder victim to confirm Holmes's suspicion leads to an amusing first act, as Holmes and Watson (Lucy Liu) search for a victim but keep finding promising prospects alive rather than dead--much to Holmes's chagrin. The fact that the accident victim, Leo Banin (Dean Neistat), is a former assassin for the Russian mob, married and living under an assumed name, adds a complication. Two episodes in a row featuring characters with criminal pasts living under assumed names, only to end up caught up in a new crime, seems to be a bit of an unfortunate repetition, though the stories are different enough for the retreading to be too distracting.

     Meanwhile, Watson has taken on her own case, trying to help her friend Jen (Danielle Nicolet) track down a one-night stand from a year ago (the past rearing its ugly head again), with no more to go on than the man's first name and the name of the bar where the two met. Holmes, naturally, resists this case as frivolous and urges Watson to have some professional pride. Plausible as his objections are, however, he proves to have rather different real motivations for wanting Watson to abort the investigation.The scene in which Watson manages to track down footage that could well give her a visual of the man offers a delightful moment in which Holmes's pride at Watson's skill in finding the evidence is clearly visible on his face before he has to try desperately to stop her from looking further and then must confess that, in fact, he was the man in question--our initial corpse had an assumed identity, and Holmes, we learn, has used one to seduce Watson's friend. The betrayal theme between Holmes and Watson, however, unfolds rather differently, and more positively, than it does in the main plot. In the main plot, betrayal leads to a threat of divorce and to murder; here it leads to an apology and forgiveness.

     Holmes and Watson show how far their relationship has developed, with the untrusting, paranoid Holmes of early in season one contrasted with the man who now values and trusts Watson, even apologizing to her for the  breach of her privacy that led to his tryst with her friend. The main thrust of this episode is the murder investigation, but moments such as this--and the one in which Holmes attempts to comfort Banion's wife (Mia Baron) by reporting his own experiences with betrayal by a loved one--keep subtly moving forward with the development of Holmes and Watson as characters, so much so that I can wink at the unlikeliness of Watson being asked to track down her own partner (though it's sometimes difficult to overlook such implausibilities given how frequently Holmes points out how unlikely coincidences are--several times in this episode, in fact).

     This, perhaps, is where the real interest in this episode lies: in the character dynamics between Holmes and Watson. The episode begins with her seeking a gift for Holmes sufficiently fascinating to help rouse him from his boredom (hinting at the danger to Holmes's mental well-being--established by Conan Doyle in the original stories--when he does not have sufficient mental stimulation), continues to show Watson's developing skills as an investigator, underscores how Watson has earned Holmes's respect and herself helped to modify his own inwardness and socially-inappropriate behavior, and concludes with a moment in which Watson manages, for a moment, almost to put one over on Holmes. The main strength of this show is the dynamic between these two characters, and Miller and Liu are in fine form in this episode.

The main plot resolves itself with by now typical instances of Holmes's cleverness and, frankly, a rather pedestrian answer to the mystery. An ex-assassin apparently killed in an accident, sought by the Russian mob for betraying them, ending up as, basically, the victim of  a domestic crime--murdered by his wife--does tie neatly into Holmes's observation early in the episode that most victims are killed by someone close to them, but the oddness of the situation and the circuitousness of the plot makes this all-too-familiar solution seem a trifle pedestrian. The irony of the fact that ex-assassin and thief Banin planned to leave his wife when he discovers her own secret past (as a porn actress), does perhaps give the denouement a bit of a twist in the tail, but it did still feel a bit flat to me. Nevertheless, as a grim contrast to the way Holmes and Watson are able to resolve their issues, it does serve as a reminder that our protagonists have their own issues and secrets to negotiate. While I don't think we're invited see disaster looming for Holmes and Watson, we are reminded of the fragility of their relationship.

In short, it was a fun episode with many clever and entertaining scenes, even a couple of laugh out loud ones. I had difficulty picking only one favorite scene in Lisa's poll--which you should go and vote in yourself. But what did you think? Was two spouses with dark secrets one too many? Or just the right number? Did you buy Holmes as Jen's one night stand? Or Watson's forgiveness of Holmes? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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