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Review of Elementary Episode 2.20 "No End of Void": "Milk It"




 After some recent episodes involving bizarre gimmicks--ears grown to create false evidence, dentures being used by a murderous mother attempting to cast doubt on her son's guilt, and so on--Elementary offers with "No End of Void" an episode that merely invokes the shadow of terrorism in a plot about the manufacture of vast amounts of anthrax for nefarious purposes. The plot begins when Watson (Lucy Liu) is asked to attend a patient in police custody. When he dies of anthrax, the hunt is on for the source of the disease.

The victim ended up with the disease because he picked an ex-con's pocket, as video surveillance reveals, an ex-con with connections to other criminals with radical leanings. When the ex-con is tracked to his home, we are treated to an excellent example of how Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) and Watson have complementary working styles. While Holmes calculates time lines, average walking rates and pace lengths to establish a search perimeter, Watson checks the guy's mail and finds he has a storage locker nearby. Holmes's over-intellectualizing is complemented by Watson's more pragmatic approach. However, since the ex-con is dead and his anthrax hoard gone, the hunt must continue.

The plot unfolds with several red herrings, notably an apparent terrorist plot to use the anthrax to  infect hundreds of government figures. Ultimately, however, things loop back to the brother of one of the apparent terrorists, Bart Macintosh (Garret Dillahunt), a struggling dairy farmer. The "guest star" rule applies here and impacted my ability to be surprised by the plot; the moment I recognized Dillahunt, I knew he would have to turn out to be more than a minor figure, so the revelation of his guilt came as no surprise: he has plotted to use the anthrax not to commit mass murder but instead to kill his cattle and collect a huge insurance payout. Such monetary motives seem to be getting all too frequent on Elementary, as several other recent episodes have ended up being about profit. Admittedly, profit is a popular motive for murder, but the show seems to be getting into something of a rut with the idea.


Macintosh's willingness to kill his brother as well, however, adds a bit more resonance to the episode, especially given its subplot. In the subplot, we learn that Holmes's old friend and mentor Allistair (Roger Rees) has died of a drug overdose--after three decades of sobriety, he has apparently lapsed. Holmes's distress--and his difficulty coping not only with the loss but also with with its being drug-related--is a through-line in the episode, manifesting itself in potentially dangerous ways (Holmes takes unnecessary risks tracking the anthrax, which would have got him killed had he not been after a red herring rather than the real thing) as well as in "dialogues with the dead," in which Allistair appears to Holmes and they chat. I confess this is a gimmick I rarely enjoy, but it works reaonably well here, notably due to Miller's strong performance, matched by Rees's touching Allistair. Also key here are Watson's attempts to get Holmes to face up to how the death has affected him--including matching him dish for dish in a crockery-smashing tantrum.

The relevance of this plot, I think, is that it contrasts--implicitly, anyway--different ways familial relationships can be destructive. Allistair is not, of course, Holmes's actual family, but we did first meet him when Holmes had Allistair pose as his father, and Allistair's mentor capacity for Holmes gives him a sort of surrogate father role for the detective. This contrasts with Allistair's fraught relationhship with his own son--indeed, Holmes initially suspects that Allistair's death may have had something to do with that strained family history: a son who could never come to terms with his father's leaving his mother and entering into a homosexual relationship. Holmes's own troubled relationships with father and brother come to mind here. We are further reminded of family connections when Watson disposes of expired milk on her mother's recommendation. Her mother fears it might be contaminated by anthrax, so family concern contrasts here with Macintosh family strife--and leads to Holmes solving the crime, when he leaps to the bovine conclusion while watching Watson dump milk.

All in all, this is a satisfying episode. As a bonus, it even works in reference to absurdist drama, as Allistair's lover gifts Holmes with a signed first edition of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, a play in which Allistair had an early career success, and another element of the epsisode that might comment obliquely on the show's themes, given the play's bleak view of human relationships. (Though technically, the book Holmes is given is not really the first edition of the play, as he's given an English edition, and the play was originally issued in French as En Attendant Godot.) How did you enjoy the episode? do you agree or disagree with my criticisms (keeping in mind that in Waiting for Godot, the worst insult one can apply to someone is "crrrrrritic!")?

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