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Elementary - The Adventure of the Nutmeg Concoction - Review

"The Adventure of the Nutmeg Concoction" (episode 3.07, if you're keeping track at home) is one of this season's better episodes of Elementary so far. It takes some unexpected turns, features more than a few highly amusing scenes and lines, and it suffers from fewer plot implausibilities than some of this season's episodes have featured. It also features not only a welcome albeit brief appearance from Ms. Hudson (Candis Cayne) but also the appearance of a new Irregular, the dapper and olfactorily blessed figure known only as "The Nose," of whom I hope we see more. It's probably not likely, though; how many murder plots will require someone with a highly-sophisticated sense of smell to be solved, after all?

The smell of nutmeg, or pumpkin pie, is the key clue in this episode. The episode gets off to what seems like a typical start when a woman hires Watson (Lucy Liu) to try to track down her sister, who disappeared years ago, and whom the police and FBI have been unable to find. The one clue? There was a smell of nutmeg in her apartment after she disappeared. The nutmeg smell is key to the episode but not to the disappearance, which turns out to be murder, and which is handily solved by the end of the first act. Despite the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit ("Even the name is pretentious," Holmes snarks) agent Blake Tanner (Peter Benson) believing that the crime is the work of a serial abducter he calls "The Pumpkin," Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) quickly deduces that "The Pumpkin's" crimes are in fact all the work of separate criminals (and that Tanner is an idiot, naturally). The scene with Tanner is amusing, with his smug pretentiousness not only well-played by Benson but also aptly displayed in his ego-stroking office display--his book on Taking Down a Killer is prominently displayed, as is a picture of Obama.

The real question is why each crime scene smells of nutmeg. And here the plot takes its interesting twist. Forensic countermeasures are taken to extremes here: the real focus of the episode is a hunt for the "cleaner" hired by various criminals to clean up after their crimes, rather than on the crimes themselves. The nutmeg scent is not "the Pumpkin's" but the cleaner's "olfactory signature," as Blake Tanner calls it, to Kitty's (Ophelia Lovibond) amusement. Even more amusingly, Watson uses the same term moments later, apparently without realizing that it makes her sound like the pretentious Tanner. Holmes solicits Ms Hudson to monitor the police radio listening for any references to crime scenes featuring the smell of nutmeg, pumpkin pie, or indeed any baking. I'm not sure how often such details are included in police broadcasts: "We have a 3-11, accompanied by the bouquet of pumpkin pie"?--but Holmes's intuition pays off, as a new crime scene with the tell-tale smell conveniently crops up. (This cleaner is apparently a very busy fellow.) The investigation of this crime scene introduces us to "The Nose," whose highly sensitive sniffer helps nail down that the nutmeg smell is designed to cover up the caustic smell of the chemicals that are used by the cleaner to dissolve bodies.

Tracking down the cleaner involves a combination of scut work (mostly Kitty and Watson) and a rather unlikely Holmesian hunch paying off. Before that, though, Holmes shows his eccentricity in full flower by attempting to hire the cleaner himself. To do so, he fakes a murder (with Kitty as victim, complete with carefully-applied pig's blood, to get the coagulation effect right) and advertises for a cleaner on the "Dark Internet," the undergorund part of the web which is a haven for criminals, assassins, slave traders, and other such luminaries. (I believe the more common name for what Holmes is referring to here is the "Deep Web," but I guess that doesn't sound as ominous as "Dark Internet.") Anyway, instead of drawing out the cleaner, Holmes draws an undercover cop; unfortunately, we get to see only Holmes's embarrassment the next day. Just as likely as this trick working is what actually does work, though. The flyer for a forensic training school has in the background a painting so hideous that Holmes feels compelled to track it down. Turns out, it was a gift to the school from a former student who . . . wait for it . . . had a thing about nutmeg! What are the odds? Still, this is far from the worst use of convenient coincidence in the history of television mystery drama.

The episode continues to twist, though, as the cleaner himself gets cleaned, as Holmes notes with a delightful grimace upon finding the evidence--don't look to the right, if you have a sensitive stomach! When Holmes and the police turn up to arrest him, his workshop is empty and smells not a little like pumpkin pie, and there is an industrial sink on one wall. . . . Holmes goes fishing and finds the rather gross evidence: all that remains of our cleaner is an artificial tendon caught in the grease trap. You just had to know that the fact that we saw him walking with a limp earlier in the episode would turn out to be significant, didn't you? As a result, the episode loops neatly back to the initial crime, creating a nice closural movement for the episode. (To find out what actually happened, you'll have to watch the episode yourself!)

By contrast, closure seems a distant possibility for the Holmes/Kitty/Watson team. While on the one hand they are beginning to function very effectively as a team, on the other, each continues to have his or her issues. I do like the fact that the relations are getting more smooth. While we do get reminders of the various tensions--as in the reference to Kitty having been following Watson earlier in the season, or in the occasionally snappish tone Watson adopts with Holmes as she tries to hold on to her hard-won independence in the face of his relentless prying--we are also increasingly seeing them work together, in various combinations, to gather evidence and solve crimes. Kitty and Watson work together to track down key information about the initial disappearance; all three work together on the FBI agent; Watson gets Kitty to help her with another case (a former boyfriend who has been the victim of identity theft); Holmes and Watson work with "The Nose"; and Holmes and Kitty not only work together on the ill-considered attempt to hire the cleaner but also  on the climactic discovery that finally breaks the case. Kitty is the one who spots the crucial piece of information, for which she earns Holmes's approbation.

On the other hand, we see the characters still bound by their issues. Holmes's problems with social
interaction make his attempts to advise Watson about her love life hilariously inappropriate (hint to guys: don't try to sweet-talk a woman by comparing her to a baboon with swollen genitals, or by calling her a "romantic terrorist"--and monkey comparisons are especially inappropriate if she is of Oriental descent, given the racist history of simian association there). We begin to get more insight into Kitty's history, learning that she apparently has a problematic relationship with her father; her devotion to aggressive heavy metal music is evidently a reaction against her father's love of classical music and insistence that she study it deeply. When she gets Holmes's praise at the end of the episode, she turns off her Titus Andronicus and puts on, instead, Beethoven's 6th symphony (the most beautiful piece of music ever written). Hmmm. Praise from surrogate daddy leads to a move away from the rebellion against biological daddy? I guess we'll see.

The more important issues this episode, though, are Watson's. Holmes might not pick his words well in his comments about her baboonish genitals or romantic terrorism, but they are intended to make her recognize how conflicted she is about being in a conventional, committed relationship with Andrew. Unsurprisingy she rebels against her surrogate-father's comments, insisting that she is perfectly happy with Andrew, and asserting that she is planning a romantic dinner for his return. The final shot of the episode, though, is her laying the table, lighting the candles, and then looking conflicted, even disconcerted about what she is doing. As Beethoven's sixth plays, we view her through her apartment window, framed, confined by the bar-like structure of the window. Is watson feeling trapped in her relationship, despite thinking she is happy? Is Andrew not long for this world? Does Watson need to do some cleaning up of her own? Only time--or maybe the next episode--will tell!

So, how did you like this episode? Let me know in the comments below!