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Elementary - The Female of the Species - Review



Lucy Liu returns to the director's chair for this Watson-light episode of Elementary. Watson does appear in 

front of the camera as well as behind it, and there are significant developments in her story arc, but her usual role is filled this episode by Detective Marcus Bell  (Jon Michael Hill), presumably to give Liu the time she needed to focus on directing the episode. We can see her hard at work as director here. Note, by the way, that in the background we can see that there was really a zebra in that stall, which was CGI-ed to make it look like the non-existent quagga (I assume this is the intended creature, though I would have sworn that the word used in the show was qapa; however, the quagga really is an extinct form of zebra, whereas the qapa, as far as I can figure out, is nothing at all.)

Episodes like this make me wonder about a few things. They make me wonder about genre in relation to Elementary, for one thing; this is yet another instance of the show brushing up against the border of science fiction, as the plot depends on extrapolation from current real science. At the moment, de extinction, the term used to describe bringing back an extinct life form (via selective breeding, or, in this case, cloning) is theoretically possible but as yet unachieved in any significant way--though efforts are afoot to recreate mammoths (among other things). The show's interest in science is further articulated here in that Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) agrees to take on the case (initially merely the matter of two stolen pregnant zebras) if the zookeeper who wants to hire him will publish Holmes's theories about bee colony collapse and how to prevent it on his website. Again, a real issue exists here. However, in neither case does the episode really devote much attention to exploring the implications of these things. Bee colony collapse is a real-world issue of genuine concern, but it is used here mainly as a prop. De extinction is a fascinating and controversial topic, but it seems to matter here only as a) a bizarre hook for the episode and b) a way for rare animal collectors really to get one up on other rare animal collectors--much like the situation with the extinct plant faking episode we had recently. There's no real consideration of the scientific implications, which makes me wonder why we seem to get such science-fiction-oriented episodes so frequently.

This sort of repetition of plot ideas--extinct plant faking, de extinction of species, murder over theories regarding extinction, etc.--further makes me wonder about thematic resonances these ideas may be intended to carry. Is Elementary merely interested in outre plot ideas but not that good at coming up with novel ones (admittedly, pretty much every crime show eventually begins to have problems on this front), or is the recurrent interest in the past, and especially in resurrecting things from the past, of some larger thematic significance? Given that the show itself resurrects in modern garb a character created in the Victorian era, that does not seem unlikely, but I confess I have not yet managed to develop anything like a viable theory about further significances. Besides, these are not the only SF-oriented plots we get; we've also had the recent episodes about drones and about artificial intelligence, for instance, which also brush up against SF. This does not happen enough for Elementary to become a genre-bending show, but it seems to me to happen too frequently to be coincidence.


Regardless, a plot to profit from de extinction leads predictably to extinction, when the pregnant zebra thief (that is, he steals pregnant zebras; he is not pregnant) murders the veterinarian he forced to help him with the foal deliveries. For about the first third of this episode, I was hoping that for once Elementary would forego murder, as nobody was dead yet and murder seemed relatively unlikely in the world of paleozoological larceny, but apparently nobody involved with Elementary thinks anything short of murder is sufficiently serious to merit an hour's worth of investigation. Ah well. The victim almost never really matters in crime stories, as our interest is focused on the detectives solving the crime, not on the human cost associated with the victims, but the victim this time is given even shorter shrift than usual, perhaps because he doesn't even turn up until the episode is a third over. Indeed, despite the genuine oddness of a plot about stolen pregnant zebras carrying clone babies of an extinct species, this is a rather pro forma episode, plot wise. (Doesn't that summary make  it sound like this should be a fascinating episode? It's not a bad episode, but it sure does not measure up to the strangeness of its catalyst to action.) Yep, it comes down, again, to someone looking to make significant bucks; the motive and the crime are far less interesting than the zebras, or quappas. Holmes and Bell work amusingly together to solve the case, with Bell managing to earn Holmes's praise once or twice for his deductive skill, and this does give the episode an added level of interest, but overall there is nothing especially noteworthy about the investigation as such.

More interesting (predictably) in the B plot, which focuses on Watson in the aftermath of the murder of
Andrew (Raza Jaffrey). The episode begins with Watson confronting Elana March (Gina Gershon), the mob matriarch now in prison as a result of Watson's detecting earlier this season. March doesn't quite confess but makes pretty clear that she's behind what happened, and that Watson remains a target. So, mystery solved: that coffe incident was an attempt on Watson's life, and it happened because of an old case. (and, in case you were wondering, the specific poison used actually was hemlock!) So, Watson can feel guilty that Andrew is dead because of his involvement with her.

Watson spends much of the episode processing the situation and her involvement with it, and Holmes spends the time he's not devoting to tracking down murderous pregnant zebra thieves to trying to help Watson deal with her circumstances. Is anyone surprised that this involves repeated offerings of food? Amusingly, Holmes's culinary solicitousness does not extent to Bell, whom Holmes tries to feed twice, once with way overspiced--for Bell's tastes--takeout, and later with a breakfast including bacon, but Bell does not eat red meat. Holmes may be learning how to treat other people, but he still has a lot left to learn--including how to call Bell "Marcus," rather than "detective Bell."

Bracketing the episode's opening with Watson confronting recent nemesis Elana March, near the end we get
a scene in which Watson receives a letter from Moriarty (Natalie Dormer), assuring Watson that she doesn't want any harm coming to Watson. There is more play out between Moriarty and Holmes, she asserts, and Watson is now inextricably linked to that dance, so no harm can come to her. Cut to Elana March, dead in her cell. The B plot is therefore actually more interesting than the A plot, both because it resolves the question of who tried to kill Watson so quickly, and because it brings Moriarty back in as a sort of guardian angel of death.

The significance of the title also clearly applies not only to the pregnant zebras (the females of the species functioning in conventional maternal terms) but also to the B plot, and the deadly women in Watson's life: March and Moriarty. Some females of the species are deadlier than the male. Watson remains the female who might counterbalance such forces; neither a conventional maternal figure nor a femme fatale (though arguably she was that, at least accidentally, for Andrew). I speculated last week that the end result of Andrew's death would be Watson's return to the brownstone. Surprisingly, we got there faster than I thought we would, with Watson at the end of the episode telling Holmes she now sees that she can't have a normal life, that she is now fully committed to being a detective, and that she intends to move back in with him. However, she does so with a remarkable lack of affect; Liu captures clearly in her performance that this is in effect a devastating as well as a transformative moment for Watson. The way forward looks interesting.

I certainly look forward to seeing where we go from here. How about you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.