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Elementary: 102 “While You Were Sleeping” Review

Reviewed by Phil Boothman.

This week’s Elementary faces the struggle of the second episode: not only does it need to build on the promising parts of the pilot, it also needs to strengthen the weaker parts of the season opener. After watching “While You Were Sleeping”, it looks as though they got it half right.

In the opening of the episode Holmes espouses his ‘attic theory’, wherein he believes his mind is akin to an attic full of all the information he needs and nothing else, particularly not the ‘natterings that comprise a typical support group meeting’. This is fairly standard when it comes to Sherlock Holmes, and yet the conversation which follows reveals a far more strained relationship between Holmes and Watson than is typical of Sherlock Holmes dramas: he seems to feel restrained or coddled by the presence of a sober companion, and she seems to find him utterly infuriating.

Whilst this shift in characterisation is interesting, and some might argue necessary for the evolution of two familiar characters, it is difficult to understand why Watson is sticking with Holmes through these early stages. In this interpretation, Holmes doesn’t afford Watson the same respect as he does in most incarnations of the two, so the only real explanation is stubbornness on her part. Of course, it is still early days for the two characters, but the fact that they have essentially been forced into a relationship as opposed to one occurring organically creates a sense of tension between the two that feels moderately uncomfortable to watch.

Still, their exchanges this week are nicely-written, particularly in a scene wherein Watson finds Holmes’ old violin and suggests it may help him reduce the stress of his ongoing recovery. Of course, this being the emotionally unstable Sherlock Holmes, he finds a rather more incendiary way of relieving his stress than Watson probably intended. Similarly, Holmes’ repeated interference in Watson’s personal life feels right for the character, and becomes even more inappropriate considering the gender shift of the latter’s character: his deductions about her sex life based on the way she walks are almost cringe-inducing in their lack of propriety, and his suggestion that she finds her own way of stress relief with her ex-boyfriend comes worryingly close to a demand at certain points of the episode.

Moving on to the meat of the plot, those of you expecting a more complex case than last week’s offering won’t have been disappointed.  It starts with what seems to be a burglary-homicide, involving a young man being shot in the head and burglarised as he returned home, until Holmes reveals through the power of smell that the two crimes were committed by different people. From here, the list of possible perpetrators eventually becomes a twisted, tangled web of angry half-siblings, philandering fathers and even a woman in a coma, but rather than creating suspense throughout the story whilst still remaining clear, it becomes muddy and confusing. Holmes and Watson flit from one suspect to another, with the often bewildered-looking Captain Gregson and a different but equally sceptical Holmes-denier than last week in tow, and yet their movements never seem to reveal any new information.

In many ways, Holmes’ interactions with the possible suspects are one of the most entertaining aspects of Elementary, and the way in which he was able to gently coerce a high-powered lawyer into offering up restricted evidence through calm recognition of his addiction in this episode was no different. It showed that, while he remains supremely tactless, Holmes is at least aware of how things work, and that embarrassing someone of stature in front of two police officers, while fine as a last resort, is not a good opening strategy. Similarly, his bald-faced accusations towards an ultimately innocent woman are harsh, but are absolutely in keeping with a character who is willing to do whatever it takes to uncover the truth. It is here that Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes shines, calmly and casually accusing people of substance abuse and murder,

But the real problem with the episode is a big one: the result of the investigation utilises not one, but two familiar, played-out detective drama tropes. Firstly, in placing a character beneath suspicion, it becomes immediately obvious to anyone savvy enough to recognise these tropes that they had something to do with the crime. In this instance, engineering a situation where the most obvious suspect happened to be in a coma immediately made her more suspicious, and these suspicions were ultimately proven correct. Secondly, evidence is collected against her through a relatively flimsy bluff: Holmes fabricates another sibling to be targeted by the murderer, and also creates a situation in which the murderer believes he is removed from the situation, thus giving her a clear run at the newfound victim and providing the police with hard evidence.

Of course, with a character as gifted as Holmes involved, the writers have the opportunity to make these tropes somewhat more acceptable, but following well-known and frankly tired conventions is not something that a good detective drama should ever do, and to find them in a Sherlock Holmes drama is extremely disconcerting.

Verdict – 6/10

Overall, I believe that Elementary will live or die based on the chemistry between Holmes and Watson, and this episode moves in the right direction in terms of character development. However, the mystery element remains the downfall of the show, as the intrigue is never quite as intriguing as it should be, and the plot never seems as smooth or well-paced as a traditional Holmes drama should be.

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  • The Gene Genie

    I tend to watch the Sunday showing of this. I’m very much looking forward to watching it; I loved the opener.

    • 50doctorwho

      I record them I’m sorry but I’ll give it one more chance

  • Valeyard12.5

    I said from the beginning that I will never judge a book by its cover, and I was right to.

    I actually find it very engaging, and thoroughly enjoyable to watch. I’m loving how they have picked up on the drug side to Holmes, and have in their own way, stuck quite close to the original story, with more than just a modern twist on it. The twist here is that it is not Sherlock Holmes, born in America, lived and is an American, it is just the man, in New York, and decides to start again, giving it a fresh feeling.

    If it weren’t for the different actors in Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch, you could say that what we see in Sherlock is set before Elementary. I see it as not quite evolution, but a beta that is going to be successful and comes together as one.

    The 2 shows won’t interfere with each other, but could work well together, telling us a more intricate tale about Holmes, Watson and Lestrade/Gregson.

    My only, only concern is that there is no Mrs. Hudson who in all incarnations, has cared for Sherlock and John. But I believe that Sherlock’s ‘father’ may fill that gap, as a person who cares for him, but in a distant sort of manner.

  • XFSL

    My biggest problem with Elementary is just how… mediocre it is, it has good ideas that I want to see developed but the writers seem to think that these very meh cases they are taking on in the episodes(seriously the cases are just boring) are far more interesting which they arn’t, I want a scene between Holmes and watson where they just talk and develop their characters but the series refuses to do that, it begins to have a scene between the two, but then it just brushes it away to move on with the case.

    This may seem wierd coming from a guy who absolutely hated the idea of a female Watson at first(though I honestly thought they were going to go the romantic interest route) but I find Joan to be the best character in Elementary so far, I want to see an episode about her I want to know more about her character, I want to know more about her state of mind over losing one of her patients, but every time they bring it up its just a passing mention, I want to see how this really affected her Joan is honestly the only reason I keep watching each week now, I want to see her developed or the relationship between Holmes and Her developed because it seems like the writers don’t know that the relationships is the main reason(atleast I think) is why the Sherlock Holmes stories are so good.

    Speaking of Holmes… i’ve been unimpressed to say the least, he hardly seems like Sherlock holmes, he doesn’t even seem like an interpretation of him, he seems like jus a really smart detective, in the episodes i’ve seen i’ve seen nothing “remarkable” about him, yeah it has the deductions from just looking at someone but that only goes so far, I haven’t felt like i’m watching Sherlock holmes, i’ve felt like i’m watching someone play Sherlock holmes, thats just really me I still haven’t seen anything that amazing from him yet he just seems like any other person in this series only he has more answers then others.

    To bring up one thing that has just been annoying me since episode one, why in scenes has Joan just been standing in the corner or the back of the scene? isn’t this supposed to be Sherlock AND Joan’s series? I want to see her interact, I want to see her actually DO something not just stand in the background claiming Sherlock as some God among men, if you do that it makes Joan seem more like a tool and not really a character.

    Elementary is hardly any match for BBC’s Sherlock, its episodes are very mediocre its characters hardly developed with very dull cases, but theres so much potential in it, they have ideas they just won’t do anything with them, I just wish they would try to do their own thing and not feel the need to just make another version of Sherlock, it’s disapointing, I actually want them to make a good episode but if they continue like this, they won’t.

    Thats all I have to say on the subject of Elementary, my personal opinion.


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