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.