Elementary: 103 “Child Predator” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
After the somewhat disappointing outings for Elementary in weeks one and two, episode three is something of a turning point: we see a clear development of the central relationship, a handful of pleasingly snide remarks from Holmes and, most importantly, a far more complex case to be solved.
Before I get into the meat of the review, kudos really must be given to Peter Blake, the writer of the episode, for crafting a satisfyingly twisty plot which succeeds in being both complex and clear to follow; and for allowing Holmes and Watson to evolve organically as characters, as opposed to the crowbarred-in character development of the previous two episodes.
“Child Predator” concerns a serial killer nicknamed ‘The Balloon Man’ due to his grisly trademark of leaving a bunch of ‘thank you’ balloons at the scene of each of his abductions. Thanks to a flashback which opens the episode, we are offered information which is unavailable to Holmes: that the killer knew his first victim personally, and so we are placed in a rare position of privilege in terms of knowledge. But of course that privilege is soon balanced out as we find Holmes shirtless, sitting in a circle of photos and information about the case, a position he has been in all night with no idea of the passage of time.
Naturally, he is drawn directly into the case as the Balloon Man takes another victim, and we begin to see a side of Holmes which is remarkably familiar: the obsessive investigator who foregoes showering, eating and even sleeping in order to solve a case. The nature of the crime involved in the episode, particularly the incredibly small time frame in which Holmes has to solve it, works to this episode’s great advantage, as it allows Holmes to be at his most manic and obsessive as he races through the case.
It also doesn’t hurt that the criminal in question is considerably more clever and cunning than those we’ve seen in previous episodes, thus providing Holmes with a far greater challenge than he has been faced with up until this point. Of particular note is the fact that the identity of the Balloon Man is supposedly discovered and confirmed just after the halfway mark of the episode, and the remainder is dedicated to Holmes attempting to find him and, in the process, save the life of a little girl. Even though Holmes accomplishes this by interviewing one of the victims as opposed to the traditional deduction we’re used to, the manner in which he gets the victim to talk to him is Holmesian enough that it doesn’t seem to jar with the conventions of the character.
However, a further twist in the tale means that “Child Predator” definitely feels more like a Sherlock Holmes story than episodes one and two of Elementary. Not only does it prove a far more complex case than initially expected, but Holmes’ adversary also proves vastly more intelligent and infinitely more chilling than first expected: one who can outsmart Holmes, even if it is only temporary. Similarly, the fact that the perpetrator was caught based on a single tiny piece of evidence which only Holmes could possibly notice felt exactly right in this context, and his venomous delivery of the evidence to the villain showed a satisfyingly merciless edge to Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes.
In fact, the acting in this episode was of a high standard all round. Miller was entirely believable as the erratic, obsessive detective, while Lucy Liu manages well with what seems to be a somewhat diminished role as Watson: her dry, sarcastic comments balance out Holmes’ blunt, uncaring honesty well. Similar mention must be made of guest star Johnny Simmons, in turns tragic and incredibly sinister in what could almost be considered a dual role as victim and villain. It remains to be seen whether he returns as he promises Holmes at the episode’s close, but for my money he would be a welcome recurring villain.
The episode was similarly strong when it came to the interactions between Holmes and Watson. Through their early conversations, an important part of the Holmes-Watson dynamic is brought up: that Holmes does in fact value Watson, but only in her status as a ‘sounding board’ of sorts, someone whom Holmes can bounce ideas off without receiving any insight in return. Even though this begins as an opportunity for Holmes to offer Watson a slew of backhanded compliments, mostly along the lines of preferring to talk to something ‘animate’, by the end of the episode it has evolved into a companionship which Holmes seems genuinely excited to be a part of. The reason Holmes keeps Watson around in most incarnations of the characters is due to the friendship they share being beneficial to his investigations, and during this episode the beginnings of that familiar relationship have appeared.
It is refreshing to see a kind of mutual respect developing between the two, even if it is still very much in its infancy, and I can only hope that subsequent writers of Elementary take their cues from this episode and continue to develop the relationship along these lines.
This week’s Elementary felt less like a generic police procedural and much more like a Sherlock Holmes show, and has set a new standard that the rest of the season needs to live up to. One of the strengths of “Child Predator” was the foregrounding of the case as the most important element, and allowing the Holmes-Watson relationship to develop as part of the investigation, instead of forcing an addict-companion dynamic which is largely unfamiliar in the context of these characters, and somewhat unsettling to Sherlock Holmes fans.