Elementary: 113 “The Red Team” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
After last week’s exemplary outing, the writers of Elementary had a tough job matching the same high quality with this week’s episode. The big question is, does “The Red Team” hold up to the enormously entertaining “M”?
The short answer is no: while reasonably engaging, the episode almost entirely foregoes mention of Moriarty, which is understandable if a little disappointing, in favour of a rather confusing plot about conspiracy theorists and a government cover-up. The plot remained largely grounded in reality, but it occasionally veered close to the over-the-top, borderline delusional conspiracies of “Dirty Laundry”, the earlier episode which focused on Russian spies living in America.
After the events of “M”, Holmes is suspended from working with the NYPD, and so he is whiling away the hours by winding up conspiracy theorists on the internet, one of his ‘hobbies’. Unfortunately (or, in Holmes’ opinion, fortunately), one of the theorists turns up dead and Holmes begins investigating. He soon discovers that the theorist was being bugged by someone, and that one of his theories was less insane than all the others: a conspiracy involving the titular ‘Red Team’, relating to war games run by the government. Fortunately for those of us not well-versed in military training and strategy, ‘war games’ are explained reasonably well: they are exercises run by the army to simulate various scenarios which the military may have to deal with, in this case a 2009 exercise in which the ‘Red Team’ uncovered a serious flaw in homeland security. All Holmes has to do to discover whether the ‘Red Team’ conspiracy has any truth to it is find the remaining members of the team, one of whom was killed long before the start of the episode.
The second member he finds is suffering from Alzheimer’s, although Holmes deduces that he was poisoned with a substance which mimics Alzheimer’s and that the Red Team are being picked off one by one, albeit in different and creative ways.
Holmes decides to follow the person who bugged the dead theorist’s house when they come to collect the bugs, and he leads them to a secure, if rather vacant building occupied by a group who claim to carry out market research: the man they talk to, ‘Bill’, reacts subtly to some of the names Holmes throws at him, therefore revealing his complicity in the conspiracy.
Holmes then gets Gregson to bring in the members of the Red Team, one of whom leaves a clue involving the code name ‘Yossarian’: after some digging, Holmes works out that ‘Bill’ is actually Yossarian, the team’s Army Intelligence liaison during the war games. Naturally, Bill turns up dead shortly after, and Holmes is taken in for questioning by some Federal Agents, during which he gathers more information than they do and works out that it’s not Army Intelligence murdering members of the Red Team.
After visiting the home of one of the Red Team members and one officer almost being cut in half by a booby-trap shotgun blast (fortunately loaded with rock salt), the police ascertain Walter McLenahan as a suspect. Holmes, on the other hand, visits a different member of the team, telling him that Walter, whom the man was friendly with, is now a suspect. The man, who is caring for his sick wife, tells Holmes of the possibility that someone was trying to sell the information about the flaw in homeland security, and that the fewer Red Team members left alive, the higher the price for the information. The NYPD take the remaining members of the Red Team to a motel for safety while they try and take down McLenahan.
Shortly after, McLenahan turns up dead, and Holmes’ focus turns elsewhere: it is soon revealed that the real killer is the man Holmes had just been to visit, as he takes out his NYPD minder and is about to start killing the other members when he is stopped by the police. Holmes goes into the man’s room and questions him: it turns out he is not interested in money, he is killing the other members of the team to keep the secret safe after being offered care for his wife and realising that each member of the team has their own weaknesses. He plans to shoot Holmes to gain leverage, until Holmes tells him that he worked out the secret, and wrote it down before he came into the hotel room. The man asks Holmes what the secret is, as he levels the gun at him.
Shortly after, we see Holmes exit the room with the man following him, and as Gregson asks how Holmes knew the secret, to which Holmes replied that, although he had a number of possibilities in his head, the final decision came down to a guess, stating that a gun to the head is a good motivator.
If my recap seems confusing, it’s because the episode itself is: the plot doesn’t so much twist and turn as veer wildly from one direction to the other, with a lot of the elements brought in too briefly or too obviously to really make this a satisfying mystery. The subplot is negligible, with Watson’s therapist telling her that it’s dangerous to stay on as Holmes’ companion when she is no longer contractually obliged to, and Watson in turn trying to convince Holmes to apologise to Gregson and get reinstated as a consultant.
The latter leads to a nicely understated scene at the end of the episode, however, as Holmes meets Gregson in a bar to discuss what happened. Gregson tells Holmes that he is a problem, and most of the time he’s worth it because of his insight, but he will never forget that Holmes tried to murder someone on his watch, and he will never trust Holmes again. Holmes coldly tells Gregson he doesn’t need to trust him in order to benefit from his intellect, to which Gregson responds in the sanest way we’ve seen anyone respond to Holmes’ detached nature all season: he punches him in the stomach and walks out.
It’s a good scene which reminds us that however much of a ‘normalising’ influence Watson may be on Holmes, he remains very different from the people he surrounds himself with, and this inevitably leads to a loss of trust. I’m hoping that this theme recurs later in the season, as it’s a direction which makes perfect sense in this context.
While I try to judge each episode on its own merits, it was nearly impossible to do so this week: after the exemplary episode last week, ‘The Red Team’ pales in comparison, not helped by a befuddling plot and very little character growth. It’s saved from a lower rating by the scene between Holmes and Gregson, but even that is not enough in this instance.