Recap and review for Elementary – Season 1 Episode 10 – The Leviathan
What’s awesome about this week’s Elementary, and what sets it apart from similar procedurals of its ilk, is in the nature of this week’s case. Sure, it eventually becomes a murder (to my immense disappointment), but the first half hour is an exhilarating change of pace, as Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) investigates a heist. A bank vault once thought impregnable has been breached, and the question of how to get around an “impregnable” security system drives Holmes’s manic energy, such that the audience is carried along on that current. It’s a labyrinthine plot that occasionally sets aside the Holmes/Watson dynamic in favor of building the complexity of the case to the point where it’s pretty much unfathomable that it could ever be solved. Even after it goes from the objective of unraveling a high-stakes heist to solving a murder plot, it’s still pretty impenetrable (ironically enough), given just how densely layered the story is, calling upon the audience to retain an uncommon amount of information for an average weekly procedural. This is not to say that “The Leviathan” doesn’t work. It’s mostly successful due to the continue development of Holmes and Watson (Lucy Liu) as friends, and less as crimefighting partners, or even as addict and sober companion. It’s a unique relationship, to be sure, and it’s not without its potential to make the cases surrounding it more interesting. But this week, the plotlines remain very separated, representing two halves that largely work (Watson and Holmes in private, and the bank vault case), but which have little to do with one another on the surface, yet which share a thematic component centering on identity.
Identity plays a big role in the solution to this week’s case. The Leviathan is the Fort Knox of bank vaults, only ever once having been breached, by a team of super-savvy thieves who are all either in jail or dead. As Holmes progressively runs out of theories for how in the world this thing could possibly have been cracked twice, and by two separate parties, at that, the solution starts to come together, thanks to the robbery investigation dovetailing into a homicide mystery. We learn that four men, each of whom is suited to a specific skill needed to break into the vault, were jurors on the trial for the original vault thieves. Upon recognizing that their talents made them uniquely qualified to perform the heist themselves (except without getting caught like the other jokesters, because crime totally works like that), they do just that, and seem to get away with it, until one of the criminals gets greedy and starts knocking off his partners. And like that, the mystery is solved. Yet it’s the strongest case yet for reasons I couldn’t possibly explain, because they involve math and number sequencing, and I couldn’t even begin to describe how far out of my depth I’d be. At a thematic level, however, the case further illustrates the theme of identity, as these four men want to go out of their way not just to be copycat criminals, but to do it better than their forebears, to aspire to something greater than they’ve ever achieved as individuals. And that’s a pretty poignant motivation, for a case of the week. It’s thrilling, and I would have loved to have seen the case remain a robbery investigation, but I guess if it bleeds, it leads, and the creative forces behind the show just don’t find a heist as compelling as a murder. At least not as anything more than a hook to draw viewers into the real meat of the episode.
Said meat would happen to involve the continuing development of Holmes and Watson’s relationship, as we continue to inch closer towards the end of Watson’s six-week companionship period. The show has addressed that ticking time bomb structure in the past, even as recently as last week, yet it wasn’t until this week that the show purported to offer any answer as to just what they’re going to do about it. What excuse are they going to find to keep Joan around once the six weeks are up? I have to say, of the possibilities, I never considered that Joan might actually stick around because working with Sherlock fulfills her. Yet the foundation has been built so subtly that I didn’t even notice how much sense it would make. Much has been made of Joan’s lack of fulfillment in life, both in her career and privately. Whether it really was due to the loss of a patient, or simply due to her own weariness with the profession, Joan simply didn’t want to be a surgeon anymore. And she’s been justifying her choices to her family ever since. Thus, it makes sense that the first episode to really submit a plausible rationale for why Joan might stick around would feature her family in a significant role.
Yes, Watson’s family is in town, and Holmes goes out of his way to arrange a big family dinner where he’ll get to meet them. He shows up at the restaurant ahead of Watson and spends the whole time talking her up. When Joan arrives, he continues, detailing the influence Watson has had on his life. It’s actually quite touching, as he details all the lives Joan has repaired through her sober companionship, and enthusiastically attests to Joan’s beneficent qualities as a person. Of course, Holmes blunts the sentimentality by telling Joan, on the cab ride home, that he only said those things because Joan’s family was clearly desperate to hear them. Joan picks up the thought, adding that her family has never really approved of her career as a sober companionship, likely believing she was wasting her time in a dead-end profession. Yet, in the climax, we learn that this isn’t the case. Joan’s mother confesses that the reason she doesn’t approve of her profession is because it doesn’t appear to make her happy. However, she can see a change in Joan that issues directly from her working with Holmes as a detective, suggesting that this is how Joan will remain on, upon realizing her true calling as Sherlock’s partner-in-deduction. It’s a strong rationale, and tells us a lot about Joan, as a character, and how much of her apparent damage is the result of her own lack of fulfillment.
“The Leviathan” is one of the show’s best episodes, even though the plots remain relatively separate outside of their thematic implications. Watson continues to grow into a pretty solid character in her own right, independently of Holmes and his sundry quirks. It’s a relationship that could keep this show going for seasons on end if the series plays its cards right. Hell, there’s a reason why the concept of Sherlock Holmes and his faithful companion, Watson, has endured for as long as it has. The dynamic just lends itself to dramatic, procedural storytelling.