Recap and review of Elementary – Season 1 Episode 11 – Dirty Laundry
Well, I have to hand it to Elementary. After weeks of speculation as to how they would keep Watson (Lucy Liu) on as the companion to Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), “Dirty Laundry” solved the problem in a way I wouldn’t have predicted. In essence, the show has reversed the power dynamics of the relationship, making Watson the apprentice to Holmes, which serves as an inverse of the sober companion relationship that had provided the engine for the series in its first half. I really do have to commend the show for this approach, as it would have been easy to simply have Holmes relapse, with Watson deciding to stay around while the writers milk a despondent, relapses Holmes for five or more episodes. This path is arguably harder, but it’s more rewarding for the viewer, as it forces Watson to open herself up to Holmes’s way of thinking in a more substantial way than the subtle hints we’ve been given. It’s been implied that Holmes’s deductive reasoning has been creeping into her approach to each case of the week, but it’s heartening to see it brought to the fore this week, as the Holmes/Watson partnership needs to be a partnership of equals, each with something to contribute. “Dirty Laundry” gets that job done, even if the case itself is the most ludicrous of the series so far.
The case of the week follows the murder of the general manager of a high-end hotel, and while the story has its beginnings as a standard murder mystery, it balloons out into a full-on espionage plot. I have nothing against the idea of Russian spies, and this week’s case has enough twists and turns to keep the mystery exciting, especially since it’s a case that utterly defies prediction by the viewer. But then, for some people, that’s kind of the point of watching a procedural in the first place. If you can’t play along, what’s the point? Well, for others, it’s to engage with the mystery at hand, even if its solution isn’t accessible. As the case goes on and Holmes meets the husband of the deceased, and Watson meets the daughter, things only get more complicated. It comes to light that the victim had been running a non-profit brothel out of the hotel, and that this “family” (unbeknownst to the daughter) was merely a front for a spy operation. And really, that doesn’t even get into how complicated this story becomes, with regards to who actually committed the murder in question. It’s a labyrinthine plot, and it works, but only in the sense that it continually keeps the audience guessing. At the end of the day, it’s not a terribly satisfying case. It’s just a series of increasingly elaborate plot devices that serve to swerve the viewer, and I just couldn’t enjoy it, since so much of it felt contrived in a way that few plots do, on a show like this.
That said, the case still contributes some meaningful development for Watson. As she reminds Sherlock that their time is nearly reaching its conclusion, Holmes offers her an apprenticeship, in order to extend their partnership. Watson goes on to spend the rest of the episode pretending that this isn’t even something she’s considering. Yet the cracks in her facade are evident, as they have been over the last four episodes or so, in which we could start to see just how Sherlock’s presence was affecting her life, and her ways of thinking. By episode’s end, she’s telling Holmes about the new job she’s gotten, stating “I’m quite good with deduction.” And it stands as an acknowledgment that she’s accepted Holmes’s apprenticeship. The show found a more elegant way around the time limit of their partnership by giving Watson the choice of staying with Holmes, while Holmes is the one to (whether implicitly or otherwise) acknowledge the affect Watson has had on his life by being the one to offer her the position in the first place. It creates an equity in their partnership that immediately gives their pairing the kind of solid dynamic that, say, Castle and Beckett have over on ABC’s Castle.
But beyond that, “Dirty Laundry” helps develop Watson’s desire to help people, as she reaches out to the “daughter” of the victim, offering the girl her number whenever she needs it. The girl eventually cashes in this offer, and the scene in which Watson speaks with the girl on a park bench, after she’s discovered the truth about her parents’ identities, is fittingly poignant. These are the kinds of scenes that will set Elementary apart from the standard procedural, as the cases of the week need to have a more human element to have resonance, even if the case itself is somewhat ridiculous (as was the case with this mystery, exciting though it was). There’s nothing wrong, on the surface, with having a mystery that strains credulity, so long as there’s a heart at its center to keep the audience invested, in spite of how silly the story can occasionally get. In that sense, “Dirty Laundry” was a success, even though I wouldn’t count it among the better episodes of the series.
So while there isn’t a whole lot wrong with “Dirty Laundry”, I did find myself hoping that credulity-straining stories like this wouldn’t be the direction the series takes. This is not to say that other stories didn’t leave me scratching my head, but I feel those stories were pulled off with greater subtlety and delicacy than this. Of course, the series is still among the better procedurals on television, and it’s really honing the character dynamics as the series goes forward. To that end, it has a leg up over many procedurals in their first season. I genuinely look forward to seeing how the show reconciles the strong character work with the iffier detective aspect. Given that the show is one of CBS’s hits of the new season, it’ll surely get the chance.