Recap and review of Elementary – Season 1 Episode 14 – The Deductionist:
Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) spends much of “The Deductionist” bent out of shape over an article that portrays him as a figure of “self-annihilation”. What’s interesting is that this speaks to a central facet of the Sherlock Holmes character, throughout history. Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation could easily be considered a self-destructive force, what with the enemy-building nature of his work, the enemy-baiting slant of his processes, and the drug problems that have plagued him along the way. Elementary draws parallels between Holmes and tonight’s terrifying villain, a serial killer named Howard Ennis (Terry Kinney). While both men are irreducibly complex in their own ways, they are also both unnerved by having been figured out; their flaws, quirks, and tics being boiled down to predictable elements of their personality. In subverting the expectations of their profiles, they each find vindication, though only Sherlock profits by this vindication, saving the day from an unhinged madman, and coming to a clearer picture of his agency in his own life.
The notorious Howard Ennis is on the loose, and he’s back to his serial killing ways, prompting the FBI to get involved. This includes profiler Kathryn Drummond (Kari Matchett), Sherlock’s ex-lover, and arch nemesis to Ennis, owing to a book she wrote following his capture. In the book, she alleged that he was the victim of sexual abuse by his father, an allegation that led to the implosion of Ennis’ family, with his father hanging himself and his mother passing away not a year after. His current killing spree is Ennis’ revenge against Drummond, the randomness of the killings serving as a subversion of Drummond’s profile. In essence, he’s attempting to embarrass her by proving her wrong. Holmes, for his part, isn’t exactly crazy about Drummond himself. His anger with her stems from their brief fling, which Holmes ultimately learned was merely a ploy to study Holmes. Her subsequent article about him, titled “The Deductionist”, accurately predicted his tumultuous downfall, including his addiction to drugs. Given that this is Holmes, he would be as infuriated at being astutely dissected as he would being used in the first place. At a deeper level, however, the article has clearly affected Holmes’ own self-esteem, as he seems keenly uncertain of whether he’ll be able to overcome Drummond’s predicted end to his story, a path of “self-annihilation.”
Ennis is a great foil for Holmes – a maddeningly horrific killer with the myopic goal of total chaos – though it’s chaos towards a purpose: that of Kathryn Drummond’s complete and total ruin. To this end, he nearly succeeds. One of the most chilling scenes of the episode sees Ennis walking into a convenient store and nonchalantly gunning down two people, and then forcing a terrified bystander to take his picture with her phone. Ennis glibly smiles for the camera while holding up a newspaper with his mugshot on it, the headline reading “MANHUNT”. The calculated randomness of his actions contribute to Drummond’s sense of failure. Upon learning that Ennis’ sister is in the hospital with failing kidneys, Drummond goes to visit her to apologize for what she wrote in her book about her parents. Drummond reveals that she genuinely believed, while writing the book, that Ennis had been abused; however, once it became clear that the accusations had no basis in truth, Drummond was too committed to her profile of Ennis to back off, ultimately paying a former neighbor of the Ennis clan to give false testimony. Drummond appears genuinely remorseful, but it’s too little, too late. Holmes and Watson (Lucy Liu) investigate the apartment of Ennis’ sister and discover that she induced renal failure to lure Drummond to the hospital. And now she’s successfully got Drummond up close, and it’s now that she takes her chance, stabbing the profiler in the neck with a pair of scissors.
Kathryn survives, for reasons I can only imagine are to bring her back in a later episode, as I see no other reason to really keep the character around beyond not wanting to go too dark for an episode that, presumably, is going to be seen by a much larger audience than the average episode (given the post-Super Bowl time slot). Drummond could have served the drama of the episode in a more substantial way had she died, perhaps catalyzing Sherlock’s realization that it doesn’t really matter what Kathryn wrote about him, the choice is his own when it comes to the way in which his life is lived. As it is now, Kathryn’s survival just adds a lingering loose end to the episode, as we never see her again (although she is referenced by Sherlock, who mentions that she continues to annoy him, despite being unconscious). But that’s a small quibble in an episode that tells a very well-layered story. After Ennis’ sister is taken into custody, Holmes is able to deduct where Ennis himself is hiding, and goes to confront the man on his own.
At the killer’s hideout, Holmes offers Ennis a symbolic choice between a gun and a pair of handcuffs. Choosing the handcuffs represents that Drummond’s initial profile of Ennis is right: he’s a coward, a weak-willed individual who would balk at even the inference of a fair, face-to-face confrontation. Choosing the gun, however, would serve as a refutation of Drummond’s profile, and prove that there’s more to Ennis than what was written. Ennis, of course, goes for the gun, and Holmes is able to subdue him with his cane. Both men have confronted what Drummond has written about them, and found a way to subvert her expectations, though Holmes is the one who is the better for it, understanding that there are things about himself that, while quantifiable, are not the only aspects about him worthy of note. Nor is it all that there is to his personality. Holmes is far more resourceful, both mentally, emotionally, even physically, than many are willing to give him credit for. His locating and subduing Ennis through deduction validates Drummond’s assessment of him in one way (his keen deductive mind, his brilliance), and subverting it in another (his recklessness might lean towards a self-annihilating instinct, but he’s not a despairing, pitiable man). Holmes has grown beyond the mercurial, vengeful character he was in “M.”, the show’s best episode. He’s become more confident in not only his abilities, but in the totality of his recovery from the dark places he’d been, and that’s a wonderful direction for the character to take, even if it’s only just for now.
There’s also a subplot in the episode that serves as another instance of the show illustrating how funny it can be. Watson learns from her landlord that she unknowingly sublet her apartment to a pornographer. As a result, she’s now getting evicted. Holmes’ dissection of the continuity errors in the pornography are priceless, as his nit-picking ruins his ability to partake of even the simplest pleasures. In fact, much of the episode’s comedy is sex-related, from Holmes getting robbed by strippers in the cold open (a scene that is curiously never mentioned again in the episode, that I noticed), to Holmes advising Watson to replace her sex-defiled spatula. The subplot gives the episode a bit of color, and it’s amusing to see how Watson’s own deductive instincts have developed as a result of her time with Holmes, as she notices an inconsistency in the porno that leads her to suspect that her landlord knew about the film and allowed it anyway, so that he could evict Joan and charge full market price for the apartment. It’s great to see Watson, on her own and putting her foot down. The show has come a long way, in thirteen episodes, from the Watson who was often too reticent to really engage with Sherlock’s processes, much less adapt them as her own.
“The Deductionist” is an episode worthy of the post-Super Bowl time slot, coupling a compelling story with a truly unsettling villain, and bringing the story to a logical conclusion that sees Holmes grow as a character. This was among the most consistently enjoyable hours of the season, and portends better, more assured storytelling to come.