This week’s Elementary offers a labyrinthine case that allows the cast to really flex their acting muscles in “Lesser Evils,” which sees Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) getting back to doing what he does best, assessing every situation using deductive reasoning, while snarking with Joan (Lucy Liu), this time as a means of bringing her lingering issues over her abandoned surgical career to the surface. It’s encouraging that we’re getting as much insight into Watson’s character as we’re getting, given that these kinds of details are parseled out piecemeal over the protracted course of a season. The events of the episode bring Joan back into contact with an old friend from her surgeon days, Dr. Carrie Dwyer (guest star Anika Noni Rose), and we come to see just how deep into medicine Joan still is. She’s not the least bit out of the game, despite the fictions she’d like to sell to herself in private, and what’s compelling about the storyline is that Joan is not simply working through the process of her grief over losing a patient in private, she’s integrating that coping process into her investigative work. Joan has a series of hunches about Carrie’s 12 year-old patient, and with each hunch that turns out to be wrong, the lesser the likelihood that her eventual dead-on prediction will be believed. It’s a strange kind of ticking clock plot, and is far more interesting than the all-too obvious case.
The duo is on the hunt for The Angel, a serial killer who preys on terminally-ill hospital patients. The case is more a platform for Holmes’ relentless witticisms, such as his musings on the nature of luck (for Sherlock, luck doesn’t exist), and his constant proddings of “Joanie” over her obvious familiarity with Carrie despite claiming not to have seen her in over a year, which allows Holmes to infer the rest about the history between the two. These interactions give us something latch onto, where the case is concerned, since there isn’t much of substance in the mystery itself. Perhaps it’s because of the old rule where The Most Famous Guy did it, but I was immediately suspicious of David Harbour, who’s too recognizable a character actor to simply be another guy on the periphery in the early-going, playing the head honcho of The Angel’s hospital playground. Also recognizable is David Costabile, otherwise known as Gale Boetticher from Breaking Bad, and his low-key introduction coupled with a visual appearance that recalls the Killer Ice Cream Truck Driver of your childhood nightmares means that really the only mystery left was why The Angel did it.
True to his sinister appearance, David Constabile’s grizzled hospital Janitor is actually a highly-skilled doctor from the Ukraine, who believed he was liberating his victims from their fleshly cage. Of course, because this revelation came with fifteen minutes left to go, there had to be another culprit on the loose. The Angel’s insistence that one of his victims was terminally ill when Holmes confronts him with the information that she actually wasn’t, leads Holmes and Watson back to David Harbour as head honcho Dr. Baldwin, who discovered that there was a man going around killing terminally ill patients in his hospital, and decided to alter the charts to exploit the killer’s mercy to his benefit, silencing would-be witnesses to his malpractice. What should have been a grandiose twist is essentially given away by casting, and a variety of other filmmaking conceits, from framing of the shot (our eye is drawn to the Janitor upon his first appearance) to the costuming (the Janitor is far too conspicuous in his outfit to avoid notice, even if he hadn’t been portrayed by an actor I recognized). That said, I imagine these are likely issues that not nearly as many people had, since I don’t imagine many people watch as much TV as I do, and really, God bless them for getting outside every once in a while.
Ultimately, the episode succeeds on the strength of Joan’s aforementioned plotline. “Lesser Evils” really is a rumination on the nature of luck, from Holmes’ avowed disbelief in its existence, to Joan, who offers Carrie a piece of sage advice from their mentor: when it comes to being a doctor, it’s better to be lucky than to be good. This kernel of truth comes to us by way of Carrie’s confession that Joan’s hunch that her patient was suffering from endocarditis was correct, and is a hunch that saved the girl’s life, as the patient would have died on the operating table had they gone through with cutting her open. It’s a curious bit of business for Dr. Dwyer, since Carrie never directly put in the request for a lab examination of the patient herself, and attributes the life-saving “double check” order to a mysterious, meddling good Samaritan. There are people in the world like Joan, and like Carrie, and even like Holmes, who are all very good at what they do. However, there remains the question of just how much of that skill depends on…well, skill, and how much depends on simple luck. Joan goes through old photos of her hospital days on her tablet, and elects to delete them all, since being good at your job means being able to let go of past mistakes and move forward, understanding that, even in the case of life and death, mistakes happen, tragic though they are. Joan can still do a lot of good in the world, but to do so, she must first put the past behind her.