Recap and review of Elementary – Season 1 Episode 6 – Flight Risk
Elementary offered one of its best episodes with “Flight Risk,” and I can’t really contribute anything about what worked to the case at its center. This is a series that has attempted, in recent weeks, to provide a newer take on the rote crime procedural. Many of the cases are obvious in their own ways, with murders by greedy, jealous spouses, to a string of murders that would up-jump a claimant to sole possession of the family inheritance, right down to your garden variety nutjob serial killer. The uniqueness comes in the modus operandi, both of the perpetrator and of Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) himself. There’s a different kind of game being played in these investigations, and the killers buck narrative conventions every bit as often as Sherlock’s deductive reasoning skills creates an unorthodox investigation around it. For some, this makes for vastly more interesting television than the procedural that’s invested primarily in the forensic applications of an investigation, whereas for others, Holmes’s methods are off-putting in how closely they veer towards the supernatural. Because, really, no man can possibly be that prescient, no man could possibly know that much, no? And let’s say he could, would that man then be as unknowable as Holmes is himself? But I feel as though the show wants us to think this way, to feel that Holmes, as a man and as a crime-solving consultant, isn’t possible. The series nurtures that feeling so that there’s an alien mystique about him, which provides contrast for when the show decides to humanize him, as tonight’s “Flight Risk” does so eloquently.
The case this week involves a plane crashing on a beach, and the discovery of a body that, due to the coagulated blood, had to have been dead before the plane ever crashed. As cases so often seem to on this show, what appears to be a disappearance or an accident on the surface always turns out to be a murder plot, and right from the start, I wonder if the show might not be better served by having Holmes tackle other, non-homicidal crimes. Not that these cases aren’t interesting in their own right, but I’d love to see his talents put towards foiling some big, hierarchical corporate scheme, even if it might not necessarily be the jurisdiction of Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn). That said, this week’s case goes a long way in telling us things about Holmes himself, facts which are deduced by Watson (Lucy Liu), who is beginning to pick up a talent for deduction from her time spent with Holmes (case in point: she saved a little girl’s life last week by deducing that her benign chart-readings were belied the very serious case of endocarditis that threatened to kill her). Here, Watson deduces that Holmes’s anxiety around the crash scene implies a fear of flying that Sherlock won’t admit to. It’s an interesting instance of deduction from Watson, and sets in motion the conflict between Watson and Holmes that gives the rest of the episode its vibrancy.
Holmes’s father is coming to town and has asked his son and Dr. Watson to dinner. But Holmes, exasperated from years of his father’s purposeful, deliberate absences, refuses to go. Watson doesn’t actually believe that Holmes is telling the truth when he says that his father won’t show, and argues that his father only put him through rehab and pays for his brownstone out of a sense of “familial obligation,” and that neither love nor care enter into the equation at all. Watson, however, insists on attending. When she arrives, she meets a man who introduces himself as Holmes’s father, and even regales her with tails of Sherlock’s youth, recounting a story about a wrist injury to really sell the story. As it turns out, the man isn’t Holmes’s father, but simply an actor named Allistair (Roger Rees) that Holmes purportedly hired to prank Watson. As it turns out, Holmes’s father didn’t show after all, just like Sherlock said he wouldn’t, coming up with some business-related excuse for cancelling (which he apparently sends via email, not so much as bothering to call). However, in her irritation with Holmes, Watson decides to dig into this Allistair guy, and discovers that while he is an actor, he’s not just some random guy Holmes hired. The two men are friends, insomuch as Holmes can consider anyone a friend. Allistair, in a somber moment, recounts his earlier interactions with Sherlock, in particular his days as a drug-addled shell of the man he is now. He recalls one specific moment, in which Sherlock arrived at Allistair’s house at all hours, in an incomprehensible state of drug-fueled intoxication, capable only of saying one single name, which he repeated over and over again throughout the night.
Allistair is an interesting character, for as little as we get of him, owing in large part to the mannered portrayal of Tony winner Roger Rees. I genuinely hope he comes back, and helps to flesh out the fledgling ensemble, because it’s basically just Holmes, Watson, and Gregson right now, and while that’s fine when you’re trying to tell more stripped-down, laid-back stories, there isn’t an appreciable sense of worldbuilding going on with this series. However, “Flight Path” helps in this regard by introducing elements of the broader Holmes mythology, as we discover, at the end of the episode, the name Holmes had been speaking to Allistair in his drug-addled haze: “Irene.” Those who know about Holmes, even if it’s just through the Robert Downey Jr. film series, will recognize the name Irene Adler. Though she only appeared in one Holmes story, Arthur Conan Doyle referenced her in several others, portraying her as a person who dealt with Holmes at the level of an equal, matching his wits step-for-step. This earned her Holmes’s ceaseless admiration, and she’s frequently been utilized as a romantic interest for Holmes (look no further than Rachel McAdams’s portrayal in the recent films). Where Adler will fit in this Holmes mythology, and how she will fit, is hard to tell at this point. But from the look Holmes gives Watson (a brilliantly ambiguous look from Jonny Lee Miller, as it’s hard to tell whether it’s terror at Watson bringing up the name, heartbreak at hearing it again for the first time in ages, or whether it’s unbridled rage at Joan’s temerity in going there), I’d argue that this will be one of the darker iterations of the Holmes/Adler pairing.
“Flight Risk” works, and it’s because of the ways Holmes and Watson’s relationship feeds into itself, developing them as two people who are both shaped and undermined by one another. The case is a snoozer, except for one brief stylish sequence in which Holmes looks at photos of the victims on a corkboard while listening to the black box recording of the crash, and while the episode attempts to throw some curveballs our way, it feels as though the solution is inevitable. Maybe I might have been surprised if I didn’t watch so many procedurals, and I’d argue that if procedurals aren’t something you watch too often, then give this episode a look because you might be genuinely surprised at where it goes, but otherwise, I can only recommend sticking around for the character development of our leads. And it really is something. Elementary is turning into a series that’s not only earned its full season order, but also earned its big post-Super Bowl airing.