Recap and review of Elementary – Season 2 Episode 5 – Ancient History:
I suppose it was a bit premature on my part to declare that one of the big narratives of this season on Elementary seems to be how Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) and Joan (Lucy Liu) relate almost exclusively to one another. Between this week’s episode and last week’s, it’s clear that both Sherlock and Joan are capable of forming meaningful points of connection with other people, yet connections that are no less meaningful to them. Last week, it was Sherlock’s very first killer, the person who helped shape him into the man he’d inevitably become. This week, it’s one of Joan’s girl friends. In both instances, we get the rough sketches of Sherlock and Joan’s lives without one another, and it makes for an interesting contrast to their lives together. “Ancient History” is an episode featuring a procedural case of negligible interest, concealing a far more compelling character story underneath.
The case this week involves the death of Leo Banin, a former assassin for the Polish mob, whose death appears to have been a complete accident but for the ligature marks on his hands that clearly prove he garroted someone before dying. And so Sherlock and Joan go off in search of who Leo might have killed before ending up dead himself, and their investigation takes them to some crazy places. After interviewing Lara (Mia Barron), the deceased ex-mobster’s wife (in a great scene that allows Jonny Lee Miller to further illustrate just how much Sherlock is hurting, post-Moriarty), the evidence leads them to a colleague of Leo’s, a cocaine-addicted, prostitute-loving man known to disappear from work for days at a time. They also wind up in a nail salon run by a loan shark who’d been involved in a bank robbery twenty years prior, and who’d loaned $20,000 to Leo prior to his death. In each case, Sherlock is increasingly disappointed to find that these men are alive, as he simply wants to find the victim in order to get to begin the process of figuring out why Leo killed someone, since Lara had been so adamant about Leo having reformed his ways.
Yet as Sherlock and Joan venture further down the proverbial rabbit hole, it turns out that someone had been trying to kill Leo long before the final attempt actually succeeded. Sherlock interviews a criminal named Marko Zubkov (Misha Kuznetsov), whose alibi for the night of the crime involves a prolonged hospital stay for a wound to his thigh. However, Sherlock and Joan are able to deduce from the material used to fashion the tourniquet for the wound that it was Lara who’d made it. She had apparently hired Marko to kill Leo, and when the attempt failed, she sent another man after him on the day of Leo’s death. Yet Leo was able to subdue that man as well, so Lara took matters into her own hands, pulling out a gun and firing at her husband as he drove away on his motorcyle. As he swerved to avoid the shots, he collided with an oncoming car, resulting in the death of both himself and the other drive. But the question remains: why?
As Lara explains, Leo had discovered some pornographic videos she’d made back in Poland in order to earn the money she needed to come to America. Leo was furious and refused to forgive her for her past, telling her he wanted a divorce. Lara saw this as horrifically hypocritical of him, as she’d completely forgiven and accepted him despite his mob-related past. Yet now she was facing ending up on the street, with no money and no place to stay in this country she’d worked so hard to get to. And so she saw her opportunity. Since Leo was still a wanted man by the Polish mob, she simply made the call and let them know where he was, hoping to collect on the bounty on his head. But Leo had foiled every attempt, even garroting the man who tried to murder him on the day of his death. Ultimately, Lara cops to everything and opts to take a deal for prison time in order to avoid being found by the Polish mob on the outside (since Sherlock cleverly tricked Lara into appearing to have given up Marko to the cops, an act which would place a substantial bounty on her own head). It’s a great “Parlour scene” in the classic Holmes tradition, assembling everyone into a room, explaining who the killer is, and detailing how they did it. Just tremendous stuff, and played very effectively by Miller, who continues to be one of TV’s MVPs each week (and his lispy, fake New York accent is tremendous!).
Case in point, the B-storyline involving Joan embarking on a search for a photojournalist named Tony, all on behalf of her friend, Jennifer (Danielle Nicolet). Jen had apparently had a one-night stand with the man after meeting him last year (following Joan ditching her friends at the bar in last season’s “Lesser Evils”), and she can’t stop thinking about him, or about the night they shared together, which included an art gallery opening and a quiet evening back at her place. Sherlock thinks Joan’s decision to help her friend go on this romantic goose chase is pointless, and repeatedly advises Joan against pursuing it (“At least in a proper goose chase, you get to eat a delicious goose at the end”). Of course, we learn that the reason why Sherlock wants her to drop it is because he’s actually Tony! In the early days of their acquaintance, Sherlock would follow Joan around town to get a read on whether or not she could be trusted, and this inevitably led to him meeting Jen, and the rest was history. Joan is furious to learn about this, more because of the implied invasion of privacy in Sherlock following her around during private hours than anything else.
It’s an interesting window into Sherlock and Joan’s relationship, far more compelling than anything in the erstwhile A-storyline. Sherlock insists he did nothing wrong to Joan, saying that “this” (motioning back and forth between himself and Joan) didn’t exist between them then as it does now. For Sherlock, trust is sacrosanct, so it’s unsurprising to find that he didn’t so much as think twice about following her to figure out if her intentions were honest. Yet Joan can’t fathom how a person would think that way about another person, as if they’re a threat to be assessed. It’s clear that their relationship is still evolving, and it makes a nice parallel with the A-storyline, as Joan is able to forgive Sherlock for spying on her and for sleeping with her friend, choosing not to hold a grudge and end up like Leo, who was felled by his inability to forgive. Ultimately, Sherlock is able to smooth things over with Jen (they sleep together a second time, because of course they do), and though the conflict between Sherlock and Joan is wrapped up a little too neatly for my tastes, it was still fun in getting to that point.
“Ancient History” is yet another strong episode in what’s been a fairly stellar season of Elementary so far. While the ensemble doesn’t get nearly as much to do as I would like, Miller and Liu are a remarkable pair, capable of carrying even the weakest “crime of the week” story. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention just how much I enjoyed Mia Barron’s performance as Lara. Barron really found the objectified center of the character, and turning her from a wounded animal into an aggressive force of vengeance, driven entirely by the bitterness that comes with being condemned by someone you love for things in your past. Just great work, all-around. Elementary is really having a fantastic year so far.
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