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Elementary – Recap: Catfish the Serial Killer

Recap and review of Elementary – Season 2 Episode 9 – On the Line:

Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) is not a nice man. To be fair, he never pretended to be. He’s prone to occasional moments of warmth, and he’s understanding and empathetic towards the innocent far more often than not, adopting a role as protector and avenger for the victims. But none of those things means he’s necessarily a nice or warm individual. However, as “On the Line” suggests, Sherlock’s brusqueness pays dividends in actual investigations, which makes for an engaging conflict when his methods are brought to bear on those who don’t understand why those methods need to be the way they are. “On the Line” is an episode of Elementary that gets everything right, taking a compelling case and coupling it with an investigation storyline that is all the more impressively engrossing when you consider that the killer’s guilt is never really in doubt.

Credit: CBS

Credit: CBS

The crime this week is multifarious in nature: a woman named Samantha Wabash kills herself in a particularly complicated fashion, shooting herself in the head by using a weight to leverage a gun against a bridge, releasing a trigger to shoot her in the head, and then dispose of the gun in the river below. It’s an incredibly complex way to kill oneself, but it turns out she has a good reason for wanting to make her suicide look like murder. It turns out she’s attempting to frame a man named Lucas Bundsch (Troy Garity) for her sister’s murder. Despite some pretty flimsy evidence, Samantha has been convinced since 2007 that Bundsch was responsible for killing her sister, Ali. Samantha hounded him for years to no avail, becoming a joke to the detectives investigating her case, until finally the grief became too much to bear. She figured if she was to off herself, she might as well make it count for something, and so she intended to use her death as a way to send Lucas Bundsch to jail. Unfortunately for the late Samantha, Sherlock quickly deduces her intentions, and essentially foils her frame-up job. However, when Sherlock meets Bundsch during a polygraph test, he realizes Samantha was right the entire time: Lucas Bundsch is a serial killer. This realization motivates Sherlock to solve the case, so as not to allow Samantha’s death to have been for nothing.

Credit: CBS

Credit: CBS

It’s a great case, and the story never once seriously asks us to consider that Lucas Bundsch may be innocent. It’s not just that he acts shady as hell, but rather that the episode tries so hard to convince us of his innocence in the early going. There’s really no evidence to connect him to Ali Wabash’s murder other than the fact that, before becoming a sound engineer for a record company, he was a mover who worked in Ali’s apartment building on the day of her disappearance. And even then, Ali left her sister a voicemail the next day, confirming she was still alive a day after he’d been in her building. Yet Sherlock quickly deduces that Bundsch kept his victims alive for weeks on end, and Ali was no different, as he fashioned a crude, fake bomb to strong-arm Ali into placing the phone call to her sister to provide him with an alibi, before locking her up in his lair. Of course, the question that needs answering is not only where Bundsch’s lair is, but how Sherlock and Joan (Lucy Liu) are going to find the evidence they need to confirm Bundsch’s guilt? This would be hard enough even without internal obstacles in their way, but the doubting detective on the original investigation, Det. Coventry (True Blood‘s Chris Bauer), hounds Sherlock for pursuing Bundsch as a suspect, and reflects the general attitude of the precinct that Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) gives Sherlock and Joan far too much leeway.

Credit: CBS

Credit: CBS

And they might be right, as Sherlock snaps when Bundsch baits him into punching him. By striking the suspect, Sherlock essentially torpedoes his own case, as now Bundsch has issued a restraining order, and any evidence obtained by Sherlock will appear to be the result of his own biases against the suspect. So Sherlock gets desperate and decides to plant the hair of another missing woman in the back seat of Bundsch’s car, in order to complete the frame-up Samantha started. As Sherlock explains to Joan, no matter how well she thinks she might know him, he’s as adept at committing crimes as he is at solving them, and so he has no qualms about planting evidence if it means a guilty man is locked away for good. Yet it becomes apparent that the frame-up isn’t necessary, as Sherlock realizes where Bundsch has been keeping his victims all along. He and the police storm Bundsch’s recording studio, pull away a panel in a closet, and reveal a door that has the frightened missing woman, as well as one other victim: Kathy Spalding (Kate Cullen Roberts), a woman presumed dead, yet still alive. It’s her reunion with husband Tim that provides the episode with its most emotionally resonant moment, as Joan and Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill) had earlier met with the man only to find that he’d all but given up hope. It’s a brief, poignant moment that compels Gregson to announce to the precinct that if anyone has a problem with how he employs Sherlock and Joan in his investigations, they’re free to go find work somewhere else. It’s a strong episode for cheer-worthy moments.

Credit: CBS

Credit: CBS

As for our leads, Joan has attempted throughout the episode to get Sherlock to lighten up, rationalizing that he can’t always be so acerbic towards the detectives in the precinct, since they’re his colleagues whether he wants to admit it or not. Sherlock, however, states that while there’s a certain social currency in smoothing the edges to his personality, he’s just not a nice person. He’s grumpy, acerbic, and cruel, and though he’s neither proud nor ashamed of this, he has no real intention of changing either, since his brusque nature means he can cut through the B.S. and solve cases with great urgency. Sherlock tells Watson that there’s no warmer individual lurking beneath the surface, waiting to be coaxed out. In essence, he tells her he’s never going to change, and that needs to be understood for their partnership to work. As Sherlock explains, the reason he’s nice to Joan is because he finds her to be extraordinary, so he makes an extraordinary effort around her, but she’s only the exception. Joan understands for now, but says she isn’t sure if his rough nature is something she can endure forever, and this gives us our first real tease of dissension in their partnership, as well as the possibility that this might not be a permanent arrangement. It’s a brief scene, but it’s the best of the episode, due to the magnetic chemistry between Miller and Liu, who bounce off each other effortlessly, and imbue their respective characters with a lively sense of history, of ingrained personalities unlikely to change, and only likely to butt against one another further, and with greater harshness.

Credit: CBS

Credit: CBS

This was a terrific episode that not only had some great character work, but a fascinating case with a truly compelling villain. Bundsch is someone I’d be interested in seeing return, as he’s one of the few criminals to get the better of Sherlock, even for a moment. Not only did he goad Sherlock into punching him, he also tricked him into going on a wild goose chase by catfishing the detectives: he created a fake persona online to troll support chatrooms for the families of murder victims, then fooled Sherlock and Joan into thinking the persona he created was in danger. It was a pretty great bit that elevated the episode by adding a thriller component, and I’m not normally one to endorse the “all-knowing, omnipotent serial killer” who’s always ten steps ahead of the cops. But I felt it worked here. Troy Garity is great in the part, imbuing Bundsch with a calm, calculated creepiness that clashes well with Sherlock’s own manic intensity, so I hope he comes back. But whether he does or not, “On the Line” is top-of-the-line Elementary.

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