Recap and review of Elementary – Season 2 Premiere – Step Nine:
One of TV’s best procedurals returns for a second season, and the premiere has already set the tone for what could be an even better season than the first. “Step Nine” inaugurates a return to form for Elementary, setting aside the heavy serialization of late last season in favor of an isolated story that has the added bonus of contributing to the growth of the Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) character, as well as fleshing out his relationships with others.
The episode centers on the return of several characters from Sherlock’s past, which is complicated by the wounds left in the wake of the Moriarty business from last season’s finale. As we’re told more than once over the course of the hour, Sherlock Holmes has had plenty of colleagues over the years, but he’s very rarely had friends, which is why his relationship with Joan (Lucy Liu) is of such paramount significance to his growth. He’s not lowering his guard and letting everybody in, necessarily, but his friendship with Watson signifies that it’s possible to get to know this man, and to have a good relationship with him. It’s a character arc that makes “Step Nine” a richer episode than it might otherwise have been, as Sherlock comes to understand his effect on the people in his circle, how he’s alienated some, and enabled the destructive habits of others.
Key to this storyline is Sherlock’s relationship with his brother Mycroft (Rhys Ifans), whom we meet when Holmes and Watson must travel back to London in order to track down Gareth Lestrade (Sean Pertwee), Sherlock’s former colleague and mentor at Scotland Yard. Lestrade has gone on the run following a very public outburst at a funeral ceremony, and though he’s had a very long career in law enforcement, he remains haunted by the one murder he solved but could never prove, due to a combination of a lack of evidence and the inherent skepticism of his superiors. In searching for Lestrade, Holmes returns to his old apartment at 221B Baker Street, only to discover that his brother has moved in and apparently sold all of his belongings to charity shops. Sherlock is absolutely incensed at Mycroft’s presence, saying that he’s a lazy layabout who lacks ambition and motivation of any kind. Of course, Mycroft has a very different account of things, saying that Holmes is the one who led to their falling out, as he slept with Mycroft’s fiance approximately seven times. Sherlock swears it was only to prove his hypothesis that the woman was after the family fortune, and the ensuing back-and-forth is some of the most entertaining stuff of the episode. This is because Mycroft feels like a fully-realized character from the word “go” thanks to Rhys Ifans’ incisive, lived-in performance. His relationship with Sherlock needs no real establishment, because it feels like it has existed since long before we ever saw the two together onscreen. It’s a remarkable pairing, and if the episode has any fault, it’s in not putting them onscreen together enough. But that central brotherly pairing remains only one facet of a very engrossing premiere…
Sherlock tracks down Lestrade and they make a deal: Holmes won’t turn in his former mentor until they’re able to crack the crime Lestrade has been trying to prove for ages. And so they set out to solve the mystery together, with Joan getting the chance to really display everything she’s learned from Sherlock over the past year. The case involves a businessman named Lawrence Pendry (Rufus Wright), who is accused of murdering his wife. The investigation turns up a series of fascinating clues pointing towards Pendry’s guilt, such as an uneven piece of folk art hanging over the murder scene, or a bottle of milk in the Pendry fridge on the night of the crime, despite Lawrence’s lactose intolerance and his wife’s veganism. Ultimately, their investigation, which involves having Joan pose as an American home security expert, leads Holmes to the conclusion that Pendry murdered his wife by using a 3D printer to build a gun, with the nail from the folk art serving as the bullet. The glass of milk in the fridge? A bottle of acetone, which was used to dissolve the weapon after the crime was committed.
The investigation scenes have such great, manic energy as Sherlock and Joan piece things together, revealing a theory that’s almost too implausible to actually turn out to be true. Yet, in a refreshingly rare development, it turns out that the guy who’s guilty from the start really is the guy who committed the crime in the end. It’s exceedingly uncommon for us to know the killer almost from the very start, yet we’re told Lawrence Pendry murdered his wife, and the content of the episode sets about proving that theory, despite our instinct to suspect that there’s a more complex solution underneath it all. The killer is who the killer appears to be? That’s mad talk! But that’s exactly what turned out to be the case. Granted, the killer gave himself up by sloppily silencing his co-conspirator, murdering him with a knife when his attempts to kill the man with the same murder weapon he used to kill his wife backfired on Pendry. However, Sherlock reneges on his earlier agreement to allow Lestrade to have credit for the arrest, saying that he’s no longer going to enable Lestrade’s addiction to the spotlight. While the dynamic between Miller and Pertwee is an interesting one, the murder investigation is the most intriguing aspect of their relationship, as the succinct case is all the more compelling for how deceptively simple it is.
The character arcs at the center are also deceptively simple, as Sherlock assumes that Mycroft is only being kind to Joan because he intends to bed her, and though it seems obvious that this is going to turn out not to be the case, it seems almost too simple for Mycroft to actually be the kind of person he appears to be. Yet, once again, this is what turns out to be the case. Mycroft isn’t trying to sleep with Joan, he’s trying to get advice on how he connect with his brother and mend their torn relationship. To her credit, Joan quickly deduces why Mycroft wants to fix his relationship with Sherlock, but not because of anything Sherlock taught her. Instead, Joan is able to deduce that Mycroft is trying to mend fences with Sherlock because he’s been sick, something she pieces together from having seen the scars on Mycroft’s wrist, a sign of a bone marrow transplant. Both Liu and Ifans are tremendous playing two characters inextricably linked by their attachment to Sherlock. Sherlock meets with Mycroft, the latter of whom uses Joan’s advice to make sure that when he talks to Sherlock, he’s really listening. To this end, he proves to his brother that he didn’t really get rid of his possessions by destroying Sherlock’s remaining possessions with a bomb he pieced together from a book on bomb-making, which had been among Sherlock’s personal belongings. No big “I love you” moment, or “I hope we can be friends” monologue, just simple, understated character work punctuated by a strong “show, don’t tell” sensibility. Mycroft forgives his brother for his past misdeeds, and hopes they can somehow forge on and have a real brotherly relationship, in some fashion. Once again, Miller and Ifans bounce off each other well, and I’ll be interested to see what the series does with that relationship if/when they bring Mycroft back. As Sherlock says about London, it’s always changing — as are its people, and the relationships fostered between them.
“Step Nine” is a great kick-off to the season, providing a case as engrossing as it is simple, and character work that is as emotionally compelling as it is well-performed. Elementary is back, and in a big way.