Elementary – Season Finale Recap: A Work of Art
Recap and review of Elementary – Season Finale – The Woman/Heroine:
One of the best things about Elementary is how it utilizes its procedural framework to deepen its serialized aspects. The two-part season finale, “The Woman” and “Heroine”, are episodes that allow the crime to elucidate the many facets of the characters at the show’s center, in a manner that goes above and beyond the average procedural. Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) is a character of irreducible complexity, yet lesser filmed depictions have a tendency of portraying him as a relatively flat character, more bawdy genius than three-dimensional character. Basil Rathbone and Benedict Cumberbatch definitely have their place in the Holmes lore, and even Robert Downey, Jr. deserves some praise for what he’s able to do with the character in the venue of spectacle, but after having now watched a full season of Elementary, you’ll never be able to convince me that Jonny Lee Miller isn’t the Sherlock Holmes. Of course, this is only one man’s opinion, so I don’t really expect that this is going to be a statement that elicits widespread agreement, but the fact remains that Miller has turned in some of the most remarkably nuanced, character-building work on TV this season, and this one-two punch of a finale has provided him his greatest showcase.
“The Woman” is the more plot-driven episode of the two, which makes sense since it needs to compel audiences to stick around for the second hour. The episode does this by providing parallel narratives: in the present, Sherlock takes a step back from investigating the person responsible for Irene’s (Natalie Dormer) captivity, opting instead to tend to the psychologically-scarred woman’s every need, in an effort to help make her whole again (this is part of Sherlock’s atonement, as he believes Irene would not have been subjected to this long imprisonment had he simply deduced that her death had obviously been faked; meanwhile, in flashbacks to London, we see Sherlock and Irene’s courtship. In the abstract, these stories simply chart the trajectory of their relationship, showing how the person returned to Holmes is virtually irreconcilable with the person he’d lost. Yet, at a deeper level, these twin narratives illustrate the limits of Sherlock’s deductive powers: he fails in the present as he did in the past. His failure to recognize, in the past, that Moriarty faked Irene’s death mirrors his failure to recognize, in the present, the larger truth being concealed from him: Irene is Moriarty. Or, rather, Moriarty is Irene.
When the series first started, there was a lot of grousing about Watson being portrayed by a woman, yet there’s always been something interesting in how the narrative has utilized Lucy Liu to serve less as a sidekick for Holmes than as a mirror. She’s had her failures and her triumphs, and we know from her sessions with her psychiatrist that she’s also had her reservations about Holmes, yet this Holmes-Watson partnership is less one-sided than the traditional depictions of the pairing. Joan is every bit as damaged as Sherlock, and though she retains many of the helper/conscience qualities of vintage Watson, those characterizations come from a more immediately relatable place, because Joan is a more immediately relatable person. Hence, it should probably be unsurprising that the creative minds behind Elementary decided to go whole hog on the gender flip to make Moriarty female as well. Yet it is a surprise. And the best kind, to boot. It’s a twist that completely reorients our perception of the series. Sherlock started down the path of addiction because of Irene’s death, moving to New York to escape the ghosts of his failure to protect her, and his failure to avenge her. The character of Irene Adler essentially catalyzed the entire series — and with the reveal that Irene is Moriarty, that statement becomes true in a more literal sense.
Natalie Dormer is a gem throughout the two-episode finale, first playing the fragile victim of years of imprisonment, and then playing the icy mastermind. It’s a delicate balance that Dormer strikes beautifully, getting us to understand why Sherlock would love this woman, before turning that portrayal on its head by revealing her calculating center. This first hour involves Watson working with Gregson (Aidan Quinn) and Bell (Jon Michael Hill) to crack the case of Irene’s captivity, resulting in law enforcement chasing after one of Moriarty’s button men, who corners Holmes in his brownstone. The killer intends to murder Holmes as retaliation against Moriarty, who tried to have him killed. The killer knows that Moriarty doesn’t want Holmes harmed, though he doesn’t know why. Nobody does. It doesn’t become apparent until Holmes is rescued by Moriarty herself: Irene enters the brownstone and places three bullets in the back of his would-be killer. She then explains, to a stunned Holmes, the full depth and breadth of her deception: Holmes had been foiling her criminal enterprises in London, so she created the persona of Irene Adler in order to seduce Sherlock, bringing her closer to her nemesis and allowing her to study him. She considers Sherlock to be a work of art, and she has a deep, abiding appreciation for art; thus, she’s kept him alive all this time. However, there’s a deeper reason behind Moriarty’s decision to allow Sherlock to live, and it only becomes apparent in “Heroine.”
As “Heroine” plays out, Holmes deduces Moriarty’s overarching scheme, which has been building over the course of the last several, seemingly-unrelated investigations: Moriarty is blackmailing the “Narwhal” (Arnold Vosloo), a man whose daughter Moriarty is holding ransom, in order to compel the man to kill the son of a high-ranking Macedonian politician. This would somehow prevent a vote that threatens to change Macedonian currency from the denar to the euro. Moriarty was able to purchase a large stake in the denar since the inevitable vote would render it useless as a currency. However, if Moriarty were somehow able to inflame public and political tensions by having the Narwhal, a known contributor to Nationalist ventures, murder “Macedonia’s favorite son,” then the vote to change the currency to the euro would never pass. The denar would remain the official currency of Macedonia, and Moriarty would be rich to the tune of $1 billion (if nothing else, this show has no problem getting labyrinthine with its criminal plots). Holmes figures this out too late to stop the murder from happening, giving Moriarty the win and causing Holmes to relapse, as Sherlock overdoses on heroin in his bathroom.
Except he doesn’t overdose. Not really. Watson has gone through a tremendous development throughout the series, as she’s honed her deductive skills at Sherlock’s side to the point where she’s become a formidable investigator in her own right. When Joan is abducted by Moriarty and taken to lunch at the Four Seasons for a quaint little tete-a-tete, she’s able to get a read on Sherlock’s adversary (and, by extension, her own. Because nobody messes with Sherlock on Joan’s watch). She deduces that Moriarty is actually afraid of Sherlock, having seen a mirror image of herself in Holmes. But it’s more than Moriarty simply believing Holmes to be a kindred spirit: she’s in love with him. It’s this “condition” that gives Watson the idea to stage Sherlock’s overdose, knowing that Moriarty would visit him in the hospital, at which point Sherlock would compel her to confess to her crimes as law enforcement waited to apprehend her just outside the door. Though Moriarty claims that Sherlock was the only person capable of surprising her, Holmes is quick to correct her, stating that there’s now another: Watson.
Moriarty underestimating Joan, to whom she referred as Sherlock’s “mascot,” is what leads to her undoing. Sherlock and Watson, in effect, turn their weaknesses into strengths: for Holmes, it’s his addiction; for Watson, it’s her novice status. In “The Woman,” Watson feared she wasn’t ready to handle investigations without Sherlock, though he’s quick to assure her that she’s simply underestimating her own abilities. In “Heroine,” Watson is every bit Sherlock’s equal, though Moriarty lacks Sherlock’s ability to see it. Ultimately, it’s Watson who serves as the true catalyst for Moriarty’s downfall, which is fitting, since Joan is the true human connection Holmes has made, not “Irene Adler.” This is solidified in the episode’s conclusion, as Sherlock names a rare species of bee after Watson: Newglassia Watsonia, the product of a bee thought incapable of pairing with other species. Not unlike Holmes, who initially resisted Watson’s partnership, yet now couldn’t possibly be without it. It’s a metaphor for their relationship that’s equal parts overt and beautiful.
“The Woman” and “Heroine” represent two of the finest hours of TV this season, particularly since I’ve never found myself considering a procedural to be appointment television. Yet here I am, anxiously looking forward to another season of a CBS crime drama. Jonny Lee Miller is doing yeoman’s work as Holmes, and Lucy Liu doesn’t get nearly enough credit for her work as Watson. There’s some real chemistry in this partnership, making for a far richer series than we might otherwise have gotten if even one half of this pair had been cast differently. For my money, it’s TV’s best procedural, as it strikes a perfect balance between “case of the week” drama, and the long-form serialized storytelling that compels interest and keeps audiences engaged in these character, irrespective of whether or not the case itself is compelling. At the end of the day, character is this series’ greatest strength, and it will be what sets it apart from other procedurals, going forward.
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Before I get to the part where Irene Adler and Moriarty are one in the same allow me to mention one other noteworthy actor that has portrayed Sherlock Holmes, Jeremy Brett. As mentioned above Cumberbatch, Rathbone and Downey all deserve praise for their Holmesian interpretations but no list is complete with the inclusion of Brett. During his day Brett was the quintessential Holmes for the Granada TV series. I hope everyone has had the chance to see Brett as Holmes, if not, I strongly suggest you do. You may not see Holmes as anyone else.
As for Adler and Moriarty being one in the same, that really upsets the Sherlockian apple cart doesn't it? Being a traditionalist, I'm still not sure I totally accept it, but I can see why they decided to go this route. Next to Moriarty, Adler is one of the most enduring characters of that canon. Even though she was only in one story! As "The Woman" her reputation was sealed as the person that outsmarted Sherlock Holmes. I suppose an adversary of such singular nature could be lumped in with the "Napoleon of Crime" but I'm still on the fence about accepting it. It was clever but I'd rather we had room for both characters in this particular iteration. (Speaking of characters, let's hope we get to see Mrs. Hudson again.)
"Moriarty" is now in jail but let's hope "she" escapes soon. To see these two match wits over a period of seasons would be a real treat. Cumberbatch and Downey got their Reichenbach moments and I would like to see these two go the same route. But not right away! I'm hoping this series gets to have five seasons at least.
I completely agree that Brett is Holmes. Jonny Lee Miller's portrayl is wonderful and nuanced, but the character he plays in not really Sherlock as I see it. Holmes is a truly unsympathetic character, but what sets a great portrayl of Holmes apart is the actor and writers' abilities to make this quasi sociopath likable. Cumberbatch and Moffat are really remarkable on that front. JLM's Holmes is far too easy to like with from the get go. He is so vulnerable and so eager, as the series continues, to open up and form relationships. He is like the rest of us, only smarter. Tho it should have, and does in most other incarnations, I found Irene's accusation that Sherlock and Moriarty could be friends did not ring true. It is not boredom that drives this Holmes but an actual desire to help others.