Thursday, November 12, 2015

Five Things About Elementary 4x02, "Evidence of Things Not Seen"

In this week's episode, John Noble and the promise of an interesting long-term arc mostly make up for a bland case of the week.

1. "Evidence of Things Not Seen" gives us our first real look at Morland Holmes, or as I like to think of him, the second least evil character John Noble has ever played. Morland weighs heavily both in the show's mythology (as the man who originally brought Joan to the brownstone) and in Sherlock's personal history (as a perennially absent father). He is also a total invention. Sherlock's father was never mentioned or even named in Conan Doyle's original stories. That makes Morland unique on Elementary. The other major guest stars who have shown up for a season in order to drive plot--Moriarty, Kitty, Mycroft--have all been drawn from canon. As Morland was not, all we have had to go on, up 'til now, to form our image of him has been Sherlock's stories.

From the start, Morland's presence is entirely in line with those stories. He is cold, aloof, and distant, both emotionally and physically. (The staging puts Morland closer to Joan than he ever gets to Sherlock.) Which makes the things he says difficult to reconcile: that he believes in Sherlock's recovery; that he wishes to help him regain his support system; and even, shockingly, that he's proud of his son. It speaks to a slightly more complicated man than we might have imagined, which is good. But it also speaks to the possibility that the things he's saying aren't entirely on the up-and-up, which is potentially even better. Morland is a man who trades favors and manipulates people as a career, and Sherlock's decision to take his help is, essentially, signing a blank check, the details of which Elementary will surely fill in later in the half-season.

All of which is to say that Morland is a good example of Elementary using its long memory and its excellent casting to efficiently and effectively establish a character, then immediately complicate him. The moment when Morland says that he wants to thank Joan because "she saved my son's life" is like being hit with a truck. It speaks well of Elementary that it's able to provoke such a reaction in a character's second scene ever.

2. It's too early to say exactly how Morland will affect this season's long-term arc, but that's obviously what he's being set up to do. And Joan and Morland's confrontation is a promising beginning, not least because it makes Joan the most active agent in the story, something Elementary has struggled with in the past. Even the Kitty arc, the show's best since first season (and the one that best utilized Joan), fell through on Joan's involvement in the final episodes. Obviously, there's still time for that to happen here, but it's a good sign that Joan and Morland are developing their own, overtly antagonistic relationship right off the bat.

3. Looks like Joan and Sherlock will be back at the department next week, which is, on the whole, a good thing. There was something mildly interesting about seeing them search for new kinds of work and adjusting to different rules, but "Evidence of Things Not Seen" never really committed to that concept. Joan pays some lip service to not getting fermented shark on the evidence, Agent Gary gently admonishes her for not letting him know she's looking into DARPA guy, and... nothing else, really. After all that set-up about how the FBI does things differently, Joan and Sherlock do things basically the same. The case never gets taken from them; they never get seriously reprimanded for going off-book; there's no consequence. If Elementary isn't going to explore the new investigative worlds that Joan and Sherlock might find themselves in, it's probably for the best that they remain in the world we're familiar with. The return to the NYPD also, of course, clears up my concerns from last week about how to work in Gregson and Bell.

4. This week's case furthers Elementary's (canon-derived) obsession with spies and cutting-edge/near-future technology. It's not one of the better examples, alas. It doesn't have the humor of the Anonymous expy of "One Watson, One Holmes," the distinctive tone and existential agony of the AI in "Bella," or even the topicality of the NSA/totally-not-Edward-Snowden plot of "We Are Everyone." There's just too much going on, and the episode never really commits to being about any of it. The claustrophobic opening sequence of terrifying images and creepy computerized questions promises a paranoid brainwashing thriller, but that tone falls by the wayside long before the reveal that the brainwashing doesn't actually work. Dan Zhang's introduction seems like the stuff of a more traditional spy story, but again, the spying turns out to have nothing to do with anything, and we never even get to have fun thinking it does, because at no point does "Evidence of Things Not Seen" feel like it's about spies. The final twist--both the whodunnit and the howdunnit--are introduced late in the episode, and never have time to create any atmosphere of their own. It's amazing that an A-plot that contains Chinese spies, brainwashing, extremist technomonarchy bloggers, and shady government crowd-control machines can be so bland.

5. Random Bits: 

  • Morland is an excellent choice for Sherlock's dad's name; it sounds like it's from the canon, even though it's not. Like Sherlock and Mycroft, it's an old English surname.
  • Hey, have we ever heard anything about Sherlock's mom?
  • It seems pretty unlikely that the before-and-after ideology tests would be identical, doesn't it? There'd have to be some variation. I mean, I just retook my Pottermore sorting quiz and got slightly different results, and I'm as Ravenclaw as they come.
  • If the media got wind of a government brainwashing program that had been infiltrated by spies, it would be all we talked about for months, whether it worked or not. Can you imagine what your Facebook wall would look like?
  • Have I mentioned how much I'm looking forward to seeing Gregson and Bell again next week?
  • "You're too busy to have patience for weakness."
  • "Are you an expert in neuroeconomics?" "I mean, compared to an FBI agent, apparently."
  • "It's not possible." "Neither was war in the Faulklands, but the old man usually gets what he wants." "I can't tell if you're being serious right now."
  • "No, I think he just thinks you're a terrible father."
  • "I'm feeling a bit vestigial at the moment."
  • "That is extremely illegal."
  • "So that rancid smell isn't impropriety?"
  • "My son was born with a malignant sense of self-righteousness."
  • "The toll always comes due."

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