Friday, December 11, 2015

Five Things About Elementary 4x05, "The Games Underfoot"

A great B-plot and a vastly improved case of the week make for the most consistently good Elementary in weeks.

1. Elementary returned to addiction and fraught interpersonal relationships in its B-plot this week, which is good, because that's the show's wheelhouse. Sherlock and Alfredo's relationship has always been a joy--I can't think of  a single episode Alfredo has been in that wasn't vastly improved by his presence. "The Games Underfoot" is no exception, despite the fact that in some ways, it comes to some very depressing conclusions about Sherlock and Alfredo's friendship. Sherlock and Alfredo care about each other, and they respect each other, but Sherlock is right that, in many ways, addiction recovery is what they do together. It's what elevates Alfredo from "irregular" to "friend"; without it, his life touches Sherlock's only infrequently.

Of course, the B-plot ends with Alfredo and Sherlock once again working on their recovery together. And the way it does so is interesting. The story starts out about Sherlock's recovery--is he going to different meetings, why is he going to different meetings, how has his relapse affected him? But toward the end, it shifts, and becomes about Alfredo, who, it turns out, is struggling, and can't quite give up his instincts, as a former sponsor, to not put that on Sherlock. This turn is an admirable break from Elementary's occasional tendency to turn things all-Sherlock, all the time; after all, Alfredo was kidnapped at the end of last season, and if he's going to be a recurring character, the show owes it to him to give him a varied inner life.

That said, the B-plot does incidentally show us something interesting about Sherlock: His time with Kitty has changed him. There was a time when Sherlock wouldn't have been able to make something not about him. But he has experience, now, and the will to use it. The character development on this show is top-notch.

2. Sherlock has been getting a lot of B-plots to himself, of late, and previous episodes have struggled with giving Joan things to do. "The Games Underfoot," finally, remembers that Joan is, you know, a detective, and that she can solve mysteries with or without Sherlock's help. This week's A-plot is particularly Joan-heavy; she makes most of the important observations and deductions, and there are long stretches from which Sherlock is completely absent. And it turns out, when you give your main character who everyone loves something to do, the case of the week becomes way more fun to watch! Hopefully, this is a balance that Elementary can sustain, going forward.

3. Speaking of the case of the week, it was a lot more cohesive than the last few weeks'. Sure, there was a mid-episode twist, and sure, the killer was someone we'd never met before the scene where he was revealed; that's par for the Elementary course. But at least the mystery managed to limit its focus to the landfill. When guest characters and potential motives get switched out with every act break, it's important that viewers have something to anchor them to the story. Also, of course, the first half of this week's A-plot was ripped from the headlines of 1982, being loosely based on the Atari E.T. game landfill burial--which, incidentally, is not an urban legend--and that's so ridiculous that it kind of wraps around into being fun again.

4. The scene where Joan and Sherlock play the video game is the kind of amazing character interaction that keeps me watching this show. I gave up writing down quotes halfway through, because everything was too good. Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu often get kudos for their dramatic acting skills, which, to be fair, Elementary calls on quite a bit. But the video game scene highlights their humor and charm, which are also absolutely necessary for the show to work. It's nice to see scenes like this, where you can see not only that these people are friends, but how they're friends.

5. Random Bits:

  • It's only been a month since the end of season three?
  • Did we really need that many close-ups of burned corpses?
  • I immediately pointed out the economic issue with digging up thousands of identical rare artifacts, and I was so pleased when that turned out to be important.
  • "Everyone" is and will remain the greatest fake-Anonymous name in existence. Although I'm still confused as to why TV shows bother coming up with a fake organization.
  • How Alfredo describes being kidnapped: "All that stuff that happened--Oscar Rankin, me getting tied to a chair..."
  • "Reagan for President. If you're thinking about sending money, let me save you the trouble."
  • "You're not even going to try to read lips?" "Their backs are to us." "That's never stopped you before."
  • "A despicable alibi, but an alibi nonetheless."
  • "What are you doing?" "Punishing my brain."
  • "You've always suggested that I should be selfish with regards to my sobriety, and yet here you are with yours at stake, and you choose to be selfless. Shame on you."

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