Although it operates as a fairly straightforward and uncomplicated procedural drama, Elementary gains a great deal of traction from just how recognizable the names Holmes and Watson are. And as such, the program finds itself a little more dependent on its characters than the procedural aspect – which can sometimes be daunting, considering the amount of new and specific backstory that has been applied to both Sherlock and (in this case) Joan.
Of course, part of the appeal of watching these characters within the unique framework of a CBS procedural is at once the comfortable familiarity of seeing Sherlock Holmes’ incredible powers of deduction and slightly anti-social behavior be put to use on a weekly basis and discovering how the various ancillary characters of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels would fit into this new equation. For all intents and purposes (or, rather, to set it apart from another Sherlock-based television program on BBC) Holmes, as played by Johnny Lee Miller, is ostensibly the same as any other iterations of the character – but the key to this version is his history as an addict and his journey on the road to recovery with the help of former sober companion (and now consulting partner) Dr. Joan Watson.
So, fittingly, the season 2 premiere, ‘Step Nine,’ finds its focus set once more on the idea of Holmes pursuit of the sober life by returning him to the place where the majority of his addiction occurred, which naturally, is London. The episode begins with a two-pronged opening, one featuring British actor Sean Pertwee (Dog Soldiers), as none other than Holmes’ old police liaison Inspector Lestrade, disrupting a funeral by showing up with a hand grenade, and Sherlock and Watson at the tail end of an investigation involving carrier pigeons. It’s only the former that really matters; we’re given a brief parting shot of Capt. Gregson and Det. Bell (seemingly just to remind everyone they’re still on the show) before Sherlock and Watson are off to London to see if they can help Lestrade out of the rather embarrassing bind he’s gotten himself into.
Before they head out, Watson wonders whether traveling to his old stomping grounds won’t bring up any residual feelings or urges in Sherlock, and unfortunately, the notion of relapse is quickly shelved. But as the title ‘Step Nine’ suggests, the season 2 premiere is less about Sherlock’s many vices, and more about making amends with those he’d wronged. And while Lestrade plays into that notion, as Sherlock feels the need to take responsibility for enabling the inspector in terms of acting as a gateway drug to the larger addiction to celebrity and “the spotlight,” the character arguably better served dynamic by the addition of Rhys Ifans (The Amazing Spider-Man), as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft.
Now, physically speaking, Ifans’ casting is rather spot on, as in this particular universe the Holmes family is apparently made up of men who can rock the scraggly, unkempt look and have it feel chic and a natural extension of their personality, rather than make it seem as if they’d simply spent the last three nights sleeping on a park bench. But Ifans’ natural, laid back tempo and slightly-concussed expressions – which often seem as though the character he’s playing is never quite certain if what he’s experiencing is real or part of some semi-lucid dream – bring a great deal to Elementary‘s depiction of Mycroft (or, rather, Sherlock’s opinion of him) that plays up the notion he lacks drive or is otherwise lazy. Sadly, there’s no direct mention of Mycroft’s superior deductive powers, rather the sense of conflict between the siblings stems primarily from a hostile past that appeared to have reached its zenith when Sherlock successfully seduced his older brother’s bride-to-be.
At this point the episode splits its time between Sherlock’s attempts to help Lestrade reestablish his reputation by proving a wealthy businessman named Lawrence Pendry murdered his wife, and Watson’s discussions with Mycroft regarding his recent illness and equally recent desire to establish some sort of relationship with his younger brother. For the most part, neither aspect is particularly well developed, though Pertwee manages to play Lestrade’s addiction to fame and recognition with a palpable sense of desperation that makes his actions at the end of the episode more closely mirror the man Sherlock once was. But the case involving Lawrence Pendry and the gun he fabricated using a 3D printer lacks bite. This is likely due to the fact that it doesn’t require Sherlock to do much in the way of establishing a case; he’s only around to help prove the theories Lestrade has already formulated.
Meanwhile, the Mycroft/Watson portion of the story winds up feeling undercooked, as the episode works to incorporate them into the theme of making amends, and only manages a brief scene in which Mycroft destroys his brother’s belongings and then gives Sherlock his forgiveness. Thankfully, Ifans’ role will be a recurring one, so ‘Step Nine’ serves as our introduction to Mycroft, rather than a one-off episode in which he plays a part. The sibling dynamic between the Holmes boys has always been a fascinating one and considering the particularly contentious history that exists between them here, this could prove an interesting addition to the series.
This was a solid, if uneventful, start to the season that showed some promise in terms of new characters and Sherlock’s road to sobriety. Hopefully, those positive aspects will be applied to an equally promising direction as the season progresses.
Elementary continues next Thursday with ‘Solve For X’ @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below: