[This is a review for Elementary season 3, episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]
In ‘Rip Off’, otherwise known as ‘Joan Takes a Holiday’, Elementary tries something a little different by running an episode without the presence of the show’s second lead, Lucy Liu. And while it seems counterintuitive to develop a narrative devoid of the series’ primary relationship, having Joan off in Denmark with her boyfriend Andrew is actually in keeping with much of what season 3 has been working to explore. That is, how Sherlock and Joan function outside their relationship with one another. And for an episode that relies on an entirely new dynamic to make the narrative work – while constantly reminding the audience what is missing – things actually turn out pretty well.
Elementary is not lacking in the supporting players department, and as such, Capt. Gregson and Det. Bell both get a shot at a little more screen time than they’re normally afforded, especially now that Ophelia Lovibond has joined the cast. But in ‘Rip Off’, Gregson isn’t just asked to deliver his usual scene discussing the case with Sherlock, Joan, or, now, Kitty. Instead, he is handed his own subplot that involves his daughter, Hannah (Liza J. Bennett), who is introduced so suddenly following the cold open and a truncated opening credits sequence, it felt briefly as though the Thanksgiving day episode that began with a severed hand in the street had been hastily combined with another. The theory perhaps being viewers were either so happy to have a distraction from visiting family, or were so deeply laden with tryptophan that perhaps they wouldn’t notice.
Thankfully, that was not the case. Instead, the abrupt introduction of Hannah, her castigation of the captain, and his bloody knuckles made for a rather engaging (if not immediately coherent) launch of the episode’s B plot. Revealing Hannah as Gregson’s daughter, only after she’s had a chance to reprimand him for his whatever he’d done, certainly helps distract from the fact that this “new” character is someone the show might have at least alluded to before dropping her into a scene. But in a way it worked, as the assumed power dynamics of the police station were immediately upended, leaving the audience to question not only the way this uniformed police officer was speaking to what would be her superior, but why Gregson’s response was mostly apologetic. It’s a bit clunky, and the reveal that the man Hannah was in a relationship with (who is also a cop) had physically assaulted her generates even more seemingly unanswerable questions. But overall it turns out to be a shrewd workaround to the problem of this being season 3 and the first time Hannah’s been made a part of any story.
While the episode is busy with Sherlock and Kitty investigating the apparent murder of a diamond smuggler, the window of opportunity to fully examine Hannah and the issue of domestic violence becomes rather small. Given the severity of the issue at hand, and the fact that it is tangentially related to characters the show wants the audience to know and care about, Hannah’s relationship with her father, and her concerns of how being perceived as a victim might impact her ability to move up in the department, might make one think such a plot would warrant more of the episode’s focus.
In its place, ‘Rip Off’ choses to focus on Kitty, which results in an interesting conversation between her and Gregson about victimhood and how the perception of others (no matter how well intentioned) can worsen or delay the recovery process. Though their circumstances are not exactly the same, Kitty understands Hannah’s concern, as the manner in which she is perceived in the precinct she plans to build her career is of the utmost importance. The end result, then, is a better understanding of Hannah through the development of Kitty. And having her compel the offending officer to resign from the force, after encouraging Gregson to acquiesce to his daughter’s demands, suggests another intriguing layer to Kitty, while deepening her relationship to yet another character on the show.
The B plot, then, winds up being a surprisingly interesting component of the episode that at times seems to struggle with drawing attention to Joan’s absence and demonstrating the strength of the show’s supporting cast. That leaves the primary crime of the week (a murder, naturally) of a Jewish businessman-cum-diamond-smuggler to act primarily as a backdrop to Sherlock’s discovery of the book Joan wrote about her time as his partner. Joan’s chronicling of their adventures is a nice nod to Holmes lore. Furthermore, Sherlock’s anger towards it is augmented by Joan’s absence, which requires Sherlock to come to terms with the book with help from Kitty – both in the sense that she gives him some perspective on why he’s so perturbed and then by pouring a soda on the laptop containing the offending material.
In the end, ‘Rip Off’ amounts to Kitty’s episode, by making her a factor in both of the episode’s plots. And although there’s nothing particularly revelatory about Kitty’s actions, or Sherlock’s response to them, the dynamic between the two has continued to grow week after week, making their relationship feel more grounded and capable of generating a strong, resonant storyline. What first appeared to be a stopgap for Joan is gradually becoming a full-fledged character, one who is deserving of her place in the larger scheme of Elementary.
Elementary continues next Thursday with ‘Terra Pericolosa’ @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below: