[This is a review of Elementary season 3, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
Too often, it seems series make a dramatic shift to end one season, only to sweep all of that under the rug come the beginning of the next. That was certainly the concern with Elementary going into season 3, after the implosion of Holmes and Watson’s relationship that followed the introduction of Mycroft. What had begun as an exploration of the dynamic on which the series hinged, turned into a situation that dramatically reduced Joan’s stake in the narrative, placing her in a storyline where she was supposed to react, rather than effect change on her own. By the end of it, the only reasonable thing to correct the situation was to burn the Holmes/Watson relationship to the ground.
And that’s just what the writers did. Joan announced she was moving out of the brownstone to explore a life not ruled by the whims of Sherlock Holmes, while Sherlock seemingly made two very bad decisions in pocketing a small amount of heroin and taking MI-6 up on its offer to work for them. The subsequent questions that shift in direction left viewers with could have resulted in any number of new scenarios that presented a fresh way of approaching Joan’s relationship with Holmes and his reaction to being left without someone he’d grown emotionally dependent on. But the biggest question was: Where would the characters find themselves when season 3 began?
‘Enough Nemesis to Go Around’ answers all of those burning questions, while setting up a new dynamic that, should it be explored over the course of the season, rather than see a return to the status quo, will likely continue to yield the same positive results as the premiere.
One of the most striking things about the premiere is how it handles the shift in focus by concentrating primarily on Joan. There’s even a mystery-of-the-week element featuring Gina Gershon as Elena March, the head of a cartel who has a penchant for killing rats in her organization and enjoying the occasional lunch out with her nemesis – which, in this case, would be Watson. The opening is all the information we need, as Elementary has clearly defined its new circumstances, showing the audience Joan has moved on from Sherlock and is operating on her own with Gregson, Bell, and the NYPD.
There’s a surprising amount of effort put into defining Joan’s new situation. She has her own apartment (complete with Clyde), her own investigative space that’s reminiscent of the media room she and Sherlock shared in the brownstone and, most of all, she has a neighbor/relatively benign romantic interest named Andrew Mittal (Raza Jaffrey, currently appearing on Homeland season 4). Everything seems complete; the Elementary writers have ostensibly concocted a pilot episode setting for the premiere of Watson, an episode where even when a key witness and police detective are mysteriously murdered in a hotel elevator – offering a tantalizing “locked room” scenario – there is a comforting sense of equilibrium just waiting to be upset.
As with Joan’s arrival in Sherlock’s life when the series premiered, Sherlock acts as the disruptor here – and not simply through his generally disruptive personality. There’s a terrific scene between Holmes and Gregson in which the amends Sherlock is trying to make – while saving as much face as possible regarding his failed stint with MI-6 – are cut short after Gregson establishes the parameters of their relationship. He genuinely cares about and respects Sherlock, but they are not friends. The statement presents an interesting challenge as to Joan’s perspective. And considering how hurt and subsequently uninterested in Sherlock Joan appears to be after stumbling upon him in his brownstone, it’s clear her feelings are substantially different.
The episode succeeds largely because the chemistry between Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu is such that when the typical Holmes/Watson relationship is altered to the degree it is here (and the power resides primarily with Watson), it deepens the emotional effectiveness of seeing them work through their thorny reunion. That reunion, then, is further complicated by the presence of Sherlock’s new protégé, Kitty (Ophelia Lovibond), who affords the series a chance to further explore a similar dynamic it had enjoyed in seasons 1 and 2, while giving the new Holmes/Watson interaction plenty of room to move and breathe.
Although the premiere ends with Sherlock and Joan having a mild and strictly professional reconciliation that affords them the chance to once again travel in the same circles, ‘Enough Nemesis to Go Around’ doesn’t put them back into the same old routine. In fact, Joan remains somewhat distant, despite Sherlock’s tacit insistence that they are both precisely where they belong. Regardless of the implication of a more complete reunion between the two at a later date, the events in the premiere establish an intriguing set of circumstances that can be explored as the season progresses.
Elementary had great success last season finding a way to investigate the emotional bond between Holmes and Watson, but it did so primarily by centering the examination on a single character. Here, there is an opportunity for the show to do the same, but with the focus split between the two in a much more equitable way. The season has fitted itself with the kind of situation where plenty of good can come out of an otherwise unpleasant condition of two people who clearly belong as partners, separated by an emotional gap far wider and more troublesome traverse than the ocean that had served to distance them before. And the promise of watching Homes and Watson negotiate that chasm is more than enough reason to keep tuning in.
Elementary continues next Thursday with ‘The Five Orange Pipz’ @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below: