[This is a review of Elementary season 2, episode 21. There will be SPOILERS.]
Since Mycroft first appeared all the way back in the season premiere, and then again after popping up in New York with seemingly sketchy plans for his brother, it seemed inevitable that Elementary would bring him back and find a way to focus the road to the season finale around him. And that's a good thing, as the inclusion of the character (as well as the performance by Rhys Ifans) demonstrates a compelling wrinkle in the Sherlock/Watson dynamic that isn't as easy for other characters to lend to the series.
Most of the time, Mycroft's appearances are worth it just to see Jonny Lee Miller act the petulant little brother, either at the dinner table or elsewhere – which 'The Man with the Twisted Lip' provides. But as the season turns the corner into its finale, questions about Mycroft's intentions – both for Joan and Sherlock – set up a story line that dutifully shrinks down the scale of the series to just its key players (plus one), providing plenty of breathing room for things like Sherlock's waning sobriety and Joan's quest for privacy to resonate and have more impact. It even affords the episode a chance to have Mrs. Hudson (Candis Cayne) stop by and make a much-needed appearance.
This sense that the storyline is becoming more of a family affair – in that these characters operate with the kind of low personal boundaries people find enriching, or use to irritate those closest to them – gives Joan's thread throughout the episode added significance, as she finds herself torn between her platonic, professional relationship with Sherlock and a potentially romantic one with Mycroft. And while the episode demonstrates that much of Sherlock's disapproval toward Mycroft's pursuit of Joan stems from their still-tenuous reconnection, the claim that Sherlock's stability is tied up almost completely in his bond with Watson is also made quite clear (whether or not she is that "peer" he has been searching for is left as a lingering thread to be dealt with later).
The conflict, then, comes from the divergence in Joan and Sherlock's appraisals of their current partnership. This is thankfully a very Joan-centric episode that helps to establish the character as more than just his sober companion, or chronicler of his grand deductive deeds, and as such, puts Watson's needs first – something Sherlock himself admits he is guilty of rarely doing. As such, 'The Man with the Twisted Lip' establishes a solid foundation of their difference early on, when the case of a missing recovering addict is nearly brushed aside by an indifferent Holmes, who only agrees to help after Joan reminds him how supportive the missing woman was when he first started AA.
Naturally, the case turns into something far more than just a missing woman. In fact it nearly becomes a full-blown science-fiction tale about insect-sized drones capable of spying and carrying out assassinations to cover up a friendly fire incident that left a squad of soldiers dead. Thankfully, most of the drone plot is handled quickly, and with Miller, Liu, and Aidan Quinn doing an admirable job of keeping things as grounded as possible.
What 'The Man with the Twisted Lip' is really interested in is planting the seeds of Mycroft's questionable (and perhaps coincidental) association with a French criminal organization through his restaurant Diogenes. After Sherlock first makes the connection, Joan follows up, and then finds herself the victim of a kidnapping. This leaves things on a rare cliffhanger that is further augmented by the reveal that Sherlock is in possession of heroin, which he tucks away in a false book in his library. There is great intimation that things are going to get worse for both Joan and Sherlock before they get better, and the inclusion of Mycroft certainly adds an interesting layer.
Joan's kidnapping feels familiar, however, in the sense that certain characters are prone to becoming the victim in order to prove the mettle of their partner. While it may make for a thrilling episode the next time around, this development reads like a potential step back from what Elementary has been so successful with by building Joan into someone on near equal footing with Sherlock. With any luck, the conclusion of this thread will find a way to prove the mettle of both Joan and Sherlock, and strengthen the dynamic of the series as a result.
Elementary continues next Thursday with 'Paint it Black' @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below:
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