[This is a review of Elementary season 3, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
It will probably come as no surprise that in its second episode of the season, Elementary found a way to deliver the familiar version of the Holmes and Watson dynamic, despite establishing how it had changed in last week's season premiere. Although the second episode fails to explore the idea of the characters' separation – which might have been achieved by developing dual crime-of-the-week narratives with overlapping segments – 'The Five Orange Pipz' manages to explore some interesting aspects of what is a tenuously mended but nevertheless damaged relationship.
To the episode's credit, it does manage to highlight the most obvious example of change by delving into Kitty's backstory, while Joan and Sherlock (and, to a certain extent, Kitty herself) work the case of a murdered CEO, whose malfeasance with the production of a child's toy – the titular Pipz – resulted in the deaths of four children.
Unlike last week's more outlandishly entertaining electromagnetically enhanced murder of a high-profile witness, the investigation into the slaying of a CEO and his lawyer is relatively sedate by comparison. Neither man was killed in a particularly inventive way, which makes the thrust of the procedure reliant on developing a list of possible suspects by way of motive. And although the case goes through a series of likely culprits – that includes former Revolution star, Zak Orth – the procedural aspect only succeeds in establishing just how seemingly unadventurous most of the episode is.
Joan and Sherlock slip back into their investigative routine with little conflict. In fact, Sherlock essentially sashays his way onto Joan's case with little more than an indifferent shrug from the woman who wanted to keep their cases separate last week. This might have been a troubling reversal of a promising thread, were it not for the subtle but substantial differences that were on hand to appreciate.
For one, Sherlock seems ever more aware that his performance does not necessarily excuse his conduct. This isn't a polite or humble Sherlock by any means – he still breaks into Bell's desk to read a case file – but it is a Sherlock who demonstrates a knowledge of how others perceive him, and regardless of whether or not it affects him personally, he at least knows how it may hinder his efforts professionally. That kind of caution in his approach with Bell, Gregson, and especially, Joan creates an interesting obstacle for a character (and for the writers) prone to indulge in his own eccentricities.
The upshot to the more moderate approach by Sherlock is that, along with Kitty's obvious insecurity about his past relationship, Holmes' appreciation of Joan becomes far more textual. This doesn’t necessarily translate into Joan's independence being explored more. There is a noticeable absence of her life outside of the precinct – which means no appearance by neighbor/boyfriend Andrew Paek or Clyde, for that matter – but at least she is granted an opportunity to act in her own interest by taking it upon herself to investigate Kitty's past.
At that point, the primary focus of the episode – outside of the routine resolution of the murdered CEO and his lawyer, anyway – shifts toward answering who Kitty is and why Sherlock took an interest in her in the first place. There are a few overt clues to her history that are successfully planted throughout the episode. Her reaction to physical contact while working a crime scene with Bell, and later her demeanor while questioning the assistant U.S. attorney (Penelope Hume, a.k.a. Penny from Lost) help distinguish her character in ways that suggest her training with Sherlock is something of a role reversal for him. Not only is he once again taking on the part of mentor/teacher, he is also helping to restore Kitty in much the same way Joan did for him over the first two seasons.
More than anything else, the exchange between Kitty and Joan at the end of the episode grants the characters a new level of understanding of one another that will perhaps enhance the trio's interplay as the season progresses. In that sense, the middle-of-the-road feeling one gets from 'The Five Orange Pipz' seems more like a deliberate pacing decision to fill in the gaps of Holmes and Watson's new dynamic, while simultaneously establishing the ways Kitty may prove to be a more powerful storytelling tool than her bits of insolence suggested.
If anything, it shows that the subtle tweaks to the series core relationship can be just as successful as blowing the whole thing up.
Elementary continues next Thursday with 'Just a Regular Irregular' @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below: