Here’s my first review of Elementary starting with the season three episode “The Illustrious Client.” Please note that this isn’t a recap of what happens. I’m assuming that you’ve already seen the episode. There are spoilers in this review.
I think it’s sort of ironic that the first episode I’m reviewing for Elementary is so unlike the usual episodes of the show. We finally get more about Kitty’s backstory and a look at a serious topic, but in return, we sacrifice the usual storytelling techniques and quirky humor that have come to define Elementary. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; in fact, I’m still rather undecided on the change in tone. So while I try to figure it all out, let’s take a closer look at the whole episode.
One thing that sets this episode apart from others is that the dead body that puts the plot in motion was discovered at the end of the previous episode. Because Elementary is a procedural show on CBS, its stories tend to follow a pattern: episode opens with Sherlock doing something weird relating to the b-plot, a body is discovered, everybody investigates by following the clues, they take in a few suspects, the b-plot story is revisited, they clear previous suspects and find a new one who is the actual killer, and then they wrap up the b-plot as well.
It’s this predictable pattern that people tend to dislike about procedural shows, but I think Elementary does such a great job of adding in excellent character development, usually within the b-plot, that I don’t mind the predictability of the murder investigation. I’m watching the show for the characters anyway, not the mysteries.
So as for this episode, it’s a bit strange to see the discovery of Melanie Vilkas’ body in the previous episode. But this wouldn’t be such a big deal if not for the fact that this episode continues to break down the usual story pattern. The audience is shown very early on who the murderer is with a scene involving Simon de Merville (the suspected murderer) locking up another abused woman. In previous episodes, there have been hardly any times where the scene is focused on someone other than our main characters. To be honest, I think the point of view shift is rather jarring and ruins the tension of the mystery. It gives the audience more information than the characters have, so now we’re just waiting around to see when Sherlock and the others will catch up. Thankfully though, since this episode’s story patterns are different, we don’t have to wait long for them to discover the same information we’ve already been shown. It’s still rather early in the episode when the police raid Simon’s house of horrors. From that point on, there’s no question of whether there are other suspects; it’s only the chase to track him down.
And while the structure of the story may be different, we still get a lot of character development between all the action. That’s really what I think makes this episode work. Sherlock, Watson, and Kitty still have the opportunity to discuss how this case is affecting them and how to deal with the emotional struggle. One particularly good example of this is a scene early on when Sherlock and Kitty are investigating together at the Brownstone. Because the case is so personal for Kitty, she’s trying to throw herself into the work but it’s clearly still affecting her greatly. Sherlock notices this and says “I am concerned about you” before suggesting that she attend one of her meetings to help her cope. I don’t think the Sherlock of season one would have handled the situation with such great care and concern for Kitty’s feelings. The Sherlock of season one would probably have just brushed it off and said something along the lines of “just deal with it.” Sherlock is a dynamic character that has personally grown as the series progresses. And, as always, characters that change are the ones that are most interesting. Most procedurals leave their characters in static positions to keep the status quo, but Elementary has always been keen on busting up the status quo every chance they get.
In fact, I think the writers’ determination to shake things up is ultimately what brings this episode together in the end. The plot twist being, of course, that Simon de Merville was not the person who had kidnapped and tortured Kitty back in London. That person was actually Joan’s new boss, Del Gruner. In hindsight, maybe I should have seen it coming since there was too much focus on the introduction of his character even though he didn’t fit into the investigation storyline. But the episode ends with the reveal that everything they thought was actually wrong! How often do you see that in a television show? (Well, maybe it’s more common than I think. I don’t watch an absurd amount of TV.) Again the usual procedural pattern is subverted. The episode doesn’t end with everything tied up with a neat little bow. I think there’s enough balance between the usual and the unusual in the episode to make it work.
On the other hand though, I think this episode’s lack of humor hurt it slightly. One of my favorite things about Elementary is its inclusion of strange things for laughs. The writing staff certainly has a quirky sense of humor. Remember the last episode where Sherlock spent part of it hanging upside down like a vampire bat? Remember earlier this season when Sherlock and Joan had a serious discussion about computer viruses while shouting over blaring death metal music? Remember another episode where Sherlock carried a sign around saying “help me catch a murderer by punching me in the arm?” Remember the hilarious running gag where Sherlock wakes Joan up in increasingly weird ways? I could go on and on with the examples. To be quite honest, Elementary is a funny show despite its usually serious subject material.
But this episode was different. There simply wasn’t a place for humor. And with sex trafficking and abuse victims as the subject, how could they possibly fit humor into the dialogue or action as well? Sherlock’s struggle with sobriety is a serious topic the show often tackles but humor is not sacrificed in those episodes. Sherlock always gets a chance to throw in a snarky comment or two about the case they’re investigating.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that the writers should have made jokes about the case or Kitty’s struggles. Human trafficking is a horrible and devastating crime that shouldn’t be treated lightly. But what is the difference between the case in this episode or any episode where drug addiction is at the forefront? And for that matter, murder itself is obviously also a very serious crime, but like I mentioned earlier, each episode usually finds a place for something funny, whether it be a bit of visual humor or just some funny dialogue. I haven’t been able to come to a conclusion on this subject, but I’m including it in the review anyway because the lack of humor only serves to make this episode more different than usual.
Even though this wasn’t like a normal episode of Elementary, I still thought it was a solid one. And with the plot twist at the end, I’m definitely looking forward to the conclusion of this story next week. What more will the writers do to shake up the status quo?
Extra Case Notes
- I have to admit that I’ve never read any Sherlock stories, so I’m mostly unfamiliar with the original canon. Kitty is a canon character and apparently so are the de Merville siblings. I’m curious if it would affect my watching of the show if I knew the original story. If there’s anybody out there reading my review who has read the story, please let me know if that changes your perspective of this episode! I’m curious!
- I didn’t have a place to mention this in the review, but I thought that Kitty threatening Violet de Merville and her subsequent suspension from consulting with the NYPD seemed to be a callback to what Sherlock did in season one’s episode “M.” I wonder if the writers are setting up some sort of compare/contrast for both Sherlock and Kitty’s character arcs, or maybe it was just coincidence.
- Also on the topic of maybe coincidences: It turns out that Simon was hiding out in a boat. I immediately thought about the Boston Bomber who was discovered hiding in a boat while trying to escape. I wonder if that similarity was intentional or not?
- Whoever chooses Lucy Liu’s wardrobe for this show deserves an award every week.
- The only really funny line in this episode was when Watson interrupted Sherlock while he was wearing those buzzing bee headphones and his response was “you startled me” in the most un-startled voice ever. Jonny Lee Miller truly has the most excellent line readings every week.
- I’m just going to say this every week until we get a Bell-centric episode but I’m sad at the lack of Detective Bell this season. I wish he got to do more!
- Some unanswered questions that will hopefully be resolved next week: If Simon wasn’t Kitty’s kidnapper, why did he have the poker brand in his house? And why was Melanie’s emerald ring on the floor of the attic?
As always, if you have thoughts on the show or my review, please feel free to leave a comment!