Here’s my review of Elementary season three episode “The Female of the Species.” 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.
“What do you guys do when you’re not solving cases?” Detective Bell asks at one point in the episode. “Sit around and contemplate in silence?” His tone, as always, is full of snark.
I mention this quote because it reminded me of something Elementary does well: there’s always a sense that the characters have lives outside of the cases they work. And we actually get to see some of it. In fact, lots of screentime is devoted to showing us it.
Consider by comparison NCISLA, another show I review. The main characters talk a lot about what they do outside of work, but each episode usually begins with them discussing this at their desks in the office. Rarely do we actually see the stuff they’re talking about. Perhaps it’s because Elementary isn’t the story of an office (like NCIS, CSI, Law & Order, etc) but is instead the story of two people that makes it work so well.
“The Female of the Species” is a shining example of how irrelevant the casework is when you compare it to the character stories. The initial mystery is the theft of two pregnant zebras from the zoo. (Quirky as always, writers! Nice idea!) But that mystery is easily solved in the first twenty minutes of the show when Sherlock and Bell find them in a warehouse. From there, they discover a dead body (of course) and find out the baby zebras are missing. After that, things get weird again as they discover that the baby zebras are actually an extinct animal called a “quagga.” And in the end, they easily arrest the thief/murderer with ten minutes of episode left to spare. All of it was fin to watch but it doesn’t even hold a candle to the rest of the episode which focuses alternatively on Joan’s grief and Sherlock/Bell’s sorta friendship.
It’s been six days since Andrew was accidentally fatally poisoned and there are plenty of scenes to show us how Joan is dealing with it. The crime was quickly traced back to Elana March, the criminal Joan put away for life in the season opener. Because of this, Joan feels responsible for Andrew’s death and she’s forced to rethink some things. We see many times that she’s struggling to deal with the loss. There’s her refusal to “seek counsel” as Sherlock suggests, and also an apologetic scene with Andrew’s father as she sorts through her apartment. Because we see these scenes, the end scene of the episode functions better on an emotional level. Joan’s decision to move back to the Brownstone and devote herself to detective work isn’t one she makes lightly with excitement for the future. It seems more like a punishment for herself. She thinks she can’t have a “normal life” so she won’t let herself even try anymore. If this episode hadn’t taken the time to show us Joan’s story while Sherlock was off investigating with Bell, we wouldn’t be able to understand her motivations.
Along with Joan’s story, we also get to see Sherlock’s story move forward. This time the focus is working with Det. Bell (or Marcus, as he wants to be called). Bell’s been pushed to the sidelines a lot this season, so it’s nice to see more of him in this episode.
All season long we’ve seen the idea that Sherlock needs a person to work with. He just functions better that way. So it’s no surprise that he recruits Bell to help him out even while Bell is on vacation.
But what’s interesting is that Bell doesn’t really seem to do… well, anything. Every time he shows up at the Brownstone, Sherlock has already made a discovery off-screen. All we get is the exposition afterwards. “Why am I here?” Bell questions at one point and says later “I could have set this up” referring to the cops finally catching the criminal. This says a lot about Sherlock’s determination and devotion to his work. He needs others but he’s still got a long way to go to learn how to work well with them, even with those people he respects. In the end, he finally refers to Marcus Bell by his first name but it almost rings like a sort of hollow victory.
In the end, all these important character developments are grounded in the details we see onscreen and off. Like Sherlock’s explanation about why his picture is on the wall at the Indian restaurant (an offscreen detail) and his continual insistence on bringing Joan food (an onscreen detail). It’s a mix of details like these that make all these characters fleshed out and three-dimensional. Despite Sherlock’s larger-than-life idiosyncrasies, he feels like a real person. Joan’s quest to figure out her purpose in life makes for a compelling story and character arc that pretty much everyone can relate to even if your life is nothing like Joan’s. Even the detail that Bell’s such a workaholic that they have to force him to take vacation days creates a sense of life for the character outside of each episode (however ironic this detail may be). It’s stuff like this that makes the show fun to watch each week.
Extra Case Notes
- This episode was directed by Lucy Lui. I don’t know much about directing (which is why my reviews always focus on the writing) but I think she did an excellent job, especially with things like the placement of the camera to make things more dynamic. And I just loved the camera set up in the cafe scene so we could watch the arrest while Sherlock and Bell talk.
- According to the behind-the-scenes tweets from the writing staff’s twitter, the extinct animal is spelled “quagga” even though it’s pronounced “kwa-ha.” It’s an Afrikaans word. Also the baby quagga was animatronic. Who would have guessed?
- How about that ending, folks? How do you feel about Moriarty jumping in to take care of March for Joan? It’s an exciting turn of events and I can’t wait to see what the writers come up with for this storyline. (Moriarty is such a creepy stalker! Remember that time she painted a huge portrait of Joan from memory? Yeah… weird.)
- I’m not entirely sure I liked the episode title, but I can’t pinpoint a particular reason why. Any thoughts on titles in general?
- Any Elementary episode with animals always turns out really fun. I still miss those roosters from last season.
- Most hilarious moment goes to Joan finally getting to wake Sherlock up for once. I thought dropping a stack of books on the desk was fitting. (Runner-up moment for the episode was the fact that Sherlock set an alarm for Bell and left him a note about breakfast in the cafe)
- My favorite quote is Bell’s snarky “I googled the place on the way over, same as you.” It was so nice to see Jon Michael Hill get more screen time in this episode.
So what did you think? Thought the episode was fun or super boring? Do you think the details make the characters real enough? Feel free to leave a comment and discuss!