Elementary Review: “T-Bone and the Iceman”

Photo credit: @CBSTVStudios

Photo credit: @CBSTVStudios

Here’s my review of Elementary season three episode “T-Bone and the Iceman.” 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 quite enjoyed this episode because it was full of a lot of great things: a weird case that wasn’t quite predictable, a b-plot that didn’t go the way I expected, and Sherlock and Joan just being really great friends. So instead of me just rambling about nice moments, I’ll pose a question to explore: does an episode benefit from having the b-plot be unrelated to the main story or does it function better when it connects? Let’s discuss!

So the main story here is a complicated case involving a murdered girl, stolen refridgerant, a shady cryogenics company, another unsolved murder, and a mysterious suspect in a cowboy hat who may or may not exist. On the other hand, the episode’s side story compared to that is much more mundane. Joan’s mother, Mary, suspects Joan’s brother Oren of having an affair. And poor Joan is stuck in the middle. As it turns out, he’s not cheating on his wife; Mary Watson is actually just having some memory troubles. Sherlock and Joan have a lot of discussions about family in this episode.

There really isn’t any commonalities to connect the two plots together except for a very very late reveal that the strangled victim, Sullivan, was the murderer’s estranged cousin who refused to donate his bone marrow. Since family is important in the subplot, this detail might have linked the two together but it was revealed much too late to have any sort of impact on the other story. So I’m just going to declare them to be two separate unrelated storylines. Which brings me back to my question: is that separation a good or bad thing for the episode?

On a lot of shows, the disconnect between stories can be handled poorly, leaving an episode feeling disjointed and choppy. Switching between plots might be too abrupt which makes it hard to follow. But often on Elementary, the writers make an effort to ease into the transitions between storylines (since the b-plot is often unrelated to the case on this show). The key is to naturally incorporate the b-plot alongside the a-plot. An excellent example of this is when Sherlock and Joan are at the ice-skating rink waiting to interview the witness. Sherlock could discuss the case while they’re waiting, but he notices Joan’s agitation and chooses to discuss her family problems instead. It feels natural because it’s logical. Nobody talks about work 100% of the time, so conversations like this are expected from real characters. They’re killing time so it’s not like they’ve interrupted in the middle of a scene just to talk. And since they’ve been well-established as friends who aren’t afraid to discuss their problems, it would feel unnatural if Sherlock just ignored Joan’s agitation.

This sort of thing happens all the time in Elementary as Sherlock and Joan often catch up and discuss other things while they wait for a client. There are other moments in the episode too where one plot transitions into another one, like when Joan is late for her lunch with Mary because they had been investigating. Small details like this work better that just an abrupt cut to the next scene with no explanation. Because of things like these, the b-plot never feels clunky or just thrown in without a purpose, so I’ll conclude that it doesn’t matter whether the two storylines are related or not. Elementary always makes it seem like a real life story even when things are weird.

On the other hand (because I must look at downsides as well), when they aren’t connected stories, the opportunity to learn from each story is lost. While it may seem cheesy to have a character discover something new while interacting with the main story and then applying that to the b-plot (or vice versa), but this is television, not real life (however convincing the storytelling may be). Television is a form of visual storytelling and so it’s always important to have your characters continue to develop and grow and ultimately learn things. But in this episode, there really isn’t anything in the cryogenics case for Joan to take away, so in the end, the b-plot is mostly resolved and it was with no help from the case investigation. However, I won’t fault the writers for not connecting them because as I’ve said, there’s a lot of things that make this episode work. And Joan and Sherlock are already such well-developed characters that the writers don’t need to rely on this sort of tactic. The story with Joan’s mother works well enough on its own.

I don’t have a definitive answer to the question. I don’t want to say that two plots should always be connected or they should always be separate. It just depends on the writing and how well things flow. But I will say that the two separate plots functioned well together in this episode. While the case may have been confusing at times, nothing seemed too disconnected. Nothing was a distraction. Overall, it worked.

Extra Case Files

  • I always applaud the writers for the really weird cases they come up with. This one was certainly a crazy one! Just when we thought we’d made progress in the case, something new popped up. And the writers get bonus points for making Manos: The Hands of Fate a plot point. LOL
  • I fully admit that maybe I liked the b-plot so much because it’s been a while since we’ve seen/heard from the Watsons. We see so much of Sherlock’s life that it’s nice to delve into Joan’s a bit too.
  • They put Lucy Lui into a shirt adorned with PINEAPPLES and she totally rocked it, thus proving that she will literally pull off any look and make it fantastic.
  • Did anyone catch that part where Sherlock started talking in a different accent just to see if distracted Joan would notice? She didn’t. But it was probably my favorite moment in the episode.
  • There was slightly more Det. Bell in this episode but as always, not nearly enough. I totally would have watched a scene of him interviewing people at the fish market.
  • Shady Cryogenics CEO was spot-on. Another highlight of the episode.

So what did you think? Have any thoughts about my question of related storylines? Or just general thoughts about the episode? Feel free to discuss in the comments. Elementary is on a break for the next three weeks because of the NCAA basketball tournament but, according to the official twitter, there will be seven new episodes in a row when they return. I’ll be back with another review then!

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