DVD Review: Elementary: The Final Season, and Elementary: The Complete Series
By Chris Chan
When CBS first announced Elementary, a modernized take on the Sherlock Holmes stories, purists like me were apprehensive. Not only did moving the mysteries to present-day New York City and gender and ethnicity-swapping Watson raise a few eyebrows, but it was also seen as an attempt to knock off the BBC series Sherlock. The first season of Elementary got off to an uneven start, but the show eventually developed into a solid, entertaining series that both rose above expectations and never hit the heights it might have with a bit more ambition.
Elementary’s greatest strength has always been its cast, with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu working well together has Holmes and Watson, and Aidan Quinn and Jon Michael Hill performing strongly as their NYPD associates Captain Thomas Gregson and Detective Marcus Bell. The mysteries were a mixed bag from episode to episode, with some clever solutions, and other episodes being easily solvable due to some lazy tropes, such as the villain being identifiable by a recognizable actor making a substantial appearance early in the episode and then never being seen or mentioned again as all the other suspects are eliminated. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched the show and others like it and thought, “Hmmm… the guy whose work I liked on that one show had a glorified cameo in the first fifteen minutes of the episode and he’s been absent ever since. He’s going to have a big confrontation scene as the killer at the end.” Ninety percent of the time, I’m right.
Unlike Sherlock, Elementary never really justified or made full advantage of using the Sherlock Holmes mythos. Had Miller played an original character inspired by Holmes, like Gregory House or Adrian Monk, the series would really have been no different from its current form, aside from a few changed names and a handful of dropped references. While Sherlock has managed to reimagine or reinterpret the Canon of Doyle stories in ways that seem fresh and inspired, Elementary contents itself with a few brief references to the original tales, ranging from a statuette of Harry and Meghan instead of a bust of Napoleon, to Charles Baskerville being reimagined as a credulous businessman.
The best and most lasting character aspect inspired by the original stories is Holmes’ long struggle with drug addiction. In this series, Watson first meets Holmes when she is hired as a companion to help him maintain his sobriety. Throughout the series, addiction has consistently been treated in an honest and intelligent manner. There are no histrionics or overly emotional scenes, but Miller and Liu treat addiction with a quiet seriousness that somehow gives the important subject more resonance than it would with a heavy-handed after-school special. Addiction is presented as a condition that cannot be completely vanquished but can be kept in check with treatment and support, without any of the preachiness that would mar the authenticity of the subject.
As the seventh and final season opens, Elementary must reset itself after positioning the narrative with a potential series finale at the end of the sixth season. There, Holmes falsely confessed to the murder of a serial killer in order to protect someone he cared about, and Holmes and Watson wound up relocating to London to keep investigating after Holmes’ connections convinced the U.S. authorities to punish him with banishment rather than imprisonment. With one shortened final season added to the show’s run, the creators decided to have the detectives rushing back to New York City in the wake of an attempt on Gregson’s life, and Holmes must find a way to clear his name after framing himself.
The overarching story arc of the final season consists of Holmes and Watson battling a billionaire named Odin Reichenbach, who has developed a system to monitor online communications in order to predict threats such as mass shooters and terrorist attacks before they happen. If this storyline sounds familiar, it’s because it was the central premise of one of the finest, most underrated, and unfairly overlooked television series on network television in the twenty-first century: Person of Interest, a magnificent show that never reached the audience or level of public debate that it deserved. Person of Interest addressed the concept of using technology to predict and prevent crimes before they happened before Elementaryand did it much better, and outlined the potential consequences of such surveillance technology far more imaginatively, but Elementary’s take on the plotline provides a strong setup for the detectives’ fiercest battle yet– it would have just had more impact if the storyline wasn’t always in the shadow of Person of Interest. Reichenbach’s name should be completely familiar to Holmes fans, and is played by James Frain, who has made a career out of playing suave and powerful villains, and the typecasting comes from the fact that he’s quite effective in such a role.
Two welcome presences returning for the seventh and final season are Ophelia Lovibond as Kitty Winter (an expanded version of a character from “The Illustrious Client”) and John Noble as Sherlock’s father Morland. In Kitty’s appearance in the seventh season’s first episode, she has seemingly triumphed over her traumatic past, while relishing the chance to revive her role as Holmes’ protégée. Noble’s Morland has long had a turbulent relationship with his son, and his appearance adds an additional emotional heft and poignancy to the show’s final episodes.
Elementary was never the most inspired take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, but it was a consistently interesting crime series that managed to keep from falling into formulaic cycles. If it never dazzled, it frequently shined, and given the television culture where most shows aspire to bland mediocrity, that ought to be considered a triumph.
Elementary: The Final Season
Elementary: The Complete Series