Sunday, October 21, 2012

Elementary: Child Predator Review


Sherlock For Children...

Put it down to my naiveté, but it's only now that I get the pun of Child Predator, the third Elementary episode.  We get one and two twists that are unexpected, and a few hints (perhaps real, perhaps not) about the early years of one Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller).  We also get the growing interaction between Holmes and Dr. Watson (Lucy Liu).  I can find one or two curious flaws that are starting to be enshrined within Elementary, but more on that later. 

We start back in Brooklyn, 2005.  Adam Kemper, a child, is abducted, with the kidnapper leaving a bunch of balloons at the abduction site.  We then go to Holmes having stayed up late into the night, investigating what could be another abduction by the serial kidnapper/killer nicknamed The Balloon Man.  He is called in by his 'friend' Captain Toby Gregson (Aidan Quinn) when it's confirmed that this latest abduction, that of Marianna Castillo (Katelynn Bailey) is the Balloon Man's latest work.

Holmes, being Holmes, quickly deduces details that are unimportant to the overall case but which lead him to important details to the overall case.  The investigation moves quickly, and we find the van that was used to abduct Marianna, but there's a shocking twist: the driver of the van is none other than Adam Kemper (Johnny Simmons), now 19.

Adam has been recovered, alive but obviously not well.  We still have to find the actual Balloon Man and Marianna.  Soon Holmes and Watson find a thin clue that leads them to a major break: a connection to all the victims via an exterminator-turned-delivery man who had worked around all the victims: Samuel Abbott (Christopher Evan Welch).  Gaining Adam's confidence with telling stories of boarding school bullying he endured, Sherlock gets him to give him information: Samuel Abbott's address.  Abbott is not there, but leaves a message: exchange Adam for Marianna.

No deal: Abbott is tracked down but horrifyingly kills himself rather than be captured.  While Marianna is rescued Holmes discovers there is something nefarious in this business.  As he puts it to Adam, "You occupied the master bedroom because you were the master".  In the ensuing years, Adam had turned the tables on Abbott: becoming the brains of the operation and basically taking over the Balloon Man's evil work.  Unfortunately, Adam had gotten an immunity deal for the crimes he committed in concert with Abbott.  Adam is now untouchable.

Or so Adam thinks.  While exercising his frustration at both being outwitted and inadvertently helping a serial killer free, Watson says something that triggers a way to get Adam arrested.  One of his victims had been abducted and killed while Abbott had been in hospital for back surgery.  Since the immunity deal covered crimes committed only with Abbott, Adam finds that with the fifth victim, he can be held responsible.

I give Child Predator credit for giving a couple of unexpected twists.  The idea that Adam is still alive was something that was a surprise, but getting the second twist with Adam was downright shocking.  At least when it came to the second twist, Child Predator did something that I think is a mass improvement over some of the ways we see Sherlock discover things.  Namely, it allowed US, the audience to see the clues sans comment.  We're still getting these flashbacks that show us how Holmes puts things today, but I think that makes it hard if not impossible for the audience to put two and two together.  I don't object to a tough mystery (they are suppose to be tough), but do object when things aren't presented.  How were we suppose to determine the newspaper connection when we're never so much as shown the newspaper (or shown so fast we wouldn't have time to register it)?

This really is a quibble when it comes to Child Predator, since Peter Blake's script holds up well in terms of putting the mystery together where the twists and conclusions make sense.  Moreover, I like the idea that we are slowly starting to find details of Sherlock's past when he talks about his boarding school experiences.  Granted, it is never firmly established if Sherlock really was bullied as a child or was just saying this in order to get Adam's trust, but Elementary is slowly starting to open up about the lead character, making him a more rounded individual rather than just a machine that spouts out his solutions. 

What Blake and director Rod Holcomb did was give a pretty even balance between the mystery (and the growing danger for Marianna) and the personal interaction between the three leads.  For example, we saw that Detective Gregson was a capable and intelligent policeman since he was able to follow along Holmes' train of thought to the correct conclusion.  The aforementioned revelation of Holmes' early years is also a nice touch.

If anything was lost, however, was some supporting characters, in this case both Bell and to a lesser extent Watson.   Jon Michael Hill's Detective Bell was hardly there, and somewhere past the midpoint Liu became less the capable aide and more the shadow.  This isn't to say she didn't make her presence known. "I thought I was just a cavernous expanse between two ears", she casually snipes when Holmes had earlier suggested that her talking was unimportant and that she just served to help him by being some sort of silent sounding board.  I do like the interaction between Liu and Miller, where despite all fears there has never been and I doubt there will ever be any romantic overtones between Holmes and Watson.

Curiously, while Liu and Miller's Watson and Holmes don't appear to ever run the risk of having an affair in Elementary, this apparently can't be said of Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock.  Curious that...   


What pushed Child Predator in my estimation is the brilliant performance of Simmons as Adam.  Elementary has proven to be a hit in the United States, and that might garner Emmy Award recognition next year.  It's hard to say whether the series itself will earn an Outstanding Drama Series nomination (I doubt it), but I think Simmons would have a clear shot at an Outstanding Guest Actor in A Drama Series nomination for his turn as Adam, in turns victim and victimizer.  It's only at the end when Simmons turns into the cliched "I know I'm evil and I know I got away with it" character, but minus this last-minute stumble (which I think Holcomb was equally responsible for), he had me convinced as the Stockholm Syndrome afflicted victim, but when Holmes confronted him with solid evidence, his turn from victim to killer is chilling and shocking.

I also think that Miller is starting to evolve his Sherlock Holmes into someone who is carrying his own wounds and slowly realizing that Watson isn't this mute who provides white noise but who actually may need people.  He comments to her that before, he only had Angus, a portrait bust to whom he could speak to.  Now, we are seeing the relationship entre Sherlock et Joan thaw into if not mutual respect (I imagine Joan would still find him a bit difficult) one where they at least see the positives the other brings. 

I also am starting to see if not a growing friendship between Gregson and Holmes at least a move away from making Gregson a stooge or idiot. 

My only small complaints about Child Predator is that Liu was slightly short-changed, but other than that this I think was the best episode of the series so far: one that allowed for some character growth, that gave us some (though not all) of the clues to figure things out ourselves, and one to two good twists that kept our attention.  Elementary is growing on me, and if I may digress for a moment, I think this world is big enough for both Elementary and Sherlock

They really aren't in competition because they are not taking the same route: Sherlock is adapting the Canon to the 21st Century, Elementary is spinning original stories with the characters while putting particular Holmesian elements in them.  Child Predator has done well in adapting Sherlock Holmes to CBS, and I hope Elementary gives us both strong mysteries and character development over the ensuing season.  So far, it's going in the right direction.


Next Episode: The Rat Race

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