Elementary has been a good show, growing in its weaving of the Arthur Conan Doyle source material with what is a CBS-style procedural (dead body, investigation, case solved with character development thrown in). The Rat Race is the best Elementary episode so far: a brilliant mixing of the mystery-of-the-week with equal emphasis on the characters where neither the case or the characters are short-changed. In fact, The Rat Race is so strong with character development that it increases our interest in following not just the cases, but their lives and interactions.
Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) has been missing for more than three hours. This alarms his sober companion Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) so much that she is forced to tell Captain Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn) about Holmes' drug addiction. Watson fears he might have relapsed, especially in light of what occurred two days prior, at the beginning of a new case.
Gregson had referred a major Wall Street firm to Holmes to help find a missing COO. Holmes, who has nothing but contempt for bankers (so, he's a bit of an Occupier...living off his daddy's largess), goes to investigate. Holmes quickly finds the banker procures high-end hookers (Client #12?) and then finds his 'love nest'. Unfortunately, he also finds the banker dead, apparently of a heroin overdose.
The heroin is dangerous for a recovering addict like Sherlock Holmes, but being himself, he won't talk about it. This case, to Holmes' mind, is not as simple as an accidental overdose. He's convinced not only that the banker's been murdered, but thanks to the widow's off-hand comment, that being COO is a deadly job. Noting that more than a few board members have met curious deaths, Holmes is convinced there's a serial killer among them.
Holmes hits on a few likely suspects but then finds the actual killer, who in a surprising turn actually takes Holmes by surprise for once: tasering him while confronting the killer. And by now we get back to Watson and Gregson, with the former highly concerned over Holmes' whereabouts. Holmes comes very close to danger, but an insignificant mistake from the killer involving a false text message alerts Watson and Gregson to his true danger.
Holmes is rescued, and he does what he normally doesn't do: hand out compliments to Watson (albeit slightly backhanded) and expresses something close to apologies to Gregson for not informing him about his drug addiction. Gregson tells him he'd already known Holmes had been in rehab long before Watson told him, but that he was just waiting for Holmes to tell him in his own time.
A curious bit about The Rat Race is that it also reveals something about Sherlock Holmes that we've known but never really thought about: his ego can put him in danger. The killer, when confronted, does something that takes Holmes by shock...literally. He's tasered, which is something that takes him completely by surprise. Despite deducing the killer's identity, the killer so quickly surmises Holmes' need to show-off that it is used against him. This I think is the first time Holmes has confronted a suspected killer alone and without telling anyone, and more than anything else, it shows that Sherlock Holmes is not invulnerable. In fact, it shows that even he sometimes makes unwitting mistakes.
Liu also has brilliant moments as Watson. There is a subplot about her being set up with a man, and we see that Watson is able to make deductions about her date that perhaps she might not have if not for her time with Holmes. The personal life of Joan Watson is not a hindrance or a part of the case, but it also never intrudes into the case either. One thing that is nice about The Rat Race is that the story acknowledges Watson's Asian heritage without comment. When Holmes is investigating a previous COO's death, it involves speaking with the Chinese chef who had prepared his last meal (the victim having died from a reaction to the peanut dressing surreptitiously added). Watson asks Holmes if he speaks Mandarin. "Not as well as I'd like," he replies. When Holmes asks Watson the same, she replies, "Not as well as my mother would like."
In short, Joan Watson is presented as being able to keep up with Holmes. She won't be either the stooge in the Nigel Bruce style or just his sidekick. Instead, Watson will be if not his equal at least someone who can arrive at correct conclusions, if not as quickly as Holmes.
As for the story itself, Craig Sweeney's screenplay is an exercise in intellectual honesty. The Rat Race goes from clue to clue, without becoming outlandish or a mere coincidence that something was found. Holmes uses his powerful abilities to find suspects and patterns in the crimes, finding the right person who is connected to all the pieces, and introducing things that will point us in the right direction. In other Elementary episodes, we get this vaguely CSI look (bright green that shows us clues that we either passed by too quickly or weren't shown at all), but The Rat Race does something I hope they do more often. They actually give us the clues and how Holmes processes them. Therefore, we can similarly deduce the killer's identity at the same time.
Sweeney's screenplay also keeps a great balance between the crime and the character's personal lives. Watson's thwarted romance is a realistic one, where we see the character's evolution. Holmes also is literally confronted with his own drug-fueld past, which serves two purposes: it allows Watson to draw more clues about Holmes' pre-rehab drug meltdown (which he stubbornly refuses to discuss) and forces Holmes to deal with the effects his addiction have caused on those around him (Watson's employment as his sober companion, Gregson's duties as a police captain to ensure professionals work with his department).
The Rat Race doesn't throw us false or misleading clues. When we encounter a clue, we are either later given evidence that confirms the direction or disproves a false hypothesis but still leads us in the right direction.
All these elements are brought together with the simply brilliant direction of Rosemary Rodriguez. She kept the story moving steadily, never allowed the Watson romance subplot or the murder investigation to overshadow the other, and drew some simply excellent performances from her cast (both leads and guest stars).
The Rat Race is the best Elementary episode we've had, and has pushed the series into something that both compliments the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories and expands on its own versions of the characters of Holmes and Watson. We get insights into their personal lives while getting an intelligent crime story. From the opening where we think Holmes might have relapsed to the conclusion where Holmes is shown as a flawed and vulnerable man, The Rat Race has brought Elementary's Sherlock Holmes of age, away from any shadow from other series, as its own unique version of the iconic detective.
Next Episode: Lesser Evils