Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nursing Holmes


ELEMENTARY: LESSER EVILS

Lesser Evils, the Elementary episode following the brilliant The Rat Race, certainly had its work cut out for it.  The series has been growing in establishing the characters of and relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Joan Watson.  Up till now, Elementary had been taking more time focusing on Holmes' methodology in solving crimes, but Lesser Evils now turns our attention to Watson's backstory. This is the first Elementary episode where both her medical knowledge and her struggle over her previous career as a doctor are presented as vital to the story.  In short, Joan Watson starts to, if not take center stage, at least become as important to the overall series as her more celebrated partner.

Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) is indulging his study of chocking by working on corpses in a hospital morgue.  His sober companion Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) goes along with it in the 'if it keeps him out of trouble' school of thought.  Holmes can work there because the morgue attendant is a mutual beekeeper.  However, as they're about to leave Holmes, then Watson, note something's off with one of the recently deceased.  Holmes rushes to the dead man's hospital room, where he finds enough to suspect (with Watson confirming through her medical training) that the man was murdered.

Holmes' actions (such as locking himself in the dead man's room) forces the intervention of Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn), who believes Holmes is on to something. However, to get the hospital's cooperation, Gregson forces Holmes to apologize to the director (which we don't see, alas).  At the hospital Watson encounters Dr. Carrie Dwyer (Anika Noni Rose), a former colleague and friend with whom she has lost contact with.  We learn that her suspension was temporary, but Watson for her own reasons opted to let her medical licence lapse.

Holmes and Watson soon track down the last person to see the dead man alive, and Holmes soon makes the connection between his death and that of others with similar characteristics: terminal, with no family.  They suspect an Angel of Death, one who kills dying patients, is working at the hospital.  With the help of Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill) we track down some likely suspects.  Among them are medical student Dr. Cahill (Ben Rappaport) and Dr. Baldwin (David Harbour), a high-ranking official.  As the investigation continues we find the actual killer isn't either of them.  Dr. Cahill, facing problems of his own, unwittingly leads them down the right path to the actual killer.

While the finding of the killer is logical, Holmes is not convinced the case is not over based on the fact that one of the victims, Miss Cropsey, was not dying but was in fact recovering from her surgery.  Why, Holmes asks, would the Angel of Death kill someone he knew was actually not dying?  The answer is simple: the Angel was deceived.  Someone else had discovered there was this Angel, and took advantage by faking evidence to get rid of Miss Cropsey to cover up his own incompetence.  Unluckily for the murderer, the Angel had taken detailed notes of all his victims, and that includes photos of the falsified records.

Watson, in a subplot, notices one of Dwyer's patients might have a heart condition that could make surgery deadly.  Dwyer doesn't believe it, but a mysterious figured had ordered a test that proved Watson was right.  Dwyer is not amused.  Lesser Evils ends with Watson looking at old photos of her time as a doctor with Dwyer and their coworkers.  Watson, after a bit of struggle, deletes them.

Watson's story in Lesser Evils is more dominant than it has been than at any time in Elementary's run.  We have glimpses into her past via Dwyer, we catch glimpses into her future when she starts removing memories of her medical training, we rely on Watson's medical expertise to solve the crime, we even rely on Watson being a woman to find an important witness.  It's Watson, not Holmes, that realizes that the description from the flirtatious barista of a 'sexy doctor' wasn't an actual doctor but a perfume salesgirl wearing the vendor's coat.

Liu has never been better, and just as The Rat Race was a showcase for Miller, Lesser Evils is similarly a showcase for Liu.  Whether she wishes to think of herself as Lead Actress (which I think she is) or Supporting (as Watson usually is), Lesser Evils is Liu's strongest performance to date.  Watson had two stories running through the episode.  There was the actual investigation, and here she was Holmes' equal if not superior because her medical knowledge was vital to him putting things together.  In fact, she came to conclusions faster than Holmes merely because her knowledge in medicine and its effects is wider and deeper than his.

It is the secondary story, that of Watson finding herself in her old environment with old friends, that is the emotional heart of Lesser Evils.  It is her conflict between being able to heal versus her fears of harming that drives the subplot.  She's not enthusiastic about being able to return (which she technically can) but she also sees that Dwyer might be in danger of repeating her own mistakes.  She reminds Dwyer when she comes to confront Watson about whoever ordered the second test that confirmed Watson's diagnosis that their professor once told them that it was "better to be lucky than good".  Dwyer, thanks to Watson, was lucky...luckier than Watson.  Dwyer still isn't happy, telling her old friend that Watson was a better doctor than friend.

Of course, while Liu got the lion's share of the story Miller was in no way diminished.  In his scenes, he got a rather comic take on things.  While waiting to interview a barista, Holmes expresses his displeasure over the outlandish coffee orders.  "These coffee orders," he snipes. "The Magna Carta was less complicated."  He also has another comic moment when he undermines Detective Bell's gentle approach in interviewing Dr. Cahill by basically saying Bell wasn't actually 'the good cop'.

What Liz Friedman's script does well in regards to the mystery is that she allows Holmes and Watson to work out the patterns in the deaths bit by bit.  They don't just get there by getting lucky or finding a sudden clue or witness.  With the exception of how the story begins (Holmes noticing something is off with the latest victim's corpse), everything in Lesser Evils builds bit by bit.  We do unfortunately have the return of the CSI-style of showing clues, though that was kept at a minimum.  I figure that this will simply be part of Elementary, so I should just get used to it.

One thing that I wasn't thrilled over was the lack of screen-time for Anika Noni Rose.  She is the first name guest star to have a significant role in Elementary, but her Dr. Dwyer (while never a suspect herself), simply didn't play as much a part of the episode as I would have wished.  Still, one hopes that Dr. Dwyer will make a return appearance...

Our other guest stars were quite good.  Rappaport's Cahill had the hallmarks of a potential killer with his nervous movements, but instead it was something else that troubled him.  Harbour's Baldwin has moments when we like him (as when he barely suppresses laughter when Holmes mocks the hospital administrator's height by asking if the much taller Baldwin is there to reach high things for the hospital director), and moments when we don't (such as when he tells Holmes he really isn't all that interested in the pain his patients feel or don't feel).

Colin Bucksey directed the emotional scenes and the mystery with equal respect, neither too broad or too serious.  The funny moments (all involving Holmes) never overshadowed the dramatic moments (usually involving Watson).

I'd argue that Rose wasn't featured enough (it might have been nice to see more of the interaction between Dwyer and Watson outside the investigation or the hospital), but minus that Lesser Evils had a logical solution to the mystery where the clues came in through a methodical process and gave us one last twist that brought things home. 

Lesser Evils is by no means a lesser Elementary episode.        

True Partners in Crime


8/10

Next Episode: Flight Risk

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