Monday, June 3, 2013

A Two-Story Holmes



ELEMENTARY: THE WOMAN/HEROINE

After some thought, I have decided to review the Elementary season finale as one story with two separate episodes, The Woman and Heroine, rather than two separate episodes because they were listed in the credits as "Part 1" and "Part 2", therefore I think they have to be seen as two halves of a whole rather than two distinct episodes. 

If I may digress, it is reminiscent of the revived Doctor Who, which has two titles for two-part stories (for example, a World War II-based story in the 2005 season/series is called The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances) even if it is one story (hence my naming of it as The Empty Child Parts 1 & 2).  I don't know if I'll have an overarching title for the two-part season finale...yet.   I'm toying with Adler & Moriarty for a title, but haven't decided to make it official. 

In any case, Elementary can't be accused of skimping on either the emotional aspects of Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu's Joan Watson or in the shocking twists department.  Now, let's cover the story and dive in.

The Woman: Having been recently been reunited with Irene Adler (Natalie Dormer), Sherlock Holmes is left reeling.  Irene appears in shock, unaware of how she got to New York or whom she claims has been holding her hostage.  Flashbacks to London dominate The Woman, where we see how the relationship between Holmes and Adler developed.  Adler, an art restorer, has been referred to Holmes as someone to consult on potential forgeries.  However, Holmes quickly finds that Adler has been doing some forging of her own: secretly sending her own works and keeping the originals.  Despite that, Holmes becomes fascinated with 'the woman', both sexually and intellectually.  As their relationship develops, he falls in love, so when M. appears to have struck at his heart, then this begins his descent into heroin addiction.

Back in New York, Holmes recuses himself from the case, deciding to devote himself to keeping Irene safe and helping her in her recovery.  Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) along with Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) and Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill) continue the investigation.  Watson's skills are rewarded when she deduces that the specialty paint Adler had must have been procured by someone else.  Gregson traces the paint to the Proctor Brothers.  At first parolee Duane (Lucas Caleb Rooney) is thought to be in league with the abductor, but instead it's the 'good' brother, Isaac (Erik Jensen) who is the conspirator.

Isaac has decided to go rogue and ignore Moriarty's standing order never to touch Sherlock Holmes, especially after Moriarty's men have now ordered Isaac killed.  With Isaac and Moriarty on the loose, especially after a 'message' has been put in Irene's bed at Holmes' brownstone, Sherlock decides that he and Irene now must run for her safety.  However, a birthmark on Adler no longer is there, setting off alarm bells.

Isaac, who had put the flower as a message and now decided to kill Holmes, is instead killed before he can complete his task.  Enter our killer, Moriarty, who is revealed to be....



Heroine:...Irene Adler herself, now speaking with a British accent instead of the American accent she had before.  In perhaps the most stunning turn in Canon-based mythology, Irene Adler and Moriarty are one and the same!  She had planned to kill Holmes a long time ago, him having interfered in one too many of her plots.  However, she was intrigued by him.  While he sees people as puzzles to be solved, she sees them as games to be played, and Sherlock Holmes got played big-time!

The shock of all this appears to be just far too much for Holmes, worrying everyone around him.  Watson is not immune from Adler's schemes (for the time being, I shall continue to refer to her as Irene Adler).  In fact, Adler abducts Watson and they have a bit of girl-talk if you will.  Adler asks 'my dear Watson' to let her win this game, but Watson reads her brilliantly: far from being confident, Irene Adler is genuinely afraid of Holmes.

The massive scheme of Irene's involves the manipulation of the Macedonian dinar.  A solution has been found that will allow Macedonia to join the European Union with Greece's blessing (the much-beleaguered state blocking its neighbor because of the use of the name 'Macedonia'), but someone has been buying dinars when their almost-certain conversion to euros would render them useless.  However, the "New Macedonia" mediators of the agreement have been murdered by Christos Theophilus (Arnold Vosloo), a Greek shipping tycoon who donates to nationalist causes, who himself is soon murdered.

His inability to stop these crimes, coupled with Adler/Moriarty, appear to cause Sherlock Holmes to finally give in and relapse.  Adler can't resist seeing her nemesis vanquished, and secretly enters the hospital to gloat.  However, we get one last big twist: the whole OD thing was a ruse to smoke her out.  Doctor Joan Watson, aware of Irene's need to win, had correctly deduced that her thinking Holmes had fully collapsed would smoke her out. 

Now with Adler arrested, Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson can breathe easy.  Holmes, still with his beloved bees, finds a new breed has been created, and he names it after Watson.

The Woman/Heroine has several firsts.  It is the first time that I know of that Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes are seen in bed together on film.  While other non-Canonical stories have them romantically involved (with Adler even giving birth to a child...Wolfe something I think), I can't recall a time when Sherlock and Irene were ever allowed to have such an intimate relationship.  Even the Robert Downey, Jr./Rachel McAdams Sherlock Holmes film had them more as witty banter partners than actual sex partners, and while I have yet to see A Scandal in Belgravia (the Sherlock version of the Adler story), I don't know whether the lesbian dominatrix (Irene Adler) and the Great Detective (guess who) ever did the bump-and-grind.

It also has the most daring take on the Moriarty legend I've ever seen.  Until Heroine specifically, no other Sherlock Holmes-based adaptation had ever had his archrival be a woman.  Even more scandalous, that Irene Adler and Moriarty turned out to be one-and-the-same is almost tantamount to blasphemy.  Here one has two of the most iconic Canon characters outside Sherlock Holmes and John Watson blended into one.

This one decision of Elementary creator/showrunner Robert Doherty (who co-wrote the screenplays with Craig Sweeny)  will I figure divide Holmesians for...well, forever.  Some I imagine will see it as a disgrace: making two legendary figures into one (thus robbing us of future encounters with either Adler or Moriarty, titans from The Canon).  Others might see it as a major stroke of genius, showing that Holmes is fallible and giving us a truly stunning twist (and also with the benefit of removing said Twin Titans of The Canon from Elementary and lifting the burden of their expected appearances from future Elementary stories).

For myself, I can see the benefits and drawbacks of making Irene Adler and Moriarty the same person.  Both carry risks and rewards.  Ultimately, I do worry that we will lose Irene Adler forever, which would be a terrible shame given Natalie Dormer's brilliant and astonishing performance as "The Woman".

Somebody give Natalie Dormer the Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series Emmy now!

I have a confession to make: I have never seen Game of Thrones, so The Woman/Heroine is my introduction to the lovely Miss Dormer.  I have never been as impressed with a performance as I have been with hers as Irene Adler.  At the end of The Woman, when she started speaking, I was genuinely stunned to hear her speak with a British accent.  I was momentarily confused as to why she would be affecting that voice...until the beginning of Heroine, when I realized she was British and she had been using a fake American accent (which I thought was quite real, a credit to Dormer as an actress).

Dormer had more than just her accent to concentrate on.  She really had two characters to play in two succeeding episodes: the frightened, vulnerable, and broken Irene in The Woman, the cool, calculating, murderous Moriarty in Heroine.   She played both parts brilliantly, convincing me she was a victim in Part One, the villain in Part Two.  Her quivering Irene gave in to the malevolent Moriarty with the greatest of ease and I had no trouble accepting her as both.  It wasn't just Dormer's voice that changed, but her whole being.  As Moriarty, she was confident, almost arrogantly so.  As Adler, she appeared confused, vulnerable. 

It is an astonishing performance. though in fairness the whole 'leaving the message on the bed' business didn't please me all that much.  I thought it a little clichéd, but acceptable.

In other terms of performances, we see the best of both Miller and Liu.  In the case of the former, what appears as his ultimate collapse was played so well I figured Holmes had indeed relapsed.  Perhaps by now I should accept that it was a ruse but I was suckered in.  Miller also has this moment with Dormer where he tells her his emotional and physical collapse when he thought her dead.  It was one of his strongest bits of acting this season and he should be proud of his Sherlock Holmes, a man who is not just a brilliant detective but a deeply flawed and troubled man, particularly with narcotics (and who knows it too).

Lucy Liu has been a marvel as Joan Watson, Sober Companion now protégé to Sherlock Holmes.  Given the level of Dormer's acting it took great skill to be her equal, and Liu in her scene at the restaurant with her matched her completely, her own self-confidence being the only real weapon at Watson's disposal against Moriarty.  We can see that she hates what Adler has done to Holmes, and the subtext is always that Joan thinks of Sherlock not just as a former client or mentor, but as a friend, a vulnerable friend, and one she won't allow someone to work over.

She even has some moment of comedy when Holmes is going over the elaborate nature of the dinar/euro scheme.  "This is all very fascinating in an NPR kind of way," she says (NPR: National Public Radio), showing that she doesn't quite see how a name change can be so important.  Liu handled the light moments just as effectively as having to confront Adler on her own terms.

Vosloo, best known as the title character in The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, is either too young to be a father to the kidnapped girl or just looks like he's too young (since he's 50 as of today, I go for the latter...50!).  Minus that, he gives a solid performance as Theophilos (which I think translates to lover of God, which is the same as F. Murray Abraham's character of Gottlieb from A Landmark Story...just a thought).  It isn't until later that we see this former criminal himself (with the nickname The Narwhal) is a pawn in Adler's game.

I still struggle with Adler being Moriarty.  I wonder why Adler couldn't have just been in cahoots with Moriarty, or been a master criminal on her own.  However, since Elementary had introduced Moriarty mid-season, it would have been unfair to have 'him' carry on to the next season (a bit like how Season One of The Killing didn't get around to solving the actual murder).  Also, perhaps having a man or a 'name' play Moriarty might have been too easy.  Perhaps in retrospect having Adler BE Moriarty was a sharp way to tie all the loose ends together. 

Still, I think this ain't gonna sit well with certain folk.

In the end The Woman/Heroine had some genuinely stunning twists and turns (although some flaws, like briefly reintroducing the Taggart Speakeasy Museum from A Landmark Story without fully bringing it to a complete close...again).  However, with some brilliant performances (read above note concerning Natalie Dormer) and a logic to all that was going on, The Woman/Heroine makes a fine close to a smashing debut season for Elementary.

So, if I whipped men and had sex with women,
THAT would be more rational...

9/10

Next Episode: Step Nine

A Season One Review     

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