Thursday, October 10, 2013

Holmes Schooled In Mathematics


ELEMENTARY: SOLVE FOR X

Math was never my strong suit (just glance at my checking account).  On the Academic Decathlon team I was in, my teammates/friends would be working on the math problems, while I would be doodling and hope people thought I knew what I was doing.  As a result, all the technical jargon of Solve for X, Episode 2 of Season 2 of Elementary, is a bit beyond me.  I'm trusting that the question at the heart of the murders, P vs. NP, is something others will comprehend.  In terms of the actual case, Solve For X took good turns that kept circling back to one.  Solve For X also had a major plus: a stellar performance by Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson, giving Elementary fans a chance to rejoice in seeing this series delve into the characters' lives that other shows rarely touch on.

Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) foists himself on a curious murder/attempted murder case.  Felix Soto has been shot, as has Benny (Khalil Kain) a mugger who happened to stumble onto the fleeing murderer.  Benny survived but is unconscious, so for now he is of no help.  Holmes and Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill) at first don't comprehend why Soto has been killed, until Holmes smells something fishy on the victim's walls as well as the fact that the room is curiously empty compared to the rest of the house.  A black light reveals a mass of calculations written all around.  With the help of Harlan Emple (Rich Sommer), someone like A Beautiful Mind, we find that Soto was close to solving this P versus NP mathematical problem.  Holmes and Dr. Watson suspect Soto was killed to stop him from coming to the right answer, and that a fellow mathlete is the killer.

With the assistance of Tanya Barrett (Lynn Collins), a mathematician/journalist who profiled Soto and another mathematician, Cyril, who were working on the problem.  Cyril becomes the prime suspect, until he too turns up dead.  Cyril appeared paranoid, but Holmes finds that he had been actually spied on by Linus Roe (Glenn Fitzgerald), whose company would benefit from the P vs. NP solution.  Who brought Cyril to Roe's attention?  Tanya Barrett.

However, she may have been framed by her ex, Jason (Rick Holmes...so far the only actual Holmes to be on any Holmes adaptation).  E-mails suggest he knew the victims, and Barrett has an alibi at the time of Soto's murder.  We get one more twist when Benny wakes up: he identifies Barrett as his shooter!  How to resolve this conundrum of a witness who places a suspect at the crime when said suspect has an airtight alibi?

The price of beer solves this issue.

In the subplot, we discover the identity of the patient whose death caused Watson to leave the profession.  She visits the grave of Mr. Castoro, and 'happens' to run into his son, Joey (Jeremy Jordan).  Joey has dropped out of college and now says he wants to open a bar...and asks Joan for a loan.  Watson asks Holmes for an advance, but Holmes disapproves of this fortuitous encounter.  Eventually he relents and gives Joan $20,000 instead of the $5,000 she asked, convinced this will be enough to get Joey out of her life and assuage her guilt.  Instead of offering money for a bar, Joan says Joey can have the money only if he uses it to finish his degree (I should be so lucky).  Joey, however, turns her down.

The solution to the subplot is actually better than the solution to the crime, and the solution to the crime is actually quite strong.  Every time we circle a suspect, something comes up to bail her out.  The twists in Jeffery Paul King's screenplay are strong and logical, fitting for a math-centered crime.  Where Solve for X really excels is in the character development, particularly that of Liu's Watson.  She has a monologue where she talks at length about Mr. Castoro's death and its aftermath (no pun intended).  It is a quiet moment, but in the quiet, calm manner Liu delivers her speech, it makes it all the more moving.  Her story with Joey shows Watson to be a caring individual, one who may not see completely beyond Joey's manipulativeness but who also does the right thing by him by offering to fund his future, not his needs.

Miller's Holmes is also allowed moments of gentleness with Liu's Watson when he warns her of his concerns that Joey is playing her for a fool.  Miller allows a bit of humanity to slip through his sometimes smug and stiff exterior, and in these moments both Elementary and Solve For X push the story higher.

Credit should also be given to Jeremy Jordan's guest turn as Joey.  We get that he's a young man who has big dreams, but who also is not above using the leverage he thinks he has on Watson to his own advantage.  We always get he wants the money but not for what he says he wants, yet appears so nice that we think we might be wrong.  It was a strong performance by Jordan: part innocent, part greedy bastard. 

That isn't to say we aren't allowed moments of humor.  In his few moments Sommer's Emple was a comic delight as the oddball math genius (I hope he makes a return appearance) and Collins' Barrett was both a fine villain (and dispels the notion that mathematicians are unattractive).  Collins played Barrett as both victim and villain with equal ability to where you thought she could and could not have done it.  We also have good lines in Solve For X.  When observing videotape of Barrett's alibi Holmes states, "I see two underage drinkers, an affair in progress, and a bartender who's been stealing from the till.  I don't see a college professor."  Later, when Watson comes into a room to see Holmes studying a group of potential suspects, she quips, "What's up with the Nerd Brigade?"

I found Solve For X had a good balance of crime, character development, and even comedy, with strong performances from both the regular cast and guest stars (some of whom I hope return).  The problem is easy to solve, and it's good to see that in terms of episodes, Solve For X adds up.

How do you solve a problem like Sherlock Holmes?
        

9/10

Next Episode: We Are Everybody

1 comment:

  1. I agree, Solve for X was another excellent episode. Season 2 of Elementary has been particularly great so far, one of the best shows on network TV, and I am glad that show is finally nailing the humor.

    -James

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