Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Elementary: All in the Family Review


Holmes Rings A Bell...

We got in All in the Family an Elementary Mafia-centered story, but also one where Sherlock Holmes' actual investigation of the case (of which he has very little interest in, thinking the Mob is more American fixation than actual criminal activity) is not as important (or important at all) to a greater investigation: that of his connections to other people.  All in the Family gives us a great interplay between Holmes and Detective Bell, but apart from that I found it a bit stereotypical and even silly.

Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) have just come from a museum ball where they are interrogating a security guard named Reilly (Jed Orlemann).  Holmes tells Reilly, "Give me your leg," where his prosthetic leg reveals a secret compartment where he has been stealing art treasures.  While the case is solved, Holmes and Watson are frustrated by having worked with Detective Nash, the latest in a long line of precinct detectives who have proved less than stellar.  Holmes in particular misses the one detective on the precinct he not only COULD work with but whom he found someone worth his time: Detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill).  However, Bell is a.) in the Demographics Department monitoring anti-terrorism activities, and b.) still bitter against Holmes for nearly costing him his life and frustrating his career due to Holmes' actions.

Bell is gaining confidence at Demographics, with his new partner Wozniak (Wendy Hoopes), who now are sent to investigate a potential threat in an oil recycling plant where a suspicious figure was spotted.  Here, Bell's cop instincts (which do echo Holmes' methods) take over, and he makes a shocking discovery: a headless body inside a barrel.

The body is identified as Handsome Bobby Pardillo, last seen 21 years ago and one with connections to the Mob.  Holmes is amused to find that Watson has a strong knowledge of Mob history, and thus enters the picture Handsome Bobby's father, Robert, Sr. (Paul Sorvino).  Given that it has been decades since Handsome Bobby has done anything Mob-related, and that only father and son knew where Jr. was, how Junior came to bee beheaded is both a mystery and a concern that a Mob war could break out.

It looks like one already is, since Dante Scalice (Fulvio Cecere), the main suspect in Bobby's killing, was blown up after speaking with Holmes and Watson.  Again, the mystery is getting murkier when Holmes deduces that the National Security Agency helped track down Handsome Bobby.  Far from being a mob hit, Jr.'s killing was related to Deputy Commissioner Frank DaSilva (Peter Gerety). 

Bell not only refuses to believe the Deputy Commissioner (who is the head of Demographics) is on the take by mobsters, but is also angered by Holmes' involvement in the department.  At long last, they have it out where Holmes makes a shocking revelation: he has been doing his best not only to attempt to make amends to Bell, but also to shake Bell out of his own complacency.  Holmes knows that Bell is not just a good detective, but a good person whom he can count on to keep up with Holmes' methods. 

Eventually, we learn that DiBlasio had investigated Sr. for decades and had evidence against him which he held as protection.  With unions cleaning up their act we find that an honest union head would be causing trouble for the mob, and Bobby's killing would both be a message to Senior and a way to cause a mob war and thus weaken the Pardillo family to where he could retire in peace.  Bell's instincts tell him DiBlasio is corrupt (and his own investigation confirm it).  Bell manages to trick DiBlasio to exposing himself and Pardillo, and now back in Homicide, Bell and Holmes have reached a rapport and Bell finds his way back home. 

It is the interplay between Hill's Bell and Miller's Watson that is the highlight of All in the Family.  In truth, there are quite a few highlights in Jason Tracey's screenplay.  It is nice to see Watson show a slightly kooky side in her love for Mafia lore.  She explains that growing up in Queens the Mafia was like a soap opera, but it is amusing to see that as a child she had a love of crime.  The opening scene where the security guard was brought in is also a light touch (though I wish we would have seen THAT case more than the mob story). 

However, what gives this story its driving power is when Bell and Holmes have their big fight.  We see just how difficult the situation is for both sides.  The big revelation for me was with bit of dialogue where Sherlock Holmes goes after Detective Marcus Bell:

Be my friend.  Don't be my friend.  Whatever!  But don't be so foolish as to confuse punishing me with punishing yourself.

This may be the first time Sherlock Holmes has a.) admitted he needs friends, b.) admitted he considers Detective Bell a friend, and c.) had Holmes see Bell not only as a friend whom he would like to make up with, but also someone who has abilities that he respects if not admires.  I don't think in any incarnation of the Sherlock Holmes adaptations has the Great Detective no nakedly stated his own sense of guilt over his actions, or his admiration for someone other than Watson, or especially that vital human need for friendship.

I was taken aback at Holmes' declaration that he either thinks of Bell as a friend or his hope that they would be friends.  This is what Elementary has been this season: the exploration of the human side of Sherlock Holmes.  He is not the cold, rational thinking machine from the Canon, but a man who can be wounded emotionally (see Moriarty, Jamie; Holmes, Mycroft) and who needs that support group he now relies on not just for investigations but for living (see Watson, Joan; Gregson, Tobias/Thomas, Alfonso his sponsor, and Bell, Marcus).  For his turn, we see how Bell in his way figured that Holmes' methods made things easy for him to solve crimes, showing a bit of envy in the detective.  When Holmes tells him that he knows he's a drug addict who made it only thanks to the people around him, we see that Sherlock Holmes indeed does understand how hard it is to come back from something debilitating, and that he sees Marcus Bell has been hiding, using Holmes as an excuse but that it is time he emerge to be what he should be: a Detective.

An Elegant Elementary

We do see that Marcus Bell has indeed become a sharper detective.  When looking at the barrels at the refinery, it is clear that Bell is using Holmes' methods of deducing from what he observes to make the discovery.  Bell reasons out that the color of one of the barrels is a bit off, as if it were out of place here.  Most would not have thought about that, but Bell did.  This to me indicates that the Holmes/Bell relationship has been symbiotic and that it has been beneficial on both sides.

In terms of the Mafia story I can't say I was wowed by it all.  It is good to see Sorvino again, though perhaps his talents will always be underused in Mafia-connected roles (Goodfellas, The Rocketeer).   With a Mob Boss stuck in a trailer park, it does have a bit of Goodfellas in it.   One can say that All in the Family does play to Italian stereotypes of Mafia, right down to Deputy Commissioner DiBlasio (no relation to the Mayor I trust).  I did think well of the twist of the NSA being duped to track down Jr., but on the whole I wasn't wild about the actual crime.

However, in this case (no pun intended), while the actual crime was not the greatest, the strides to turn Elementary less into a CBS procedural with the Holmes name attached to it and more a character piece where the inscrutable Great Detective emerges into a complex figure who finds the mystery of himself the greatest case of all goes on stronger than ever.  Elementary is becoming a favorite of mine, not so much for the crimes (though some are good) but for seeing The Great Detective become something we haven't seen: a flawed, complicated human being, who finds other people are just as important as his work. 

A leg up on the competition. 
Anyone up for a fanfic on
The Case of the Guard's Leg?


Next Episode: Dead Clyde Walking

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