Sunday, May 25, 2014

Elementary: Paint It Black Review


Fifty Shades of Mycroft...

While it seems clear that Sherlock Holmes, whatever his incarnations, is in need of Watson, it is not often we see Sherlock himself recognize that Watson is more than his stooge, chronicler, or sycophant.  Watson is more than Holmes' sounding board.  Watson is Holmes' friend, someone he can lean on when he can't admit to needing anyone.  Paint It Black makes it clear to Elementary's version of Holmes just how important Watson is to him.  Watson is important to Holmes as a person, as a steading influence, and as a guide to help him reach his deductions. 

In truth, all versions of the Holmes/Watson stories (be they Rathbone & Bruce, Brett & Hardwicke, Downey, Jr. & Law, and/or Cumberbatch & Freeman) have all, in one way or another, sometimes overt, sometimes not, shown that these two people are genuine (if at times, long-suffering) friends (the long-suffering mostly on Watson's part).  Now we get Miller & Liu, and Paint It Black puts not just the Holmes/Watson dynamic in the center, but throws in the tangled relationship between the Holmes Brothers: Sherlock & Mycroft, which with few exceptions has not been as well-explored. 

Picking up from the last episode, Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) has been abducted by the French gang Le Millieu, which has been using the Diogenes Restaurant owned by Mycroft Holmes (Rhys Ifans) as a meeting place.  Now Mycroft has to tell his brother Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) about the abduction.  An enraged Sherlock now has to find a way to rescue Watson and work with his brother as his Watson substitute to aid Le Millieu.  They are seeking Pierce Norman, a banker who has a list of secret Swiss accounts of various private individuals which would be worth millions on the black market.  In exchange for the list, Le Millieu will release Watson unharmed.

The Holmeses work together (with Mycroft surprisingly having a hard time following) to find Norman and the list.  Norman is found, but he has been dead for some time.  Someone else has the list, and to complicate matters the National Security Agency has involved itself in the investigation.  The Holmes Brothers do find the person who has the list, which involves Sherlock following the NSA example of 'enhanced interrogation techniques'.

Joan, meanwhile, spends her time trying to save one of Le Millieu's operatives who was shot.  Le Millieu's head, Guillaume de Soto (Vincenzo Amato), is a ruthless individual, who shoots his own dying cousin in front of a horrified Watson rather than take him to a hospital and risk being discovered.

Once the Holmeses find the list, Sherlock is about to call in the NSA to help rescue Watson and hand the list over to them when Mycroft, still playing a long and dangerous game, tasers his own brother to get the list.  He goes to the exchange but de Soto wants both Mycroft and Joan shot.  Mycroft asks to say his final words after de Soto leaves, and the henchmen agree.  "Paint it black," he says, and a group of commandos kills all de Soto's men.  Mycroft goes over to Joan, and says there is a lot he needs to explain.

That's not what she meant by "shoot"...

This is Lucy Liu's directorial debut, and she did an excellent job in showing the conflict and antagonism between the Holmes Brothers.  Miller was on fire as the fierce avenger, constantly exploding and destroying things.  Part of me wondered if he was smashing his and Mycroft's phones out of true fear of being monitored or of a desire just to be as difficult and irritating to his brother as possible.

One great aspect of Paint It Black is in how the script still has a sharp wit to go along with all the sinister goings-on.  At one point, Mycroft does his best to do what Joan does (ask secondary questions).  Sherlock's immediate displeasure comes across in Miller's scowl.  When Ifans' Mycroft asks what's wrong since he's seen Joan do what he's doing, Sherlock retorts, "She's a trained detective.  You're a buffoon."  The contempt and anger Sherlock doesn't bother to hide is so well-done, as is the acting between Ifans and Miller.  Miller's Sherlock is still sarcastic and acerbic despite the situation, but beneath is a barely controlled rage which he keeps in check because he has to. 

Ifans is equally great as Mycroft, a figure who is still mysterious and shady and who harbors his own secrets.  We can't get a handle on his long game, and the guessing game is what keeps us intrigued.

There were aspects that I didn't quite understand.  I don't know if it was good to have Mycroft appear to have such difficulty following the clues, and a particular difficulty was in the audio.  Often the voices were so low and soft that I had to turn up the volume to as high as it could go. 

However, these flaws were made up for by a tight focus on a single story and having the crime tie in to the rescue of Watson, and the final moments were filled with great tension and stunning twists which might not have been unexpected but were still shocking.  Liu made a great decision to show us Mycroft coming in to taser Sherlock, building on the suspense and shock of the moment. 

It's clear that Paint It Black, along with The Man With the Twisted Lip and the final two episodes are really closing out Elementary's second season with one wild twist after another.  It shows that the series is more than capable of going beyond the crime-of-the-week scenario that so many other procedurals go through and can build an ongoing story that builds and that hopefully leads to a satisfying season finale.


Next Episode: Art in the Blood 


  1. Seeing Elementary finally drop it formulaic style for a few episodes was very refreshing! I am also glad to see this version of Mycroft working for the British government like the source material. After liking his character in the first episode of the season, I started to dislike the direction the character was taken, although I still dislike the Watson/Mycroft relationship, but this new twist in the last few episodes worked out for the best in my opinion.


  2. W/regards to Joan/Mycroft, well, sometimes people fall for the wrong ones, don't you think? It does seem odd for Joan, a highly intelligent woman, to be attracted to Mycroft, but we've gotten hints throughout the season that she is lonely and searching for love and romance, so I can work with it.

    Still, I agree it's good to give a long story-arc rather than end the season w/a routine crime.


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