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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Elementary: “Details”

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The title of this week’s Elementary, as with many of the first season’s episodes, features a bit of a pun: While it could refer to the basic function of a detective (to find the small details that lead them to larger conclusion), it also refers to the detail on which Detective Bell served back in 2009. That detail, of course, is a valuable background detail—so many details—for Detective Bell as a character, and it’s a good reminder that we really don’t know all that much about Bell’s life. While Captain Gregson shares a history with Holmes and the series delved into his past with his former partner earlier in the season, Bell has largely been constructed through small details in the midst of various investigations. While we can take something away from his growing respect for Holmes, and his continued presence has been a source of stability and familiarity that has made the character into a positive presence, Jon Michael Hill has largely been forced to make do with banter where the show’s other characters have been given consistent, constructive development.

“Details” changes this in a big way, pushing Marcus—I’ve decided he’s earned a first name after this episode—to the forefront in a story explicitly designed to delve into the character’s past. We learn that Marcus has a brother Andre who’s an ex-con, now out on parole after serving out his entire sentence despite a chance at early release. It’s implied—and I may be reading too much into vague details here—that their mother has somewhat recently passed away, Andre’s stubborn refusal to turn on his criminal associates keeping him behind bars and unable to share in her final days. Bell is repositioned as a younger brother who feels responsible for his older brother’s mistakes, and whose efforts to watch over him are both appreciated and resented with equal measure, and it’s a characterization that Hill does some nice work with. There is nothing about this particular relationship one could identify as breaking new ground for television characterization, but Malcolm Goodwin is well cast as Andre and their chemistry successfully allows their scenes to carry the momentum of the episode forward despite never involving Holmes or Watson (or even Gregson, who is comparably well developed).

In fact, Marcus is at the heart of the momentum in “Details” more broadly, shot at and then framed for murder on two separate occasions. It’s a particularly linear narrative structure, jumping from event to event while eliminating suspects along the way: Curtis Bradshaw—played by Anwan Glover, aka The Wire’s Slim Charles—is framed for the first crime and the victim of the second, while Andre is the clear suspect of the second crime but ends up nearly bleeding to death on his living room floor soon thereafter. The small details between each crime tended to lean toward these suspects, so eliminating them keeps resetting the investigation and eventually becomes a process of elimination. When every other small detail that could be perceived as a clue is revealed to be false by the subsequent crimes and the elimination of suspects, the only loose end is the sudden appearance of Marcus’ ex-girlfriend Officer Reyes, who is eventually revealed to be the one framing Marcus for the crimes in question.

As far as mysteries go, this one took a turn toward the predictable the further it evolved, but the multiple suspects remained in play enough to keep the mystery dynamic. Where “Details” falters, though, is when it doesn’t trust those details to add up to a conclusion. The scene where Gregson, Sherlock and Watson lay out the nature of Reyes’ motive has to do a lot of explaining, involving so many details that it becomes an enormous info dump and tells us more than we’re able to see in the performances. It was the precise opposite of the scene where Lisa Edelstein’s character was confronted with her crime in “The Long Fuse”: Whereas that episode glossed over the logic behind the crime, this one spends so much time laying it out that the show no longer feels like it’s driven by details. It almost felt like the script was framing Reyes, and Paula Garces’ performance seemed to grow too broad too quickly as though her evil side had been activated by the extensiveness of their research for the interrogation.

It wasn’t terrible so much as unnecessary: Joan’s deduction that Marcus had been the one to blow the whistle on Reyes’ corrupt boss—with whom she was conspiring—was a nice thematic character beat that fit in with his frustration with Andre and pulled that storyline together. The resolution didn’t need to be explained for the ultimate goal of the episode—better establishing Marcus’ motivation as a detective and as a person—to be achieved. And it suffered from coming in an episode where so much was done with so little as it relates to Sherlock and Watson’s relationship.

On some level it may appear I’m burying the lede—or lead, if you prefer I not indulge in the former spelling—as to the biggest detail in “Details.” This is the episode where Sherlock and Watson finally solidify their arrangement as one between a detective and his apprentice, building the foundation on which CBS—and, yes, myself as a critic/viewer—hopes will build a long-running procedural drama. And yet what I found most striking is that this episode doesn’t have much to do with either Sherlock or Watson. Resisting the urge to push Joan or Sherlock into their new arrangement with a storyline that overtly gestures toward that arrangement, the conversation emerges as but a small detail within the larger case, beginning as a casual conversation while investigating Marcus’ apartment. Pushed by her therapist to establish boundaries with Sherlock, Watson is quickly reminded that any such attempt is futile: He knows she isn’t being paid to be his sober companion, and he offers a simple yet heartfelt proposition to join him full time in a different capacity.


It’s no surprise that Watson accepts his offer, but it’s tremendous how “Details” pulls this from a story that involves Sherlock hitting her in the back with a tennis ball. His attempts to teach Joan self-defense are a comic runner, one of those small details that has made the show so stable and allowed for its mysteries to entertain even when the mystery itself is lacking. It’s a pivotal, emotional, character-driven scene that feels like a culmination of these small details rather than a sweeping moment of resolution. As Sherlock puts it, he believes that he is better with her, but he also notes it’s “difficult to say why, exactly: perhaps in time I’ll solve that as well.” That acknowledgement of time as an important factor is why the moment landed so well for me. While it’s no shock to anyone that Sherlock and Watson’s relationship has been made more permanent, the relationship has been allowed the time necessary to grow into something that could evolve in a meaningful way (and, to speak to Sherlock’s point, will continue to evolve beyond this agreement). It didn’t feel like they were forced into this arrangement, the more subtle moments they shared together as important as the life-altering moments in “M.” It was all part of a larger journey, a journey that was as defined by its smaller details as it was by the life-altering moments that each character experienced during this period.

When Joan breaks open the case of who was framing Marcus, it didn’t feel like a contrived way to represent her progress. It was simply the episode paying off the small detail of Joan looking through Andre’s file, a detail the camera called attention to by lingering on those files in the apartment beforehand. The show’s use of details isn’t so subtle that its mysteries aren’t predictable, but the details are enjoyable enough that they accumulate into something meaningful over the course of the series’ run. There’s this beat where Holmes and Gregson are visiting Bell’s apartment where Sherlock plainly states he “would think that anyone might kill given the right circumstances.” Although I criticized the show for playing the fallout from “M.” too subtly in past episodes (specifically “The Deductionist”), the quick glances exchanged in that scene revealed that Elementary is paying attention to the details. It’s what allows for a strong episode like “Details” to simultaneously flesh out a supporting character and successfully deliver a plot development we knew was coming since the series began.


Stray observations:

  • Clyde Watch: Still no sign of Clyde. I’m starting to get worried, everyone.
  • Was I the only one who, for a brief moment, wondered if Andre was going to turn out to be Bell’s romantic partner rather than his brother? I knew that was incredibly unlikely, but it seemed possible for a fleeting moment.
  • I really thought Jonny Lee Miller did a great job in this episode, both comically—my favorite being his mimicking of Bradshaw’s death position—and dramatically, but I still enjoy seeing Sherlock get hit in the face with a basketball. He kind of deserves it, at the end of the day.
  • Sherlock on why he’s looking out for Detective Bell: “If he’s murdered I’ll have to start over with another detective.” Ah, friendship.
  • In case you were wondering, Anwan Glover’s appearance was worth 3 points in the “The Wire Fan Credibility” standings: +3 if you recognized him, -3 if you didn’t, 0 if you had to use IMDB to confirm which character he played.
  • I’m choosing to take Sherlock’s “You have been warned” as a shoutout to the dearly departed Last Resort.
  • Thanks to Phil for filling in last week while I was otherwise incapacitated—I was pleased to see, even with the review posting a bit late, that the commenting community remains strong. It is much appreciated.