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Elementary: “Seed Money”

Illustration for article titled Elementary: “Seed Money”
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When Clay Dubrovensky’s ex-girlfriend comes into the station to be interviewed following his death, she tells Sherlock and Gregson that she had recently reconnected with him: as she puts it, they “fell back into old rhythms.”

Procedurals are built on rhythms. There is the basic rising action of the episodic case, taking us back to the basics of story structure from elementary school mixed with the specific needs of having a new mini-climax for every commercial break to ensure people don’t change the channel. But within that structure there is also the need to create moments of reflection where ongoing characters arcs can be worked into the story, as well as space for secondary storylines that also follow a basic rising action structure, albeit usually at a different pace than the main story.

Illustration for article titled Elementary: “Seed Money”

This is an overly descriptive way to start this review of “Seed Money,” and I apologize for diving into a lecture on procedural story structure, but the comment about rhythm stuck with me throughout the episode. The central case itself was as typical as you can get: an initial death leads to the discovery of the main death which leads to the cartel pot which leads to the orchid which leads to AgriNex which leads to the other Orchid which leads back to the cartel before eventually shifting us back to AgriNex and the real killer. It’s the typical twisty road of the episodic mystery, although I never found that I was on the same rhythm. Even if I discount my “Oh, Tony winner Katie Finneran did it!” that I have in my notes after the opening credits (I’m the weirdo who recognizes all these people, I know many of you don’t), the story struggles because the cartel always feels like a red herring. We never meet anyone from the cartel, and so this having been a cartel killing would have never been a reasonable resolution to the case, as it would betray the importance of closure to the rhythms of the series.

Moreover, the sudden reveal of the motive—she was in love with him, he was betraying her, she killed him in a fit of passion, and then improvised a fake cartel killing—lacked foreshadowing, included a complete shift in character, and involved a leap of logic that an executive in the midst of a cartel negotiation would instinctively know how to “necklace” him cartel-style at short notice. We could say that this is a betrayal of narrative, but I feel like in the context of a procedural it’s the rhythm that creates the problem. The stories are short enough and restricted enough that leaps of logic are in and of themselves not too problematic, provided that they fit the rising action of the episodic story. The rhythms of this case were working fine up until the point you realized that not enough work had been done in order for the resolution to stick—I appreciated seeing a bit more of the killer, and Finneran did what she could, but in the effort to rush closure it fizzled out, and felt even less resolved than the recent episodes that have foregone closure for contemplation instead (like last week’s and “Bella”).

Despite this, however, “Seed Money” offers an intriguing case study for the way rhythm fits into the contemporary procedural, and Elementary in particular. It has particular success with the conversation Sherlock and Joan have over the course of the episode, which is really a conversation that could have been had over the course of a single scene: Joan is taking a new job working as an in-house investigator at an insurance company, Sherlock is planning on making Kitty his full-on partner, and they are each reassuring to the other that this will in no way change the balance of their quasi-not-really-partnership while secretly feeling that it could change the terms of said partnership.


However, the conversation and its circumstances don’t unfold in a single moment. Joan sort of stumbles into the subject when they connect at the first crime scene, but they get taken in by the case around them; Kitty’s line of questioning makes Sherlock suspect something further, and then he confronts Joan and learns the truth. The case then takes them away for some time, at which point Sherlock is trying to break his own news but gets interrupted halfway through by a call about the case. Eventually, he tells her about his plans for Kitty, but before she can fully react there’s a call and the case enters into its final moments.

On the one hand, the demands of the case—and the B-story, which we’ll get to in a moment—rob us of the scene of Sherlock and Joan fully hashing out their relationship, which is what we got in last week’s episode. However, on the other hand, the way the case interrupts their conversation ends up being formative to the way it develops. The delays are justified in part by Sherlock’s struggle to react to major changes, requiring considerable time deliberating: he’s not going to be someone who responds immediately, and so his cerebral personality helps justify long delays in conversations such that recurring stories can be spread out through an entire episode. In addition, the delay may in fact have shaped Sherlock’s actions: one wonders if he doth protest too much when he claims that his decision to “matriculate” Kitty has nothing to do with Joan graduating to a new position of her own, making a return to be Sherlock’s partner full-time—rather than his colleague at the NYPD, where she would still be consulting—unlikely. It ends up being a fine example of how the rhythms of living the life of a detective in a procedural don’t give you time to sit and contemplate and act in succession: there are delays, and speed bumps, and various moments that will force reflection in different ways. While this is true of all shows, Sherlock’s character fits this rhythmic disruption particularly effectively, making a case of problem-solving seem organic to the format rather than an unfortunate byproduct.


The episode has less success with the rhythm its B-story, on the surface: the limited time available means that major parts of Kitty’s investigation into the missing daughter of one of the members of her rape survivors support group—like the initial interviews—take place off-screen, and there isn’t enough screen time to fully pay off the discovery that she was seeking to reveal her father’s identity. The story actually started the episode, but it’s over well before the end of the episode, and lacked a clear thematic connection to make it seem like a narrative in and of itself. But when Sherlock receives a call from Gregson at the end of the episode, and Gregson is quick to tell him that “we’ll be right there” is a concern, the rhythms of Kitty’s storyline are revealed to follow a different beat: instead of a contained narrative, her storyline was a prologue, bookending the episode with a reminder of her struggle and a sign that it has followed her to New York in ways she hadn’t imagined when a victim with the same markings turns up.

I have some reservations about the way Kitty’s story functions as exposition to re-establish the stakes of her status as a survivor, and I continue to worry that Ophelia Lovibund—who was, again, really great here—remaining a guest star means we’re headed for a tragic mid-season event, but “Seed Money” makes that into a productive worry. As much as the rhythms of a given episode seem paramount to the network standards by which the broadcast procedural is governed, its ultimate fate is in the rhythms of tuning in every week. Elementary’s late start this season means that we’re going to have eight weeks of consecutive episodes, and “Seed Money” successfully makes next week’s episode—which my cable description has listed as Part 1 of 2—into an event to dread and anticipate in equal measure. While not a particularly strong episode on its own merits, the way the traditional rhythms are used to productively seed more distinctive patterns continue to showcase the show’s understanding of its own strengths even in episodes where they’re being interrupted more often than they’re being heard in full.


Stray observations:

  • Running jokes are another great example of how rhythm—specifically repetition—can pay off for a procedural, so Sherlock’s “You break into my home all the time” was just beautiful.
  • Also in terms of rhythm, I appreciated that we got at least some quick discussion of Sherlock’s state of mind, and his having gone back to meetings—something a lesser show might have left out.
  • Loved the detail of Sherlock being unwilling to interact with the AgriNex executive without going on an extended rant about Colony Collapse Disorder: the show might be ignoring the beehives at the top of the Brownstone for logistic reasons, but they haven’t forgotten about the bees entirely.
  • We’ve not seen a lot from Bell this season, and so his offense at Sherlock waiting until Joan was there to talk through the case—“What am I?!”—was both funny and fitting.
  • “It’s like Point Break and Magic Mike had a baby!”—this was in the commercials for this episode, so the line itself and Sherlock’s retort were ruined a little bit, but I love how proud Joan looks of herself for making this little joke, and how quickly she realizes Sherlock doesn’t appreciate it.
  • I’ve come to realize that I basically take the show’s word when it comes to their “This is a Real Thing” elements of cases, like the “Black Market for Flowers.” They could be making it up as far as I know, but it sounds real, and they use real things as jumping-off-points enough that I just don’t follow up. So writers, I’m super gullible. Feel free to make stuff up.
  • In case you aren’t familiar with Katie Finneran’s work, I will direct you to Bryan Fuller’s one-season wonder Wonderfalls, and this Photoshop I made.
  • Clyde Watch: No discussion of how Joan taking an office job means that she’ll have less time to be able to take care of Clyde? Honestly, it’s as though these people don’t even know where the priority lies. Also, if the person who made their first ever A.V. Club comment last week thinks I didn’t notice their blasphemy regarding Clyde being a charming but insignificant component of the series, don’t think I’ve forgotten about your heinous attempt to add your perfectly reasonable opinion to this discussion. There’s no place for that in Clyde Watch.

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