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On the one hand, “Terra Pericolosa” follows a very typical procedural pattern. A mystery is introduced, and we are then introduced to various players close to that mystery as it spirals from a theft of a map to a murder of a security guard to the murder of the thief as the episode moves along. In the end, it turns out that it was one of the first people we were introduced to—Margaret Bray, played by Mamie Gummer a.k.a. the one who recurs on The Good Wife, not the one on The Newsroom—was the one responsible for the crime.

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There are frustrations to this pattern. One of Elementary’s worst habits is spending the entirety of its “solution” segments explaining what happened without letting the actor or actress playing the killer explain why. When Sherlock, Joan, Kitty, and Gregson break down the sequence of events that led Margaret to attempt to destroy her family’s map to ensure the company makes a lucrative land deal, we see footage of her shooting the thief, and we’re given no reason to question the evidence Sherlock is presenting us—this is ultimately what happened, as far as the show is concerned. However, what was entirely unclear to me is why her family was in such dire financial position that she needed to murder someone to ensure a land deal went through, or how a woman who appears to run her family’s business interests who hired a thief to commit this crime to begin with would choose to dirty her hands with anything she actually did. Mamie Gummer got a bit of time to flesh out the character in earlier scenes—enough that it convinced me she was the killer—but we never actually got to hear her explain what led her to the point. The second that our heroes complete their explanation of the crime, we cut away, without even giving her the opportunity to respond to the allegations in any meaningful fashion.

It’s frustrating because she doesn’t end up feeling like a character, and she should. The case had two compelling worlds at its disposal—antique map collecting and Native American land right disputes—in building out this case, and so for it all to hinge on someone who ended up feeling like an afterthought, and whose motivations were left entirely unclear, feels hollow. Yes, the story in “Terra Pericolosa”—Italian for “dangerous land”—resolves itself in a single hour, and there was enough uncertainty created within the episode that I had doubts about whether my initial suspicion about Gummer’s character was correct, but the way it resolves lacks any deeper resonance when there is no connection made between the crime and the criminal on a performance level. The show chose not to give us a glimpse of the person beneath the surface of Margaret Bray, the one who would commit this crime, despite the fact that Gummer surely would have been up to the task.

On the other hand—you thought I wasn’t coming back to the hands—“Terra Pericolosa” is an episode heavily invested in Elementary’s central characters. One of the best things about the season and this particular episode is the way Joan and Kitty are able to weave in and out of the story. There appears to be a clear mandate to cut down on Miller and Liu’s working hours, which means scenes like Kitty finding the first victim on her own or Bell being sent to get the information from the seller of the Smythe Atlas, after Sherlock set a honey trap online. The show has done enough work building Sherlock and Joan that it doesn’t need to use every element of a case to focus on their characters, while it has also done enough cursory work building out Bell and Gregson to let them spend time on their own. Moreover, while Kitty and Joan are not necessarily interchangeable, Kitty has been developed enough that she and Joan can each spend some time on their own in addition to their time with Sherlock as an episode requires.

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That becomes the most interesting dimension of “Terra Pericolosa,” as Joan and Sherlock struggle over Kitty’s reintegration into society at large. The writers do a nice job of weaving it into the story, finding enough moments where Sherlock and Joan are alone together to argue over whether Sherlock is overworking Kitty while nonetheless maintaining Kitty as a significant presence in the episode. It works particularly well given that neither Sherlock nor Joan is entirely right in the situation: Joan is right that Sherlock overworking Kitty (to keep her from having time to respond to the advances of sweet Zachary from the coffee shop) is dishonest and disrespectful of her independence, but Sherlock is right—and Kitty confirms this—that her distinct background means that she in many ways appreciated the concern at the heart of Sherlock’s actions, and even on some level welcomed it. As Kitty says, and as Ophelia Lovibond captures extremely well, she felt “loved” by Sherlock’s action, an emotion Sherlock may not have intended but has manifested in the protectiveness more akin to a guardian than a mentor.

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As apprehensive as I was about the notion of Sherlock and Joan as “mother and father” to Kitty, I do think their sense of guardianship has created an interesting dynamic where their own relationship can be addressed in indirect ways. Sherlock is not a character that does things directly, and so the patching up of their partnership has had to happen gradually and through unrelated events. Here, Joan volunteers to step back in as a “partner” more often so that Kitty can have more free time, a way to set up an even more balanced system of partnership for the series to explore. We’re a quarter of the way into the season now, and while the show never entirely embraced the split between Sherlock and Joan given how often they’ve been paired together, the writers have taken their time bringing the two back into each other’s orbit in ways that felt true to the characters, connected to broader character development, and well-integrated into the procedural rhythms that are at times disappointing on their own.

It’s that kind of subtle character work that helps even weaker mysteries nonetheless feel substantive and meaningful in the larger map of Elementary’s story world, and “Terra Pericolosa” ultimately comes out better for it.

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Stray observations:

  • I will be interested to see if they use this as justification to keep Kitty away for a few episodes—she’s already running a lot of errands, and so I can see how a few “days off” episodes could cut down on the amount of episodes they’re using Lovibond for.
  • The series continues to keep Miss Hudson fresh in our minds, even if we don’t see her, with her serving as the reference that kicks off Sherlock’s involvement in this case.
  • I hope Sherlock never stops making Joan pick the lock.
  • The interests of Sherlock’s online alias “Amber 1776”: “Watersports and people who don’t suck.” I hope he meant the nice kind of watersports.
  • Not a euphemism: “When I left, he was waxing his singlestick.”
  • Did you know that they could use Nexus-like technology against you in a criminal investigation? I did not, although I did know that it would be unlikely Nexus would agree to have their name used in an episode suggesting this to be true.
  • Big week for sharing guest stars with The Good Wife: Skipp Sudduth is best known to me as the Democratic Party head Eli and Peter tend to deal with.
  • I’m still a bit unclear on how Bell managed to compel the map collector to give up the name of the law firm—he admitted that he hadn’t done anything illegal, and I don’t know in what context the police would ever reveal that he got suckered in by a detective posing as woman regarding a map book, so why was he so terrified? And why would he be reluctant to reveal the information in the first place, if it no longer had value to him and he was only revealing the law firm? Was there an NDA of some kind? I have some questions, clearly.
  • Clyde Watch: Another week, another first scene appearance from Clyde, with the show continuing to acknowledge the shared custody agreement by documenting the hand-off from Kitty to Joan following the latter’s return from Copenhagen. I’m worried that they’re setting a pace they can never maintain, and Clyde will disappear for weeks upon weeks, leaving us without the Clyde fix we’ve become accustomed to and need in order to survive. Regardless, we’ll always have the jokes: “Are you talking about the frowny one with the hard shell, or do you mean Clyde?”

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