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Elementary: “The Best Way Out Is Always Through”

Illustration for article titled Elementary: “The Best Way Out Is Always Through”
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In last week’s comments, someone raised an objection to my dismissal of Sherlock and Alfredo’s storyline as the “B-story.” The argument was this: if we consider that our ongoing relationship with the show is based on its characters, isn’t a character-focused B-story really an A-story?

Ultimately, I was using these as technical terms, as opposed to evaluative ones. On Elementary, the A-story revolves around a mystery beginning with or leading to a murder, which functions as the structural core of a given episode. Meanwhile, there is typically a B-story involving one or more of the characters, whether it’s Sherlock assisting Alfredo or, as in “The Best Way Out Is Always Through,” Marcus navigating his relationship with another detective, whom Sherlock knows to be working with Internal Affairs.

It’s a good storyline, both as a showcase for Jon Michael Hill and as a new step in Sherlock and Marcus’ relationship. The show has quietly and gradually expanded the terms of their relationship, with Sherlock clearly respecting Marcus and Marcus clearly understanding Sherlock’s skill and understanding his methods in kind. But because the show rarely if ever shines a spotlight on the relationship, it’s tended to manifest more in the A-story of episodes like this one, meaning that it’s more of a character dynamic than necessarily a storyline in its own right. The two characters have largely resolved their issues stemming from Marcus’ shooting, but a lot of that happened off-screen, and was experienced as part of scenes unrelated to it.

This changes in “The Best Way Out Is Always Through,” which uses Marcus’ relationship with Detective Shauna Scott to explore both Marcus’ own work/life balance and Sherlock’s struggles with how to navigate his improved awareness of work/life balance. A sequel of sorts to Sherlock’s concerns over Joan becoming more isolated after returning to the Brownstone, Sherlock starts to wonder if he is the common denominator in the loneliness of the people around him. Sherlock likes solitude and struggles with interpersonal relationships, but he’s surrounded by people who have friends, and pursue relationships, but who all end up isolating themselves in one way or another. Joan has retreated into the Brownstone, Gregson is divorced, and Marcus ends up dealing very poorly with the revelation that his girlfriend spies on cops for a living, leaving him at Sherlock’s doorstep by episode’s end.

I don’t know if Sherlock is actually right about the fact that Marcus is the loneliest person he knows. I think what Sherlock is really saying is that Marcus, more than either Joan or Gregson, seems like he very much wants to be in a relationship. And whereas Joan and Gregson are both a bit older and have more experience in this area, Bell is—if we use Hill’s real age—comparatively young, and therefore more likely to see a relationship as a goal he needs to reach. So it’s not that Marcus is any more isolated than Gregson or Joan, but rather that he’s much more active in trying to solve this problem, making his difficulties—whether caused by Sherlock or not—more of an existential struggle. Sherlock understands that particular brand of existentialism, but not as something he experiences personally; instead, in his continued efforts to empathize with his friends, Sherlock reads Marcus’ actions in light of his influence, a slightly narcissistic but ultimately empathetic gesture which brings the characters closer together, ending the episode flicking playing cards in the Stanley Cup. Seeing the two characters hanging out doesn’t resolve their issues, but rather brings their issues together, and speaks to the way expanding interpersonal relationships among the show’s four central characters has broadened Sherlock as a character and Elementary as a series.

That Stanley Cup runner—which I suppose sort of qualifies as a C-story if we want to remain technical—is a case of Elementary having fun. The idea of Sherlock purchasing the stolen Stanley Cup and then testing its veracity—through every method other than calling the NHL at 11pm and asking them if they know where their Cup is—is just plain silly, but it works to inflect the procedural exposition the show is required to do. When Sherlock and Joan can update one another on the case whilst simultaneously pouring soup of some kind into the Stanley Cup is the kind of whimsy the show uses to inflect those types of scenes. We see something similar, and less hockey-related, when Joan returns to the Brownston and discovers Sherlock has built an elaborate diorama of a prison to determine how someone might escape, having destroyed Joan’s bra and her toothbrush in the process. If the B-story works because of the story it tells, the C-story works because of how it inflects the way the A-story is told.


Here’s the problem, though: outside of these fun moments, there’s nothing to talk about in the A-story of “The Best Way Out Is Always Through.” The episode plucks out the corruption in the private prison system—see: Last Week Tonight—and uses it as the motive for murder, but the eventual reveal never justifies the scale of the crime in question. Although the argument is made that Michael Kostroff’s character (you may recognize him as The Wire’s Maurice Levy) was a greedy executive who orchestrated a murder and committed two of his own while framing the victim of the first murder just so that his company could profit and he would get big bonuses. And while that’s a motive on paper, I never actually felt there was any effort to attach that motive to the character of Perry Franklin, and the episode had provided little-to-no evidence that could lead us to that conclusion. And while I appreciate that both Kostroff and Susan Misner (The Americans) were left in play as recognizable actors/potential perpetrators, I ended up buying neither of them as a double-murdering mastermind, making the reveal an unsatisfying end to a case that had one note and didn’t do much with it.

This does not mean this is a bad episode of Elementary—as with last week, there is some strong work in the B-story, and the added bonus of the Stanley Cup was an improvement over that effort overall (especially for your Canadian reviewer). However, I struggle to fully embrace episodes with weak A-stories because, at the end of the day, those stories are what Elementary is designed to do. While we connect with the characters, relish the B-stories, and eagerly anticipate the episodes that lean on serialized character development, it’s unfortunate when the show can’t get its most basic story engine working on a stronger level than we’ve seen in the last few episodes.


Stray observations:

  • “Have you ever been to Trenton?”—some major New Jersey shade in this hour, eh?
  • “We get Netflix”—Joan, after the (hired murderer) prison guard over-explains what the SHU is. I appreciate this convergence between two shows I cover for the site.
  • At first I was confused why Joan would have noticed the hand stamps without Sherlock spotting them, so I was glad they at least had Sherlock acknowledge he had missed it because he isn’t tuned to that kind of thing.
  • I wish we could have gotten a cameo for the Cup’s handler, Phil Pritchard. I have to imagine he was right off-camera for much of this. (Twitter confirms)
  • On the note of the Cup, I love how quick the camera cut as Sherlock was about to move it out of the shower—I imagine they were concerned about him actually lifting it?
  • And on another note, apparently they had to use VFX for the soup scene?
  • It appears we’re getting a bees—BEADS?!—episode next week, and the preview had a great detail as a stray bee flew across the logo at the end.
  • Curious to see if Shauna returns at some point—Afton Williamson did a fine job, but she’s also on Banshee, so I don’t know how available she would be for a more prominent recurring role. We also don’t know if the show would ever cast a significant recurring love interest for characters other than Joan.
  • Clyde Watch: Although we don’t actually see Clyde wading in the Stanley Cup, the show gets some points for at least acknowledging that it would have served him well. Still going with a “No Clyde” given the lack of physical presence (despite a few opportunities), but it’s better than nothing.