Given the possibilities opened up by last week’s premiere, “The Five Orange Pipz” is a disappointment. Despite Joan and Sherlock’s separation creating the possibility that the series could expand its storytelling and branch out into new character dynamics, the murder of a corrupt CEO and his defense attorney brings Sherlock and Joan back together working on the same case. While their dynamic remains complicated by their time apart, there is a clear effort here to reassure the audience that end of Sherlock and Joan’s partnership is not the same as the end of their involvement with one another, and the end of the “relationship” that viewers have become attached to.
That said, the episode uses the comfort of Joan and Sherlock working together to solve a case in order to focus on a number of other benefits of the setup offered in the premiere, while simultaneously building a case that uses our—or at least my—presuppositions against us. In this sense, “The Five Orange Pipz” is a promising episode, in that its lack of originality structurally nonetheless resulted in a meaningful and effective hour of the series that maintained the season’s momentum.
This is particularly true in regards to the character of Kitty, whose function in the series becomes clearer in this episode. Without wanting to strip away the character’s humanity, she allows the show to retain two elements that have worked well in the past, but that the show has shifted away from. The first is the mentor/mentee relationship that Sherlock had with Joan, which she evolved out of naturally over the course of two seasons—Kitty means that there’s someone else who’s learning, and therefore someone who can make mistakes, get taught lessons, and justify expositional monologues from Sherlock regarding an ongoing case. The second, meanwhile, is the sponsor/sponsee relationship that Sherlock had with his short-lived sponsee Randy. While we had reason to believe that Kitty was running from something specific, we learn this week that she was the victim of a violent assault, which leads her to pull away from Bell’s innocuous touching as she’s about to disrupt the crime scene.
The latter role could have been filled by an actual sponsee, but the truth is that Elementary struggled to balance such a character on a regular basis. Randy appeared only twice, not because the character was a dead end but because finding space to bring him into episodes that also need to introduce and resolve an episodic storyline while serving the main characters was likely difficult. With Kitty, the writers retain a character that Sherlock is responsible for helping while also being able to explore that dynamic within the context of investigations. Rather than cutting away from the case of the week to Sherlock and Kitty, the series can use the procedure of the case to build character, and more logically connect Kitty to elements of the case or spaces in which the investigation of the case takes place.
It additionally allows her to interact with characters other than Sherlock more readily. One of the challenges of introducing a character in a procedural that exists outside of the central crime-solving group is that they tend to primarily interact with one character, creating a lack of balance. This will be something the show needs to deal with in regards to Joan’s boyfriend, but with Kitty it’s allowing her to interact with Joan on a more consistent basis. It’s the first time the series has had a prominent, non-villain, female recurring character, and it was refreshing to see the show follow up on the final scene of the premiere and focus on their dynamic here. The episode also does a nice job of removing Sherlock’s agency from the equation: although he offers Joan the information, she makes the decision not to read it, and it’s Kitty who encourages her to do so. They get to understand each other on their own terms, and that’s a nice step forward for the show in terms of exploring the dynamic between two female characters.
As for the case itself, it was a welcome example of an episode that used the guest star wattage of Sonya Walger (most notably Penny on Lost, at least as someone currently writing about that show) against us. Her Angela White is one of two red herrings in the episode, after the father of one of the victims of the tainted beads is framed for the crime, and it’s a satisfying red herring because she ends up being a terrible person. She is corrupt, undeniably so, but her motives were not in the interest of committing murder: instead, she was simply looking out for her best interests, an adjacent villain to the crime itself. The end result—that it was an FBI agent looking to sell the tainted beads as drugs on the black market—is anti-climactic, but it’s effectively anti-climactic: that it was a bad person taking advantage of a bad situation instead of a case of revenge or pure self-preservation feels more “realistic,” even if like all crime procedurals the case pushes the bounds of logic to make its point.
“The Five Orange Pipz” isn’t interested in pushing things too far. It’s a single case told through a single episode, with a murder at the start and an arrest at the end. In this sense, it lacks the energy of the premiere, which used its jumps in time to suggest this season could head in new directions. And yet despite not broadening its storytelling, the episode showed Elementary working within its limitations to explore new character dynamics, crafting a solid story that builds on dynamics that will prove crucial to any “coloring outside the lines” to be done in the future. It’s a conservative episode that suggests the status quo is less busted than the premiere suggests, but it’s also an example of how effective that status quo can be with the right articulation.
- I didn’t talk about Ophelia Lovibond’s performance as Kitty last week, but it’s currently balancing some basic petulance with a hint of something more complicated. I look forward to the joy I will get every time I type her name and realize it’s an actual name in future reviews (particularly since I’ve realized she played the Collector’s slave Carina in Guardians of the Galaxy).
- Given that we didn’t get a Sherlock and Bell scene in the premiere, it was nice to start with the two characters meeting again, particular as Sherlock has taken the liberty of rifling through his desk and solving an unsolved case.
- Lest we think that Andrew’s absence here implies a change in relationship status, the show consciously reminds us of his existence when Bell wonders why he’s never gotten a chance to meet him.
- The show has used mainly songs that I haven’t been previously familiar with, but I recognized Sharon Van Etten’s “Every Time The Sun Comes Up,” which is a fitting song for a procedural that goes through the same process like clockwork.
- Not Penny’s murders.
- Clyde Watch: I’m worried that the scene of Sherlock and Joan negotiating custody of Clyde—which I’m sure they wrote, because how could you not?—was seemingly cut before it could be filmed. This one is filed under “No Clyde,” disappointingly.