Recap: Elementary, “The Adventures of the Nutmeg Concoction” (3×07)
Elementary is a talky show. Part of this stems from necessity, as the clipped, stilted patterns and smug, superior tone of Sherlock’s observations are as fundamental to Jonny Lee Miller’s interpretation of the character as are his terribly unflattering haircut and his stiffly buttoned collars. Unfortunately, Miller’s delivery and its natural contrast to Lucy Liu’s more fluid, sympathetic voice can become a crutch that the show overuses with increasing frequency. Episodes such as “The Adventures of the Nutmeg Concoction” appear committed to an ideal of tell-not-show, a formula that does an already cerebral procedural no favors. In fact, this particular episode, where Sherlock, Joan, and Kitty track down a criminal crime scene cleaner, is entirely made up of people simply conversing. The locations change, but the action – well, there is no action. There’s talk.
I appreciate Elementary‘s frequent refusal to embrace standard crime procedural tropes, where cops giving chase to a criminal, an epic arrest, and a standoff at gunpoint happen every hour. But what made “Nutmeg” a maddening episode were the missed opportunities to liven up the investigation. Take, for example, Sherlock’s casual description of how his photos of Kitty’s fake murder, meant to draw out the cleaner, led to a police raid on the brownstone. What benefit comes from hearing Sherlock toss off a few lines about this rather than see it happen? That sounds, if done properly, hilarious. The same goes for Sherlock’s investigation of the hideous mural, or the murder of the cleaner, Conrad Woodbine. At the very least, it would make the show more visually interesting. After all, this case involved drug trafficking crime syndicates, seven murders, and dissolving bodies in a solution disguised with the smell of your grandmother’s kitchen – there should be plenty of opportunity to incorporate more interesting tableaus.
Two reasons for this dialogue-heavy strategy spring to mind: first, the actual crime was plotted out so intricately that there simply wasn’t time to fit in the character work and a more lively investigation, or second, it’s a deliberate stylistic statement. I’m hoping it’s the former, even though the latter would have some thematic resonance. Jessica Holder’s disappearance was originally Joan’s case, and there are a lot of shots of her poring over files, frustrated, while Sherlock scampers off to pursue a shinier lead. This plays to the central tension within Joan that Sherlock points out this episode – she’s committed to maintaining her type-A, socially dictated lifestyle even if it means suppressing her more adventurous, unconventional side. Yet, if the writers were looking to mirror this struggle in Sherlock and Joan’s investigative choices, wouldn’t it have been more effective to highlight the contrast through action?
Perhaps part of the reason this all felt flat was that I don’t necessarily believe Sherlock’s assertion about Joan. Joan has several unflattering qualities to match her laudatory ones: she’s compassionate but can frustrate easily, she’s open-minded but can also tend to believe the worst about people, she’s intelligent but can be complacent. It’s this complacency that I see Sherlock calling out, only he frames it as some Manichean battle between being ordinary and eccentric. Joan’s strength, however, has always been her ability to move between those two worlds. She can pick the lock to get into the brownstone then go home to her impeccably decorated yet realistically sized apartment. She can fight Kitty in the street and work on her investigation in a coffee shop like any upwardly mobile professional. I don’t buy that Joan has the burning desire to leave all that behind. Andrew – as understanding and perfect as we’ve seen him be – may not be Joan’s destiny, and the long-distance relationship may claim their affections for each other. Joan may even opt for a relationship structured in one of the more innovative and modern ways Sherlock suggests (monogamy is not always the answer). But to paint Joan’s relationship woes as indicative of some deeply suppressed desire to fly her freak flag is a stretch.
Odds and Ends
-Miss Hudson returns! I almost forgot how her sunny presence can add something new to any scene she’s in. More Miss H, please.
-Sherlock also has an irregular called The Nose, who is a distinguished British gentleman wearing an ascot, because of course he does.
-Perhaps the most insightful thing Sherlock’s ever said about himself, in this throwaway line: “I expect nothing, which is why I’m such an exceptional detective.”
-“It really is quite remarkable to me. All this time that we spend together and you remain a far more interesting person than you give yourself credit for.” Sherlock’s compassion shines through again, almost enough to make up for calling Joan a romantic terrorist akin to a baboon with inflamed genitals.
-Someone needs to chose Specious Pumpkin Case as the new name of their band.
-Kitty likes classical music because she used to be a talented clarinetist and also because she has father issues.