Elementary Season 3 Premiere Review: An Icy Return, Good Caper And New Student Make A Fine Return For The TV Series

By Steve Buja , Updated Oct 30, 2014 04:15 PM EDT
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When first announced, it was easy to write off the idea behind Elementary as 'Oh god, not another CBS procedural!' and 'That's going to be a cheap knockoff of the clearly superior Sherlock!'. While Elementary may not always be on the top of its game, what it may lack in quality (although it is frightfully good on a consistent basis), it more than makes up for by virtue of having a) more than three episodes, and b) every two years.

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Frankly, the only ones making the comparisons between the two are snobby internet critics like yours truly. Sherlock and Elementary are playing in the same sandbox, but it's a big sandbox and there's room enough for both to exist side by side. Aren't we the real winners? Two Sherlocks for the price of none? Three, if you count Robert Downey Jr.

I had not realized how much I had missed the characters on this show until watching the third season premiere, in which the show jumps ahead in time but hardly misses a beat. I missed them like old friends. They come to the city for the shoulder months and then go someplace cold in the winter. As opposed to Sherlock, we get to see Holmes and Watson change incrementally, get to know them, care for them.

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Elementary works as well as it does because of the excellent performances put in by Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. They are both wonderfully created characters, and I dare say Liu's Joan Waston may be one of the most fully realized female characters on television. The creators could have easily sensationalized the relationship, played it for the lowest common denominator and create all amount of sexual tension between the two leads, but wisely chose a higher road: that of student and teacher. It's a relationship they milked for all its worth, but unlike other procedurals, they knew they couldn't keep up the status quo.

The third season premiere, titled 'Enough Nemesis to Go Around' brings the student/teacher relationship to its natural conclusion: Joan has become, if not the master, then at least the non-tenured professor. She's set up shop and now works private and police cases, and she is very good at it. One of Joan's first scenes is the end of another case, in which she figures out the mystery based only on a photograph.

The episode is completely told from Joan's point of view. There is little solo Sherlock to be had. We do not even see Miller's irascible malcontent until about twenty minutes into the episode. Too often certain characters, especially female characters, are seen as 'the other half'. By keeping Watson and Sherlock separate, it gives us time to get reacquainted with Joan before things inevitably turn to the 'look at me!' Holmes hour.

Joan has been collecting a rogue's gallery of her own. Gina Gershon guest stars as a ruthless, but still charming, mafiosa boss whom Joan put away several months before after turning an employee. Shenanigans go down on, as they are wont to do, and Joan is left with a particularly tricky mystery to solve one that eventually leads to a very, very skilled assassin.

Gershon is set to be a recurring guest star, which is fantastic. Nobody can play sultry, weathered criminal better than her. Seeing the confidence Joan has when verbally sparring against the very deadly woman is one of the pleasures of the strong premiere.

But nothing can stop the return of Sherlock, whose reintroduction is wonderful. He's wearing a helmet meant to help with concentration and is completely shocked that Watson would think to search for him at his home. Nor do Joan and Sherlock fall into the same patterns as before. He left after all, and only left a three sentence note to his one and only friend. Sherlock has made a lot of progress in the last few seasons, but he's still not quite a real boy yet.

Sherlock did not come alone, either. He found a new vessel for his addiction: teaching. He believes he can replicate what he did with Joan with a new girl. He somewhat reminds me of the Doctor in that regards, a nearly (or, actually) inhuman genius who goes around and solves mysteries while a pretty woman hops along for the ride. Sherlock has traded in for a younger model, in the form of Kitty Winter (Ophelia Lovibond), who is a real charmer, but every bit as capable as Joan. Unlike Watson, however, Winter really wants to do this, though it's clear that while Sherlock likes teaching, what he actually likes is teaching Watson. You never forget your first, after all.

The mystery of the week is an excellent locked room caper in which two people are gunned down with no sign of gunplay. Sherlock butts in, trying to remain sensitive towards Joan's wishes, but since that was never really his strong suit, he up and solves the thing much to Watson's chagrin.

The very Elementary-esque case provides several twists and turns and plenty of excellent banter that doesn't come on too strong. Elementary's emotions rarely erupt, instead they slowly boil over (but can explode when need be). Miller has a great moment where he confesses his reasons for coming back from MI6 (I cannot believe for one second that he was 'fired' in the traditional sense) and watching Joan handle villains, cops, Kitty and Watson in her distant, surgical manner is oddly affecting. Liu must be commended for the very evenhanded work she brings to the character, as she refuses to let Joan fall into caricature.

As the episode title suggests Joan is picking up a number of nemeses, including Gershon, the mysterious gunman, Winter, and yes, even Sherlock. She is assuaulted on all sides, not necessarily with violence, but with frustration. Holmes has abandoned her and she's getting on just fine without him, maybe even better than she ever has.

Background Noise is GameNGuide's television column.

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