Elementary: A Legend Revamped (Part 1)

I’d heard of Elementary a while back and had it recommended to me a couple of times, but it was one of those things I never got around to watching. It seemed like a no-brainer for me to watch it, considering my continued recurring interest in crime dramas (my mom keeps telling me I should “write what I know,” but of course I don’t listen). That and I’m a casual Sherlockian who’s enjoyed the stories and some of the detective’s on-screen incarnations (Basil Rathbone, Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch–all great in my book). Now, it’s time to add Johnny Lee Miller to the list.

But first, a little good news for myself and my readers. As I was searching for the Elementary pilot script, I stumbled across this website, which I found and used once a long time ago but was, sadly, unable to find afterward. It had the Elementary script (or a version of it, at least–there are some scenes here that didn’t make the final cut) as well as a massive collection of other TV scripts. If you’re on the lookout for scripts to read, I suggest you take a look.

Shattering glasses

But back to Elementary. The opening scene is one of those borderline-ostentatious displays of cinematography like you see in the Breaking Bad openings sometimes. The splash of glass and water from the falling glasses is indeed a mesmerizing image, and it does its job; it gets us to pay attention. All of this is going to be important information later, and we’re being invited to gather it now.

Joan on phone

One of the big talked-about points of this show is the fact that Dr. Watson is a woman: Joan Watson. I’m going to do the academic thing here and say that it just goes to show what an “everyman” type Watson has always been–and Doyle, who once accidentally called the character “James Watson,” probably couldn’t care less. But Joan has the essential qualities of the original; she’s protective of Sherlock and also highly professional, which makes her a nice counterpoint to Sherlock’s “my way or the highway” methods.

Sherlock putting on shoes

And speaking of the man of the hour himself, once we’d gotten past the whole “do you believe in love at first sight” thing (I already knew that their relationship was plutonic and I was still a little concerned), it took less than no time for this flippant if not quite easygoing Sherlock to win me over. It’s clear that he’s got a positive energy to him that makes all the difference between his “bored” and BBC Sherlock’s “bored.” (Hint: one of them ends with a wall full of bullet holes).

Sherlock on phone

By the way, one thing that interested me when I first started to hear about Elementary was the fact that this Sherlock was a recovering heroin addict. True, the original used cocaine, but the cultural connotations were very different from what you’d get in a modern-day New York setting. It isn’t touched on much in this episode except as a reason for Joan being there (I had never even heard of a “sober companion” before), but I’m looking forward to seeing how this is developed later on.

Joan with Sherlock

It’s great that Joan gets thrown right into the action with Sherlock after meeting him. Apart from the fact that it gets the story rolling, it lets her have some good and bad experiences with him right off the bat. Getting called a helper monkey, seeing him work, watching him question the victim’s husband–it’s a crash course.

Sherlock smelling carpet

“I smell adventure!”

Once again, with the close-ups on the faded walls behind the picture frames, the audience is invited to notice the same things that Sherlock notices. It’s becoming a pattern. The same thing happens later when he takes a picture of Mantlo’s hands during the interrogation. I’ll be honest; I was sort of thinking it was some way to tell if he was lying.

Mantlo's hands

We also get the payoff from Sherlock’s earlier deductions in the form of his famous explanations. I was starting to think, with some disappointment, that maybe they weren’t coming–mainly because I, like Joan, didn’t think there was any possible way he could know that her father had had an affair. Very big of him to admit that “not everything is deducible.”

Joan nods to Sherlock

Sherlock and Joan get some interesting bonding moments over the next couple of scenes. The first is when she notices the size eleven shoebox on his chair, thereby taking more initiative than the original Dr. Watson did in the entire canon. Slight exaggeration, but still. Later, they discuss the future on a rooftop at night…near Sherlock’s collection of beehives.

Sherlock with bees

“I always knew we’d create a lot of buzz…”

The bit where she comes to the police station the next morning and swabs his mouth was another quirky moment that helps to establish their relationship. Here Sherlock is, on the verge of solving a murder and apparently pretty excited to tell someone about it, but not before he gets his spit checked by his “addict-sitter.”

Joan collecting spit

When the two of them go to question Eileen, we get to see a bit more of Sherlock at his worst, with his lack of sympathy toward a woman who’s going through an emotional time (even if she is lying) on top of being a little snappier than usual about Joan not keeping up with him. Naturally, it’s Joan who saves the day. The good-cop/bad-cop effect couldn’t have been more perfect even if it had been planned like Sherlock said it was.

Sherlock and Joan at car

The reveal that the police had figured out the suspect’s identity before Sherlock and Joan came from way out of left field. If this had been much later in the episode I might have expected it to be just an anticlimactic ending, but then we get the second shock of the scene: the suspect is, ahem, “in police custody.”

Dead Saldua

That’s it for part one, but before I go, I want to talk a little about the early draft of the script that I found. The biggest difference between the script and the episode (apart from the replacing of “brother” with “father”) is that the script is a lot more verbose. Sherlock’s explanations are longer and there’s a whole extra scene that deals simply with Sherlock getting Dr. Polk to talk to him. The final product is more understated, and I have to say it’s better that way. Nice to do more with less.

I wonder, are any of my readers fans of Sherlock Holmes? Do you have a favorite iteration of the detective? What do you think of Elementary?

Screencaps for this episode were taken from screencapped.net.

2 thoughts on “Elementary: A Legend Revamped (Part 1)

  1. I watch “Elementary” on a regular basis. It works mainly due to the actors charisma, though once in awhile the story element will take a unique turn or twist. I’ve never been drawn to the Sherlock character to any great extent, but it’s interesting to see how he gets reinvented. I was surprised when someone pointed out that “House” was Sherlock Holmes in a hospital.

    • I’ve heard that about “House,” actually. There’s another show that’s on my list of things to watch. My dad said it was pretty good except that there’s not a lot of variety.

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