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Elementary Review: While You Were Sleeping

By on October 5, 2012
Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller in Elementary. Image: John Paul Filo © CBS

Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller in Elementary. Image: John Paul Filo © CBS

Did last week’s premiere of the new CBS drama Elementary hook you? If not, this week’s episode, ‘While You Were Sleeping’, should do the trick. If you haven’t watched it yet (go!), beware of spoilers ahead.

Most of the time a new series needs at least a few episodes to really sell the show. It isn’t easy to immediately root for a character that you don’t know, or to laugh at their inside jokes. Elementary has struck gold with the chemistry between Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Joan Watson (Lucy Liu). While it is always a possibility, that chemistry is currently not romantic. It is not the typically amorous relationship usually seen between a male and female lead – it is believable, entertaining and refreshing.

In this episode, the frequently quarreling duo takes on a bizarre burglary/homicide case. Captain Toby Gregson (Aidan Quinn) invites Detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill) as an additional consultant to help with the case. How well does Holmes deal with having a co-worker? About as well as any arrogant and independent genius would, of course.

Holmes is convinced that the burglary was committed by a different person than the one who committed the murder. While he battles Detective Bell at first, he is able to prove his theory when another murder takes place after the thief is arrested. Unfortunately, Holmes hits a dead end when it turns out his suggested suspect is a woman in a coma (after she attempted suicide). Holmes is initially skeptical of the legitimacy of the patient’s coma, so Watson examines the woman, Yvette, and declares her coma to be a valid one. When Yvette’s doctor walks in, Holmes exits after rather condescendingly stating that the patient is, indeed, in a real coma.

Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) looking pensive. Image: John Paul Filo © CBS

The team finds out that Yvette has a twin sister, Rebecca. The two sisters hired their lawyers to investigate both of the victims before they were killed, making them serious suspects. They did this when they learned that they shared a father with the two victims. The twins were worried that the illegitimate children of their father would come after them for money once he died.

When confronted, Rebecca insists that she had nothing to do with the murders. She claims that they only investigated the two victims because they wanted to know what kind of people they were. When Holmes hints that Rebecca may have encouraged her sister to commit suicide so she could gain all of the inheritance money, he receives a swift slap to the face. He tells Watson that one side of his face is leathery from slaps, while the other is like a baby’s bottom.

Later, Holmes devises a strategy to trap the murderer. His plan is a success. They discover that Yvette was being medically induced into a coma, and then revived when she needed to kill one of her unwanted half-siblings. Creepy, right? She was assisted in this crime by her doctor, who she was also having an affair with. Rebecca is horrified to learn this. Still, she wants wants to defend her sister until Holmes notes that Rebecca probably would have been Yvette’s next target.

During this episode, Watson struggles to get Holmes to attend his support meetings. She is troubled when she finds out that Holmes has not told Captain Gregson about his recent addiction. In an effort to relax Holmes, Watson encourages him to play his old violin. Apparently unhappy with that suggestion, Holmes waits till Watson’s back is turned before setting the violin on fire. He is a tad volatile.

However, Holmes is not the only one being tortured. He gives as good as he gets (or better?). Watson is angered by the invasion of privacy when Holmes browses through her emails, but he retorts that she is a “walking, talking, professional invasion of privacy”. Their bickering is humorous and telling. While pestering Watson about her ex-boyfriend, he advises that she sleep with the man so that she will be in a better mood. Holmes informs Watson that he can tell it has been a long time for her by studying her gait. He is unperturbed when she responds, “Is it sad being wrong as often as you are right?”

It isn’t always easy being a quirky genius. Image: Giovanni Rufino © CBS

It is good that Liu presents Watson as a haunted, yet capable and defiant character. If she played the role with any less intensity, the character of Sherlock Holmes would walk all over her. As it is, the two balance each other out quite nicely. Watson grounds Holmes while he challenges her. Yes, he may be the kind of roommate that unplugs your alarm clock while you’re sleeping, but she’ll stab you in the thigh with a thumb tack if you attempt to hypnotize yourself into a trance during your support meeting. You know, if that is your kind of thing.

The episode ends with a thoughtful tone thanks to a conversation between Holmes and Watson. She wonders aloud if he is unknowingly closing himself off as an act of penance for his previous behaviour. He responds that it isn’t penance if you are unaware you are doing it. It is a striking line that offers more insight into the interesting and iconic character of Sherlock Holmes.

The friendship between Holmes and Captain Gregson has been relatively untouched, so it will be intriguing to learn more about that relationship. This modern context with a few twists is pretty new territory for the popular Sherlock Holmes story, but so far it is striking a good balance.

Between the beloved banter, smart story lines and instinctively likeable characters, Elementary is fully-equipped to be a hit series. This show is likely to become a regular on your DVR whether you are an avid Sherlock Holmes fan or not. Of course, starting strong can be a tough standard to live up to every week, so tune in Thursdays on CBS to see if Elementary is up to the task.