Written by Corinne Brinkerhoff
Directed by David Platt
“Elementary” is a procedural teetering on the edge of a breakthrough, ala “Person of Interest” and it’s wham episode, “Witness”, which really elevated that show into something dramatic, clever and character driven. Certainly, the writers of “Elementary” are getting a bit savvier about how to tie the Sherlock Holmes canon into what’s felt like a pale imitation, but it’s yet to make the jump, and until it does, “Elementary” will continue to languish as a mildly interesting variation on the same old formula.
Holmes’ father is scheduled to visit, but Holmes would much rather throw himself into investigating a plane crash, especially once it’s discovered that one of the occupants was murdered before the plane crashed. What starts as an investigation into which of the other occupants was responsible becomes more complicated when Holmes and the police find evidence that the plane was sabotaged and the victim was killed before the plane took off. While Holmes blows off his father’s plans to work on the case, convinced his father won’t show up, Watson is too curious to leave the matter alone and winds up discovering some things about her companion.
The actual case is a rather ho-hum affair, even if it does start in an odd way. Making the hook of “Flight Risk” be a crashed plane in New York is certainly bold and somewhat dramatic, but nothing about the murder investigation lives up to that. We’ve seen TV detectives investigate thousands of cases, and as previous episodes and reviews have made clear, Jonny Lee Miller’s strong performance doesn’t mitigate the fact that his character is a TV detective, rather than the brilliant Sherlock Holmes of literary legend. Overall, it’s hard to care much about what’s supposed to be the central conflict of “Flight Risk”.
Watson isn’t a big part of this case, which might’ve been improved by having the Holmes/Watson dynamic on display, but that pays off when she gets to have a big sideplot concerning Holmes’ father and the question of whether he’ll actually show up. Here, for the first time, “Elementary” becomes a compelling story about characters, and the interplay between a resigned and deeply hurt Holmes and the optimistic and somewhat naïve Watson is fascinating. The whole subplot is furnished by a brilliant guest performance by Roger Rees, and the dinner scene inspires genuine hope that this show can break out of this rut.
“Flight Risk” also marks the first big step that “Elementary” has taken since the pilot towards making this an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes canon rather than a typical procedural with the canon’s names slapped on. Some namedropping goes on over the course of the episode, with hints towards Holmes having a very complicated past — a mythology, even — that’s starting to makes its way across the pond. If anything, “Elementary” seems like it’s framing itself as a sequel to the canon, or to the BBC’s “Sherlock”, and were it not for Lucy Liu’s Watson then it’d be very easy to believe that was the case.
For all the faults of the A-story — it’s boring and by-the-numbers — it doesn’t drag this episode into being a complete waste of time. The strengths of “Elementary” are being thrown into sharper and sharper relief, with hints and glimmers that the writers are getting ready to break the procedural mold and make the characters central to the story. But it still hasn’t happened, leaving viewers to roll their eyes at the mystery and look forward to the tiny snippets of genuinely interesting television.