Elementary "Paint It Black" Review: To Everyone He Meets, He Stays a Stranger
So, I've been lying to many of you. Well, not outright lying; more of a lie by omission. I had studiously avoided making any mentions of the Mycroft from Doyle's stories being in the British government—or, as the Sherlock of the stories refers to him, "occasionally, [Mycroft] is the British government." I didn't mention it in my review of the season premiere when I discussed how Elementary had adapted the character to suit its needs, nor did I bring it up in his subsequent appearances in "The Marchioness" or "Blood Is Thicker." It didn't even cross my mind to say anything last week.
Now, more than a few of you have talked about it in the comments, particularly after "Blood Is Thicker," and that's fine, of course. But even though I think it's a touch ridiculous to hide a defining character trait of a character who's been around for 121 years, plenty of folks don't know the character at all, either because they haven't read the stories or because they haven't been exposed to his various other media incarnations, including the BBC's Sherlock. So if you were surprised by the reveal, as British operatives swooped in, killed a bunch of French mobsters, and saved Joan's life, then perhaps it was worth not mentioning it.
For those aware of Mycroft's government ties, Elementary did a solid enough job of making us wonder whether the show was scuttling that aspect of the character—a fair choice, really, considering its merging of Irene and Moriarty, coupled with that a gender swap. Or was it just stringing us along, waiting for the right moment to say, "Aha! Thought we weren't going to do that, didn't you?" Certainly the show played it up enough that it could've gone either way. It downplayed Mycroft's massive intellect—I loved his cautious reading of Pierce Norman's hallway this week, complete with tentative gestures from Rhys Ifans to mark uncertainty—and emphasized the shiftiness of the character, with his covert phone calls and the different narratives regarding his dealings with the Le Milieu mobsters and the way he seemed to be playing Joan and Sherlock against one another last week.
Some of you were likely tipped off at one point or another, or just felt confident that the show wouldn't pass up the chance to include an interesting element to return to every now and then after this season is complete. Me, I wouldn't say I was surprised, per se; when de Soto decided to kill Mycroft and Joan, I assumed that either Mycroft would take everyone down by himself, revealing himself to be a super-spy, or that British intelligence forces (guessing MI-6) would swarm in. But I genuinely enjoyed the way in which Elementary muddied the waters just enough that I didn't feel completely confident until something actually happened. It was something of the opposite of last season's Irene/Moriarty reveal, which I snuffed out pretty quickly, though Elementary admittedly invested less time in misdirection with that plot point than it did here.
All of this isn't to say that it entirely worked, though. Why the British government wanted Sherlock back in England remains unclear, and why it would go to such circuitous lengths to achieve that goal is also very murky. All they had to do was ask and pose an interesting puzzle, and he likely would've skipped right across the Pond. Unless they just want him to stay in a more permanent fashion, which seems the likeliest of possible scenarios at the moment.
Likewise, a seemingly throwaway line in this episode created something of a sizable plot hole regarding Mycroft and his... superiors' (?) plan for Sherlock. It's not outside the realm of speculation that Mycroft returned to New York to track down Pierce Norman, since that timeline of his arrival and Norman's supposed theft of the bank account data seem to match up, but the idea that it would've been easier to deal with the situation if Sherlock wasn't in New York—as the man on the phone told Mycroft—has me stumped as to what the ultimate plan is. Was there concern about Mycroft blowing his cover? I suppose/hope all will be revealed next week, but I also hope that it whatever the connection is, it makes enough sense that niggling little issues like this don't end up detracting from what has been an otherwise enjoyable ongoing storyline for the season.
Those potentially nitpicky concerns may turn out to be just that—nitpicky concerns—depending on how Elementary steers the character fallout in the wake of this reveal. For Joan, it'll force her to reevaluate her relationship with Mycroft if their apparent burgeoning romance was all a lie. And if it wasn't, she'll have to decide whether she can be involved with a spy who will still have to lie to her on some level, since that's how being a spy works in these sorts of narratives, if not in real life.
Sherlock faces an equally challenging bit of reality as he deals with being wrong about Mycroft for a number of years, not even pausing to think that Mycroft wasn't a lazy buffoon. Worse still for Sherlock is the possibility that Mycroft, calling back to his small speech at the AA meeting last week, is more than just his peer and is instead his superior. And, unlike with Moriarty, there's not much question of Mycroft's sanity. This will be two seasons in a row that Elementary has exploited major characters from the Doyle stories to rattle Sherlock's core set of assumptions about those closest to him. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. I'm guessing petulance, of course, but I'm hoping for more as well, including a self-interrogation of his skill set, and its apparent value. If Sherlock was wrong about Mycroft, is he also wrong about everyone and everything else?
– I really enjoyed a number of Lucy Liu's directorial choices this week. Lots of handheld camera work in the early going, and a nice emphasis on obstructed views to play up how much of an emotional separation there was between Sherlock and Mycroft in that early scene in the brownstone. It also seemed like there were a lot more crane shots than the show usually goes for, or maybe they were just more noticeable this week. Either way, a really distinctive episode of the series that still felt like an episode of the series.
– The case of the week was pretty solid. I liked that the corpse came into the narrative later, and that it served as the ultimate clue (though corpses are often the ultimate clue, yes?) so that instead we were mostly focused on finding a missing person. I could've done without Joan operating on the suddenly injured French mobster, as it didn't add a great deal to the story, but it was also so inconsequential that it didn't detract from it either.
– "If anything happens to Joan, I'll murder you." Said with such conviction that it feels so very true, and you almost wouldn't blame Sherlock for doing it, either.
What did you think of "Paint It Black"?
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