Elementary "Paint It Black" Review: To Everyone He Meets, He Stays a Stranger

By Noel Kirkpatrick

May 02, 2014

Elementary S02E22: "Paint It Black"

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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  • ErlendJohanne May 09, 2014

    "It downplayed Mycroft's massive intellect..."
    Indeed. In fact, in the original novels, Mycroft considers Sherlock to be untolerably slow at times.

  • TomWayne May 08, 2014

    The funny part is, the Mycroft reveal in this ep colors the bomb scene from the end of the season two opener quite differently. Mycroft, after all, didn't need to read a book on bomb building (as myself and likely a number of others suspected), which meant quite clearly just how angry he still was over the affair. :D

    Which should make Sherlock want to knock him sideways with his single stick once he does the math.

  • StephenBalazs May 06, 2014

    I vote for Albert Finney as the Elder Mr. Holmes. A perfect, larger than life, bombastic, Lovecraftian Horror.

  • nullnull2654 May 06, 2014

    I like how the writers manage ito communicate crucial aspects of Sherlock's psyche in these thrown away lines. When you look up the term "Lovecraftian horror" you find out that the themes of this genre are the helplessness and hopelessness of the protagonists towards a malignant force . Often the characters are unable to cope mentally with the horrors they have to face.

    Mycroft said, that Sherlock had temper tantrums already as a child.
    When you consider the situation in which Sherlock got enraged in the series , it was always when he was feeling helpless , like the abduction of Joan, Moriarty succeeding with the murder of the Macedonian doctor or the serial killer in Episode 9 of Season 2.

    With these informations it is possible to deduce that his father must have frightened him when he was a child and that might have lead to his psychological problems.

  • KateSullivan May 04, 2014

    I'm going to confess that when hitting whatever grade where one is first exposed to Sherlock Holmes, I think I read assignments which might have been short stories and not the whole novel so while I have a general framework of Sherlock and characters, I am more familiar with the deductive method (honestly from this time period, I was more Agatha Christie) so I was surprised. I find the NSA exchange humorous now with the plea on Mycroft's face for him not to say anything, which I must confess I just thought was odd at the time. I wasn't like Sherlock didn't know of the criminal element.

  • stuartduncan1238 May 04, 2014

    I thought it was very plain why Sherlock in New York was a huge threat to Mycroft's mission. Sherlock had the knowledge and was bright enough to deduce certain things about the clientele of the restaurant that could lead to him inadvertently wrecking Mycroft's mission -- and possibly putting himself and Joan in danger, which is exactly what happened. Whether Mycroft has genuine affection for Joan is not clear. He certainly has some explaining to do to her. In the original books Mycroft was Sherlock's "smarter brother" -- the only person brighter than Sherlock (in the books Moriarty and Sherlock were peers). Sherlock must have forgotten about Moriarty for a moment when he said he had no peer.

  • nullnull2654 May 04, 2014

    He did not forget her, but like he said in Episode 14 he has cut her out of his life entirely. The words he used at the NA meeting made that clear as well.

    " I am without peer, without sane peer anyway, which is functionally identical to being without peer."

    He doesn't want to have anything to do with her again.

  • stuartduncan1238 May 06, 2014

    True, I forgot about the "without sane peer anyway" bit.

  • quantumnexus May 05, 2014

    Saying she's insane doesn't mean he doesn't want anything to do with her. The writers will bring her back at some point.

  • stuartduncan1238 May 06, 2014

    Also true. Has he really cut her out of his life? He is dependent on her as much as on Watson. They are two only a handful of people he has ever had a real emotional connection with.

  • raymundf May 04, 2014

    I had to admit that with all the red herrings the writers placed about Mycroft I was manipulated into a state of complacency that they had totally diverged from the Holmesian mythos of Mycroft being a shadowy spymaster for the British government and turned him into a indolent but successful restauranteur. Bravo! However, to be fair the writers did hint at this in the first episode. How else could Mycroft rig explosives that took out Sherlock's storage unit? Also how else could he have dealt with the aftermath with the authorities given that it could have been seen as a terrorist incident?

  • stuartduncan1238 May 04, 2014

    That was explained. Mycroft listed some of Sherlock's belongings and mentioned a series of books on home-made-bomb making. Sherlock mentioned that that must have been where Mycroft got his knowledge from, so it is not that much of a clue.

  • Boozwaa May 04, 2014

    Well, what a surprise..., totally did not see Mycroft being a spy or anything like this. I was getting to the point where I did not like his character and just wanted him gone from the show. Now this is a whole new game. Will be interesting now.

    I have one gripe about this show, Can they all SPEAK UP!!! This season seems like they are mumbling and whispering. I have to either crank up the volume or rely on closed caption to know what they are saying. I don't recall this happening last season. Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Lui need to speak up.

  • charlesmyersc May 03, 2014

    Am I the only one who wants to see Johnny Lee Miller yell "Hack The Planet" in at least 1 episode of Elementary??

  • jefmort May 03, 2014

    Sherlock acquired the chance to show emotions by a (female) Watson - his stressed behaviour is consistent with what he has become with his woman partner. Addicted to her is an interesting theory but it seems more of a attempt on his part to continue creating a sincere friendship with another person.

  • jefmort May 03, 2014

    And can some monitor please remove the maureenwherrmann spam post and this one about it??? These comments are about a tv show!

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