Before I sat down to write this review, I did what I normally do for season finales here: I looked back at a list of Elementary's Season 2 episodes and asked, "Which ones were my favorite/the season's best?" Which isn't to imply that just because something's my favorite makes it one of the best, but rather to indicate the arbitrariness of "best" in these sorts of subjective evaluations. As I went through the episode list and past reviews, I flipped through thinking, "Oh, I liked that idea or particular idea surrounding a case, but how much did the whole episode work for me?"
For example, I liked "Dead Clade Walking" because the murder ended up being about dinosaurs and textbook sales—but is that enough to say, "Really top notch stuff there!"? I enjoyed "We Are Everyone" for its timeliness, but beyond the Snowden stuff, I don't really remember it all that clearly. I know I didn't care for Moriarty's return, and while the idea of growing an ear on one's back in "Ears to You" was weird and wonderful, the episode itself wasn't something that stuck with me.
I could chalk all this up to the nature of procedurals and the way they often blend together, but I don't think's entirely fair. After all, I can list the installments from Elementary's first season that would earn spots on a list of best episodes without hesitation ("M.", "A Giant Gun, Filled with Drugs", "The Woman"). And so I think it's far more likely that the show's second go-round, while solid and entertaining on the whole, and with stellar work from Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, and Rhys Ifans (when he appeared), just never managed to come together. Which isn't great for an episode like "The Grand Experiment," as it was intent on shaking up the show's status quo.
A lot of the episode's faults stem from narrative shortcutting and Elementary's half-hearted commitment to ideas that were "resolved" in the finale, namely Joan's decision to move out of the brownstone. I'm now going to distance myself from my earlier support of Joan wanting to leave, and my reasons for doing so, but I'm also going to rationalize that distancing because of how the scene in Nadir Khadem's apartment played out.
Previously, I said that I approved of Joan's potential departure because it ignored the contortions that shows like this typically engage in to keep their characters locked in place. But in the end, Joan's decision felt contorted in and of itself. I get where she was coming from, and while Liu is the reason that a lot of the apartment scene even worked as she discussed feeling both lucky and frustrated over being in Sherlock's orbit, the build-up to that moment just wasn't there in the narrative. For me, Liu's performance filled in the story gaps, which is why I was willing to go with it last week but also why I'm retreating a bit now. It was honest deflection on Joan's part when she ignored Sherlock's query about her change of heart regarding Mycroft, but it was also an unanswered motivation on Elementary's part, like the writers may not be completely sure themselves. As a result, I couldn't fully reconcile the performance and the narrative dissonance. Joan moving out is justifiable, but is it a strongly constructed justification? In the end, not so much.
It's the same general issue we've run into with Mycroft. I'm glad that Mycroft turned out not to be a traitor, and that Sherrington was framing him. I even liked the nod to British classism factoring into Sherrington's motivations ("I'm simple. Like a hammer") to sell out his country and set up Mycroft to take the fall, though I'm not sure how big a deal it actually is (U.K. readers, please feel free to enlighten me on this front). Outside of the case, however, Mycroft as plot device ended up floundering. He was a catalyst for Joan's change in attitude, yes, but like with the other elements of Joan's supposed arc this season, he was never fully fleshed out in a way that allowed Joan's decision to be motivated by a consistent and meaningful chain of events.
However, if there's one thing that was consistently well-executed this season, it was Sherlock's development and his desire to change and to grow. I've been harping on this for months, I know, but it's something that Elementary has returned to time and time again, so it's worth revisiting at least one more time! It's not surprising that Sherlock's ambition to better himself was more developed than any of the show's other character elements—he is the main character—but the writers managed to get some nice mileage out of it. Even if some of this growth was ultimately dropped (his sponsoree, who's name I cannot even remember) or just half-baked (his tensions with Bell, which were all too quickly fixed for my liking), Sherlock's presence at AA meetings and his relationships with Joan and Mycroft kept the arc from falling victim to the same fate as Joan's did this season.
Mycroft represented the test of Sherlock's 18 months with Joan as a sober companion, a partner, and a friend. Could he, in his quest for growth, help his brother? The answer, of course, was "Yes." Not only would Sherlock help Mycroft, he would do it as an apology (of sorts) for his past mistakes in putting Mycroft in such a position. Sure, he stalled on making amends because he wasn't at that step in the AA program, but the intent was clearly there.
That's likely part of the reason that Sherlock was so furious with Mycroft for going to the NSA instead of just waiting for Sherlock to solve his predicament: It reaffirmed Sherlock's notions of Mycroft while also proving that Sherlock's experiment wasn't a complete success, as the people he was trying to connect with ended up turning away from him. Hence Sherlock's turn to the heroin (did he use it?) and his decision to take that job with MI6.
That the two big moments connected to this—his and Joan's conversation and Mycroft's hug—were the finale's two most successful moments, as the narrative development behind Sherlock's arc gave those scenes meaning and emotional heft. Indeed, they went beyond what the actors involved in the scenes were doing, which was, of course, great work. Even if the conclusion wasn't particularly satisfying, and I don't foresee it being all that permanent, it at least made sense because of the time the show invested in it.
– "Make yourself at home. Don't touch the first editions. Or Joan."
– "There are always 'forces at play' with you." Speaking of short thrifts, Gregson and Bell sort of disappeared after the show emerged from its Winter Olympics hiatus. I like the notion that there's some potential for fallout due to Mycroft being mixed up with a murder and now a potentially suspicious kitchen fire, but do you really think it'll matter too much? I don't.
– We discussed this in the comments of some review a while back, but it's worth mentioning again: Jonny Lee Miller is doing fantastic work (I can't stop watching his hands now), and it's a shame that it's happening in the current television climate because 10 or 15 years ago, he could've snagged an Emmy nomination for this season. Emmy voters just don't go for this sort of thing these days, and it's really too bad. His performance does deserve some recognition.
– If I must pick a favorite/best Season 2 episode, I think I'm going to go with "The Marchioness" and call it a day. Though, again, a murder over textbook sales and dinosaurs tickled me silly.
What did you think of "The Grand Experiment" and Season 2 as a whole? Got any predictions for Season 3?