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Elementary S02E02: "Solve for X"


I've mentioned this elsewhere in the past, but now that I have myself a proper procedural to review, I get to expound on it a bit more: Procedurals are important because they can react to major events and trends in the world far quicker than some serialized shows are able to. It's the benefit of not having an ongoing plot that requires consistent development; instead, you can rip from the headlines and be all zeitgeist-y. Of course, many serialized programs have been created in response to trends and major events—24 and the rebooted Battlestar Galactica immediately spring to mind—and they can explore how such trends and major events are shaping our world—but procedurals can mobilize them to make their cases feel contemporary and to add a sense of urgency to the narrative beyond the whole "Whodunnit?" aspect.

"Solve for X" wasn't immediately apparent as an example of this. I can't speak for all of you, but I know that I personally don't do a whole lot of shirtless math (oh, I hope Rich Sommer returns later, that cameo was just too adorable), nor do I discuss P versus NP with my coworkers in the break room while also complaining about the large pie that's been in the fridge since March. However, in a time when "metadata" is suddenly an important aspect of our lives, when our emails are scanned to display ads that relate to them, and when one of the most commonly used passwords is "password," the applications of cryptology suddenly become very relevant. 


So the "key to building the skeleton key" for data security—as the solution to the P versus NP problem was called—tapped into these concerns to give a bit of depth to an otherwise fairly predictable case. What I appreciated about it here, and what Elementary actually tends to do very well overall, is that the episode didn't overplay these concerns. The solution to P versus NP wasn't immediately cause for concern, and a larger federal agency didn't suddenly swoop in and engage in a jurisdictional battle with the NYPD and their quirky-but-brilliant consultants. In other words, the show resisted the urge to make a *big* episode out of a *big* plot device, something a series like Castle could learn from. I like Castle as much as the next person (okay, maybe a little less), but the show tends to lose its focus and rhythms when its homicide cases suddenly become connected to issues of national security.

"Solve for X" wisely ignored that avenue for something smaller, but also more relatable. Barrett didn't use the solution to cause the stock market to crash or threaten to launch a nuclear arsenal; instead, she attempted to cover her tracks by altering some video time stamps and writing some incriminating emails to frame her threatening ex-boyfriend. These are things that regular people looking to cash in on something as valuable as the solution to P versus NP—the prize for it is real—would feasibly do if the police were breathing down their necks and they had the resources to try and get away with it.


Outside of the case-of-the-week, we had the requisite character development work. The son of the patient Joan inadvertently killed and that drove Joan away from being a doctor—or at least that's what I was assuming; that's certainly how it played to me—wanted Joan to invest in a bar he and buddy were starting. The episode wasn't terribly subtle about hashing out the issue of guilt and baggage from the past—Sherlock did a very small spiel about it, after all—but I didn't mind that so much. I'd rather it have played out like that than see Joey caught up in some murder case that causes all sorts complications for Joan. This way, the story hit the right balance of filling in Joan's background a bit and forging another link in Joan and Sherlock's friendship.

Which leads me to conclude with a thought about their friendship. Sometimes I feel like Sherlock can read as condescendingly meddling in Joan's life; consider this week's big box of money and last week's concerns about her and Mycroft as examples. I like that Elementary pushes against that interpretation by emphasizing that Joan will argue with Sherlock about it, but will also work a way out of the situation using the advice Sherlock has given her, as she did here. Also, as his desire to visit the cemetery with her next time demonstrates, his meddling doesn't stem from a desire to fix her problems, but to help her and develop a closer bond with her, in the same way that she has helped him. It's just one reason why their friendship is one of the show's strengths.



ADDITIONAL CLUES


– So raise your hand if you did not recognize Aidan Quinn in this episode, because I sure didn't. Haircut and a dye job, and I thought it was a totally different actor at first.

– Sherlock doing exercises while trying to figure out the case made me think that Jonny Lee Miller and Stephen Amell on Arrow should have an exercise-off! I'm sure Miller can totally do a salmon ladder.

– "Actually, you wrote, and I quote, 'Yes, please, now. Triple smiley face with tongue protruding.'"

– "Also, the river smells like rancid cod."


What did you think of "Solve for X"?


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