Elementary, Season 2: Episode 4 – “Poison Pen”
Written by Liz Friedman
Directed by Andrew Bernstein
Airs Thursday nights at 10pm ET on CBS
Part of the virtue of Elementary‘s 24-episode season structure is that there is no pressure to dump on character development every week. Like a sitcom that tacks on its short, sweet heartwarming moments late in the third act, Elementary shifts its narrative camera from the weekly crime plot to remind us that Holmes and Watson are real people dealing with personal conflict. Occasionally, that conflict will take center stage, but more often than not – and in the case of “Poison Pen” – it is painted in light strokes on the episode’s much larger canvas.
This week, Sherlock’s backstory gets some interesting shading, especially following the conclusion to last week’s episode, in which Irene/Moriarty returns in voice-over form through a letter she has sent him. Sherlock purports to be done with love completely. But when Abigail Spencer pops up in “Poison Pen” (played by the lovely Laura Benanti; R.I.P., Go On – NBC desperately misses you), Watson picks up on the signs and confronts Sherlock about his adolescent love for the young woman. Of course, Sherlock’s defense that Abigail served a completely academic purpose tells us all we need to know about how acute Watson’s deduction skills have become under Sherlock’s wing. The most interesting part of the history between Sherlock and Abigail, though, comes from the way in which Sherlock proceeds in “Poison Pen.” We rarely see Sherlock show any kind of mercy on the perpetrators of the crimes he investigates, but Abigail occupies an unique position in that she was Sherlock’s first entry into the criminal mind and ended up being one that he empathized with.
What follows in terms of the plot is typical Elementary fare, but the third act twist is made stronger than average as Abigail – someone who, unlike many Elementary antagonists, isn’t a bad person – throws herself under the bus and takes the fall because of the guilt she has been living with (coupled with the opportunity to save someone from having to deal with the same public scrutiny that caused her to have plastic surgery and go into hiding). Sherlock Holmes almost always gets satisfaction out of seeing the right person send behind bars, but this is one of those rare times where it’s just too complicated to be that clean-cut.
The fallout is Sherlock threatening the true perpetrator (and the circumstances of the murder at the center of “Poison Pen” are also incredibly murky and will pull some moral strings with viewers) but immediately lending him an ear to deal with some of the pain that goes with betrayal. Sherlock tells the boy that he (Sherlock) could never understand the depths of that betrayal, but our omniscience allows us to realize how the act of reaching out to the boy is also a way of trying to prevent someone from going through the same things as another, more experience character in this episode. The pain that comes with Irene’s betrayal constantly eats away at Sherlock. And for all its delightful machinations and genuine comedy, Elementary never lets us forget that.
– Sean Colletti