Elementary, Season 2: Episode 21 – “The Man with the Twisted Lip”
Written by Craig Sweeny & Steve Gottfried
Directed by Seith Mann
Airs Thursday nights at 10 on CBS
“The Man with the Twisted Lip” is somewhat unique among Elementary episodes in its use of a genre-style cliffhanger. There was, of course, the two-parter, centered around Irene Adler, that wrapped up the first season of this series (and it was actually the episode prior to those two that ended on the Irene reveal). But in that case, the punctuation on the episode went for an emotional gut-punch. It raised a whole bunch of questions and could excite the viewer with the implications of the information it provided. This episode, however, uses the device almost entirely for purposes of easy tension, which is why it doesn’t work as well. Much of the hour deals with Watson and her relationships with both Sherlock and Mycroft, so her being kidnapped now is about as effective as it would have been in any other episode that has given her this amount of attention, but the kidnapping itself is one of the unfortunately weak narrative decisions Elementary has made–one that’s indicative of network crime procedural, which Elementary is but which is also an identity that the series has distanced itself from through quality, character-based writing.
All that said, “The Man with the Twisted Lip” is still a solidly fun episode. Not enough can be said of Rhys Ifans, who makes his return as Mycroft Holmes. There really doesn’t even need to be a crime plot to frame an episode when the character is around, because these versions of the Holmes brothers and Watson can carry a full episode of material entirely through conversation (unlike the Sherlock version of Mycroft, who is largely limited in usage despite being one of the most influential people in that world). All three slide into the roles given in “The Man with the Twisted Lip” perfectly. Joan doesn’t let Sherlock get away (too much) with some of his typically insensitive comments, threatening his softer parts when he likens Joan to property that he and Mycroft are vying for. And, to the surprise of many viewers, I’m sure (including this one), her agency in Elementary is inflates when she tells Mycroft that she’s been considering moving out of the brownstone and that his proposal to attempt some kind of relationship might be reason enough to do it. The unfortunate part of the situation lurking in the shadows (or in the “Previously on…” segment) is that we know what Mycroft is doing. He has been trying to get Sherlock back to England for whatever reason, and since his brotherly appeal earlier in the season wasn’t enough, Mycroft is going after one of Sherlock’s only weaknesses in Joan. So, despite her efforts and sharpness, she is still being used as a pawn by one of the characters after Sherlock apologizes a little too late (which at least shows that he isn’t as inhuman as he sometimes appears to be).
I say “one of” Sherlock’s weaknesses having been tempted to say the weakness, but the other issue “The Man with the Twisted Lip” brings up is Sherlock’s addiction and how he’s dealing with that some 45 episodes later. When he knows he is alone at home, he opens up a hollowed-out book that contains some of the drugs he recovered from the crime scene earlier in the episode, and we’re meant to believe he is somewhat close to a relapse. I’m not so sure this entirely believable, especially because Joan doesn’t definitively “betray” him (through his perspective) by siding with Mycroft, but considering the episode opens with a truly fantastic sequence in a recovery meeting that addresses Sherlock’s biggest danger of relapse–that he has no peer–it’s obviously something that the writers want us to be thinking about at the end of this season. That idea, having no peer, is unmistakably Sherlock in how brutally honest and smug it is. At the same time, it also exposes how alone the man must feel day-to-day, shuffling through life from heightened distraction to heightened distraction with hardly a moment where he can relate to anyone or anything. In that sense, losing Joan becomes enough of a reason to relapse, even though I think there still needs to be a few more steps shown for that to be a reality for Sherlock.
The crime plot of the episode gets a bit lost in all this and remains relatively throwaway, which doesn’t bother me in any significant way. The back half of season two has had enough strong stand-alone episodes that these remaining entries don’t have to revolve around an interesting hook for them to work. They just need to tell an engaging story. By that token, I’m much less invested in whatever syndicate our characters have become entangled with than I am in seeing where the three central characters of this episode land or even if they land on their feet at all. The other unusual part of the cliffhanger is that it ropes us into a multi-episode arc with three episodes of Elementary left this season, and this one is much more a continuation from episode to episode than “Risk Management” and “The Woman” were. So, if this Mycroft arc continues, it will be double the length of the serialized plot from the first season, which I find especially intriguing, since I would love to see what Elementary looks like when it commits to a story for that long. Considering how well put-together the Mycroft episodes this season have been, I can’t imagine that commitment not paying off.
– Sean Colletti