Elementary, Season 2: Episode 22 – “Paint It Black”
Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Lucy Liu
Airs Thursday nights at 10 on CBS
There is a certain poignancy to Jonny Lee Miller’s version of Sherlock Holmes in how he acts tough when he is at his most vulnerable. When we saw his reunion with Moriarty earlier this season, it made sense that the easiest way for Sherlock to have to interact with that person was by using biting sarcasm and almost immature name-calling. The same thing goes for how he handles his brother, Mycroft, in “Paint It Black” (which continues what looks to be a four-episode, season-ending arc for Elementary). Thinking that Mycroft is the person solely responsible for the danger Joan is in, he throws it out there that he wishes Mycroft’s potentially terminal illness had killed him. It’s what Sherlock does when he doesn’t know what to do–release his frustration in the most verbally harmful way possible. Even in the moment, I don’t really think Sherlock means it, but it exposes a very important characteristic of his that makes him so much more than the asshole genius is often is. What makes that scene work even more is Mycroft’s retort that he also thinks things might have been easier if he had died. Unlike with Sherlock, I do buy into Mycroft’s and Rhys Ifans’ delivery of that line, which makes the whole situation much more tragic. We’re still in the dark as to what Mycroft is up to, so even though he clearly has his own agenda, he hasn’t lost the audience’s sympathy until it is shown that he is definitively evil.
Before commenting on that any further, though, massive credit goes out to Lucy Liu for directing “Paint It Black”–her first episode behind the camera for this or any other TV series. The episode is a perfect opportunity for Liu’s directorial debut, since the hour mostly focuses on the relationship between the Holmes brothers, allowing them to team up to some degree to find and rescue Joan. Liu’s style fits in well with what the series has done thus far, but there are also some great, stand-out shots like how the camera keeps pulling back as Sherlock is following it while tracing the path to a buried body. Elementary usually excels when certain writers find the right character beats to keep the procedural format as fresh as possible, but it is also occasionally beautiful to look at. Liu’s first episode definitely falls into that category of having the technical curiosity of someone inexperienced but willing to take some risks outside of the series norm.
Getting back to the story behind “Paint It Black,” I’m wondering how similar this version of Mycroft is going to be to other iterations. He clearly is involved in some kind of organization that probably has a three-letter acronym, tracking down international threats with an elite squadron. That has always been the best part of Sherlock‘s Mycroft–that he is so powerful that it seems like every country in the world owes him a favor. What that Mycroft lacks, however, is the same kind of characterization we’ve seen in such a short time with Elementary‘s version of the character and how he relates to both Sherlock and Joan. That’s not to say he’s the deepest, most interesting supporting character on the show, but he’s already been given enough material to work with that he could just as easily be a normal guy who is Sherlock’s brother and that would still be interesting enough to want to see him more often. But if Mycroft is working a bigger case and originally wanted his brother’s incredible intellect as help, that opens up a lot of doors for Elementary. I don’t see a version of the show in which Sherlock and Joan travel between New York and London all the time, but having Mycroft in a higher position of authority than the NYPD could potentially allow for a couple cases each season to have a much more grandiose quality to them. Instead of the regular murderers and thieves Sherlock and Joan usually deal with, these other cases Mycroft could bring to the table might be of international importance, which would be all kinds of exciting. That doesn’t seem to be the case yet, though, so we should be seeing the three characters move past the deceit to take down this syndicate over the final two episodes of the season (and there’s no reason that can’t be just as exciting).
– Sean Colletti