Elementary, Season 2: Episode 24 – “The Grand Experiment”
Written by Robert Doherty & Craig Sweeny
Directed by John Polson
Returns to CBS in the Fall for a third season
If I had to guess how the second season of Elementary was going to end, I wouldn’t have landed anywhere near the tone of “The Grand Experiment,” which reverses last season’s triumphant finale by blowing up the core of the series. If the episode isn’t quite somber, then it’s teetering on pessimistic at the very least. Strangely, though, there’s plenty of story that feels totally satisfying and, in some cases, rather heartwarming. Take, for instance, Mycroft Holmes: although he’s essentially banned from Elementary proceedings in the immediate future, he avoids death in the face of difficult circumstances. He also gets the best character beat in the episode when he goes to hug his brother as Sherlock is chastising him for being some version of “dumb” or another. “I love you, brother. This last year has been a gift.” And it really has been, especially for viewers of the series who have had the fortune to see it mature with the help of characters like Rhys Ifans’ Mycroft. Here is an arc that took over the race to the finish line and concluded in a way that can plainly be described as satisfying.
Yet, that part of “The Grand Experiment” masks the fact that things with Sherlock and Joan…well, they’re not great, Bob! We don’t see Sherlock partake in the drugs he’s stashed, but we’re meant to assume that that is a realistic possibility. We do see Joan calling landlords about finding an apartment–through Sherlock’s perspective–which is the catalyst for going to the drugs. And by the episode’s end, Sherlock is willingly walking into MI6’s ranks, where the Holmes family clearly doesn’t have a particularly great track record in. It’s hard to anticipate where next season of Elementary will pick up, since I can see versions of the show that jump various amounts of time ahead, Joan perhaps already fully settled into her new place and Sherlock deep into some espionage work for the British secret service agency. Whatever those decisions are, “The Grand Experiment” clears pathways for its two central characters, and none of them look very appealing in terms of attaining contentment and stability.
The show is correct to point out that ever since Mycroft came into the picture, things have gone haywire for the Elementary heroes. What’s odd to me is how those characters take so long to reveal truths that might otherwise have saved them some grief. Why does Joan wait this long to tell Sherlock about what’s actually been going on with Mycroft and his involvement in MI6? Why did Mycroft wait that long to tell Joan in the first place? Although the scripts have taken half-hearted attempts to answer those questions, they aren’t totally convincing and, instead, just seem to be there for narrative purposes–which, really, is fine at the end of the day (these contrivances wouldn’t be television tropes if they weren’t things that were common and that commonly worked). The key, then, is to make sure those secrets have some kind of weight once they’re revealed. And despite the fact that Joan was probably a little too quick to go back to being enamored with Mycroft after finding out how he sacrificed himself for his brother, seeing Mycroft feel that weight in “The Grand Experiment” lands perfectly. There is something so forlornly sad in Ifans’ eyes in this hour as desperation and exhaustion set in, and he had me convinced that Mycroft genuinely regrets some of the paths that he’s taken that have led him to endangering people he legitimately loves. That is how to utilize a disruptive character–not only to build him up as an interesting entity on his own, but to fit him in in a way that affects the status quo of the series and challenges its characters. I didn’t expect Elementary to have the audacity to kill off a character so hugely important at him, but I still feel relief that Mycroft will be out there somewhere in the universe (maybe having a cup of tea or a pint with Moriarty).
Still, the whole thing is a bit heartbreaking, which probably makes the decision not to show Sherlock doing drugs a good thing for fear of overwhelming the viewer. His speech to Watson as he’s re-creating a blood-spattered crime scene about being willing to change for her is about as emotionally naked as the character has ever been. It is his form of begging. But it’s a testament to the writers that they maintain Joan’s strength by not allowing her to fall back into Sherlock’s orbit. The Sherlock-Joan pairing has been one of the finest platonic relationships on television in the past couple years. With a network like CBS, you might expect to see that relationship left alone. Clearly, though, Robert Doherty and Craig Sweeny know that friendships as beautiful and important as this aren’t without their problems, and that is something we’ll apparently have to see in action when the series returns next year.
On the whole, this season of Elementary has been a step up from a solid debut season (which, for my money, was co-Best in Class for the surviving Fall 2012 premieres, tied with Arrow). “The Grand Experiment” was serialization in great execution, but the season has done a wonderful job of making those stand-alone episodes work through means of creativity (with murder scenes and whatnot) and finding character-based stories to work around. Gregson and Bell got a little more to do, though they still haven’t become essential parts of the series and they do very little in this finale other than be appropriately annoyed at Sherlock for not telling them certain information. And while I would still rather see a 15-episode season of Elementary to trim some of the fat that comes with being on the broadcast networks, the filler material looks to be declining. If next season can find another character like Mycroft to build around for 5-8 episodes, it should see the same amount of success as this season (relative to quality; the ratings this year were actually a noticeable drop-off, so hopefully the fact that the series won’t be going up against ABC’s Scandal this coming Fall means it will stop the bleeding). Regardless, this is still one of the networks’ sharpest dramas, and if it hasn’t become appointment viewing yet, the potential is still there.
– Sean Colletti