Paul Asay
Emily Clark
Kristin Smith

TV Series Review

Sherlock Holmes is impossible to kill.

Just ask Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who tried to ax the detective way back in 1893. He sent the guy, along with nemesis Professor Moriarty, off the Reichenbach Falls, presuming they’d never return. But Holmes himself could’ve warned Doyle of hasty presumptions: The public wouldn’t stand for their hero’s demise, and Doyle was forced to resurrect the pipe-smoking sleuth.

Doyle’s been dead for 80-some years. But his 19th-century creation? He’s doing just fine, thanks very much—boasting more incarnations than Doctor Who. Indeed, with an acclaimed BBC show (Sherlock) and a pair of big-budget movies to his name, Sherlock Holmes is arguably as popular as ever. He’s been given yet more new life on CBS’ Elementary—a reimagining of the classic detective in the 21st-century.

In both substance and spirit, the results are much less inscrutable than the clues Holmes so often has to face. Elementary’s Holmes shucks the CGI-action vibe of Robert Downey Jr.’s old movies, getting back to what the detective was always best known for: detecting. Nothing’s too small to escape his notice—even a stray thread or an off-kilter picture frame. He’s a mostly fitting heir to the original Holmes’ legacy, embracing the character’s tenacity, exasperating brilliance … and unfortunate flaws.

The Game’s Afoot!

This Holmes, like Doyle’s creation, is a drug addict—albeit a recovering one. It’s the reason why he moved Stateside, in fact. To kick his habit, Holmes punts his career at Scotland Yard, flies across the pond and checks into a New York City rehabilitation center where he’s subsequently paired with an in-house sobriety partner, Dr. Joan Watson—who herself unceremoniously stepped away from a medical career after a patient died under her care. And even after Holmes kicks his drug habit, Watson decides to stick around (although, in Season 7, Watson chooses to relocate with Sherlock, who makes a return to Scotland Yard).

Why, you ask? Well, it’s not because of Holmes’ wit and charm, that’s certain. He’s not exactly the life of a party—unless you like parties where people blurt out inappropriate remarks and sometimes accuse the guests of murder. No, it’s the work. See, while Holmes was conquering his addiction, he also served as helpmate to the city’s police force, solving cases by the boatload through force of intellect, determination and clever banter. Now that Holmes is well again, the work goes on. And for Watson, it’s interesting work indeed.

CBS is known for its sometimes gore-ridden crime procedurals. But Elementary feels a bit kinder, a bit gentler, a bit—dare we say—old-fashioned, as if digging more deeply into its Victorian-era roots. Granted, the quantity of violence and blood can be expected to vary wildly from episode to episode, as can mysteries that revolve around sexual dalliances of all stripes. And the criminally minded subjects broached can range from merely icky to devastating. This is a crime drama predicated on someone getting offed every week, after all. We see killings and dead bodies. Such is the nature of televised crime dramas: One episode may be incredibly problematic, while the next could pass muster at a genteel ladies’ tea (outside, naturally, the dead body in play). Yet generally, Elementary doesn’t sink its hands into the goop as much as some of its contemporaries. Instead, like Holmes himself, it tends to stay a bit above the fray.

The game that’s afoot here, though, may still require a bit of careful deduction.

Elementary Solutions, Secondary Questions

The crimes Holmes and Watson solve may have “elementary” solutions, but the ethics behind them sometimes need deeper consideration than the series lets on. Sure, we know the guy killed the girl … but should he have? What if she was in pain? What if she seems to have deserved it? And is it ever OK for Holmes to skirt the law to lambast the lawless?

These ethical conundrums are sometimes given the barest of mentions in the show itself, leaving viewers to trigger their own—unaided—investigations. Furthermore, Holmes is a cantankerous guy, prone to be prideful of his intellect and impatient with anyone who can’t keep up. It fits his character, but he’s hardly a template fit for unreasoning emulation. He’s also a classic empiricist: If he cannot see or hear or otherwise observe something, he’s skeptical of its existence and rationality.

At least this show allows for further thought, though, unlike so many of its peers. In a genre consumed with blood spatter and gratuitous content, Elementary often sticks more to the facts than the flourish.

Episode Reviews

Aug. 15, 2019: “Their Last Bow”

Three years after Sherlock’s “death” at the hands of crime lord Odin Reichenbach, Reichenbach has finally been sentenced to live out his days in prison. Watson starts to move on with her life, but the reappearance of an old enemy forces her to seek the help of her not-so-dead friend.

Sherlock’s former drug use and relapses are discussed in detail. We see a cut on his face that was the result of a “disagreement” he had with an unnamed culprit. Watson, Bell, and Gregson all express their anger with Sherlock for faking his own death: Bell actually punches him in the gut. A man’s body is found by the river. A case involving poison is mentioned and case photos show a bloody hand.

Watson smashes Sherlock’s headstone to send him a message. Gambling and cheating are mentioned. Women wear dresses with cleavage and adults drink alcoholic beverages. The Lord’s name is taken in vain twice, and we also hear the expletives “h—” and “b-llocks.” Some grave markers in the shape of a cross are seen in the background.

May 23, 2019: “The Further Adventures”

At the beginning of Season 7, we learn that Sherlock Holmes has been extradited to London after confessing to a murder (which, of course, he didn’t commit) to save his partner, Dr. Joan Watson. Once there, Holmes and Watson investigate a crime where a model was doused in acid. Back in New York, Detective Bell gets a promotion and urges Captain Gregson to mend a feud.

We hear that a police officer is shot and nearly killed as he lays, injured, on a hospital bed. A detective accuses a man of killing an entire family and hiring a hit-man to murder his wife. A doctor tries to kill a patient to cover up a critical error. Someone suffers a black eye after being arrested for breaking into someone’s home.

A model is mugged and doused with acid (her skin receives second- and third-degree burns). This same model is blackmailed, falsely accused of permiscuous behavior, beaten by a boyfriend (we hear) and later commits suicide by jumping down an elevator shaft.

A journalist incorrectly assumes that two women are lovers. A woman sports a bikini and receives (we hear) an inappropriate emoji via text. An elderly woman references her father’s orgy parties. An heiress consumes hard liquor. A journalist takes a picture of a drunk, scantily clad model and talks about vape juice.

God’s name is misused twice, “h—” “b–tard” and “d–n” are heard occassionally and British vulgarities such as “tosser,” “bugger” and “bloody” are uttered once. A woman is referred to as a “hussy.” An official is accused of being an “Ameriphobe.”

Aug. 20, 2018: “The Worms Crawl In, the Worms Crawl Out”

Holmes and Watson investigate the murder of a worm expert, who’s found buried and decaying in a huge tub of his favorite subjects. Meanwhile, Holmes looks into why the office of his doctor was robbed and his own medical file taken.

We learn that the man had several lovers (whom he romantically named worms after), all of whom were students or colleagues, and most of whom knew nothing about the other. One of his paramours, however, says that their relationship was more like “animals fulfilling a biological imperative,” and tells the detectives that she was with another lover—this one female—the night the unfortunate fellow was killed. A jealous husband of another woman caught wind of one of the affairs and admits to shooting the man three times in the chest. (Mysteriously, the man died by a screwdriver to the neck. We see the wound as part of a few glimpses of the man’s rapidly decomposing body.)

Holmes also unearths (Get it? Worms? Unearthed?) another forbidden tryst in a laboratory, this one between a scientist and an unseen paramour. (He notes the smell around a certain chair, as well as scratches on the floor beneath the chair which suggest a certain intimate rhythm.) We hear that someone took a trip to Niagara Falls with “a friend who is not my wife.” We see both Holmes and the worm scientist (while the latter is still alive) shirtless.

Body parts get churned out of a high-tech worm home, much to the surprise of onlookers. We hear that a corpse was likely cut up via radial saw. Holmes is attacked when he snoops through an apartment, being grabbed from behind. (Holmes grips the assailant around the neck after he gets the upper hand.) Holmes also works to solve a small mystery for a computer expert and learns that the expert’s girlfriend betrayed him during a video game mission. Dummies are shot and ooze fake blood. We hear about the deaths of thousands of genetically modified silkworms, along with acts of corporate sabotage. Someone admits to sending lots of death threats to lots of different people. Some spiders are referred to as “cannibals.”

We hear about “earthworm poop.” Various people steal various things. We hear about drug abuse and steroid use, and someone admits to running to get wine during an intimate encounter. Characters say “b–ch,” “d–n,” “h—” and “crap,” once each. God’s name is also misused once.

Elementary: May 5, 2018 “Once You’ve Ruled Out God”

A man is seemingly struck by lightning in the middle of New York City, and authorities call it an accident. Sherlock, naturally, suspects otherwise, and the trail soon leads to not just murder, but to a potential terrorist plot that could kill countless New Yorkers.

We see the dead “lightning” victim, including burn marks on his exposed skin. (We glimpse parts of his arms and torso, and we watch as Holmes and Watson note the electricity’s entry point on the lower part of his body.) Another corpse—this one a gunshot victim—is seen via crime photos as well. (The dead man was shot in the eye, and we see the moderately gory wound along with a pool of blood around his head.)

The first victim had a rocky relationship with his wife, with each spouse accusing the other of infidelity on occasion. (The wife confesses to carrying on an affair; her own accusations were intended to distract her husband from his suspicions.) Their relationship was volatile enough to warrant police intervention on a couple of occasions.

A bomb maker was part of a racist prison gang, but the gang leader says that the group’s racist image was a front for an in-prison phone smuggling operation. “The only color we cared about was green,” he says. A group of ne’er-do-wells targets a New York mosque, and we see worshippers flee the building. There’s some talk of illegal “pot farmers.” We hear references to opioids and other “meds.” There’s a reference to a bar. People drink wine.

When a police officer tells Sherlock that lightning killed the victim and that he’ll have to take the matter up with God (since it was apparently an “act of God”), Sherlock quips, “This man was not killed by God, nor by Zeus … nor by any other bolt-flinging deity.” Watson takes oranges to leave at her biological father’s gravesite, as is Chinese tradition; there, we see offerings of other sorts that have already been made. Characters say “d–n” three times and “h—” twice.

Elementary: Mar. 26, 2017 “Dead Man’s Tale”

Holmes, Watson and Det. Marcus Bell investigate the death of a man found stuffed in a storage locker. It turns out that the partially mummified victim (who apparently died of a sword wound) had found a 17th-century map to a pirate treasure, and it’s up to Holmes and Co. to find out who stole the map … and why. Also, Holmes is now convinced that a longtime informant on a ruthless drug gang is also an unconvicted murderer. He confronts the presumed killer in the hope of wriggling a confession out of him.

The killer, Shinwell, proves none too keen on making a formal admission of guilt. After Holmes accuses him, the man assaults Holmes on the sidewalk, smashing a bottle over his head and repeatedly kicking him in the gut before walking away. We hear about his past murder, too: Shinwell shot a friend three times in the back (“Blood was everywhere,” a witness says) before calmly walking away and tossing the gun in a trashcan. (We see a picture of the dead victim, bloody stains on the dead man’s sweatshirt.)

Holmes, Watson and Bell speculate on the motives and mechanizations of various ill-conceived schemes, and most of their hypotheses wind up being false. Bad guys lie and steal. Characters say “h—” three times. We hear references to someone drinking Mai Tais. There’s also talk of an old pirate who also worked as a legitimate captain (transporting rum). Someone asks for a beer.

Elementary: April 30, 2015

“The Best Way Out Is Always Through”

Holmes and Watson are on the tail of an apparent female convict, now on the loose and settling old scores. But when they discover that the supposed killer has been murdered—stuffed into a bin set to be buried in a hazardous waste site—they realize there’s more to this case than meets the eye.

Three people begin pushing up proverbial daisies. The first is found with a screwdriver buried in his chest. (Blood stains the man and his shirt.) Another is shot in the head. (The bloody bullet wound is visible as the victim lies in a pool of blood.) The third, it would seem, was strangled. One of the initial suspects is a political operative who carried on a long affair with one of the victims—a relationship that began when she was a law student and he was a teacher.

Detective Bell, meanwhile, is in a relationship with a fellow cop; the two kiss and talk about going back to her place. An advocate for criminals is suspected of having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a female prisoner. He admits the two flirted, but says, “I didn’t cross the line.” Holmes says his old flame is a “homicidal maniac.” And in unrelated news, he tells Bell he’ll likely be having sex in an hour’s time. He “steals” the underwire out of one of Watson’s bras for a test. We hear rumors of a wild party. Profanity is restricted to “h—” (which we hear twice).

Elementary: May 9, 2013

“Risk Management”

Holmes receives a call from a shadowy figure who calls himself Moriarty (sound familiar?) who wants his “help” solve a murder. Holmes agrees—mostly to learn more about Moriarty. (Holmes believes the nefarious figure may have been responsible for the death of Irene Alder, the only woman Holmes ever loved.)

Holmes describes Irene to Watson as a wonderful optimist—something he typically sees as a sign of imbecility. “And the sex!” he exclaims, saying he learned a great many things from her (leaving the insinuation open).

In flashback, we see a pair of murders—one where a man is hit on the head and stabbed twice in the chest, another where a woman is strangled on a kitchen floor. Pictures of a murder victim show bloodless stab wounds. Someone, we’re told, avenged his sister’s death by killing her apparent murderer, and has absolutely no regrets.

People lie. Suspects admit that they had an affair. Suicide comes up as a topic of conversation. Holmes has a crude exchange with Watson about defecation. There’s a restrained reference to sexual anatomy. We hear someone say “d‑‑n.”

Elementary: November 1, 2012

“Lesser Evils”

Holmes wrestles comically with corpses (whose bodies were donated to scientific research). But while he’s practicing choke holds on them, he spots a mysterious mark on one of the bodies that suggests, to him, that the man was murdered. By way of that lead, he and Watson uncover an “angel of death,” a former doctor who kills terminally ill patients to, ostensibly, put them out of their misery. “When a patient is in pain, dying is not a tragedy,” he says. “It is a release.” Holmes puts the man away, along with another doctor who knew about the “angel” and actually used him to kill one of his patients.

When Watson meets an old cohort, Holmes notices their mutual discomfort and wonders aloud whether it could be the product of a “failed Sapphic [lesbian] dalliance.” (It’s not.) A hospital resident is caught stealing and using morphine. Somebody says “h‑‑‑” (once).

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

Kristin Smith

Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).

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