The new year means the anticipated return of CBS' "Elementary." Admittedly, it hasn't been on break for long, but it was missed -- does the new year debut live up to the previous installments? Read on, dear reader!
Holmes' lifestyle gives slobs like me an excuse for our own messiness -- it's not a sink full of dirty dishes, it's the sign of an active mind! As Watson and Holmes argue over cleaning and organization of the latter's flat, halfway across town a hotel maid stumbles on a dead body stuffed into a running laundry machine. The victim is reportedly well-liked hotel manager Teri Purcell -- employees felt welcomed, a healthy relationship with her amateur athlete daughter (whom she helped recover from a pain pill addiction), etc. Really the only mark against her appears to be marital troubles, as her unemployed husband has been occupying Sofa City for some time now.
Of course, further prying into Purcell's life reveals her to have at least a few skeletons in the closet: a potential affair with a wealthy charity worker (guest star Jake Weber) for one, heralded as pure altruism and good-hearted volunteer work by the organizer. Purcell also played a hand in high-end prostitution at her hotel -- again, purely out of the goodness of her heart. A non-profit madam? Not quite. The truth is far more intriguing, and I hate to ruin such a great twist, but suffice to say that the Purcell's idyllic American life is a little too picture perfect.
Plot twists and compelling mystery aside, the characterization of our primary protagonists is once again the real selling point of the episode. With Watson's tenure as sober companion drawing to a close, this week's mystery serves to reveal that she is getting more out of Holmes' recovery than his steady sobriety. She flexes her investigative muscles at the Purcell household, identifying Teri's grieving daughter as a recovering addict and pointing out the neighborhood gossip as a person of interest. Having Watson take a more active lead in the investigation served to set the episode apart from some of the previous weeks' while also reinforcing the idea of her being genuinely inspired by Holmes' work.
While it's not explicitly stated, Miller seems to take a backseat through much of the investigation (for Holmes at least). Where a typical episode would see Liu's Watson linger in the background and interject on occasion, tonight's episode saw the roles reversed. Holmes still engages suspects, but also very clearly takes a step back to let his protege take the lead while he observes. He warns her of illicit content on videos and implores her not to watch; insistently agrees that he's counting the minutes until she's out of his life while simultaneously dropping hints that suggest otherwise. These points where Holmes leads his horse to the water in the hopes she might drink it (sorry, I couldn't think of a better metaphor) are easily the highlights this week, wonderfully laid out and well-performed.
Perhaps the welcome return of easily my favorite new series skews this reviewer's objectivity somewhat, but "Dirty Laundry" ranks among the best of the series so far. As we reach the halfway mark of the season, it bears repeating that where "Elementary" could have easily fallen flat on its face or, worse yet, gotten into the rut of the common CBS procedural, the Americanized Sherlock Holmes series has instead excelled. If you aren't watching "Elementary," you're missing out.
Final Grade: A