‘Elementary’ Season 5: The Art of Landing Moving Targets

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First and foremost, congratulations are in order: “Elementary” was indeed renewed for a sixth season! As much as I wish that CBS would stop putting us through all this every year, at least the outcome was positive. Still, it would be nice if the show had a heads-up about these sorts of things, at the very least so that they could prepare a suitable ending for the series so much of us love, instead of being stuck with whatever we end up with every season.

This is not to say that the endings of the seasons have been terrible or anything, just that I imagine that if the showrunners were alerted, they could put together something that gave things a fair amount of closure, which they can’t if they don’t know, obviously. So, yeah, glad it was renewed, but not a big fan of the whole last minute notice thing, and I’m sure that goes double for the showrunners!

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So, as my longtime and more recent readers know, I’ve been covering several episodes at once as of late, because of a site format change. Last time out, I even covered an episode before it aired, because I’m psychic like that. Kidding. I tend to watch online, like a lot of people these days, so I wasn’t aware until late in the game that such was the case, and I’d already written the review, so…I just added a warning and let the cards fall where they might, as we have due dates for these things and all.

This time out, I’m going to reverse that somewhat and only cover three out of the four that have aired since my last review, not only because that’s a lot to deal with, but because it seems clear to me that the last two will be connected, just as several of the ones I’m about to review are likewise connected, which lends them to being reviewed together. Plus, you won’t have to wait as long this time, as the finale is coming up soon, so it all works out in the end, right?

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Ok, let’s get started. The big through-line to these three episodes was, of course, the Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill) situation. We all knew that the whole Roy (Robert Christopher Riley) thing wasn’t going away that easy, and sure enough, it got worse before it got better, with Bell’s girlfriend and Roy’s ex, Chantal (Chasten Harmon) ending up assaulted by the end of the first episode at hand, “The Art of Slights and Deception.”

In addition, Bell was being investigated by Internal Affairs, because of a man complaining Bell pulled a gun on him while he was off-duty, even though we know good and well it wasn’t true and that it was almost certainly connected to Roy somehow. As it turns out, the man who filed the complaint was actually a neighbor of Roy’s a few years back and owed him a favor. Watson gets to the bottom of it and gets a confession and Roy is at long last arrested.

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Unfortunately, the celebration is short-lived, as Bell goes to tell her the good news and finds her on the floor in a pool of blood, seemingly dead. Thankfully, we find out in the next episode, “Fly into a Rage, Make a Bad Landing” that she is not, but naturally, Bell is benched from investigating the case in earnest, though, if you’ve seen a single show like this, you know that’s not going to happen entirely, nor does it here.

The bigger revelation, though, is that Bell himself was the victim of abuse, as was his mother, at the hands of his father, which explains why Bell has had a certain type of specific reaction to cases in which women have been abused in the past. Of course, in this case, he has a very good reason to, as it was his girlfriend that was attacked, and, even worse, he suspects that her ex was the one who did it- and that he may have exacerbated the situation, however unintentionally.

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The fact that the show lets Roy off the hook of the attack is almost unfortunate- it would have deepened that feeling in Bell that much more and given his character a lot of opportunity to self-examine in a way he doesn’t quite get to. Although, I suppose the implication that he’s going to be going to therapy to help with that was something, at least.

On the plus side, the scene in which he was going to beat that guy down and Sherlock stepped in and did it at the last minute instead- albeit unasked- did show that, when rubbed the wrong way, and without the proper outlet to vent his frustrations, it’s entirely possible Bell might actually do something questionable in spite of his typically moralistic self. I suppose one could say that about almost anyone, though.

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The fact that Sherlock foresaw this happening and took that bullet for Bell, in spite of sort of “robbing” him of that moment- which probably would have been much worse if Bell had done the attacking, by his own admission- shows how close the two have become in more recent years. They truly are friends now, not just colleagues.

Still, as it stands, despite an odd tendency to rob the Bell character of these potential moments I mentioned, this episode in particular remains a very nice showcase for Bell that gives Hill plenty of chances to show his dramatic chops in a way he rarely gets to, at least to this extent, which is always welcome.

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Besides, if, say, it had been Roy who attacked Chantal, or if Bell had attacked that guy, it might have written the writers into a corner, as there would have been decided consequences to both of those things for Bell if they had gone south that would have been hard to unravel adequately in a way that didn’t result in Bell losing his job and/or his freedom.

Look no further than the whole Kitty arc- after she did what she did, they all but had to write her off the show, then when they brought her back, the way the writers had to twist things around to make it work was dubious at best, contrived at worst. But that was a “new” character, whereas Bell has been there from day one, so I think people were slightly more willing to let it slide.

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Imagine instead if Bell had been fired and/or arrested for his actions- I’m guessing that probably wouldn’t have gone over too well with fans. Hence, I get why the writers did it the way they did, even if they sacrificed what could have been even more powerful moments in the process.

Besides, we did get some incredibly tense ones in their place- when Bell nearly beat down Roy at the hospital, when he was mulling over whether or not to attack that guy he knew was an abuser, the scene in which Gregson confronted him, and so on. So, you win some, you lose some. Better to have gotten a Bell-centric episode, even a compromised one, than not to get one at all, I say, so the writers get a pass on that one.

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Instead, the writers chose to pull the trigger on Shinwell, understandably. Like I said, “new” characters tend to get the more radical exits on “Elementary.” We’ll get into that whole thing in my next TV Chat, but until then, just be glad that it was him and not Bell, am I right? Of course, Shinwell seemed kind of doomed from the start, but that’s another conversation. Bell, though… I think he’s more integral to how the show functions. We need him and Gregson, to balance things out with Holmes and Watson, I think.

As for the main cases, “Art” revolved around a magician’s death, and I’m a sucker for that sort of thing, even though, somewhat ironically, real-life magicians tend to annoy me, i.e. Criss Angel, David Blaine, et al. I do tend to give Penn & Teller a pass because they’re kind of awesome, and not just magicians, but also kind of historians- see their Showtime show, for instance- and proud debunkers of con men, so I can get behind that.

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I saw them actually do the bullet trick that the episode opened with one time in Vegas and it was pretty awesome. Note also that Blaine has been doing the trick as of late and nearly blew his face off recently– leave the real tricks to the big boys, Blaine, and stick to your blocks of ice or glass coffins or life-sized bidets or whatever you’re encasing yourself in these days.

Interestingly, on a side note, as viewers of the short-lived-but-enjoyable “Houdini & Doyle” and those familiar with the IRL Sir Arthur Conan Doyle know, Doyle was a “true believer” type when it came to the spiritual and supernatural, whereas Houdini made it his life’s work, after a point, to debunk con artists passing themselves off as “spiritualists” and “mediums” and the like, much as Penn & Teller do now.

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Anyway, I love movies like “The Prestige” and “The Illusionist,” as well as movies that pull the wool over your eyes somewhat, like “The Sting” and “The Grifters,” so I really enjoyed the “Art” episode. I dug the whole way Holmes figured out who the author of that magic book was, the faux gun threat note, the thing with the melon, the not-quite-right playing cards and the whole Nazi angle. Sometimes the show will go on tangents that never lead anywhere- i.e. that conspiracy theory a few episodes back about Chernobyl- but are so cool you wish they had led to something.

Here, they actually did. Sure, there were some blind alleys here and there- the whole gambling debt angle, in this case- but really, it all tied together nicely in the end. Besides, this is a crime procedural at its heart- there’s always gonna be red herrings. All in all, though, a really enjoyable ending and episode on the whole. (Special shout-out to the gun-firing Bethesda (Chivonne Michelle), who gleefully volunteered for the task: “Stay weird, sweetie!”, indeed. Also, a big eew to the very idea of the “Judas Cradle.” Ick!)

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Next up, the “Fly” episode, which mostly revolved around the Bell/Chantal situation. In addition, Roy was eliminated, so I guess we won’t be hearing from him again, thank God, so those two can rest easier now. Instead, we discovered that Roy was set up as the murderer when he found out about a divorce lawyer that was ripping off the men whose wives he was representing by finding out how much they were really worth (including hidden bank accounts and the like) and blackmailing them for a cut of the money to keep it quiet from the wives so they wouldn’t lose a more significant amount than they would have otherwise.

Roy asked for a cut of the cash, but got greedy and the lawyer had him eliminated by setting him up for Chantal’s attack, then faking his suicide. To do so, he had to buy Roy’s urine from a drug tester, so that he could plant it at Chantal’s to make it look like Roy peed on the bed! Can I get another ick?

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Needless to say, Holmes and Watson got to the bottom of all this in between talking Bell off the ledge of going ballistic on Roy or anyone else. A good episode overall, thanks to Hill, and that scene with Bell and Holmes commiserating about past abuse was touching (ditto Holmes’ gentle handling of the abused wife), but that business with the Country Club and the Wanted Man doppelganger was a bit far-fetched. What, Holmes couldn’t have called in a favor from Morland? Seems a lot easier than the lengths he went to!

Finally, we had the episode “Moving Targets,” nicely directed by star Lucy Liu, which revolved around a reality TV show involving a paintball tournament where the winner gets a sizable amount of money. When one of the frontrunners is killed, they suspect one of the competition, but it turns out it goes a lot deeper than that, because of course it does. It seems that the woman killed was a police chief who might have found out something she shouldn’t have about one of said contestants.

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It seems that her fiercest competition was a former Ugandan child soldier, which would normally be a pretty interesting and intriguing twist, but, perhaps needless to say, suffers a good bit from following an episode in which someone was proven to be a “hidden” Nazi. He admits that it is true, but says that he didn’t kill her, but that she was into something shady as he saw her at a Mob-connected strip club while he was following her to size her up as one of his leading competitors.

Turns out she was working security for the owner and his family, and was looking into some potential dirty cops that were taking bribes. The owner introduced him to his money launderer to help her with the case. Holmes suspects that the police chief may have been murdered by whoever was paying the bribes, who he thinks is the CEO of a gun manufacturer, who was paying off lawmen to land big money contracts to sell guns to their respective agencies.

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The CEO fully admits it, but said he had no reason to kill the female police chief as he was already under investigation by the FBI and is under arrest and working on a plea bargain to get out of it somehow. In other words, he’d already been busted, so if she’d confronted him, he would have simply told her she was too late, so there was no motive to kill her for it.

Holmes in turn thinks that maybe it was the doctor who did it after all, aka the former child soldier, and that maybe he was working with the CEO to supply guns to Uganda for the rebels there, which would be an executable offense if he was caught by Uganda officials. The police chief found out and he was killing her to cover it up.

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Holmes tells the producer of the TV show this, and we discover that it was all a ruse to make one of the producers blink and try and plant the gun used to kill the chief on the doctor to frame him for the crime instead, as Holmes wasn’t quite sure which one it was. Sure enough, the male producer goes and digs up the gun and the cops, who have been following him, catch him in the act and bust him.

Turns out he was an ex-Texas Ranger who was among those who took a bribe for the contract from the CEO and feared he was about to be exposed by the police chief. Ironically, as the CEO had already been found out, the producer was going to be busted anyway, so there was no reason for her to die in the first place, but he didn’t know the CEO had already been busted, so… whoops!

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This was a decent enough episode that was only slightly marred by the unfortunate fact that it had certain elements in common with the episode that preceded it, as well as at least one other previous episode involving a reality TV competition, the name of which escapes me at the moment. It’s possible I might be getting “Elementary” mixed up with another crime procedural that has done a similar plotline before, but I don’t think so. Maybe one of you can identify it- I don’t think it was this season, though.

But the bigger problem about this and a few other episodes this season- or in general when it comes to crime procedurals- and I’ve discussed this before, is what I like to call “guest star syndrome,” which is where you know who done it almost right away because of a recognizable actor in the suspect pool. When there’s several it’s not so bad, but in this case, there wasn’t, as Mark Delkin, of “Designated Survivor” and “Devious Maids” fame, among many other TV shows, was the clear culprit, being the only one I was familiar with, actor-wise.

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Don’t get me wrong: actors gotta eat. But I feel like there should be an unwritten rule whereby all the suspects on a CP should either be unknowns or recognizable faces, that way you don’t just immediately know it’s probably the known guest star. Am I right? Of course, the network argument would be: like we can afford to hire a bunch of known suspects every episode, so I get it, but it would help if they didn’t make the guest star that’s known the killer almost every freaking time, you know? Why not let THAT be one of the red herrings? (As in you thought it would be the known actor, but PSYCH- it wasn’t!)

I know, I know, preaching to the choir here. But you have to admit, it happens a LOT. Beyond that, though, which I suppose is to be expected at this point, it was still a pretty enjoyable set of episodes overall. My fave of the bunch, case-wise was probably “Art,” but from a character standpoint, it was definitely “Fly” for the Bell arc’s conclusion alone. (As I said, we’ll get into the Shinwell business in the next TV Chat.)

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Well, that about covers it. Join me next week for a review of the last few episodes, including a much closer look at the Shinwell arc’s conclusion. Until then, thanks for reading, and be sure to let me know what you thought of the three episodes and especially let me know if I left out something you loved, which is entirely possible, given this 3-for-1 format!

  • ptjackson

    I get your point about the guest star being the criminal – it is fairly common to happen, but I also tend to focus on the motive as much as the perp, so figuring that out takes away some of the attention from the knowledge of whodunit.

    I also agree with you about Bell and how they made the best decision possible – I would have been very unhappy if Bell had to leave the show – I like him bunches!

    so happy we get another season – just not on Sunday, pretty please, CBS?