Elementary “Alma Matters” Review (Season 4 Episode 10)

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On the latest episode of “Elementary,” as things between he and Morland came to a head, Holmes and Watson tried to solve the case of a for-profit college accused of giving their students assignments of murder instead of degrees, in the cleverly-titled “Alma Matters.” But was the episode as clever as the title?

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, as with the last case, I figured out the culprit almost instantly, but on the other, I enjoyed the rest so much, I didn’t really care. As noted previously, the show has an unfortunate tendency to fall prey to either the whole “celebrity guest-of-the-week” who is clearly the guilty party or the whole “the culprit is obvious but we’ll make things unnecessarily convoluted to make up for it” gambit. Of course, there’s always option three, just in case: to make things so complicated no one could possibly guess who did it.

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But I digress. We all know that drill by now. It’s an unfortunate by-product of the crime procedural as we now know it. There are just so many of them out there, it’s tricky to try and come up with something new that isn’t “ripped from the headlines” at the same time as everyone else, or to stage something old in new clothing in such a way to divert attention from the fact that most everything that can be done has been done at this point.

For that reason, I certainly don’t envy the writers on shows like this. Nor am I one of these critics that think they could do any better. The truth is, there’s deadlines to meet, and the writers don’t always have the time to come up with something resembling genuine originality or to fine tune it so that all their ducks are in a row, in terms of everything making sense and lining up correctly- or to make sure ample time is devoted to each character from week to week, for that matter. It’s a tricky bit of business, to be sure.

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That said, even though it was obvious from the moment guest star Tate Donovan appeared on screen that he was the guilty party, I still enjoyed the case overall. Part of it was knowing the somewhat ironic casting of Donovan after his turn on “The O.C.”- he played a character that was constantly doing bad things for the right reasons, namely for his family, including borrowing money from people he shouldn’t have- so there was that.

But really, it was mainly the joy of seeing Holmes, who had bigger fish to fry, step in and lay things out at the end in classic murder mystery-solving fashion, albeit with the more modern trimmings via the PowerPoint-style murder evidence presentation. Also, as someone with outstanding student loans that I’ll probably be paying on until the day I die, perhaps there was some gratification to be had with the fact that a guy who was taking advantage of that was caught and humiliated in front of his peers like that as well.

Granted, given the very fact that Holmes had his hands full elsewhere, it would have been nice for the writers to let Watson have this one, especially as she showed early initiative in terms of having it under control in the grand scheme of things. Not to mention the fact that Bell and Gregson were on point as well. With so much leaning towards a “We’ve got this, Holmes”-style resolution, it felt a bit dismissive for Holmes to come in at the end and swoop in and solve it as if an afterthought to the rest of the episode.

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Of course, the case WAS an afterthought to the rest of what was going on, obviously, but that’s still no reason they couldn’t have spread the wealth a bit more. As I’ve discussed with various people, the trickiest part of a show like this is balance. You don’t want to eschew from solid character development, but at the same time, you want to deliver on the case-of-the-week.

It is, after all, a show based on one of the greatest fictional detectives ever created, which means not only should the cases deliver, but they should be reasonably smart and clever as well. Then there’s the overall matter of modernizing it for the masses in a way that goes down easier than the original tales.

That’s a lot to deliver in some forty-five minutes, sans commercials, but the thing is, the show has absolutely done just that in the past, so there’s no reason not to expect them to be able to do so again. Perhaps it IS too much to expect them to do it every week, but that hardly means they should stop trying, right?

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Thankfully, the (partial) resolution to the whole Morland and Holmes affair was pretty gratifying, so I can’t really complain about the rest too much. I mean, what fan of the show could have possibly complained about a scene in which Holmes told his father, without skipping a beat: “Here’s how you can be certain I’m not the one who tried to kill you- you’re alive.” So awesome- and totally rewarding in every way.

Yes, as we discovered, Morland was indeed being stalked by an assassin. But contrary to what he’d told former associate Lukas, he hadn’t killed his former associate- he just wanted Lukas to think that. The reason being, his former associate, Jasper DeClerq, had been hired to spy on him and report back to whoever was attempting to kill Morland. When his attempt had failed, Jasper was killed to tie up loose ends.

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The reason that Morland had failed to come clean about all this was that- drum roll, please- he’d thought that said assassin was Holmes himself! Turns out someone he’d hired to investigate the matter had gotten an eyewitness account that described the guilty party as matching Holmes’ description. Only said witness had mysteriously disappeared since, leaving Morland to have to puzzle out the culprit himself. Instead of going to Holmes as he should have, he came to New York himself to investigate and determine if he was indeed the one.

In the meantime, the two had become close, resulting in Morland recognizing the fact that it couldn’t have been Holmes after all. Unfortunately, the damage has already been done, what with Morland hiding so much of this from Holmes, thus proving in the process that Morland didn’t trust Holmes at all, and, in turn, how could Holmes trust him anymore? Despite that, he vowed to solve the case regardless, because that’s just what Holmes does.

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I don’t know if it’s remotely possible for these two to ultimately mend fences completely- too much nastiness has gone down between them- but at the very least, now they both know for real where each other really stands. Or do they? There’s part of me that’s still a bit suspicious of Morland- after all, didn’t Lukas seem to imply that Morland’s real motives for being there were less than pure?

Yes, the explanation we were given covers that, for the most part, but is that all there is to it? Part of me can’t shake that Morland is still up to something, but I suppose the fact that he has been suspicious of Holmes would explain his overall paranoia and give him ulterior motives for his actions thus far. I guess we’ll see, but I suspect at the very least, that he brought that assassination attempt on himself for doing something really dubious and whatever that is will shatter any remaining possibility of these two resolving things between them.

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So, all in all, an episode with some great moments that managed to make up for the obviousness of the case at hand. Love Watson’s reaction to Holmes’ tussle with the female mercenary (“Were you two in a fight, or were you having sex?” “The two aren’t mutually exclusive.” Lol) and Holmes taking out his father frustrations on a low-grade honey bear, in particular.

Interesting bit of info that Holmes bought the “cheap stuff” for not-so-dear old dad when he has the real deal at his disposal via his honey bees, BTW. It’s character detail like that which shows me that the writers do put some thought into these things, and can do a bang-up job with character moments when they put their minds to it. So much can be said with moments like these that need not be put into words, and yet all too often they forgo such moments for ones that aren’t entirely necessary, which is part of what’s so frustrating about the show at times.

That said, I’d just like to reiterate once again, for those who take these criticisms the wrong way that I really do love the show. It would be easy for me to say I’ve had it and ask to stop reviewing it altogether, but I would never do that because as much as it can discourage me when they do drop the ball, it’s still a damn sight better than most of the crime procedurals out there, and a large part of it is the writing, with the remainder being the strength of the cast at hand. I hate sometimes, because I love, in other words. Call it tough love, if you will, but I assure you I have their best interests at heart.

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What did you think of the latest episode of “Elementary”? Did you enjoy the case more than I did? Did you figure out who did it, or were you genuinely surprised? (Maybe it’s just me!) Were you satisfied with the resolution- or partial resolution, at least- of the situation between Holmes and his father? Do you think there’s more to it than Holmes knows? Or is all that’s left to resolve is who the assassin is and why they’re after Morland? Let me know what you think down below, and I’ll see you next week!