It’s a great time to be a Sherlock Holmes fan. The character is featured in a film franchise starring Robert Downey, Jr., a modern day retelling hit series on the BBC in England and even a series of audio plays, also produced in Britain. Not to be left out of the mix, the US has its own present day retelling of the mythos courtesy of CBS’ “Elementary.” Starring Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson, the venerable series has returned for its third season and finds the crime-solving duo no longer a team.
The ending of season two left Watson feeling like she needed some space from the eccentric private detective and Holmes has seemingly obliged by not only disappearing from their partnership, but also from New York. The premiere shows us a Watson who has firmly moved on with her life. She has flourished on her own as a private investigator and has a new boyfriend. She is still ably assisting NYPD Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) and Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill). Invariably, Holmes re-appears, but he finds his return less than warmly welcomed, especially when he introduces an ersatz Watson in the form of a new protégé, Kitty Winter(Ophelia Lovibond).
Of course, in typical Holmes’ fashion, he returns well before Watson, Gregson and Bell know he is back, even going so far as to have Kitty follow Watson on her latest case. This does not help repair his relationship with Watson, in fact quite the opposite. She agrees that he can return as a consultant to the police, but not as a partner to her. They work their own cases although she does allow that he may consult with her on more difficult cases. While he does assist with her current investigation, it is made clear that Watson is more than capable without him and has grown to be his equal in the investigative arts.
It is painfully obvious that Holmes greatly misses the dynamic between the two and has attempted to recreate that with Kitty. However, it is also as painfully obvious that the newbie doesn’t really fit the exacting standards set out by Holmes and, judging by a conversation she has with her predecessor, Kitty is not sure she really belongs under his wing. Kitty has plenty of vim and vigor, but her deductive reasoning skills aren’t as sharp as the famous team. I’m not sure yet where this will all lead, but there is a sense that it won’t end well for Ms. Winters.
Out of all the current Sherlock Holmes in the various formats, I think Johnny Lee Miller’s version might be my favorite right now. This Holmes is a recovering drug addict who understands that normal relationships are good, he just doesn’t know how to meaningfully pull them off. It’s obvious that he has a great deal of affection for all three of his colleagues, he just doesn’t always know what to do with that. Lucy Liu turns in a delightful performance as Watson and it has been a joy watching her grow from sober companion to first-class investigator over the last two seasons. Both leads continue to play off each other in new and unexpected ways.
There are a few moments that Holmes and Watson ignore the elephant in the room and work together as only they can. Whether or not that spark of the old magic will be enough to eventually reunite the pair remains to be seen. But this show is very good at making the characters earn their development and nothing happens easily. I’m very happy this show is back and look forward to where the story goes this season.