{TB Talks TV} Elementary Review: “The Best Way Out Is Always Through”

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Tweetable Takeaway: Elementary returns to its second-favorite theme in a spotlight episode for Detective Bell.

Airtime: Thursday at 10 pm on CBS

By: , Contributor

 

I’ve been asking for more Bell and Gregson, and tonight, Elementary at least gave us more Bell. That’s probably the best thing that can be said of “The Best Way Out Is Always Through”: It delivered some real substance for one of the characters Elementary has been short-shrifting, of late.

The idea that Bell is a kind of workaholic loner is longstanding, but it’s never been as explicit as it was in this episode. Sherlock alluded to those tendencies in this season’s other great Bell episode, “The Female of the Species” (a.k.a. The Zebra Episode). But Bell’s role in that episode was purely professional; he had increased prominence precisely because Joan was busy monopolizing the emotional storyline with her guilt and grief. In “The Best Way Out Is Always Through,” we get to actually see the effect of Bell’s isolationism on his life.

Detectives whose work interferes with their personal lives are not a new concept in procedural television, and Elementary in particular has been obsessed with the idea in the latter half of season three. But the show chose an interesting approach, this time around. Bell’s relationship isn’t ruined by too many late nights, or by an inability to connect with a non-cop partner, or by the Peter Parker Psychosis. Instead, it’s ruined by the biases imbued in him by his profession.

Don’t get me wrong, the episode pays lip service to the long hours and the darkness of the — but it does so in the course of explaining Bell’s relationship with Shawna is so special and important, because it’s one of the few he’s found where those factors don’t matter. Shawna is a detective like Bell; as he tells Joan, they understand each other. Unfortunately, as Joan discovers from Sherlock, and Bell discovers from Joan, Shawna is also an informant for internal affairs. And despite everything that Bell and Shawna’s relationship has going for it — and even from the little we get to see of the two of them together, it’s clear that there’s a lot going for it — is enough to make Bell call the whole thing off.

Police procedurals have a kind of tortured history with internal affairs. It’s obvious why; in 99 percent of procedurals, the characters we watch week to week are The Good Guys, and anybody coming in and investigating or interfering is likely to be The Bad Guy. And when IA shows up, they’re probably not going to be investigating the cop two desks over who we’ve never met before, you know? But the fact is, police departments need regulators. They need more regulators, and better regulators, and above all, they need police officers who cooperate with regulators. And this has never been clearer than it is right now.

So I appreciate that Elementary draws a distinction between Bell’s reaction to Shawna’s secret and the reality of it. Bell’s reaction, of course, is uniformly negative. He frames his feelings as those of betrayal; it’s not Shawna’s IA connections that he has a problem with, but the fact that she keeps them secret. But between the “rat squad” comments and the blunt way Bell defended his break-up to Sherlock — “She’s IA.” — it seems it probably wasn’t the fact that Shawna was secretly IA that turned Bell off. It was the fact that she was IA at all. Despite this, internal affairs isn’t a boogeyman in “The Best Way Out.” Sherlock and Shawna both defend the department vigorously, and when Shawna makes a career change at the end of the episode, it’s not to separate herself from IA; it’s to align herself with it more closely. This is not a typical procedural approach.

Two things allow Elementary to take this rather even-handed view. First, Shawna really isn’t there to investigate Bell or anyone else. She’s never in conflict with The Good Guys, so there’s no reason to make her The Bad Guy. Second, and relatedly, “The Best Way Out” is an episode built around telling Bell that he’s wrong. Okay, that sounds bad; what I mean is that Bell is the protagonist of this particular episode of television, so he’s the one who’s learning something. And in this case, what he’s learning is that sometimes, people you love are going to have radically different views from you. Sometimes they’re going to drive you mad. And that’s okay. The love is the important thing.

On its best days, Elementary is about the constant struggle to improve oneself. On its second-best days, though, this is what it’s about: accepting others into your life as they are. Not as you want them to be, not as you like them best, but as they are, in the hopes that you can enrich each other. Sherlock has been learning to do this since day one. Joan has been learning and unlearning it all season. And now, it seems, it’s Bell’s turn.

Case of the Week

You know, I looked at this week’s episode description, saw it involved for-profit prisons and a murdered judge, and was sure I knew where this was going: corrupt judge taking bribes to give out harsher sentences in order to keep prison beds filled. Weirdly, that’s not where the episode went, but for-profit prisons still didn’t come out of it looking too good. (I mean, it’s hard to imagine a story that could make for-profit prisons look good. They’re for-profit prisons.) Anyway, the actual plot ended up being a little more esoteric, involving the unnamed New Jersey governor, the Russian mob, and hazardous waste disposal. The worst you could say of this week’s mystery, honestly, is that it was forgettable — but that’s pretty much standard for Elementary.

Random Bits

– So, that was the actual Stanley freaking Cup.  I just. I need to know. Whose idea was it to have the Stanley Cup in this episode? Was it some kind of weird product placement? Or did the Elementary writers’ room really come up with a throwaway runner and then say, “Yes. We must do this. We must ask the NHL to loan us the Stanley Cup.” And then the NHL was like, “Yes. We must do this. We must loan the Stanley Cup to the second-most-famous Sherlock Holmes adaptation on television.”

– Less cool: NHL.com, which I visited in a futile attempt to answer the above question, described Joan as “Holmes’ assistant, Watson.” I can’t decide who would attack first after that, Joan or Sherlock.

– After a strong showing in the beginning, Watson kind of fell out of the second half of this episode. Weird, because Bell’s isolation was directly paralleled to hers.

– Watson’s a meddler, so it’s perfectly in character that she’d tell Bell about Shawna’s involvement with IAB, but something seems off to me about her violently negative reaction was to the news. There’s a tenacious streak of “play by the rules” in Watson, and I would tend to think that her view of internal affairs would be relatively neutral, unless they were investigating her or someone she cares about. Maybe that’s it — the proximity to Bell is what set her off. Anyway, it rang (ha!) a little strangely to me.

– So, we’re at the antepenultimate episode of the season, and no endgame in sight. Please tell me the role reversal/isolationism/MORIARTY storyline you’ve had in the back half of the season is going somewhere, Elementary. I need some kind of arc-based storytelling from you.

– Normally Elementary episode titles are opaque before you see the episode and really obvious afterward, but I gotta tell you, I have no idea where “The Best Way Out Is Always Through” comes from. Is it because there was a jailbreak? Except there wasn’t a jailbreak, really. And even if there were, what does it mean that the best way out is through? I mean, I get what the idiom means, but what does it have to do with anything?

Quotes’ll Be Watching You

– “The governor of New Jersey holds fundraisers in New York?” “Have you ever been to Trenton?”

– “Couple times I had to put her in the SHU. Oh, that’s solitary.” “We get Netflix.”

– “It’s statistics, Watson. It’s not that they fail more, it’s just that they don’t try.”

– “Spree killer is yet another category dominated by men.” “How does she do it?”

– “I have what some might call a strong personality.” “Nah.”

– “You think you broke us up with the power of your mind?”

– “She’s IA.” “The love of my life is a homicidal maniac. No one’s perfect.”

– “I don’t know which is weirder: the fact that I’m spending my Friday night with you, or the Stanley freaking Cup.”

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 is a freelance writer based in LA. She shares her generally unpopular opinions about television at stopitshow.blogspot.com.
Twitter: MadelynTheRose

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