Spotters of Conan Doyle references will have no problems with the massive clues dished out early on in this episode, The Five Orange Pipz. The pointers are all towards The Five Orange Pips, in which the drama revolves around sinister messages and a locked trunk full of incriminating papers from America, and Holmes untypically loses a client and fails to get his man. Elementary’s take on the tale starts off with two murders, in each case the victim having received five orange beads – children’s playthings called Pipz – in the post.
In the original story, the sinister envelopes are marked ‘KKK’, so it doesn’t take the modern reader any time to work out that the Klu Klux Klan is involved. In Elementary, some of the same character names are used, such as Elias Openshaw, but the plot’s more about revenge and responsibility.
Holmes is back at work in the precinct, Watson having accepted his presence on the understanding that they will not be working on the same cases. We sense she’s still angry at the presence of Holmes’ new protégé Kitty, and when he offers a précis of Kitty’s background to Detective Bell, we suspect that the full story isn’t being told. Bell, slightly thrown by Holmes’ return, is still grateful enough to accept his analysis of a baffling murder case, which Holmes clears up simply by flicking through the file.
It’s a bit of a surprise, then, that Watson so readily accepts Holmes’ help on the Pipz double – “Two bodies, two detectives,” she suggests, grateful enough to have the benefits of Holmes’ research into the mysterious orange plastic Pipz, and the tragic story behind their manufacture and disastrous distribution. This part of the plot is ripped fresh from the headlines – er, from 2007, when a similar case of unintentional poisoning of children filled the news. Maybe the writers of Elementary are just catching up with their reading.
It doesn’t take long to narrow down the list of suspects in the double killing to four. Bell and Kitty investigate one possibility, though the young detective’s attempts to probe Kitty’s personality and background are met with an extremely frosty reception (if what we know about Conan Doyle’s Kitty Winter holds true, Elementary’s Kitty must have massive trust issues with men of all kinds).
Kitty further blots her copybook by antagonising a State Department lawyer who was investigating the murdered men, and earns a roasting from Sherlock. But as it’s obvious to the viewer that the lawyer is as phoney as a $3 bill, it’s no surprise when the investigation takes off in a new direction.
Kitty, feeling squeezed out by Watson, goes off in a huff, and when the dynamic duo finally crack the case without her help, she gets clobbered with another bon mot straight from Conan Doyle, but in this case A Study in Scarlet – “Genius”, Sherlock reminds her, “is an infinite capacity for taking pains.”
There are unexpected plot twists and some satisfying character development in this episode. However, the villain’s motivation seems entirely implausible, given that there must have been loads of possible ways to achieve the same ends without leaving a trail of bodies.
Also, while we’re given a bit more information about Kitty’s background, this doesn’t render her spikiness and sulkiness any more endearing, and she doesn’t bring enough to the detection table to justify her presence. The emotional separation between Holmes and Watson could well be maintained, as it was in the original canon, by Watson’s development of an independent sex life, so surely it’s not necessary for Kitty (literally, in one scene) to push herself between them. No, we’re not warming to Kitty, it’s safe to say.