It’s elementary

By Evangeline Jennings
Recently I’ve written and ranted at length about TV, storytelling, and the lessons that writers can draw – whether we are talking serialization, planning a sequel, or the best place to end a chapter. Today I’m going to talk about what TV looks like when it does it right. My previous pieces in Cliffs format:

Network TV is so scared of failure and driven by the need to recoup and return for another season that all consideration for a Good Story has been lost and usurped by the formulaic and lemming-like rush for a cliffhanger – no matter how mundane and laughable. This is an especially serious mistake if you sacrifice the integrity of your storyline or characters.

The season finale of Elementary was a picture perfect example of TV doing it mostly* right. What follows will contain spoilers. But not too many.

If you haven’t seen Elementary – which is inexcusable unless your name is Vertue, Moffat, or Thundersnatch – then you should know that it is another excellent modern times reboot of the Sherlock Holmes story in which Watson is a hottie – Lucy Liu – and Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes is a recovering addict. It’s set in Manhattan.

You named a bee after me?
You named a bee after me?

Since early January, the first season of Elementary has been building towards a showdown between Holmes and the shadowy super-villain Moriarty. During the season finale, this happened:

  • Moriarty knocked Holmes off his game
  • All butt hurt, Holmes withdrew from the struggle feeling second best
  • Although carrying a nasty wound, Holmes made a come back
  • Nonetheless, he couldn’t stop Moriarty’s master plan
  • Lucy Liu saved the day
  • Moriarty did not pass Go and did not collect $200 en route to a high security federal prison

It was a good story, told well, and it was particularly good to let Watson do more than wear another of her teeny-tiny skirts – not that I’m complaining. But, more importantly, THIS IS WHAT DID NOT HAPPEN.

  • Moriarty did not escape after the credits
  • None of the major characters died in the final shot. No Schrödinger’s Richard Webber for Elementary
  • No one has only twenty-four hours to save the earth
  • There was absolutely no fucking cliffhanger.

The finale was entire and complete in itself.

And yet.

I can’t wait for the next season. I know, like, and trust these characters. They did nothing I wouldn’t have expected them to, and everything I might have wanted from them. And I will spend parts of my summer missing them, wondering where their stories will take them next, and hoping that Moriarty still has a major role to play.

So what’s the lesson here? Be true to your story and characters. Don’t insult your readers with cheap tricks or invite them to laugh at you. Give them characters they can trust and care about, and stories that stick in the mind, and they will return for your next book. And the one after that.

*The scene where Holmes puzzled over the clue “BN32MACEDONIANSUN” was preposterously bad. After all, we know he knows how to use Google.


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