Poly families portrayed on CBS's prime-time "Elementary"
|Family photo in happier times.|
You can watch the whole episode here. It's titled "All My Exes Live in Essex" (43 minutes plus ads; season 4 episode 4, first aired November 26, 2015.)
Warning, spoilers ahead....
In the end, the murder had nothing to do with poly drama or moral comeuppance. The unusual families were an attention-holding plot twist and a misdirection from the eventual solution.
The polyamory theme begins at 15:30. Long before then, we have the corpse: Abby Campbell, a fertility researcher at a hospital. Holmes quickly discovers that she was having an affair with a doctor. Holmes and Watson show up at the home of her bereaved husband, also a doctor — and find the affair partner grieving right there with him. They were a triad living together, as Holmes instantly deduces from things like the different-size mens' shoes by the front door and the identical wedding rings the two men are wearing. He uses the term "throuple." They confirm it. BTW, they're bi.
|The bereaved being questioned.|
It turns out that their poly marriage was Abby's idea. She had been in a group marriage before, but she left it seven years ago after a fight.
The husbands explain to Holmes and Watson,
"Arrangements like ours happen more often than people think. For some people, it just works."
But in Abby's first marriage, "It ended badly. She had a falling-out with one of her fellow wives."
"There was a dispute. Over money. Community property. And she was still fighting it, years after."
That had been a household of six adults, two men and four women. The remaining five are still married, living in a big house with their six kids.
Holmes enlightens the incredulous Captain Gregson of the NYPD, as follows:
"Americans have experimented with every possible variation of matrimony, from the adelphic polygyny of the Omaha tribe, to the patriarchal polygamy of the early Mormons, to the free-love hippie communes of the 1970s. And while some of those experiments were abject failures, many were remarkably long-lived."
Abby's five exes are hauled in and interrogated.
|The rest of the former six.|
From them we learn that Abby had worked hard, earned a lot, and wanted to keep all of her income — but, they say,
"Denise insisted we all pool our money."
"It got a little ugly. Especially when it came time to buy the house."
"The house thing. That was when it all went bad. Abby had this inheritance. And Denise pressured her to use it as a down payment. Abby agreed, but she was never really happy about it."
The division was compounded by an imbalance in the two women's attractiveness to the men. After the arguments got bad, "She just left."
"She'd been trying to get that down payment back ever since. But giving it to her would have meant selling the house."
Which would have meant displacing their six kids. And, one of the two men looks pretty suspicious.
But then a new thread curls in from the edge of the picture. The all-too-sudden windup turns on an unsuspected twist that no viewer will have guessed. One of the characters is indeed the baddie, but not for anything to do with the family structures.
Verdict: The episode writer (Robert Hewitt Wolfe) was at least a bit sympathetic to the poly ideal, used it to hold the viewers and misdirect them into following their prejudices, and to do a bit of public-service educating about alternative family structures.
This reminds me of ABC's sympathetic subplot on "Private Practice" almost four years ago (Season 5 episode 10; January 5, 2012). I bet we can expect more.
● A scene-be-scene recap of the whole episode, at Celeb Dirty Laundry (scroll down).
● A thoughtful review by an expert on the series, at A.V. Club.
● Another review by a serious fan, at io9.