Elsbeth Season 1 Episode 5 Review: Ball Girl


It can certainly be said that Elsbeth Season 1 Episode 5 took a detour from the camp of theater, reality TV,  and high-profile matchmaking

Serving a more serious tone, the episode Ball Girl gets right into play, putting a spotlight on Cliff McGrath, played by Quantico alum Blair Underwood.

In full-circle fashion, Underwood even had a guest appearance on Season 7 Episode 17 of The Good Wife.

And while he definitely brought his top-tier acting skills, it wasn’t enough to make up for the story’s shortcomings.

This episode had trouble picking its tone and asked many of its viewers to suspend belief beyond a regular person’s capabilities.

Elsbeth staring at evidence - tall - Elsbeth Season 1 Episode 5

First, there’s the means of the murder. A nitroglycerin-dosed towel that reacts fatally to the erectile dysfunction medication already in the victim’s system.

Speaking of towels, the writers must’ve thrown in theirs trying to come up with a clever way to kill off the deceased before settling on accidental double dosage by cotton blend.

Really makes you wonder what their other ideas might’ve been. It was clearly too soon to draw any figure skating sabotage inspiration.

This is a tough one to get behind since Cliff’s original transgression would have boiled down to unsportsmanlike behavior. And outside of professional sports, it might’ve even been considered a prank.

Instead, it was a topical agent tragedy.

Cliff looking serious - tall - Elsbeth Season 1 Episode 5

Unfortunately for Cliff, things snowballed pretty quickly. And just after losing his wife to an illness. When you take a step back, it’s hard to figure out what angle the show was trying to take with his character.

Are we supposed to dislike him because he had more faith in Hunter than his son did? Unlike every previous episode, Cliff was completely void of any murderous intent.

If all of that wasn’t bad enough, he gets partially blackmailed by what can only be described as the living embodiment of everything wrong with Gen-Z in the form of the ball girl, Ashlee.

A character whose dialogue was so forced, it felt nonconsensual to the ears. So mid, bro.

Even with the more serious tone of the episode, there were still moments that were face-palm worthy.

Detective Smullen: Is there anything else that you can think of?
Cliff: Yeah, this-this doesn’t have any kind of special insight. I just follow Yoyo like any other tennis player. But if you ask me, you should be looking at the Russians.
Detective Smullen: The Russians?
Cliff: Yeah, he was pretty outspoken after the invasion. I think he got under Putin’s skin. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time this guy put a hit out on someone.

Seriously? The Russians? I don’t even think Putin could be that petty. And he’s a libra.

Luckily, Elsbeth stayed consistently and unapologetically sweet enough to cause diabetes.

At this point, it feels like everything she says or does is all part of her strategy. One that never seems to end. There’s no way to tell when she’s gonna come out with just enough sarcasm for a gentle sting.

Detective Smullen: This is why people don’t like lawyers
Elsbeth: Really? I thought it was the frivolous lawsuits and overbilling.

As always, she tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, no matter who she’s speaking to. And suspects are no exception.

However, it has to be said that “Ball Girl” lacked Elsbeth’s more organic approach to deduction. Unless this episode was foreshadowing her development of psychic powers, some of the dots she connected were just about completely plucked out of thin air.

She rubbed a warm towel on her face, and that’s all it took for her to figure it out.

Elsbeth thinking in pink plaid - tall - Elsbeth Season 1 Episode 5

Sadly, Officer Kaya barely made an appearance this episode, with Detective Smullens taking up more screen time with his patented eye rolls and overdone disdain for Elsbeth.

Isn’t the sour-puss detective who’s hardened by years on the force trope due for retirement? Detective Smullens certainly is.

Speaking of law enforcement officials who take themselves too seriously, Captain Wagner is definitely on to Elsbeth and what really brought her to New York.

Unlike every murderer depicted in the show thus far, the Captain managed to pull a fast one on the titular character.

Granted, it was technically a nice favor for her son, but on paper, it’s not going to look good that the person sent to investigate him is now reaping personal benefits.

Elsbeth Seems Happy Season 1 Episode 5

Plus, Wagner’s last-second, oh-so-obvious comment felt sharp enough to cut through the fourth wall.

I think of us as friends. And I’m sure you’ll do the same for me one day.

Captain Wagner

That moment was a saving grace for the episode because it at least left viewers with a little suspense.

Seeing this calculated side of the Captain has me flip-flopping between his possible innocence and guilt. He didn’t get to being captain on just his good looks.

“Howcatchems” are a unique kind of detective premise, and it certainly takes a level of writing skill to craft convincing and screen-worthy scenarios.

Captain Wagner Pic - Elsbeth Season 1 Episode 5

This episode of Elsbeth definitely dropped the ball in that regard.

The acting was on point, but it was just about impossible to push through the far-fetched premise and the ridiculous dialogue.

After such strong opening episodes, it’s hard not to label this one as a filler.

However, one bad egg doesn’t mean you throw out the whole dozen. Elsbeth has proven to be a cunning and comedic show that Carrie Preston has no problem carrying on her shoulders.

Cliff: I’m sorry. I didn’t get your name.
Elsbeth: Oh, Eslbeth Tascioni.
Cliff: I actually have a cousin named Elsbeth.
Elsbeth: Tell her I’m sorry

If nothing else, it’s always fun to see who’s familiar face will be committing murder each week. That came out a little darker than intended. Much like this episode.

Cliff smiling - tall - Elsbeth Season 1 Episode 5

What did you think about Season 1 Episode 5?

Can the show recover from this unforced error?

And how do you think the dynamic between Elsbeth and Captain Wagner is going to change going forward?

Drop a comment below and tell us what you think!

Joshua Pleming is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. You can follow him on X.

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