Towards the tail end of the episode there’s a moment where Sherlock talks about “basking in the enlightenment of rediscovering what mastery of a craft can cause” and I understood. I basked in this episode, I watched on in awe as this little show that could found its footing in an episode that showcased great character growth, emotion and arcs. It was a feeling that compares to when you find that one particular song that perfectly fits the mood, it’s the feeling of a movie exceeding your expectations, it was the feeling of watching a show that you didn’t expect to enjoy based on preconceptions, and watching as from its lackluster beginning it grows and simultaneously begins to impress. It impressed not only with skilled writing but with the energy that it instills and the adoration that’s blossomed for these two characters that I believed I knew so well before, and are constantly surprising me and viewers alike.
I’ve always been a little biased toward crime procedurals, seeing them as nothing else but a way in which to glorify and fetishize violence, and especially in some shows, violence against women. It seemed from an outside viewer’s standpoint that rather than the narration running the show it was instead the crimes. I’ve yet to be fully satisfied with a crime that Elementary has come up with, either finding it too easy to figure out, or finding the antagonist so out of left field that I never would have guessed it in the first place (such as tonight’s). However, after tonight and the way they wrote it, I found that I preferred it that way. Rather than being a show that’s about the crime, it’s about the man and woman who solve them. While not an excuse for all of the mishaps this series has shown, this week it is. The episode wasn’t about the big baddie of the week, but it was about the process of solving the crime, the many suspects that needed to be dug through, and the fact that sometimes the outcome isn’t nearly as satisfying as the process of getting there.
The tone that the opening sets is not one that accurately represents the following hour. It starts with a slickly shot scene of a precise robbery taking place, followed by a cut to Sherlock’s apartment where sisters are leaving after a night of entertainment with him.
So let’s just jump to the case.
An engineer stops by Sherlock’s to try and convince him to solve a case about a theft that took place at the company he works for. Seeing this as an opportune moment to show off, he follows the man only to be stuck, stumped for almost the entire day and well into the late night, trying to decode the vault where the theft took place. At some point Watson shows up and tries to talk him into letting it go but instead ends up accidentally encouraging him to simply take an ax to the machine.
She tells them she thinks he’s behaving out of the aftermath of the addiction. He’s acting compulsively and obsessively but without the effects of the drugs, stimulating a similar feeling.
I’m assuming audiences agreed with the assumption.
This leads to a series of events. He ends up at a prison with the most proficient lock decoder in the world (and I know we were all hoping for a Moriarty mention in there somewhere, but, alas).
This leads them to a man who has a stolen painting, but the perpetrator has been living with the effects of a stroke, so that puts him out of the running for the most recent crime. They follow the trail of breadcrumbs to a jury who seems to have one juror who was covering something up. They go through the line of them, finding two deaths in the process, and finally after some DNA testing come to the conclusion of their case.
Short, simple, sweet and to the point.
Now onto the more interesting stuff: Watson, her family and her future with Sherlock.
After a brunch date with her mother doesn’t go as pleasantly as one could hope, and with her brother coming back into the city with a new girlfriend, Sherlock weasels his way into dinner with all of them in order to analyze and dissect, wondering where Watson came from. He uses her requirement to be with him as leverage, saying that he feels a potential relapse coming on. It’s played to great comic effect by both Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller, both at the top of their game this episode. She caves in and plans for the two of them to suffer together.
Now, on to my favorite scene, the dinner scene. Let’s talk about it. Because it and its aftermath were fantastic and a reason all together to watch this show. A short scene in terms of the entirety of the episode and yet it showcased growth with Watson, hints of Sherlock’s admiration of her, and an opening of a familial arc for Lucy Liu to explore as Joan.
After believing that Sherlock has decided to opt out of the dinner date he scheduled for the much more alluring prospect of a murder case, she is caught unaware when she shows up and he is already waiting for her, with her family, at the table. As they’ve been waiting he’s been catching up and getting acquainted and on top of that, bragging about Joan. He tells them that Watson has become an instrumental asset in the solving of many of his cases, and even in one case potentially saved his life. He goes on to talk about how initially he had no idea about what a sober companion meant and what exactly her profession would mean to him. He says that as time has gone by he’s begun to realize that what she does is “rebuild lives from the ground up.”
Joan’s mother says she’s never thought of it that way before and from the look Joan is giving Sherlock, she doesn’t think he’s ever thought of it that way either.
No matter, because once in the cab on the way home she thanks him, telling him that she knows he’ll blow it off, but what he did helped because her mother has never been able to truly make sense out of the career she chose to follow after leaving medicine.
Like she thought he would, he rebuffs her thanks and tells her that his praise was a little less than entirely sincere, much to the audience’s dismay. Yet he follows this up with something almost equally as rewarding. He goes on to say that while her family seem like perfectly nice people who simply want the best for her, at their very core they’re a conventional family and follow through with guidelines and norms. They’re not used to people like him, and now, people like her who break the rule of convention and dabble in the bizarre and absurdities. So he spun a story in a way they would accept, a story that would to their ears make sense because unlike Sherlock and Watson, not everyone understands the compelling nature of the grim and unsavory; the draw of saving those who cannot be entirely saved and telling the stories of those who can speak no more. While this isn’t the appraisal that he gave at dinner this is very much the heart of the characters. While Sherlock won’t talk Joan up for ego’s sake, he will help her spin and weave a tale that’s satisfactory for her family because he recognizes a kindred spirit when he sees one, despite his initial and lasting hesitation at her presence.
For much of the season I’ve wondered how they were going to manage to keep Watson with Sherlock in a believable sense and have often come to the conclusion that they’d have him relapse. It would allow great moments of acting for both leads, a good dramatic arc just in time for sweeps and for award pundits to take notice, and a reasonable way to keep Watson on as a sober companion.
However as much as I would like to see Miller and Liu exercise that talent muscle, it seems almost too easy as a given.
So when Watson’s mother comes to the apartment at the end of the episode to tell her that she finally understands what she’s doing, another option runs out. Maybe, not only because of a growing friendship with Sherlock, she’ll want to stay. Her mom talks about how with him as a companion and with what he does she sees spark in her that she hasn’t seen in a long time. When we were introduced to Joan and Sherlock at the beginning of the season they were placed in front of us as two damaged individuals who both dealt with separate grievances in different, similarly drastic measures. Since that first introduction we’ve seen them deal with hurtful pasts and take tentative steps toward friendship. And while the relapse may still happen, it’s nice to see that not only is Sherlock benefiting from this pairing, but Watson is as well. It’s all equal measures.
It’s interesting to note how in other adaptations of the famous duo how each version has the two playing off each other differently. From the early days where the Watsons were nothing more than admiring lackeys, to the newer ones where they’ve become essential. There’s Jude Laws abrasive take on the character, allowing his more openly temperamental version to play off of and ground Robert Downey Jr.’s inquisitive Sherlock. There’s Martin Freeman’s exasperation and caretaker style of Watson that equals out Benedict Cumberbatch’s cool and calculated and often times alienating Sherlock. And then there’s Lucy Liu’s worn down, irrevocably strong version of the character, playing off of the most openly curious and warm version of Sherlock we’ve gotten thus far with Miller.
Each and every version compliments and plays off one another and this version is no different and I don’t know about you, but January 3rd seems like an awfully long time to wait until the next installment.
Until then, let’s hope the New Year brings forth even more greatly entertaining episodes and that Elementary’s popularity continues to rise.