“At me too someone’s looking, of me too someone is saying. He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on.” – Waiting for Godot
The way in which Elementary has dealt with telling the story of an addict is impressive—it’s one of the reasons why the show first caught my attention so early on. It wouldn’t have been surprising for the show to discard this particular string of narration after season one closed and stories were wrapped up neat and tidy so to continue to pursue it so far into its sophomore season is commendable.
Drug addiction is hardly ever dealt with in a manner befitting the disease but on this particular show it’s given the utmost attention and no matter how sloppy other stories may become, Sherlock’s battle with addiction and subsequent recovery remain in delicate, thoughtful hands.
It’s this particular vein of story as well as a surprisingly thrilling case storyline (a rarity these days on this show) that make this week’s episode “No Lack of Void” a season two highlight despite its flaws.
The episode begins by setting into motion the two main storylines at a rapid pace. Storyline one: Sherlock is having a breakfast with his old friend Allistair (someone we met through Joan in season one) for the first time a while and two, at the station while checking up on a supposedly ill man in holding, Joan makes the grave discovery that there could be a potential anthrax outbreak.
Now you have to assume that any storyline involving a substance that could wipe out much of the city’s inhabitants would be tense and thrilling and for the majority of the episode it is. But as per usual, the storyline that attracts the most traction is the emotional one.
Sherlock meets up with the group at the station and is in an obviously poor mood. Later when Joan calls him out on it and asks if the breakfast went badly he says no because there was no breakfast on account of Allistair being dead. He tells her he had a heart attack (a lie) and then tells her he wishes to move on and not talk about it. The following progression of grief throughout the episode is Elementary at its best despite me being slightly perturbed at the idea of a one-off character being brought back for the sole purpose of killing him.
For now they have a potentially dire case to work on. After finding the original anthrax holder they seek out where his lab must be located. Upon finding it they hit a road block as they find the man, Charlie, dead and all of the trays that the product was cooked on empty. This means that 40 pounds of anthrax is loose and the city is officially endangered.
At the precinct they find a man linked to Charlie and who is presumably the man’s killer, Eugene. Eugene has a past of terrorist affiliations and anti-government beliefs. He’s dangerous and they’re told to proceed with caution and precision.
Sherlock has disappeared during this—much to Captain Gregson’s chagrin—but Joan assures him it’s for a personal matter. Sherlock has visited Allistair’s partner, Ian, and while there also stirs up some doubt as he mentions Jeremy, Allistair’s son, as a possible reasoning behind his death. Of course at this point we think it means murder or some other form of devious actions.
It is nice to see Sherlock deviating from the casework for personal matters as Joan stays on.
Bell and Joan are given a lead to Eugene’s brother, Burt, who lives up on a farm. He tells them that he and his brother had a bad relationship and that despite how smart he was, Eugene was always getting mixed up into trouble.
Sherlock is soon thrust back into the action though as they find a lead and Sherlock is first to arrive at the location. While there he’s haunted by an image of Allistair and we get the feeling that there is more to his death and Sherlock’s feelings on it than typical mourning. He doesn’t have much time to dwell on it though as he watches as two men load cases of mysterious looking substances into the back of a van. Sherlock bypasses personal safety and goes to investigate and gets caught by the men but takes them down, but not without being possibly contaminated by what looks like anthrax.
At the hospital he’s throwing a fit to Joan, telling her that he knows it wasn’t anthrax but a mixture of powders to make it appear that way. Before she can reprimand him about his reckless behavior he’s released from quarantine and they go to interrogate one of the men Sherlock found. He sells out Eugene when he realizes he sold him fake anthrax and kept the real product for himself. They also learn that it was tested on animals.
Sherlock disappears again and while he’s away Joan receives a visit from Allistair’s son, Jeremy, who asks her to tell Sherlock to back off and stop accusing him of taking part in his father’s death. Because of his visit Joan learns the truth behind Sherlock’s friend’s death and confronts him about it when he returns home.
She tells him that she knows that Allistair died of a heroin overdose. Sherlock lashes out and says he doesn’t understand it. The man he had known since he was young and had a strong bond with him ever since. He tells Joan that Allistair opened his home to him when Sherlock showed up on his doorstep, strung out, despite having been sober for 30 years. This is a risk many addicts in recovery wouldn’t have taken, but he did.
For 30 years he was clean and still he fell victim to his disease in the end. Sherlock wants, needs even, to know what could have possibly triggered it? Was it an argument with his estranged son? He’s afraid—he is only two years sober, could this happen to him? He’s blind sighted at this loss of a friend and is bothered that it all bothers him. He tells Joan that he would have told her eventually, all of it, but just needed to get some things straight first.
Again it’s a moment where Sherlock is given some vulnerability, a trait that does wonders for the character. We as an audience want to sit in this moment for a while but the two are called upon the job again as we learn that Eugene has been killed by his brother Burt. Burt tells the police it was self-defense, that he found his brother trying to infect the cows so that their dairy would be laced with anthrax, infecting anyone who used the products from that farm. He’s let go.
Sherlock thinks this is asinine. He says that Eugene was said, by all accounts, to be intelligent and that lacing the cow’s dairy was a messy way to plan. He says that it could have been caught in countless manners. He angrily breaks what’s near him and stalks off but Joan isn’t having it and follows him and does the same. Joan tells him that Allistair was an addict and that the temptation is always there but just because he lost to it doesn’t mean that Sherlock will. Every day he’ll just have to wake up and decide that he won’t do drugs, day in and day out he has to make that same decision. It will be tedious, it will tiresome and some days he may even be tempted but he has to keep deciding not to.
He tells her that he’s mad that he took the passing of a friend and turned it into self-indulgence, as a means to worry about himself. But, he tells her, he is no closer to using and if he was he’d tell her.
This exchange and a text from Joan’s mother does lead them to the case’s outcome though: Burt and Eugene had been working together but not to poison the city’s residents, but the cows.
The cows were all insured and they would have been paid heavily by the government if they all up and died.
What a lackluster ending to an interesting case…
No matter, the positives outweigh the faults when at the end we see Sherlock, standing over his friend’s grave to pay his respects.
What would’ve the payoff been like had we’d been allowed to witness an interaction between Allistair and Sherlock before the former’s passing? Their relationship is one that lands in all of the pitfalls of telling not showing syndrome. We’re told how much Allistair cared for Sherlock, we’re told of their affection, of how Allistair was there for him when any other addict would find him a threat to their sobriety. However, the first face-to-face interaction that the friends have is after Allistair has already passed and Sherlock day-dreaming that he’s seeing him. It’s clear from the brief moments we share with these two that they have a capable chemistry and it just makes me wonder how powerful the character’s death could have been had we gotten to know him.
Ultimately, despite the death being more than anything a tool to refocus the story back on Sherlock’s sobriety it’s sold so well by Jonny Lee Miller that I’m hard pressed to nag all too much. Do I think that as an audience we require more insight into a character to be affected by their death? Yes. But I also think that Miller sold the grief and his onslaught of emotional conflicts so well that we care because Sherlock cares. Because at the end of the episode Sherlock is standing over the grave of one of his few friends, telling a ghost that he loves him and will always be missed.
I thoroughly enjoyed this week’s episode. It didn’t feel as if it was simply going through the motions and rather allowed characters moments of reflection, moments of doubt, all as a thrilling case involving an anthrax threat plays out (until the end at least, the cow bit was a little silly, but so bookish Holmes I couldn’t complain).
There’s another two-week break until the next episode but the season is almost over, what are you hoping for next?