Elementary lures people in under the premise that the show is primarily about the procedural aspect, that each week there will be a new case and our two leads will intellectually duke it out with the baddie until the case is solved. Once you begin, you quickly discover that it isn’t a show about mystery but a show about how two people interact and grow in a world shrouded by it. Every day is a mystery to Sherlock Holmes, every interaction, every new person he meets. Joan Watson is no exception.
We see her at the start of the episode at a graveyard disposing flowers at a grave. She’s about to walk away when a young man, Joey, approaches her. She knows him from her past and when he asks her to grab a coffee with him she agrees. The two have a familiarity with each other and we soon realize that he was the son of the patient she lost years ago. He tells her that he has decided to forgo college and that he and a friend have decided to open a bar and were looking for an investor and asks if Joan would like to be involved.
Her coffee date leaves Sherlock alone on a case, a point noted by Detective Bell who asks him where his better half is. Sherlock responds by saying one mystery at a time and then continues on with a case he’s not actually supposed to be at as it’s seemingly a simple theft and murder.
Not all is what it seems though when they enter the victim’s household and Sherlock finds a black light which shows that the walls have been decorated with math equations and formulas.
Okay, all honesty, when I heard that this week’s big case of the week was going to revolve around math of all things I wasn’t convinced and not only because of my hatred of the subject. It just seemed silly—like a cartoon villain. And after the episode my verdict was nearly the same. It was cartoony, from the murder over an equation, to the villain with her too-big glasses and affected speaking pattern. It was over-the-top in a subdued way and it may have worked better if they had played up just how ridiculous the situation was and had added some humor to the matter rather than play it straight.
Because the idea of a group of individuals murdering over the super mysterious math equation N vs NP seems absurd, but hey, what do I know?
So the duo get a specialist to come and figure out the problem which leads them to their first two suspects. Why were they solving this problem in secret? Because it’s worth $1 million apparently and didn’t want anyone to catch on to their progress.
Too bad they’re both dead.
Joan and Sherlock go to the morgue to inspect the bodies and look for clues but not much is done in the face of math and instead there is some much needed soul searching on Joan’s part. Sherlock asks her where she went that morning, saying that he can smell the carnations on her and that he knows she’s been sneaking off to the cemetery, knows that she’s been doing it regularly for months. It’s a nice, quiet, inquisitive moment for Sherlock. He’s not forcing the answer out of her, or guilting her into responding, but he’s curious, curious about this piece of his new friend that he knows very little about.
So she tells him. It’s a pretty obvious set up, surrounded by hints and tools of her past, but it doesn’t make it less effective. She mentions that she’s never told him the full story. She says that her patient was due for a simple surgery for a tumor removal, that there’s shouldn’t have been any problems but yet during the surgery she nicked something and he died on the operating table.
The problem was exacerbated by the fact that in the weeks before the procedure she’d gotten to know her patient’s family, grew close to them, which made the death that much more of a tragedy. The wife brought her to court and said some terrible things about her while she had to stand by and listen. But the son, Joey, wrote her a letter to say he didn’t blame her, that he forgave her.
Sherlock asks her if he’s ever asked for money before and she says yes, for a car so he could make a tough commute.
And the conversation ends.
It’s amazing how well Elementary manages to pull these emotional punches, allowing us inches of insight into these beautifully drawn characters. The real praise goes to Lucy Liu for this scene where she plays the restricted Watson so well, with such subtlety and finesse. Liu is such an accomplished actress but is typically known for how feisty she can be, how ferocious she is in an action film, how she has mastered playing the bad ass. It’s rare we see her so silent and still which is why Joan Watson may be my favorite character she has ever played.
Watson in this universe is the reserved one. Typically Watson is the heart and emotion to Sherlock’s frigid nature but the roles have been reversed and it serves the betterment of the characters. Sherlock is like an open wound, calculated but vulnerable, precision-obsessed but quick to emotional responses. He’s empathetic which serves the profession he has taken on. Watson on the other hand is emotionally turned off for the most part, taught to be the observer, as a surgeon and then a sober companion, rather than someone who reacts. She is the one who is supposed to be in control, who can spot an emotional breakdown, who can see the medical implications. She isn’t cold, but she’s in control.
Of everything but her guilt.
She asked Sherlock for an advance on her paycheck for $5000 and he never got back to her until later that night when their next suspect, Professor Berret, had proven to have an alibi.
She walks in on him working out to get his blood pumping and asks him one more time about the advance. He says he has agreed to it despite his better judgment. She asks why he thinks it’s a bad idea and he tells her he thinks she’s being possessed by her own guilt to see that Joey is using her as a bank, working her emotions in a manipulative manner. She doesn’t agree so Sherlock says:
“I’m an expert on poisons, Watson. I know virtually everything there is to know about them. But I’ve come to learn over the last few years that there’s nothing on this planet quite as toxic as guilt.”
Regardless, he has left her the money and much more than she’d asked for. He has left her $22,000 and when she tries to object he asks her to think of it as a gift from him to her, as a means to pay Joey off and lose the shadow of guilt that follows him.
The next day after confronting an ex-boyfriend of Professor Berret’s they realize that they’ve all been conned by her. Her alibi was tapes of the restaurant she was in at the time of the murder but when she realized she may be a suspect in the case she had hacked in and changed the time.
She’s in custody, the actress thankfully stops talking in the Acting 101 manner, and the real hard hitting stuff comes back into play.
Watson has ignored Sherlock’s advice and meets Joey to try and help him out but she tells him she won’t give him the money for the bar but she’ll give him money to get him back into college to help him finish his undergraduate degree. He’s angry at first, mad that she’ll offer him her help but only if he concedes to her rules. She tells him that it’s what his dad would have wanted and he lashes out saying that the reason his dad can’t offer his opinion is because of her.
She’s gobsmacked at first but he quickly apologizes, saying she didn’t deserve it. She says that she’ll do anything to support him but she won’t give him the money unless it’s for an education.
When she arrives back at the brownstone we learn that Joey said he’d think about the offer and that Joan is optimistic about the answer.
Sherlock then, in a new development, tells her that he would like to join her next time that she goes to the cemetery. He tells her that her mistake obviously altered the course of her life and that this man seemingly had a great effect on her so he’d like to pay his respects.
She says she’d like that.
This is why I watch this show.
It would be nice to have an episode where the procedural aspect and mystery isn’t so by the books. Aside from “M,” I’ve never been truly impressed by the deduction side of things. They could have so easily been by the books with the relationship as well but when we see how sincerely Sherlock wants to be a part of her life and how willing she is to let him in, it’s noticeable how this show is greatly elevated by character-driven moments.
This show isn’t about the brain, it’s about the heart. And once they manage to bridge the two, this show will be a force of nature.