Take down the tree, pack away the tinsel, and snuff out that menorah: the New Year is here and Elementary is back! You can leave the leftover cookies, though, I’ll take those. Thank you. Mmgphff. Vrmy gufp. Fhamks. Oh, fruitcake? Oh, no, I couldn’t. I mean, I could, but I won’t, because fruitcake is awful and I’d rather eat live beetles. No, I don’t care if it’s your grandma’s famous recipe, fruitcake is the devil. Which makes actual devil’s cake just . . . I don’t know . . . agnostic? Whatever. This bit is getting away from me. The important thing is that Sherlock and Joan (and somewhere in the background, Kitty) are back on the case! Now, be a dear and get Auntie Atomika some milk for these dry-ass cookies. Jeez, don’t you have a cookie jar?
Is this season finding its footing? I’m not sure. It’s been a rocky start, no doubt, with seemingly much treading of water regarding Joan’s wishy-washy quantum state of independence, as well as Sherlock’s protegé, Kitty, being only ever important as any given episode needs her to be. She’s developed into, sadly, a kind of “Emergency Back-Up Joan” in a glass case; when the plot can’t have Dr. Watson doing all the legwork of the investigation, the writers grab a hammer. It’s unfortunate, as we saw in the episode where Joan was abroad in Copenhagen, Kitty can be quite resourceful and offers her own brand of energetic foil against Sherlock; the show just can’t satisfyingly host both characters, as seen this week where Kitty is rarely anything more than a figure in the background of each scene (although, the scene where Sherlock and Joan helicopter over her like overbearing parents while she tries to pick a lock is adorable). I’ve even entertained the idea that the creation of Kitty was insurance against Lucy Liu needing time off to work on movies, or more cynically, to keep Liu from playing hardball when the time comes for contract renegotiations. Overall, however, I feel the program is at least finally coalescing around a few central conceits that are propelling the character-driven portions forward, so if we want to call that “finding its footing, ” I’m not inclined to refute that.
There’s an interesting juxtaposition this week between the motivations of the ultimate baddie (shockingly, another greedy rich old white guy, I know, I didn’t see it coming either) and Sherlock’s reemerging struggle with sobriety, the latter a welcome bit of carry-over from episodes past despite the ominous portents it has for our boy. Shirley, still reeling from the attack on his anonymity and privacy at the hands of a fellow addict, has become reclusive and loath to return to his support group, maintaining his relationship with his sponsor, Alfredo, as his only tie to that world. Alfredo brings Sherlock a mechanical puzzle to underline the episode’s throughline — a car alarm based on proximity, emitting its klaxon whenever someone comes within a few feet. “How do you solve a problem you can’t get close to?” is the underlying throughline, mirrored by Joan’s stymied efforts to get her partner to open up about what inscrutable weight is vexing him. At episode’s end, Joan offers her services once again as live-in sober companion in response to Holmes coming clean about his malaise; you see, Sherlock is coming to a very real and very difficult part of staying clean: the life-long grind of abstinence. The day-to-day living in which the meagre reward for not indulging in your joyous addiction is . . . vigilance. It’s a full-time job that has no breaks, no vacations, and the only benefits are your continued success as a functional human being, the same as billions of others, but carrying the baggage of guilt and shame and self-loathing all the time. Sobriety is constantly accepting your being weak, everyday. For Sherlock, this labor is painful and I’m not entirely certain he can carry it all season long. His refusal of Joan’s help doesn’t bode well.
Ironically, as Sherlock seeks to free himself of this existential struggle, the villain this week yearns for such a prolonged experience. Sherlock is living in a type of time-dilation, where the tedium of normal life is slowly grinding at him like kernels under a miller’s stone, taking his joy and optimism and breaking it apart with only the cold promise of the same repetition to come ad infinitum. Yet, our criminal mastermind this episode is desperately seeking just that — an infinite extension of the routine of living — and in the end he forgoes reality itself for the chance of experiencing the sprawling effects of a dangerous drug that alters one’s perception of time, instead choosing to live out his remaining days in a seemingly endless dream. The moral considerations of such a decision are almost as boundless, as it forces us to consider what “living” actually means. Is it our interactions with others? Is it the material things we own? Is it the experiences we keep in our memories? And if our perception of life is all that really matters, does it matter how we come by it? Does it matter if that perception is taken from a reality reflected back to us, or from a conjured dream-state? While I will say that I certainly prefer the truth of waking life and intermingling with others, I cannot in honesty say that were I facing an imminent end to my own living reality I wouldn’t make the same choice our villain did this week. Of course I have concerns that my time in a dilated simulacrum would be spent in a nightmarish torment outside of my own control (an outcome that was reported by several of those who had taken the drug), but when faced with the ultimate end of one’s existence, which is the greater comfort: the crucible of living within one’s own mental potential, or . . . . nothing?
Heavy stuff this week. Go out and have some fun. See ya next week, friends. Be good!