Elementary 3×13, ‘Hemlock’: Joan Watson, heartbreaker

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“To err is human; to forgive is divine.” – Alexander Pope

The phraseology has an unintended macabre connotation in the context of this week’s case, as an act of charitable forgiveness leads to our victim meeting his maker in a most grisly fashion.  Sherlock, in his solitary malaise due to Kitty’s absence , takes on what he thinks is a banal mystery of infidelity that turns into something quite more complicated; Joan returns her partner’s henpecking over personal concerns with some pecking of her own; Andrew wants to introduce his girlfriend to his parents but says he’s “totally not introducing her to his parents;” Marcus turns down an offer no one made.  Plus, you’re not going to believe this, but there are like, a jillion evil white guys to choose from this week.  These dudes need to start a union or a club or something.  A Legion of Doom, maybe?

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source: CBS

As Sherlock ambles through the tedium of life at the Brownstone without a companion and Joan struggles with her inexplicable lack of chemistry with Andrew, they focus their energies on the case of the missing husband and a throughline emerges: the lengths we go to in keeping up appearances, and the strength of our true nature.  Our victim deceived his wife for six months, telling her he was still practicing law with one of the prominent firms in New York, but while she immediately suspected he was having an affair, the truth was far more benign: he had lost his job, taken another less reputable job, and didn’t want her to lose face or the comforts of the life to which she was accustomed.  He took a job as the worst kind of slime: a bad-debt creditor, hounding people for a living, making his money by profiting off misery.  At the worst possible time, however, his true nature revealed itself, and he couldn’t keep hurting people.  I think the episode makes the argument that we can indulge in the fantasy we tell ourselves for only so long; the victim here enjoyed the benefits of high society, but deep down he knew that his line of work was damaging — that he was killed for this isn’t really here or there in the philosophical sense.  The poor fellow just happened to get between a Rich White Guy and a huge commission bonus.

source: CBS

source: CBS

Joan is finally confronted with this crisis of identity, after having lied to herself for months (and probably years, in other ways) about what kind of person she really is.  Sadly, we haven’t yet seen any hints at what that answer actually is, but we finally see her come out to herself as to what she is not: a conventional single woman.  This may seem a rather milquetoast epiphany for our modern times, but it’s actually a struggle a lot of people have when raised by culture to expect certain things in life, working hard to achieve them, and then finding those things not remotely satisfying.  I can see that in Joan; she probably had parents that pushed her hard in school, wanted only the best for her, and told her everything would pan out when she became a doctor and was on her own.  Joan Watson, from what we’ve seen now over three seasons, didn’t actually want that.  She didn’t want to be a doctor and left her practice after the first major emotional trauma, she doesn’t want to live the high society life (well, not to a gaudy extent anyway, girl still gonna dress like million bucks), and she’s finding she doesn’t want the husband and kids and white picket fence out in the suburbs, either.  Joan likes puzzles, and she likes helping people, and she likes the challenges people like Sherlock offer her.  Deep down, she craves stimulation and validation of her intellect, and she rejects stagnation.  She’s not Betty Crocker, and she’s finally starting to realize that she doesn’t really want to be.

source: CBS

source: CBS

It was the dinner with Andrew’s father that sealed her decision, I feel.  It was a pristine experience, the kind of introduction that every nervous partner can only dream about.  Andrew’s father was warm and charming, doting to both his son and the woman he had chosen, making it known that their coupling would be as welcome as any pair could ever hope.  Rejection of that is the clearest sign that it’s not wanted in any form, and Joan is not meant for a life of simple complacency.  We started the episode with a brief peek into Sherlock’s sexually-pragmatic hedonism (itself possibly a salve against the creeping loneliness he feels ebbing in upon him), and it’s fitting we end with Joan choosing to acknowledge the failure of her idealized life against that she viscerally desires.  Staying with Andrew and living that life of comfortable petit bourgeoisie banality is the definition of keeping up appearances, only in this case it’s the true nature at Joan’s core keeping up the fairy tale that all moms and dads tell their kids of the boons of middle class achievement if they work hard and be good and eat their vegetables.  I know this show has service it must pay to the conventions of broadcast television, but I really dig some of the subtext this program serves up; at its central conceit, Elementary is a crime procedural, but it’s also a story about how a recovering drug addict and a burn-out doctor save each other through an enduring and continual search for not just the truth for the ends of justice, but the truth of the self as well.  It’s only too bad that Joan’s moment of clarity apparently kills Andrew.  Yeah, right?  Or maybe it was a coffee allergy?  Regardless, he’s dead now.

 

Anyway, we’ll follow up on that next week; a big hand to this week’s episode for a Ms. Hudson mention and an examination of Clyde’s more artistic pursuits.  Little duder is pretty good.  Maybe he’s no Da Vinci or Simoni, but he’s at least a da Urbino.

Atomika D.

is a writer and critic of TV and film since 2006, an alumnus of NYFA’s school of celluloid direction and production, and she once ate seven burritos on a dare. It was not pleasant. Read all about it on Tumblr.

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