Is Sherlock Holmes a killer? Elementary is back from a brief hiatus and brings us a really great stand-alone episode that takes a look into our boy’s troubled past with drug abuse, and examines the very fabric of what makes us who we really are in any given moment. Joan takes on most of the detective work this week as Sherlock is sidelined due to his being named a person of interest in the murder of a cleaning lady four years ago, but that doesn’t stop him from digging up a few clues of his own as he reconnects with some less-than-savory acquaintances from his past life. Or is it spelled “savoury?” I guess that depends on which side of the pond you’re on. Now I’m thinking of something savoury to eat, and that’s all I want now. Dang it, someone go get me a Cornish pasty. I’ll wait.
This show has an interesting tic for a broadcast staple — it maintains a continuity. Naturally, it doesn’t maintain it with the slavishness of other shows, especially those not on broadcast networks (Sleepy Hollow is the only one I can readily think of devoted to its continuing storytelling, though there may be others), but that is one of the key features that separates this program from the eleventy-jillion other crime procedurals. The other is the focus on the development of individual characters; most cop shows define their key protagonists as a loose collection of clichés — this guy is hardass, that guy is an egghead, this lady does something with science and you can tell because she wears glasses — but those shows’ focus isn’t centralized on developing these cardboard archetypes. Hardass Guy is going to be a hardass because he’s written to be a hardass and someone decided that’s what people want to see; maybe one episode you’ll find out he had a troubled childhood or witnessed something awful, but it won’t be brought up again to be explored as to what those traumas meant to the persistent expression of his nature. They’re just cheap wallpaper on a thin wall. From a macro context viewed from the breadth of the entire series, the really interesting thing about this week’s Elementary is that it maintains itself squarely in the history this show has built for itself while crafting the procedural action within that canon. Sherlock Holmes, the person, is the mystery this week. As we unravel clues, we begin to unravel the man, as he himself starts to unravel at the possibilities of his own dark potential.
Our detective is the key suspect in a murder. He is the suspect because he’s the only person known to see the victim the last day she was alive. Thanks to a note on a cocktail napkin, Holmes knows this fact to be true. What vexes him, though, is his complete lack of memory of the event; he doesn’t remember writing the note, he doesn’t remember meeting the woman, and he certainly doesn’t remember her demise. From the outset of his being named as a person of interest, this case has the weighty curse of shame pressing down on him, and as much as anything Sherlock needs to solve this mystery for his own absolution. His reputation as a consulting detective has already been harmed by this past association, doubly so by his admission of being too far gone under the influence of heroin for his recall to be of any use, and right at the start Sherlock is already knocked from his perch of moral superiority. This case isn’t just about solving a mystery, it’s about our boy looking into the abyss knowing that parts of him are already within. The stakes, existentially, could not be higher, and Sherlock’s detective work here could be the thing not only puts him away for the rest of his life, but will blacken his soul forever. Joan Watson has the faith of Job in her rallying around her partner, and there’s no room in her mind for the darkest possibility pointing to him as the culprit. This, I feel, is an emotional reaction and one I can’t fully respect, as Holmes himself is aware enough to know that he could be the one responsible. However, Joan in her logic hangs on to something more tangible — the fact that Sherlock didn’t have motive in the crime. He didn’t know the victim, doesn’t remember her, and she doesn’t have any evidence to believe he had reason to hurt this woman. However, in the process of searching out the clues, we peer into Sherlock’s past as a junkie, and it isn’t pretty. He was a frequent user, lived in sordid drug dens, kept company with the seediest of sorts, and was prone to violent outbursts of paranoia in between sessions of being black-out stoned. And one night he came to one of these dens in possession of a bloodied shirt and the story of a woman who needed help.
Of course, we find out that Holmes wasn’t the killer at all, and you’ll be absolutely beside yourself to learn that the real killer was the rich white guy all along. This show is either going to have to fix that constant tic or else write stories where there are multitudes of rich white guys to choose from, because it’s getting repetitive to the point of killing any narrative momentum. The real gem to take from this episode is Jonny Lee Miller’s portrayal of a desperate, unsure Sherlock on edge. It’s fierce and it’s sad and it’s deeply, deeply ashamed of itself, and occasionally spiky and brusque as a defense against the kindness of others. The writing this week is aces, as well, as Sherlock comes back to his recovery skills and finds closure with the vestiges of his old life, and learns that while amends can be made and absolution can be had, catharsis isn’t always waiting to present itself and shame and guilt are crosses always to be borne.
Okay, so . . . heady stuff! A great episode! Talk to me about it in the comments, and come back next week for The Case of the Mysterious Mummy! Ooooweeeooo! No, seriously, it’s about a mummy. I promise.