After enjoying a Spring Break hiatus (where Sherlock undoubtedly went to South Padre Island to do keg stands), Elementary is back this week and our boy is a grumpy, sulky git burdened with romantic crises — probably because the bros at Omega Sigma Mu floated their Natty Ice party ball too early and they all had to play flip-cup with a hodge-podge of 40s from the corner bodega and stale remnants of Jagermeister, and the hangover was, like, so totally brutal y’all, you don’t even know. Joan takes Sherlock up on his generous offer to vacate herself from the Brownstone so that he may engage in a long weekend of casual, untidy sex on a woolly blanket with an regular snuggle-buddy, while both detectives lend their talents to the NYPD to help Detective Bell on the case of the murdered cabbie. Or whatever you call Uber drivers. Other than “an increasingly likely occurrence of sexual predation,” I mean. Good lord, Uber, get your house in order. Seriously.
From time to time, Elementary has the occasional episode where the more procedural A-Plot doesn’t really gel with the more personal aspects of the B-Plot, the latter of which generally drives the show’s character development and various arcs through the season, and that unfortunately repeats itself again this week as other than a single line of dialogue late in the third act, the two plots are completely independent of one another. Which is a real shame, because while I may have a beef about the narrative momentum this season (or rather, its almost complete absence), the issues Sherlock gets into this week regarding his own self-worth are utterly fascinating and deeply worrying, down to a very existential level, and I just get the feeling that we’re not going to see much happen on that front at all going forward. In some ways, you could probably chalk this episode up to being filler, much like the previous episode wherein Joan deals with looming spectre of her mother possibly having dementia, but I really want the program to devote just a little more screentime to digging into Sherlock’s admission of how painful he finds his continued existence. It paints a very complicated picture of our dear lad, as it calls into question the very nature of his dedication to detective work; what we once may have thought drove him to help others was his innate altruism, we find that his altruism may be less a personal calling and more of a form of treatment for a deductive mind that is constantly bombarded with the horrors found in reasoning. He has the ability to look at traffic patterns and deduce philandering indiscretions threatening a marriage, or a young mother dealing with the impending death of her child due to a terminal illness. To Sherlock, this processing of rote data into a meaningful narrative not only comes naturally, it comes instinctively, and as such cannot be muted or turned down. When faced with a mind that constantly reports the viciousness banality of existence, one really has but a small handful of avenues of recourse for coping; we see that Sherlock has already tried the self-medicating route, and the addiction nearly took his life, which itself is another of the few options. Maybe Sherlock’s relationship with opiates isn’t so much about the pleasure of chemical release, but the reprieve from clarity that it offers. If he wanted to heighten his professional prowess, he would have dabbled in stimulants such as cocaine or amphetamines; Holmes instead used substances that dulled his wits and removed ambition. Yes, the addiction was chemical, but addiction doesn’t have to be unilateral in its aim.
Another choice that Sherlock has with directing his cursed gift is the path of malicious self-service. He is brilliant enough to solve the most arcane of mysteries with only a modicum of effort; what difficulty would he have in applying that skill to nefarious ends? The great thing is this show has already answered that question in the form of Irene Adler, the world’s greatest criminal mind, and it’s easy enough to say that had it not been for Sherlock’s hounding, Jamie Moriarty would still be at large even now. This could have been Sherlock’s fate, and that fate still may yet lie before him, though I doubt a dalliance with this notion is every really explored here, but Irene may tempt him yet. Canonically, this hasn’t been the best year for his personal stability, as we saw with him nearly returning to substance abuse due to his stalling career back in London, Joan playing “will I, won’t I?” with her commitment to their partnership, and his protege muddying his reputation with NYPD thanks to her coercive interrogation tactics. Could Jamie take advantage of the downward spiral Holmes finds himself on? I truly wonder, because at episode’s end he seems fed up not only with his talents, but with the quandaries of finding personal meaning to his own life. If his work as a detective is not a civic and moral compulsion, and is instead rather a pressure valve on his heavy conscience and troubled mind, what does our boy do when given a more appealing alternative?
For me, this is what makes having Jamie in the picture all the more interesting, because had it been her this week propositioning Sherlock for the opportunity to pass on his gifts to their progeny instead of his infrequent sex-buddy Agatha, I’m not assured that his decision to spurn the offer would have been the same. Agatha’s situation had several variables clouding the process, for starters: she wasn’t forthcoming about her intentions, and she didn’t admit her professional involvement with Sherlock’s father who first floated the idea of furthering the family line, plus we all know how Sherlock feels about dear old dad (hint: it ain’t warm and fuzzy). Would Sherlock’s decision have been different had it been his erstwhile paramour making the offer to create the world’s smartest baby? I don’t know if “love” is how you would describe the feelings the two have for each other, but it’s probably as close as either could come to that end. Regardless, the context of such a hypothetical throws into question whether dear Shirley is really as self-loathing as this episode might suggest, and I can only hope that this show wants to explore this notion with relish. Time, of course, will tell.