This episode did two things:
It didn’t rip Joan’s professionalism to shreds.
It did afford a first unfettered insight into Sherlock’s regard for his sober companion that far exceeds professionalism.
It would have disappointed Sherlock if Joan had begun a relationship with a client—because that wouldn’t fit into the things he’s deduced about her. And personally. It would make her someone who’s not who they present themselves to be, and Sherlock can’t abide by these people; and he’d hate to have been wrong about Joan Watson. (And I would have hated the show for doing that to her.) But he wasn’t. (And I didn’t have to get angry.) Joan may be withholding information about her past, but it’s that sort of information that would alleviate her guilt, not worsen it. Like Sherlock, she’s paying a penance, if only to herself; and she’d never compromise her code of conduct.
So, Sherlock watches from the sidelines as she clears Liam’s name of at least this hit-and-run; and as she agrees, in spite of herself, to organise a spot in rehab for him. Sherlock watches as she grapples with something that hurts and tries to pretend that it doesn’t, and he hates it. And yet, he keeps out of the way, for the most part, only finds the arrest file for her to do with as she pleases—because he knows that she’s getting good enough at his job to solve the case herself. He wants her to have all the facts, to be able to make a choice; to choose whether she gives Liam another chance. He knows the need to prove oneself (because that is exactly what he is doing with Joan, not that he’d admit it to her or to himself), and if Liam deserves it, he wants him to have it, if only because it might make Joan happy, just a little. And if Liam doesn’t deserve it, if he’ll end up disappointing Joan again, Sherlock will be there. He’s got nowhere else to be, not tonight.
He stays with her so she won’t be alone; and if Liam had turned up, he’d have been there to get a good look at him. He knows that Joan doesn’t take anyone’s crap, but he’s there because he’s feeling protective anyway, because he knows what hope against better judgement can do to people.
And still, they’re strangers: Joan doesn’t open up to Sherlock about the relationship being a relationship until it rankles her that he thinks she’d have slept with a client. Even though she might have suspected that he’d arrive at that conclusion, she doesn’t want to tell him anything private too soon; and rightly so. Even though we, the audience, see Sherlock’s regard for her growing, and even though she may already trust him more than she lets on, there’s no way in hell she’ll give in. He’s got to work for it, and so she’ll make him. They’ve still got a long way to go, even if there weren’t any open confrontations lately.
After all, Sherlock is still a stubborn git. The tea helps, Holmes, just drink it.
Oh, right, and the case was interesting, too. We see Sherlock working more closely together with Detective Bell, which I love. This version of Holmes tags along with the cops as much as he goes off on his own; and Elementary does a great job of not only grooming Joan to become her own detective, but also affording the assorted NYPD professionals time to shine. Though Bell is still sceptical, he and Sherlock work well together, and Bell’s sass when dealing with Holmes makes them fun to watch. He throws Sherlock’s superiority right back at him—hey, asshole, you’re not the only one here with some special knowledge. I like that.
Next: The Leviathan.