Previously on Elementary: The Hound of the Cancer Cells.
Season 2, Episode 19: The Many Mouths of Aaron Colville
Both this and the next episode touch deeply personal facets of Joan and Sherlock’s lives. In The Many Mouths of Aaron Colville, Joan is confronted with a case, a patient, that as been weighing on her conscience more or less ever since. Faced with the possibility that a man innocent of the crimes of which he had been convicted died on her table with her watching and not reporting her attending surgeon for withholding treatment, Joan’s doubts and guilt from years ago resurface. It sends her into a separate investigation into Dr Jonathan Fleming, the surgeon she was assisting at the time.
That storyline of course raises questions about the power over life and death doctors have, and should be aware of, but should never (ab)use. It raises questions of what we would do when faced with such a situation, about compartmentalising when your instincts tell you that what’s just and what’s right isn’t always the same thing.
The real meat of the episode lies in Sherlock and Joan’s way of dealing with this, however, and with how Sherlock does his best to help Joan see that it’s not her fault, that she has nothing to beat herself up about, and that her enduring sense of guilt is unnecessary. That’s the great thing about their relationship: they let each other come to their own conclusions, both very much aware that you can only help yourself if you believe yourself whatever supportive people have been telling you. It’s no use persuading someone of something like this, they have to realise it themselves, you can only ever help. So that’s what Sherlock does, and in the end, Joan knows that she didn’t think like a doctor in that moment, but that she ultimately can’t shoulder the blame over what happened, but Dr Fleming should.
Season 2, Episode 20: No Lack of Void
“You didn’t let me down. What you did has got nothing to do with me. I understand that. I came here today because… because I loved you very much. And I wanted you to know that you’ll be missed.”
The story of Alistair’s death touches Sherlock’s struggle with his own addiction and with his propensity not to believe feelings to be valid. It’s not only that Sherlock has lost someone he dearly loves, it’s not only that he doesn’t know how to deal with the grief — there’s added guilt in there, too, because he once showed up on a sober man’s doorstep, off his face on drugs. Alistair took him in, no matter how much danger his sobriety may have been in as a result, and he fought and he won. Right until now. After 30 years of staying sober, Alistair relapsed — and, tragically, overdosed. Or perhaps it was suicide, perhaps he rather took his own life than feel himself spiral down that path again when he felt he couldn’t fight it anymore, not even with the prospect of acting on stage again after such a long time.
With this, Sherlock was robbed of a wonderful friend, and the show of a wonderful supporting character. I’d have loved to see more of Alistair and, by extension, Ian and Jeremy, but there we are. No-one is safe in the hands of TV writers. As it was, this was a test of Sherlock’s conviction, his endurance, and his belief in himself. He’s firm in his non-addicted ways, now, but even after two years, it is clear that the war is won one battle at a time. As Joan says: it’s day after day after day, making the same conscious decision against the pull of addiction, and that’s how it’s going to be for the rest of Sherlock’s life. It’s a gruelling prospect, really — but the way Sherlock deals with this now is a mark of how far he’s come. Last season, this news would have had the potential for a major crisis, worthy of a season finale, even. Now, it’s tragic and horrible and it scares Sherlock to death, on top of how upset he is at losing Alistair — but it’s not enough to break him. Thanks to Joan.
And, yeah, I guess the Anthrax case was interesting, too.
Season 2, Episode 21: The Man with the Twisted Lip
Borrowing its title directly from one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, this story digs further into the relationship between Sherlock and his brother Mycroft, the possibility of a relationship between Mycroft and Joan, and Mycroft’s reasons and motives for coming to New York, and his insistence that Sherlock return to London a few episodes ago.
As it happens, Sherlock is indeed continuously overstepping boundaries in this — I suppose he would call it quest to keep Joan safe from harm.
“Did he take liberties with you?” — really, Sherlock? All of this, of course, stems from his fear of losing Joan as well as his deep distrust of Mycroft. His fear is not without reason and unfounded at the same time — obviously, Sherlock wouldn’t lose Joan as a friend and partner, she’d still be there for him. But they wouldn’t be with him every step of the way anymore — both because he doesn’t need her 24/7 anymore to stay sober, and because it can be stifling to live with someone who takes over your life so completely. Sherlock is by no means an easy housemate, and with his protectiveness and, well, selfish need to keep Joan around… it’s tough. At the beginning of the episode, Sherlock admits that he is unsure of whether he can maintain the important relationships in his life if he doesn’t feel they’re entirely fulfilling, or if he’s unsure he can invest himself into them as much as he or his “peer” might like. He doesn’t want to lose Joan to Mycroft, and he doesn’t want to lose her because he made mistakes with her. He must feel that Joan needs to leave in order to get her own life back on track, and he doesn’t want it to be his fault.
Of course, there’s also the facet of his denial of how much Joan means to him — beyond her work, she’s his closest friend. But ever since Jamie Moriarty, he’s been in denial of personal feelings, even of friendship. Alistair was an exception, but, well. Alistair is dead. Sherlock said what he said to his grave, not to a living person. Joan is very much alive, and Sherlock speaks of her to Mycroft in terms of what she means to the stability of his own life, and the value of her work. Mycroft reminds him that there’s more to Joan than her detective work, and later also that there are more reasons for why Joan is so important to him than their consulting business. Reasons Sherlock no doubt is perfectly aware of, but that he locks away because he can’t believe them to be significant, or the carefully constructed frame of mind in which Irene/Moriarty’s betrayal can’t hurt him the way it did at first would collapse.
As evidenced by the fact that he pocketed one of the packets of cocaine Paige had at her apartment, and stashes it in a tome at the top of the shelf. No, Sherlock, no.
“Watson. I’ve not respected your privacy. I apologise for that. Please know, I value you for more than just the many benefits you’ve brought into my life. I value you as a person.”
“That’s nice. But your apologies always seem to come after you already got what you wanted.”
Joan’s decision to perhaps, when she’s got her own place and doesn’t feel like Sherlock has to factor into all of her decision-making by sheer proximity anymore, pursue a relationship with Mycroft, is entirely her own, and I love it. No matter that Mycroft turns out to be leading a rather different life than that of a restaurant owner, it’s her life and her space and she asserts it over Sherlock Holmes in a way that says, ‘I still love you, but I need this for myself, and you will deal with it because that’s what best friends do.’
But then, Joan is abducted by a mysterious shady person who had been given a photograph of her just minutes before. A contract killer? Intelligence operative? We just don’t know.
Oh, and also, people are getting killed by mosquito drones.
Season 2, Episode 22: Paint It Black
Except now, we do know. Mycroft does, in fact, work for MI-6 (I know, he only officially reveals this in Episode 23, but since I’ve already watched that, I’m not gonna go pretending I don’t know — especially when it lends some delicious perspective to some of Ifans’s acting choices here). And he’s not the semi-cuddly previously-terminally-ill restaurant owner he claims to be — it’s a fantastic opportunity for Rhys Ifans to show off his acting chops as he switches from Mycroft to the British government. He’s an intelligence operative who deals in secrets and a no small amount of danger, and it’s already so marked a difference in the way he looks at Sherlock when he opens the door at the very beginning of the episode. He’s still the old Mycroft when he gets a call from Joan’s number, he’s a slightly different Mycroft when he realises that she’s been taken and worry takes over his mind, but by the time he’s arrived at the Brownstone, he’s an agent on foreign soil, even though he will continue pretending not to be. Which is even better: Rhys Ifans is playing a highly trained secret intelligence officer playing the complacent and not-genius brother of a man whose genius he possibly actually surpasses. Christ — Mycroft spends his life dumbing himself down while pulling the strings in the background. How exhausting does that have to be? Especially when he’s under orders not to reveal his true occupation to Sherlock, and thus can’t use his abilities to help save Joan the way he obviously wants to, all the while maintaining an illusion of aloofness that’s rather impressive. He’s also the Holmes brother doing the thing with his coat collar and his cheekbones…
“You’re not sure you can what needs to be done without her. This is more than just a case. Without her to keep you focused, to keep you settled —”
“Is that what you think she is? Hmm? A simple counterbalance?”
“I think she’s the person you love most in the world.”
“If anything happened to Joan, I’d never forgive myself.”
“That won’t be an issue. If anything happens to Joan, I will murder you.”
The Holmes brothers, ladies and gentlemen.
Meanwhile, Joan is proving to be an absolute boss in the face of what’s happening to her. She does what she can to learn as much about the circumstances as she can, she saves a man’s life, and then takes a deep breath as her captor reminds her that, unless Mycroft and Sherlock fail to deliver, the deal is off and he will kill her. She remains remarkably calm throughout it all — I don’t like that she’s not given any opportunity to save herself or at least plot her escape, but that it is solely Mycroft and Sherlock’s task to free her by exchanging her for the list. That is not meant to discount the strength she proves to possess in the situation, but I wish they had given her more agency than this. Nevertheless, her experience doesn’t get any less traumatic when her captor simply shoots the man whose life she’d tried to save because he’d have been dead weight (pardon the pun) and wouldn’t have gotten through the night without proper medical care.
And then, Sherlock unpacks his torturing gear, which I’m sure you’ll remember from the time he nearly killed Moran in an effort to extract information about Irene’s alleged death. And this time, funnily enough, there are no moral compunctions about him doing this — because it’s Joan, and we need her alive.
And by the end of it, Paint It Black is a very interesting choice for a codeword to armed response.
This episode is also Joan-lite for a simple, but very, very exciting reason: Lucy Liu directed this episode!
Season 2, Episode 23: Art in the Blood
Just watch. Just watch Sherlock’s face as he enters the precinct to ask for help. Just watch as he arrives the Brownstone, only just refraining from hugging Joan, instead letting his eyes do the work for him, checking her over for injuries, for stress, for distress. He once promised Watson — and himself — that he would never let any harm come to her if he’s at all able to prevent it, and now he’s been taken out of the running to help her, delegated to the sidelines and utterly impotent, and it’s killing him. It’s killing him that he nearly lost her and was denied the chance to help. It’s killing him that he nearly lost her, full stop. When he’s at the precinct, his despair is so barely contained that Bell sees the signs and offers his unconditional help, no matter how busy he and the Captain are.
Joan will reevaluate her relationship with both Sherlock and Mycroft — during what proves to be a case that’ll hit rather close to home, handed down, as it is, from MI-6. The victim’s named West, an intelligence operative* who seems to have lost both his arms — post-mortem. (* Which is a by-line allusion to the adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans.)
It’s now Joan who deflects declarations of emotion. Sherlock wants to apologise, wants her to know how scared he truly was, and that he’d never be the same again if she’d been hurt or, worse, if she’d died. But she does what he used to do when she wanted him to talk about his feelings: deflection, misdirection, changing the subject. And he notices, of course he does.
When Mycroft waits for Joan outside the house, however, Joan doesn’t deflect, she says exactly what she means to say: No.
And it’s terrible, because she’s right not to feel safe with him, and because she knows or may believe that his feelings towards her were still genuine, and that they missed out on what could have been a good, strong relationship. He pretended to be someone else for over a decade, and a decision like that means that you have to make that gamble: to take the risk of meeting someone you care about and still having to put work first. Mycroft lost that bet with himself, took on the gamble and came out losing, and now he has to deal with the pain that brings. But then, circumstances change — the facts as we know them change, and what Joan realises is that “work,” for Mycroft, only means one thing: keeping his brother safe. He hasn’t put the government first, or deception, or keeping his restaurant afloat. He’s been putting Sherlock safe, even as he kept her in the dark, even though he loved her — and that dedication, that loyalty even though he knew there would be no reward for it waiting for him, other than keeping his brother out of prison, that Joan can forgive. And she does, and it makes her happy.
It’s so funny to see Sherlock adopt Joan’s methods when comforting her when she’s in distress: same as she always pressed him to talk about his feelings, at least deal with them somehow, he’s now offering her to talk about Mycroft to him if it helps — and you can just see on his face how much that weirds him out, both the prospect of maybe talking about Joan and his brother’s intimate life and feelings, and the fact that he offered this kind of comfort and assistance. It’s sort of tragic that that’s when Joan’s finally ready to talk to him about moving out. Of course he takes it the wrong way, of course, in an effort to avoid talking about what that really makes him feel, he starts blathering about their work and how crucial their cohabitation is to their process, when he really, really just doesn’t want to let go of her, doesn’t want to feel abandoned. The thing is, with Sherlock, he wants Joan to be happy, he does. But he needs her, and he’s come to rely on her presence so much, for his own sanity and safety and happiness, that he can’t imagine this will work if they don’t live together. Long story short: he’ll miss her.
Joan doesn’t want to stop being a detective, on the contrary. But she needs a life outside of it, her understanding of happiness is a different one. She wants more, she wants balance, she wants her own space. And she’s not going to tack on the, “it’s not because I don’t love you anymore,” because this is not about Sherlock. It is only in the sense that living with him is hellishly exhausting and because their work is all-consuming. It’s not about him, though. It’s about Joan and her life and her choices, and they are what they are. She doesn’t want to hurt his feelings, but she doesn’t have the magic powers to make his butthurt go away, only he does. He has to understand.
Speaking of comfort and assistance: where did the writers leave the kid Sherlock had agreed to sponsor? And why didn’t we get a scene with Joan and Mrs Hudson? The ensemble cast isn’t that big, but often the show has trouble keeping all plot strands in sight. I’m not saying it should be as layered as Game of Thrones or Twin Peaks, for goodness’ sake, but how difficult can it be?
The case reveals that the victim, West, was assigned to Sherlock after he started making a name for himself by assisting Scotland Yard and solving more and more high-profile cases. He’s rightly pissed about that, and in the wake of Joan’s announcement, he throws himself into investigating the possibility that there’s a mole in MI-6.
A mole that’s now trying to destroy Sherlock and Joan, by means of destroying Mycroft. He’s being framed, for murder and treason. So now, the fight will be to keep the family together and each other alive long enough to solve the puzzle. Onwards to the finale!
Next: The Grand Experiment.