In its second season, Elementary has tried to emphasize its serial aspects in big ways and small ones. “The One Percent Solution” is full of small continuity moments: Sherlock stress-baking Yorkshire pudding, his ongoing disgust regarding financial fat cats and corporate machinations, Joan stealing a phone, and Sherlock making sure Watson never gets a full eight hours.
And this week also marks the return of Lestrade, “security czar” and burr in Sherlock’s shoe. (If you missed their tension the first time, this episode reminds you, thanks to a thematically handy subplot about a literal cockfight.) Lestrade’s new status as glorified lackey for a one-percenter includes a personal assistant, coconut water, and speaking engagements about deduction. It’s a surprise to Sherlock, whose reaction to being asked to “match wits” with Lestrade is a glare so withering it’s basically mummification. But Sherlock’s frustration isn’t just about sharing territory (cockfight), or Lestrade’s laughable approach to detective work. It’s that, defying Sherlock’s expectations, Lestrade has somehow found success.
Sherlock has had a spotty track record of assessing or confronting people from his past—some because his recovery has changed their dynamic, some because they’re actually evil masterminds, and some just because his pride gets in the way. Though Sherlock is right to be angry at Lestrade for taking advantage of him for years, and feels he’s decidedly above giving DOUG Chats anyway, Lestrade’s thievery of Sherlock’s techniques is a facade he’s kept up pretty well. It’s a blow to Sherlock’s ego, and he struggles with putting the case ahead of besting Lestrade. Both Lestrade (a note-perfect Sean Pertwee whether he’s on Full Smarm or giving a heartbroken admission of his shortcomings) and Sherlock have to find common ground, and Sherlock will have to work through a struggle from his past. Again.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that; one of the best things about Elementary is how often this Sherlock is forced to confront his assumptions—that he can underestimate people, that he can be wrong or be pleasantly surprised. One of the things the show did best throughout its exemplary first season is establish that Sherlock isn’t above the world, but in it; his ego and his accuracy are not directly connected. He had a past that, as part of his recovery, he has to understand and accept.
But the other thing the show did best last season was to slowly give us a portrait of Joan; as a sober companion, then as someone struggling with her involvement in Sherlock’s cases (and his life), then a partner in deduction, and, occasionally, crime. The biggest failing of the second season has been its seeming confusion as to what to do with Joan.
Last week’s episode was maybe the worst instance so far of trying to give Joan a fraction of the backstory Sherlock’s gotten. The reveal about her birth father was forced, and only served to remind us how little we’ve seen of her family. It also didn’t address the off-balance dynamic in the brownstone recently. After a slow-burn development of trust in Season One in which Joan’s reactions propelled both their developments, she’s diminished in the psychological landscape of the show. The glimpse into the case that made her turn her back on surgery was beautifully done—but hasn’t been followed by anything nearly as illuminating. Her deductive work is as good as the plots require, but her only big-time personal beats this season have been sleeping with Mycroft—so out of character even the dialogue admitted it—or her discovery that Sherlock breached her trust and slept with her friend, without letting her get mad about it. It feels like she’s treading water as the showrunners try to decide what to do, mostly by having her halfheartedly get in Sherlock’s way, or letting her investigations serve as setup for the case of the week, or by giving her so little to do that she risks becoming the most dreaded thing of all in a Holmes adaptation—Watson as sidekick, with no real inner life except as the plot requires.
This episode’s other subplot served only to bring that message home. Joan is repeatedly treated like an assistant by Lestrade’s assistant—and by Lestrade, who tries to poach her. She rightly shoots it down, but Sherlock doesn’t even notice it’s happening until Joan tells him. It feels like setup for a confrontation that never comes. Is this a hint of the growing alienation between them? Is she angry Sherlock hasn’t noticed Lestrade’s casual attempts to demote her or freeze her out? Given that Joan has been investigating her own cases this season, and Lestrade’s referred to as his “ex-partner” more than once, it feels like the show’s pulling back from a natural build on Sherlock and Joan’s mutual frustrations and lingering trust issues. “Please don’t bring me into this,” she says just before Sherlock extolls her abilities to Lestrade, but not much comes of this promising tension. Back in “Dead Clade Walking,” the show made a point of having Sherlock suspect Watson was withholding her thoughts from him. This episode confirms a deeper oversight: the show’s withholding too many of her thoughts from us.
There’s so much opportunity to show her growing pains; I’m not sure why the show’s still skirting it this close to the back six. Guest star Lestrade gets a moral dilemma this episode; he has to weigh his beloved lifestyle against the integrity of the case, and errs on the side of right. His relationship to Sherlock is tense, layered, focused. What we learn about Joan this episode: she doesn’t like cockfights. (Oh, and she’s not an assistant, they promise.) Joan deserves more. Let’s hope she gets it before the end of the season.
- I’d like to thank Myles for the chance to sub in on such an interesting episode to dissect. I worry because I care, Elementary.
- The subplot and tertiary herrings this week are a nice feed back into the A-plot: Romulus and Remus the twin roosters who eventually find a peaceful accord; Aurelius the bomber; Cassius the general who temporarily usurped Aurelius.
- “I refuse on principle to work with anyone who would willingly refer to themselves as a czar.” Solid advice.
- Sherlock’s ringtone gambit is as funny as it is infuriating: Joan’s asked him repeatedly not to touch her phone, explicitly making it an issue of boundaries last year, and yet now, nothing.
- The occasionally generic branding continues with DOUG Chats (but you can still presumably Instagram them from your Bing when you get there).