From an outside perspective, the trick to crafting an effective procedural is to make episodes that are similar in structure distinct in meaning. Despite the fact that each episode is unlikely to contribute equally to an ongoing storyline, each hour must nonetheless stand on some kind of principle or purpose, even if that purpose is minor.
In Elementary’s first season, the evolving relationship between Sherlock and Joan could effectively be the point of any given episod. Gaining further characterization for Sherlock, Joan, Bell, or Gregson as individual characters was an equally valid way to justify an hour spent solving a murder not significantly different from the one before it. There were some strong individual cases in the first season, don’t get me wrong, but there was nonetheless a backboard of sorts when it came to giving each episode a meaning: If the story wasn’t compelling on its own, it could tell us something new about characters we were just getting to know.
As season two continues, that backboard is disappearing: There are still things to learn about these characters (specifically Bell and Gregson), but there isn’t the assured curiosity of a first season. We’re familiar enough that little crumbs aren’t enough, which is why reveals like Mycroft in the season premiere or Joan’s reasons for leaving medicine were necessary; rather than shed light on a small detail, we meet a man with immense insight into Sherlock’s past and learn details that reframe Joan’s career path for the audience and, more importantly, for Sherlock.
“We Are Everyone” follows the lead of The Good Wife and makes a play on the Edward Snowden case, mashing it up with an Anonymous riff—Everyone—and crafting a linear tale of a whistleblower-turned-creep-turned-murderer that Sherlock hunts down in the interest of justice. But the B-story—weaved in and out of the hunt for Ezra Kleinfelter—is where my greater interest lies, and where the meaning of the episode was located. In that B-story, Joan is gifted an online dating profile.
It’s a rather bad logline, if we’re being honest; in “What’s On Tonight?” Sonia pointed out online dating was also a storyline on The Big Bang Theory tonight, which reinforces how this sounds like a sitcom plot more than a compelling piece of characterization. I imagine anyone who hasn’t seen the episode but is reading this review—for some reason—may have even raised an eyebrow at the notion. When it’s introduced, Joan is bouncing between visiting with her friend and solving dollhouse crime scene puzzles Sherlock keeps sending her to keep her fresh. It’s a fun way to make Joan’s insistence that “my life is not that weird” fairly unconvincing, but it seems slight at first; over the course of the episode, though, it reveals the question of the hour: Is this her life now?
It’s a question that a lot of other procedurals don’t get the chance to ask on a regular basis, primarily because the people solving crimes are doing so in a more formal workplace arrangement; you will usually get stories of divorce or marital strife reflecting the degree to which the job can become your life, but there is always the sense of obligation that comes with structured labor. By comparison, however, Watson remains at least vaguely self-employed: Sherlock and Joan can choose what cases to take on, can often choose when to work on them, and although Sherlock is particularly obsessive about his work he’s been learning to give Joan some of her own space (hence why he chooses to have Clyde wake her up rather than forcibly waking her up as he’s done in the past). Elementary’s structure is such that it’s able to have Joan go off to have a storyline with her former patient’s son without it seeming as though she’s being pulled away from her job, or as though there’s a substantial division between her life as a detective and her life as a human being.
“We Are Everyone” found its meaning in Joan actually talking about these issues. The online dating profile is a catalyst, certainly, but the larger question is whether or not these characters are going to have lives outside of their work. They may be in a position to gain love interests or find outside connections given the nature of the series, but doing so is another story. For Joan, the barriers are more circumstantial: so busy getting things set up with Sherlock, and adjusting to live with Sherlock, she’s been more invested in the day-to-day of researching sleight of hand and investigating miniature staged suicides. For Sherlock, meanwhile, those barriers are self-imposed, and deeply rooted in his complicated relationship with Irene Adler.
It would be easy to point to the mention—and the aural presence of—Jamie Moriarty as the meaning of “We Are Everyone.” The final sequence certainly frames this as Sherlock beginning to come to grips with how Moriarty’s deception broke him, his belief in a “post-love” world slowly unraveling as he reads the letter Moriarty sent from her jail cell at Newgate Prison. This is the first time all season Irene Adler or Moriarty have been mentioned, and even hearing the names again brought us back to the weight of last season’s conclusion in undoubtedly meaningful ways. Natalie Dormer was an alluring presence visually, but her voice was equally definitive to the character, and its appearance was a strong way to signal the character’s continued presence in Sherlock’s world and the world of Elementary.
And yet it’s not the only takeaway from “We Are Everyone.” The importance of an everyday life to a procedural is more crucial than some might realize, both for how it grounds characters and for how it allows character to remain a focus even after the initial character-building has taken place—a weak procedural is one where any episode that builds character is one that feels conspicuously and especially designed to do so, as though a traditional episode could not complete the task. With such a small central cast and a tight focus on—most often—a single primary case, Elementary has plenty of room to explore character. However, rather than simply giving us a B-story about Joan online dating, “We Are Everyone” uses that story to ask questions about what kind of life these characters want to lead, questions that are answered in compelling ways and—more importantly—are the kind of questions Sherlock and Joan would ask themselves and each other given their relationship.
As “We Are Everyone” comes to its conclusion, the other big reveal is that Joan has begun to tell Sherlock’s story. She doesn’t know what form this story will take—she crosses out The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes in favor of simply his name—but she is committed to telling the story so that people can come to know Sherlock as she does. It’s not a blog, or a novel, or anything specific, really: It’s a project, an open-ended tale not unlike Milton Van Kirk’s 5,000-page manuscript, something that she may do for herself without ever sharing with someone else. As she tells Jeff Heinz (Tony winner Steve Kazee) on the doorstep, Sherlock is a long story, but the idea that it’s a story that needs to be told is something neither Joan nor the series has taken for granted. “We Are Everyone” earns its stories, making even the most mundane of loglines tie into not simply desired outcomes but actual questions which will underpin future developments well beyond the storylines on display in this episode; it’s something that’s been well-calibrated thus far this season, and shows a subtle but nonetheless significant evolution in the series’ development.
- Speaking of differentiation, I remain convinced the show should consider killing fewer people, although by the end of “We Are Everyone” I understood why Kleinfelter needed to have murdered someone (as it resulted in his inability to gain asylum in Venezuela).
- My one central issue with the procedural storyline, though, was where exactly the FBI was during all of it; it felt like this would be a pretty clear case of federal jurisdiction once they got to the airport, so where was the FBI? How could Gregson have authority to let him get on the plane? Seemed streamlined to the point of incomprehension.
- Tony winner Steve Kazee was joined by Tony nominee Laura Osnes, playing Kleinfelter’s source Celia Carroll. The former seems more likely to recur, but I sort of like the idea of Carroll returning as well.
- Speaking of which: I much appreciated, as an episodic reviewer of television, the fact that so many character names were visualized in this episode, as it saved me a trip to IMDB to double-check spellings.
- In case you were wondering, nefarious really does sound like a made up word if you say it aloud 15 times in a row. Try it.
- “No Belgian is that bad at backgammon.” This made me wonder how Sherlock would test the veracity of one’s identity if they claimed to be Canadian.
- I was really sad that if a woman whose online alias was “Defenestrator” was going to die, they did not do so by being thrown out a window.
- We may have been warned in advance, but I nonetheless felt a surge of excitement when I realized Clyde was the one in bed with Joan. I’d say my almost unfathomably enthusiastic response to his return suggests withholding Clyde was an effective strategy.
- “In other words, you plan on arguing on the Internet all night.” I wish this solved more of my problems.