Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Elementary gets cozy in “Crowned Clown, Downtown Brown”

Illustration for article titled Elementary gets cozy in “Crowned Clown, Downtown Brown”

“I can see how it would drive someone to murder.”

The partnership between Holmes and Watson is arguably the most important dynamic in any adaptation of the canon. We’ve seen Holmes and Watson have a close and trusting friendship (often, from Russia’s The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson or the Granada series), Watson and Holmes struggle with irreconcilable differences (the BBC TV movies that centered on Ian Hart’s Watson), and Watson as, essentially, the audience at a magic show (the Basil Rathbone films).


The partnership between this Holmes and Watson has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny. Making Watson a woman was a decision the showrunners defended at length (usually including the promise not to make things romantic, which if nothing else perked up the ears of academics who have decades of queer theory on extant Holmes adaptations). However, the most distinctive thing about the partnership of this Holmes and Watson turns out to have been how long it took them to trust each other, and how fragile that trust still is. Even this season, Sherlock’s still checking to make sure Joan won’t leave him; she has before, and their current calm is no guarantee. Despite the show’s tendency to put more narrative weight on Sherlock, this is a partnership of equals—as much because either one of them could disappoint the other at any moment. We’ve seen hints of that throughout this season.

But it’s also a domestic partnership, in a platonic sense, so it’s always nice to see glimpses of the mundanely intimate in between their moments of tension. (Particularly when those moments don’t include, say, Joan having to deal with chickens that suddenly appear in her home.) And for an episode that includes a superbug potentially poisoning the New York City water supply, “Crowned Clown, Downtown Brown” is as close to a cozy mystery as Elementary‘s had in a while.

How cozy? “Murder In Mount Pleasant” cozy. Complaining to a family friend about your stepfather’s books and then asking him for a favor cozy. (Them replying “Am I going to be the next one kissing your partner?” cozy.) Coming home, yanking the cord on a hellish barrel organ number, and casually suggesting murder cozy. Snipping at your life partner about what they drank at the bar cozy. The plumber calling your roommate your girlfriend and you not correcting them cozy.

They’re all small moments; the Elementary formula is established by now, and we know the viral-marketing harlequin murder is only the beginning of an attempt to leverage the entire New York water supply with a poop virus via either eccentric millionaires or corrupt public servants. It’s the kind of episode that solves the immediate threat of a citywide water-poisoning crisis during a commercial break. (Forget it, Jake. It’s Elementarytown.)

But this episode quietly establishes the new normal at the brownstone. They even get matching tracking shots through the house—Joan with the barrel organ, Sherlock on his way to investigate the water filter—so it feels like it’s equally theirs. Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu double down on it, too; Sherlock has a longstanding tendency to hide his hands when he’s meeting people he isn’t going to like, and when meeting the AdRupt CEO and during the Homeland Security meeting in Gregson’s office, Sherlock and Joan stand side by side, both of them hiding their hands against the enemy. It’s the most visually united they’ve been in a while.

In the long run, this is going to be a slight episode—many cozies are—but nobody read The Heart Bleeds Blue for the case. This is an episode that showcases partnership, and I’ll always take one of those.


Stray observations

  • The actual plot of this episode was more dodgy than its character beats for our main pair. This show has a distinct tendency to have white corporate evildoers, to the point that it sort of counts as a twist that neither of the white corporate guys in this episode was actually guilty, so I get wanting to switch it up. But if there’s ever a good time to have a black public servant in the DEP conspiring to poison the water supply in order to get rich off it, I’m not sure right now is the time.
  • And if you’re going to have that happen, maybe don’t also have a black man hassling his ex and her new boyfriend for vaguely-illegal reasons after committing professional fraud. That seems like a lot for one episode.
  • While you’re at it, definitely do not namecheck Flint’s water crisis in the past tense, unless you’re specifically referring to the insufficient government aid to an ongoing crisis, in which case, clarify.
  • I’m not sold on his subplot whatsoever—it’s the kind of thing it would be weird to just drop, but I don’t necessarily trust them to handle well—but Marcus in general was great this episode. Jon Michael Hill is often in the thankless position of being the liaison who delivers plot to the only two people in Major Cases who ever solve anything onscreen. It was really interesting to see him confronting Roy; it’s a slightly more menacing beat than we’ve seen from him in a while, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s a tactic Joan gave him.
  • Occasionally the hook crimes on this show can feel like a bit much. But I ended up liking the Mr. Mangles frame story more than I thought I would; the ecosystem of corporate callousness that existed all on its own made the coincidental murder feel serendipitous but somehow parallel to the A case. That journalist bailed on his ethically-bogus gig to try to report on a major story, even if it was the last thing he did. There’s enough substance there that you feel echoes of that sacrifice when the story’s leaked and when Sherlock reads something oddly credible out of the tabloid.
  • Jonny Lee Miller loves his job: “At least two, you never know with clowns.”
  • Line delivery of the week: Gregson’s “You know what is illegal? Murder.” (Assist from Miller: “We checked.”)
  • Lucy Liu auntie-ing Marcus about his date was adorable.
  • Debra Jo Rupp should be on every cop show, just the once, always for a clown-related murder, and no one should ever say a thing about it.
  • Sure, Sherlock and Joan are the primary partnership on the show, but I love the moments Joan has with Marcus or Gregson. When Joan and Gregson turn to each other the moment Homeland Security mentioned the leak, it was a practiced move. They deal with Sherlock a lot.
  • Okay, listen, Joan: Your stepfather didn’t ask permission to write The Heart Bled Blue. He pulled The Heart Hit Home when you got mad about it! You said it was okay for him to publish it! You apparently helped him edit it! This one’s on you!
  • That said, I’m thrilled there won’t be any more of them. That was one of the creepiest subplots this show has ever had, all the more because the show didn’t seem to think it was nearly as invasive and inappropriate as it was. (Begrudging hats off to that cover, though.)