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Sherlock and Joan might finally be facing their problem on Elementary

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“I consider it the greatest privilege to have been permitted to study your methods of working. I confess that they quite surpass my expectations, and that I am utterly unable to account for your result. I have not yet seen the vestige of a clue.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Reigate Squire”

In 1893, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson headed for the countryside so Holmes could recover from nervous exhaustion. Of course, almost as soon as they got there, there was a murder, and Holmes and Watson discovered blackmail gone wrong and some powerful local figures who had no compunctions about killing to protect their secrets.

“The Adventure Of The Reigate Squire” is everywhere in “Moving Targets,” from the cold-open case wrap (which includes some story dialogue) to the smell of Sumatra coffee. The Now That Sounds Like Music-brand Pikachu has no real analogue, but you could extrapolate that the ethically-questionable reality show setup isn’t just an excuse for a nightmarish interlude, and instead serves to draw a parallel to Holmes’ own growing celebrity, even in the sleepy countryside.


Among the actual parallels, Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock operates this episode with a sort of restless exhaustion that lends everything an air of uneasiness, never mentioned but hard to shake. Watson has to contend with a certain level of distrust that the great detective is quite himself. And both of the deaths this episode map fairly neatly over the original case. Vlasik took on a gun manufacturer single-handedly as revenge for someone she lost and was killed by a man who thought he was above suspicion; by infiltrating SPK, Shinwell made himself a target for people who think they can get away with it.

It was always fairly likely that Shinwell, whose situation was precarious to begin with and was repeatedly foreshadowed by his close scrapes, was not going to make it forever. I’m still a little surprised he didn’t even make it to the season finale, and I can’t say I’m thrilled that he’s been murdered just in time for Joan and Sherlock to feel guilty enough to do something about SPK when they’ve spent so much of this season chastising Shinwell for wanting exactly that. He must have known he was doomed one way or the other once he handed over his confession to Joan; that sort of redemption moment is usually fatal.


Still, Nelsan Ellis has done a fantastic job; Shinwell had a depth and nuance beyond what the part called for, and though we knew he was relentless, we never thought of him the way Sherlock did. (He puts a lifetime of weariness into his final conversation with Watson: “I didn’t do all this because I wanted to get away with what I did. I did it because I was trying to make up for it.”) Even given his absence in the last few episodes, and the uneasy swiftness of his dispatch, he and Lucy Liu are able to rebuild a sense of missed opportunities and lingering respect, enough to make his death sting. When Watson rushes to his body, the camera doesn’t have to cut to show us Watson’s stricken face; we can guess.

Liu’s directorial outings are always slightly more visually interesting than the usual. In particular, this episode, she offers up a collection of those wide shots, which, taken together, give us an episode-wide sense of characters in relation to one another. That sense of people negotiating space is especially important in the more intimate arguments between Sherlock and Watson, where staging is everything. There’s a palpable difference between their first conversation about Shinwell, conducted standing in their clothes from the day, and their second, with Joan perched on the coach in a dressing gown and Sherlock looming over her in a sports coat the color of disapproval.

Of course, because he’s Sherlock, he’s paying attention, and he’s not entirely wrong that Joan considers Shinwell someone she can still save; Joan certainly wouldn’t be meeting with Shinwell if she didn’t think something productive could come out of it. Still, I think he’s a bit naive about her reasons. When she says, “He said it was important,” he hears that she thinks what Shinwell did to Sherlock wasn’t bad enough for her to sever ties, and we hear the Joan who scams a woman on her own doorstep into giving up crucial homicide-investigation information. She can be brutally pragmatic; Sherlock just doesn’t know what to do with it.

His image of Shinwell—unfortunately, now reinforced by Shinwell’s slightly out-of-nowhere attack—is not so accurate. “He’s not reformed one iota” seems born out of loyalty to Joan’s efforts, but it’s kind of a big thing to say about someone who’s given up on his family and risked his life to infiltrate this gang and try bring it down from the inside. In fact, the longer Sherlock goes on about his concerns for Joan and his mistrust of Shinwell, the more it sounds like projection to a degree that, were Sherlock a little more detached on this score, might bring him up short: “He doesn’t want to help himself. He just wants to hurt others. I’ve become quite certain that in the end, he’ll hurt you as well.”


Joan doesn’t reply to Sherlock’s outburst—a common thing for her, and one I think the show leans on a little too often, given that so much of her psychology is still opaque in comparison to Sherlock. And honestly, it’s easy to see that pattern again here; we hardly ever get the sense that Joan is the POV character for a beat like this. But this time, we do. This time, her silence isn’t a signal the subject’s closed until Sherlock wants to open it again. Instead, it feels like Joan has plenty of thoughts—she just isn’t willing to hash them out with Sherlock because she doesn’t trust him with them. It feels like their partnership, which has been in flux all season, has finally named its hairline fracture.

In their last moment together this episode, she looks at a text from Shinwell. This time, both Sherlock and Joan are silent, but a brief glance makes it clear what’s going on; she knows he’s angry at Shinwell and frightened for her, and he knows she’s going to go anyway. It’s a momentary stalemate—then Sherlock walks away, looking as tired as we’ve ever seen him, and leaving Watson with the realization that something really might be wrong. It’s a moment of deliberate ambiguity in a show that’s fallen into the habit of wrapping things up; for once, I have hope that this conversation isn’t over.


Also, honestly, let’s just leave this here, shall we?


Stray observations

  • I am not sure that at this point Elementary is in a position to introduce a Ugandan child soldier as a suspect in passing; without the time it deserves, it feels like a glossed-over placeholder rather than exploration of a real character or situation.
  • See also: The casual equation of gun violence to mental illness, which might well have been unintentional but was also unnecessary to the larger case and definitely could have been avoided unless the show was planning to engage with gun control and related stigmas beyond suggesting that men without conscience profit from the gun industry. Bribing cops to adopt your gun brand and letting the manufacturers escape any real repercussions is plenty bad, I promise.
  • If this show invokes Joan’s mom as exposition or bluff one more time without actually showing her, I don’t know what I’m going to do. It’s been 84 years.
  • I feel slightly more charitable about the Chantal update, which was a nice bit of continuity.
  • That knock-off Pikachu actress was great, from the defeated tilt of her enormous head to that utterly unconcerned selfie.
  • Joan wore her starkest, priest-frock-iest coat on her way to judge Shinwell’s moving-day summons, didn’t she?
  • Line delivery of the week: “Milo committed suicide.” “He was stabbed sixteen times.” “Hardest he ever worked in his life.” You could see the joke coming, but Liu’s setup landed perfectly.
  • The inevitable strip-club scene that must occur in every cop procedural has arrived; it’s worth noting that The Glitter House employees are wearing ballet warm-up wear and casually stretching or prepping the register.
  • Watson woke up of her own volition (and woke up Sherlock), in what I can only assume was a direct effort to soothe me specifically about Joan’s constantly-interrupted sleep patterns.
  • Li’l Catwalk, Dog Lawyers, and That’s Nasty.” Tag yourself, I guess.