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Friday, 16 of April of 2021

Elementary – “Rat Race”

“It has its costs.”

The character of Sherlock Holmes has as many different interpretations as he has iterations. From brilliant antisocial snob to brilliant borderline sociopath, Sherlock can be – and has been – many things. What makes new versions of the character possible is this elasticity of traits. What makes new versions of this character worthwhile is which combination of traits its current owners go for. How do you make it fresh, how do you keep it interesting?

So far, Elementary is making a damn good go at crafting a distinct and intriguing new Sherlock both in tone and texture.

With every episode, we learn a little bit more about how this Sherlock ticks, a little bit more about what’s underneath the surface. It must be said that the fact that this Sherlock willingly reveals things about himself – not as a trick, not after being backed into a corner, but in an honest desire to give truth to another person – reveals as much about, and shapes, this character as what he actually says.

I enjoyed the case this week, but even more than the whodunnit, I enjoyed how the situation affected Sherlock and, by extension, Watson.

One of the major, major selling points in a Sherlock story is who will play Watson and how good Watson and Sherlock’s chemistry will be. While Elementary chose to make Watson female, I love that they don’t dwell on it. It isn’t a “thing” that controls what the characters can be or do; Elementary‘s Watson could just as well be male and it wouldn’t affect anything in the story. And when they do point out Watson’s gender (in comparison to Sherlock’s, almost always) it’s for things like the joke of Gregson misinterpreting (or did he?) the exact nature of Watson and Sherlock’s living situation.

The chemistry between JLM’s Sherlock and Lucy Liu’s Watson is fabulous. They just click, and it’s wonderful to see. Plus, it lends itself to very snappy back-and-forth (which, as anyone could tell you, is my absolute favorite kind). From the start they’ve had that connection, and I’m glad to see it growing organically, following a natural course as the characters get to know one another better and get more comfortable with one another.

That plays well in this episode in the context of Watson’s date(s) with Aaron. Previously, Watson attempted to keep Sherlock completely out of her personal life. Though she attempts to maintain that boundary at the beginning of this episode, by midway through she and Sherlock are having casual conversations about her outings. Like how thanks to her time hanging around Sherlock, Watson now has finely tuned lie-dar and could totally tell that her date wasn’t being honest with her. “Flexing your deductive skills; I could burst with pride,” Sherlock says. It’s such a cute thing – carried into her follow up with Aaron after she (actually, Sherlock) determines he’s, you know, legally married – with Sherlock encouraging her curiosity and deductive skills.

Watson and Sherlock are getting to know one another better, a fact that actually plays into solving the case – or at least rescuing Sherlock from murder and, thereby, the end of the case. Watson knows that the text she receives isn’t from Sherlock because of the absence of text-speak. Because of this, she’s able to send the cavalry who arrive just in the nick of time. What’s more, Sherlock knew that Watson would recognize the text as foreign. Awww, teammates!

“You speak Mandarin?”
“Not as well as I would like. You?”
“Not as well as my mother would like.”

There are two huge scenes between Watson and Sherlock in this episode. The first is a great one that starts with language and ends with them discussing the drugged up crime scene they visited earlier that day. It’s a brilliant scene, the shift from casual to serious, the revelations that are made important ones for the future. Watson questions Sherlock’s state of mind after encountering heroin and a supposed overdose at the crime scene. Sherlock, in a moment of openness that characterizes this version – admits he’d forgotten the smell of cooked heroin and that it brought back memories. But he also insists that he isn’t going to relapse.

Watson seems to believe him (enough to go on the date she originally planned to blow off). But she fears a relapse when Sherlock goes missing and doesn’t respond to her calls or texts. Watson’s decision to tell Gregson the truth about her arrangement with Sherlock is a big moment in what comes after it. Sherlock knows he will have to talk to Gregson about his past and, with some urging from Watson, he does exactly that. This could have been a bog-standard confrontation. What we get is more than an “I lied to you” confession scene. What we get is a glimpse into Sherlock’s personality and what he thinks of Gregson.

“I was embarrassed. Since we first collaborated, you’ve held me and my work in the highest esteem. I guess I was more vain about that than I realized.”

I love this conversation between Sherlock and Gregson. I love what it tells us about Sherlock, what Gregson thinks about Sherlock, and what Gregson’s decision to keep a lid on Sherlock’s past (he already knew about the rehab!) means to Sherlock. Again, this is a more human Sherlock Holmes with emotions and flaws.

And with vulnerability. For most brilliant characters, their brilliance – and the tendency toward arrogance, or at least inflated confidence – are their vulnerability, their weakness. See BBC’s Sherlock. But this Sherlock doesn’t have a vulnerability. He’s simply vulnerable. And he shows it.

The second huge scene between Sherlock and Watson is right at the end of the episode. Once again talking about Aaron, the married-for-a-green-card do-gooder, the subject of observation comes up.

“It has its costs.”
“What does?”
“Learning to see the puzzle in everything.”

“Seems to be a lonely way to live.”
“As I said: it has its costs.”

There is so much depth to this scene, coming from such a casual start. See also the earlier scene with Watson and – in reverse order of heaviness – the confession scene with Gregson. It’s become something of an M.O. with this show, the ability to slip sudden emotional depth into the relative shallows of police procedural. It’s like wading in the surf and suddenly finding yourself in the cool darkness a mile under the waves. It’s both shocking and refreshing and I can’t wait to see more of it. That kind of an ability bodes well for where the show can go in the future and how it can continue to grow in the present.

I have never enjoyed eating my words as much as I am with Elementary. Good thing I’m hungry.



  • The first pleasure in this  was how working for a big banking/finance firm brought out an almost philanthropic side to Sherlock. Come to find out, he actively dislikes Big Business and as such has no qualms spending his expense account in all sorts of unnecessary ways. Like buying a bottle of the most expensive wine on the menu at one of the most upscale restaurants in New York for the young couple who, he has deduced, are there for the first (and possibly only) time on money saved for the occasion of the man proposing to the woman. THIS SHERLOCK, YOU GUYS. “I’m redistributing as much of their assets as possible.” C’mon, how can you not love that? It’s a Sherlock with a heart, even if it is a heart that is usually overwhelmed by his churning mind.
  • Sherlock’s detective accent: BWAHAHAHA!
  • “I believe you may have a sociopath in your midst.” Did anyone else burst out laughing at the many different layers contained in that statement. OH, THE IRONY.
  • I love when Watson keeps up and plays along with Sherlock, either chiming in or just maintaining the appropriate expression for whatever he’s trying to pull. There’s so much promise in that.
  • It’s been remiss of me not to say so earlier, but: AIDAN QUINN, EEEE!
  • I kind of like this Aaron guy. Which means he’ll probably disappear from the narrative soon. Or that his little arc will end in tragedy of some kind.
  • Watson’s time will come. They made such a thing about her surgeon past there in the very beginning, but then it was kind of dropped. BUT IT SHALL RETURN. Mark my words, they’re waiting to bring in some kind of personal case/situation and then they’ll bring it back in when the emotional tides are high.

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