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Friday, 16 of April of 2021

Elementary – “Lesser Evils”

“Like a wise man once said: First instincts; usually right.”

Just as there are many different ways to tell a story, there are many different ways to develop characters. You can begin at a life-changing moment, or right after it. You can start with the end result – be it the final stretch of life or the place a character ends up after their long journey of development – or you can make that your final destination and make how the character got there the focus.

The truth is, unless we start at the very, very beginning, we are always coming into a character in medias res. There are always parts of the character’s past that we don’t know, parts that have inescapably shaped them and influence every decision they make.

One of the concerns – with stories and characters – is giving away too much too soon. Wanting to know more, wanting to watch the yarn spin out, is what keeps the audience coming back. It’s all about giving just enough in just the right way to hold the audience’s interest.

Elementary is doing a fine job of yarn spinning with its main characters, Sherlock and Watson. I’ve written before about the audience getting little pieces of Sherlock’s history through the episodes. “Lesser Evils” is very much a Watson story in terms of character revelations and development.

The biggest reveal in the episode is that Watson’s departure from the medical profession was self-imposed. I have to admit, I did not see that one coming, and it changes where I think things might be headed. It also shifts the dynamic between Watson and Sherlock a bit as Sherlock processes the new information – which is in contrast to what he originally believed was the case (and what the audience was similarly led to believe) – and changes his expectations and understanding of Watson’s character accordingly. His face when he puts together “Watson’s medical suspension was only for a few months” and “Watson still has gone back to being a doctor” is priceless.

He pushes Watson a little, hoping to get more detail as to why she chose exile, but he only gets: “It’s hard to be a surgeon when you freeze up every time someone hands you a scalpel.” She counters his accusation that she lied about not being able to practice medicine with the fact that she let her medical license expire. The fact that Sherlock doesn’t push the issue – which has been the case so far, actually – and the fact that being a doctor (and now, not being a doctor) is such a significant part of Watson’s character means we are definitely going to see this come up again.

What I appreciate is how the show is revealing this information. Giving us little tidbits about Sherlock, then giving us this big tidbit about Watson – it’s important. Presenting it in the way they have gives the audience something to ponder and look forward to (We’ll find out more! I can’t wait!). It allows the characters to do so as well. As we learn more about Watson, so will Sherlock, and we’ll get to see how that changes his interactions with her – what he does and does not do and the reactions he expects in return from her. It’s good stuff, is what I’m saying.

Beyond just the revelation of Watson’s self-imposed exile, there’s seeing her in her medical element and interacting with old doctor friends. Even Sherlock says that he enjoyed seeing her in her former medical habitat, and watching Watson get to go into doctor mode while helping Sherlock was fantastic. It’s two brilliant minds working in tandem.

I appreciate the consistency of Sherlock supporting Watson – previously in her belief that Green Card Marriage Guy, Aaron, was lying to her – and now with her concern about the young patient and the possibility of endocarditis. He’s so intent on Watson believing in herself and trusting her first instincts, in following through on them. He cares. I have to wonder whether Watson would have put the anonymous test request had she not met Sherlock. If she hadn’t been influenced by him (through near constant daily exposure), would she have just let her concerns slide, or would she still have taken that risk? It’s an interesting thought made even better by the fact that I honestly don’t know. The argument could be made either way.

What’s for certain is that Sherlock’s enthusiasm for the investigation is rubbing off on Watson. It was probably helped along by the medical nature of this particular case, but for the first time, Watson seems truly invested in the investigation. Not that she cares – she’s had sympathy and wanted justice for the victims each time – but that she’s curious. She was always detached from the cases before, somewhat disinterested in them as a whole. Her reluctance this time around is relegated more to “we shouldn’t do it this way” (see: the hospital room barricade) then to “okay, fine, if we must.” In previous cases, she was pained but not very involved, coming into play only as Sherlock needed her or as he piqued her curiosity. She’s actively investigating this time, even putting the clues together before Sherlock and/or without his prompting, such as with the perfume shop.

It’s a subtle shift, really, but a significant one. This is how someone coming into Sherlock’s sphere of influence should react, especially someone as bright and naturally curious as Watson. Because she is curious – no one who chooses to work with addicts for a living could not be. Prior involvement in cases coupled with Sherlock’s encouragement of her detective skills guarantees that her interest in investigation will increase. Now that she’s played an important role in solving a case, that interest should only increase. It’s a strong, natural progression of character.

As far as a strong, natural progression of story, this episode got me thinking. It’s nice, as always, to watch Sherlock square off against the Big Bad. Heck, this episode he got to do so against three: Morphine Guy, Angel of Death, and Head of Surgery. Though, really, only Head of Surgery was the real Big Bad.

Not much time is spent on Sherlock’s head-to-head with the Angel. In fact, their last meeting – when Sherlock convinces him to provide evidence that  condemns Head of Surgery as a murderer – isn’t even shown on screen. But their moment in the interrogation room is interesting in the contrast it shows between the two: both, at that moment, are completely convinced they are right. The Angel thought Samantha was suffering and dying; Sherlock is sure she wasn’t. The Angel’s steadfast belief (and the evidence patterns) causes Sherlock’s to waver. He blinks, and that leads to the main Big Bad, Head of Surgery.

His first confrontation with Sherlock – where Sherlock straight up accuses him of being the Angel is a very interesting one. Baldwin brushes aside any belief that he could perform mercy killings, citing his surgical inclinations and the fact that he likes his patients unconscious. When he gets them, he couldn’t care less if they’re suffering or dying or anything. “So you’re too indifferent to your patients to be an Angel of Death. That’s a novel alibi.”

It’s also the truth, which makes Baldwin that much more interesting of a contrast to Sherlock. Especially this Sherlock. This Sherlock does care. He may often ignore it for other, more pressing matters, but he cares what people think, how they feel. It’s an interesting comparison. Both men are brilliant and analytical, but they are very different in the details.

And here is where it gets very interesting. The Big Bads, for all their intriguing characteristics, are never truly a match for Sherlock. He has to catch them; that’s the point of the show, that’s what he does. So are we ever going to see a Big Bad who lasts more than one episode? And I don’t mean a two-parter criminal. I mean an arc villain.

Are we ever going to get Moriarty?

It could be the Moriarty (somehow) or a Moriarty-like character. Will we get one? There is, of course, special interest in the Moriarty given the character’s established relationship with Sherlock. But with the shake up of the original taken with Elementary, I could see the show creating a Moriarty-like nemesis. It feels like they were setting up for Adam from “Child Predator” to return in the future, so maybe he’s the track they’re taking. But should they?

While it could be fun for Sherlock to have a bad guy to banter with more than once, arc villains have their pitfalls. Their story can be drawn out too long, their multiple escapes from our Hero can start to become ludicrous, and there’s always the possibility that the audience loses interest in them faster than expected, leading to a spate of episode and story arcs requiring their presence but annoying the audience for just that. But there’s also the positives: providing a strong through-arc for the main character(s), getting grand pay off down the line from the backstory that is built up, being a catalyst.

I’m not sure which way Elementary wants to go – arc villain or no – but if they do choose the former, I hope they give it a while before give it a go. We need to develop Sherlock and Watson, and the minor characters around them, much more before we bring in such a game changer as a repeat bad guy.

 

 

Extras:

  • Sherlock “experiments” with corpses at the local hospital. By putting them in choke holds. Of course he does. OF COURSE HE DOES.
  • “Coffee orders. The Magna Carta was less complicated.”
  • I love the two construction workers who ogle Watson as she and Sherlock leave the perfume shop. Shout out to the extras making that moment feel very honest and natural.
  • “HOLY SHIT, THAT WAS ANIKA NONI ROSE.” My thoughts when I just went to IMDB to find Watson’s old doctor friend’s name. I did not recognize you, girl! Love you!
  • “She’ll be fine, Joan. I’ll be operating on her, not you.” I should not be hoping for that girl to die just to spite Dwyer.
  • The more they work together, the more I enjoy the Sherlock and Young Detective dynamic. What’s his name? Bell, that’s it. I love Sherlock and Bell’s dynamic.
  • Sherlock starts falling apart because he was wrong about Cahill (“He was just a druggie, I fail at life!“), and I have a flash of Mulder, with Watson-Scully gently telling him to man up.
  • Order of events with Cahill: suspect, not a suspect, THE suspect, morphine addict. See, kids? Relentlessly pursue criminals and you’ll catch unrelated perps almost by accident!
  • Seriously, there have been SO MANY ADDICTS for Sherlock to stumble across. Hmm, I wonder if this may eventually lead to something…

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