Polyamorous Love, Fisticuffs, and a Focus on Joan for Elementary

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Tonight’s Elementary was a reason to like the show: untangling a ridiculously convoluted mystery where everyone has a motive, exploring a non-traditional lifestyle without it immediately condemning the participants, and Joan kicking ass. The only thing missing? Clyde.

You had a whole extra day to catch up on the holiday episode; if you keep reading now you have no one to blame but yourself for spoilers.

We launched the episode with a symbolic slap: Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) and Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) restrained but not powerless in “unpickable” handcuffs. I dearly hope their relaxation and banter while escaping is foreshadowing for a high-stakes repeat of true captivity later this season. The scene unfolds as a beautiful character moment. Sure, Sherlock frees himself first when prodded by an irritating ringtone, but Joan is loose moments later and wins the challenge of keeping her phone secure from his prying.


Gina, don’t let the all-white and high heels fool you: Joan will kick your ass.

The subplot continues to develop Joan’s growing independence and inclinations to solving problems with violence. Detective Gina Cortes (Monique Gabriela Curnen) asks uncomfortable questions of Joan’s friends, and all Joan’s attempts to resolve the situation peaceably are to no avail. Cortes objects to the grey area the consulting detectives operate in, and threatens to dig enough to reveal Morland’s sketchy bargain that got the duo reinstated with the police department. Of course the only way to resolve interpersonal conflict within the police department is with a boxing match, and even more inevitably the fisticuffs happened off-camera so we’re robbed of the glory of watching Joan thrash Gina. However, I’m somewhat soothed by closing out the story with Sherlock proudly fussing over his wounded parter with ice, advice, and a herb poultice, and truly adorable dialogue:

Sherlock: At the very least, this has proven the wisdom of continuously training in the combat arts. You do, of course, need to work on your defense. You allowed Cortes to land far too many punches.

Joan: I did. But all that matters is that I landed the last one.


It’s an embarrassment of exes to broaden the suspect pool!

As for the main plot: Sherlock and Joan uncover the victim is in a polyamorous marriage (and divorced from another polyamorous marriage). The story acknowledges the interpersonal dynamics are inherently more complex by involving more people, and even finds humour in normalizing that with Captain Thomas Gregson (Aidan Quinn) griping about the logistics of the interrogations. Yet Elementary dodges the nasty habit of so many procedurals (I’m looking at you, CSI) and doesn’t make the participants in non-traditional lifestyles all criminals. Polyamory is just an adjective for their lifestyles, like “middle-class,” “urban,” or “boring,” not a motive for the crime.


Instead, after investigating suspects motivated by adultery, jealousy, money, ethics violations, and black market fetuses, Sherlock and Joan circle back around to their original suspect for a whole new reason. Joan’s expert medical knowledge reveals Husband #1, Dr. Nate Campbell (Gabriel Olds), has been deliberately misdiagnosing people with cancer, and he murdered the victim to keep her from revealing his deception. His plea for leniency to apologize to Husband #2, Dr. Branford Fisher (Robert Ray Manning Jr.) rings hollow in the face of Nate not just strangling their wife in a fit of passion, but going on to dismember the body, roast the flesh from her bones, and painstakingly reassembled her as a display skeleton. By not spending a beat on the personal tragedy of Branford losing one love and being gruesomely betrayed by the other, the show misses a moment to go beyond the weekly Rube Goldberg mechanics of unraveling the mystery and really acknowledge the emotional ramifications of these horrifying acts.


Sherlock identified Dr. Abby Campbell by a distinctive chipped tooth, but we never did learn why her husband found it necessary to reassemble her skeleton.

The wonderful aspects of this week’s episode is that Joan is continuing to independently develop as a strong, contributing partner and not just Sherlock’s shadow, and that our characters exist in a persistent, complicated world of diverse people. It also gets bonus points for having a genuine mix of red herrings in the pursuit of a suspect: for once, it’s not the only named-character played by a familiar guest star. Where it falls down is the neglect of everyone else: there’s not enough time for anyone else to participate in the story, and I’m starting to really miss our actual members of the police force


Will Gina uncover Morland’s meddling, and if she does, will she promptly disappear into a dark pit to be eaten by a grue? Next time we see her, will she have a satisfying black eye courtesy of Watson? Will Joan’s growing cockiness in relying on violence ever backfire? And is she going to snap at her former hospital constantly assuming she’s still one of them?

As for the characters we’ve been ignoring: How is Sherlock’s recovery progressing? Is Detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill) on time-out restricted to crime scenes and suspect interviews? Did Alfredo (Ato Essandoh) move away after last season’s kidnapping? And after last episode’s Clyde-centric transitions, will we ever see the beloved pet turtle again?


Marcus, we missed you! Oh, that’s it? You’re gone already? ...okay.

Quotes of the week:

  • Sherlock: If we were kidnapped, do you think our captors would allow us a dry run with our restraints?
  • Sherlock: Did your entire social network choose today to have some sort of crisis, or is this somehow related to your former administrator’s request for help.
  • Sherlock: There’s also a song that appeals to me as a detective. It’s a mystery about dogs and who may have let them out.
  • Gregson: Like five married people could ever agree on anything.
  • Joan: Sort of a cliché, huh? Cop who actually hangs out in a doughnut shop?
  • Gina: You’re not a cop. You’re a citizen with delusions of grandeur.
  • Sherlock: But I’m quite accustomed to people not liking me.
  • Sherlock: Memorizing a murder victim’s calendar is a matter of course.
  • Kirk Abramovitch: I got to think knowing how to work a deli slicer and deboning a person are two very different things.
  • Joan: And that would be bad for you, right? Getting your ass kicked by a consultant?
  • Joan: You just like the parallel: primitive aftercare for a primitive sport.

Clyde status: Invisible and unremarked on, I’m going to declare he was cackling gleefully just off-camera while Holmes and Watson were handcuffed in the livingroom.


Elementary airs on Thursday nights on CBS. All images credit CBS.

Contact the author at mika.mckinnon@io9.com or follow her at @MikaMcKinnon.