Elementary: Unaware, Unresponsive, Unconscious

[Content Note: Drug Addiction, Murder]

Official Episode Synopsis: Sherlock uses his powers of deduction to consult on the murder of a young man who is shot upon entering his apartment. Jon Michael Hill joins the cast.

, (Season 1 | Episode 2) "While You Were Sleeping"

The second episode of Elementary opens during a session of Addicts Anonymous. A man talks about his struggles with addiction and how long he's been sober, while Joan watches with obvious sympathy and support. Between testimonies, she notices that Sherlock seems to have zoned out to an almost alarming degree and is unresponsive to his surroundings; when she nudges him to ask if he's okay, he suddenly leaps to his feet shouting, "amygdala".

On the street, Sherlock explains to Joan that he put himself into a hypnotic word-repetition-based trance at the meeting rather than listen to what he considers to be pointless sob stories. Using props from a nearby outdoor cafe, Sherlock explains that he sees the brain as an attic, a "storage space for facts", and that since space is finite, he doesn't want to waste space by filling up his brain with useless natterings.

As a Holmes-fan, I find this whole scene delightfully amusing, because this is one of the sillier bits of Holmes canon. In the first Holmes story, author Doyle seems to have tried to make his subject realistically limited rather than a gargantuan-brained superman, and thus tried to give him fairly limited knowledge under the explanation of this Attic Theory, in an attempt to paint Holmes as a specialist rather than omniscient. The problem with this, however, is that not only was it never really used -- despite Holmes' supposed narrow field of knowledge, he never runs into a case that requires more knowledge than what he has or can quickly learn -- it also made Holmes look dangerously and deliberately obtuse:
His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

‘You appear to be astonished,’ he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. ‘Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.’

‘To forget it!’

‘You see,’ he explained, ‘I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.’

‘But the Solar System!’ I protested.

‘What the deuce is it to me?’ he interrupted impatiently; ‘you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.’

-- A Study in Scarlet

In my experience, most fans of Holmes tend to deliberately forget this characterization on the grounds that it is unflattering of Holmes and was short-sighted of Doyle; Doyle himself did his best to forget the characterization in later stories (as noted in the Wikipedia link above). So I was interested to see how Elementary would deal with this piece of canon and was delighted when Joan -- ex-professional surgeon -- tells Sherlock that he's full of it and that the brain doesn't work that way.

Sherlock isn't right about everything;
Joan knows more about her field of study than he does.
(JOAN: That is not even how the brain works...)

And here is a thing that might be predictable to a modern audience, but is nevertheless a valuable addition to this Holmes-retelling: this Watson is good at what she does and contributes to cases based on the knowledge that she has spent a lifetime accruing. For all that the characters of Elementary needle Joan about starting new careers -- changing from a surgeon to a sober companion, and then to a detective -- she isn't starting from scratch each time. She's carrying her knowledge and experiences to new and rewarding places and that's so amazing and brave.

Joan tells Sherlock that she'll be going out for dinner that evening, and that he'll be alone. He wonders whether or not she should leave him, since she's his sober companion, and she points out that some time apart is a healthy part of the sobriety process. Then she reminds him that she'll be giving him a drug test when she gets home, just to be sure. And I love this so much -- especially after all our many, many talks about how Bella obstructs Edward's sobriety attempts in Twilight -- because Joan is setting boundaries and expectations so that Sherlock knows what to expect. She's not trying to "trap" him or "catch" him using drugs, since that's not the point; if the point is for him to stay sober, she can help him most effectively by telling him in advance that there will be a test later that evening.

Joan actively sets boundaries and expectations,
so that others will know how to act and what to expect.
(JOAN: I will be giving you a drug test when I get home.)

Captain Gregson calls Sherlock in to a murder scene; a police officer has been murdered and Gregson wants his best members of the team working the case from the get-go. And I appreciate this set-up, because it's under this framing that we are first introduced to Detective Bell, whom Gregson refers to as one of his best men.

Detective Bell is awesome. He starts out, in this episode, as realistically skeptical of Sherlock, but by the end of the episode he has adjusted his expectations and will work with Sherlock -- both here and in future episodes -- as a valuable member of the team. He respects Sherlock's genius, but isn't afraid to get down with the snark alongside Joan, and (also like Joan) he proactively contributes to the Elementary investigations in a vital and important way. It's really wonderfully refreshing to not have someone shoved into the Oblivious Skeptic role.

Detective Bell is initially skeptical of Sherlock,
but he doesn't maintain Oblivious Skepticism.
He's smart, and the show lets him show it.
(GREGSON: Holmes, Ms. Watson--meet Detective Bell, another one of my best guys.)

Sherlock examines the scene -- which has been tentatively classified as a robbery homicide -- and declares that the scene is actually two crime scenes: a homicide first, and then a robbery. Holmes quickly deduces, with Joan backing him up with important photographic evidence, that the neighbor across the hall opportunistically robbed the murder victim before calling the police. And I want to point out just how important this photographic evidence is, because it's easy for the viewer to miss; when Holmes kicks in the neighbor's door and the missing armoire is there, they only really know for sure that it was the victim's because Joan has already shown them what the armoire looks like.

At the police station, Sherlock becomes increasingly anxious and agitated because the police are interrogating the neighbor about the murder when Sherlock has already declared that the murderer was a different person. He escalates to a point where Joan actively decides to step in and ask him to buy her some chips from the hall; Sherlock takes the hint to go cool off while Joan takes a moment to try to understand Sherlock better via Captain Gregson while artfully dodging his questions about Joan's work for Sherlock. And, again, I love this because it shows Joan being good at her job; part of her sober companion work means helping her client to learn his mood thresholds and how to navigate them without turning to harmful behavior for relief.

Joan isn't just a "sitter" who watches for signs of drug use,
she actively works to understand and calm her client.
(JOAN: Hey, do you mind getting me a bag of chips?)

The neighbor tells the police that he saw a strange woman near the victim's apartment; Bell plausibly points out that the neighbor could have overheard Sherlock's theory about a different perpetrator and decided to feed the police a false lead. Gregson acknowledges this to be possible, but decides to get a sketch artist nonetheless.

Sherlock and Joan head out, and when Joan reminds him of her dinner appointment, Sherlock points out that the dinner date is clearly an ex-boyfriend based on her verbal cues and body language. He then decides to engage in some misogyny to needle Joan, claiming that he can tell by her walk that she hasn't orgasmed in a long time. Joan lobs some understated sarcasm at him without deciding to get into a big argument there and then, as she's still trying to find a way to connect with him and gain his trust. And I like that she consistently pushes back against sexism while still having to realistically grapple with the terrible bargain: Swallow shit, or ruin the entire afternoon?

Joan consistently pushes back against misogyny.
(JOAN: Is it sad being wrong as often as you are right?)

Joan goes to dinner with her ex-boyfriend, and this is important because it's one of the first scenes where we can see Joan alone, living a private life, without being at her literally-full-time job keeping Sherlock sober. Her boyfriend inquires about Joan's latest client -- incorrectly assuming that the client is a "she", presumably because she can't imagine Joan going to live in a strange man's house who is also a drug addict and therefore obviously dangerous and other othering social narratives about people who struggle with addiction. Joan politely-but-firmly reminds him that she doesn't talk about her clients, and I love this because it shows how much Joan takes client-patient confidentiality seriously -- so seriously she won't even correct Ty's misuse of Sherlock's gender. And she's not afraid to say so directly, even though doing so could result in pushback from her dinner date of the geez, I was just asking variety. 

Joan respects client-patient confidentiality,
and she's not afraid to say so directly when asked.
(JOAN: You know I don't talk about my clients, right?)

Her ex-boyfriend confides -- in a manner that Joan's body language and cool response might indicate is a bit inappropriate and unwelcome in her opinion -- that he worries about Joan ... and that her parents are worried too. Joan correctly infers from this that her parents contacted Ty to speak to Joan about her career change since she refuses to keep having the same conversation with them to defend her choices.

TY: You used to be a surgeon. Now you babysit drug addicts.
JOAN: I am doing this because I'm actually good at it.

Time and again in this show, Joan will be emotionally and physically ambushed by people who claim to care about her yet are willing to leverage social expectations in an attempt to force Joan to sit through their criticisms on how she is choosing to live her life. And time and again, this show will give Joan the chance to pushback against this behavior and for her to explain why their behavior is inappropriate and unwelcome. Joan will draw a line between valid and friendly concern versus judgmental social condemnation of her choices for not fitting the accepted social narrative.

Here, Ty draws a distinct between being a Prestigious Surgeon versus being an Unprestigious Sober Companion -- for how could society appreciate sober companionship when our dominant narrative is that people who struggle with addictions are just lazy, undisciplined weaklings? Joan reframes the narrative to point out that her chosen career is something that she excels at and something which fulfills her need to do rewarding work -- and that she doesn't understand why Ty isn't able to accept that her career is for her, not for the social approval of strangers.

Back at home the next morning, Joan announces that she's made coffee and Sherlock extends his mug for her to bring the coffee to him. Joan sits the coffee pot on the table nearest to her and tells him that the coffee will be right there when he's ready for it, thereby subtly pushing back on his continued insistence on treating her like a servant as opposed to a companion. (No picture shown because the scene contains autopsy photographs.) Sherlock notes -- and Joan confirms -- that the murder victim had a rare genetic condition, before Joan segues the conversation to ask about Captain Gregson.

When Joan spoke to Gregson the other day, she gathered that Gregson was unaware of Sherlock's stay at the rehabilitation clinic. Sherlock confirms that Gregson doesn't know, because he assumes that Gregson wouldn't allow Sherlock to consult for the police if he knew of Sherlock's struggles with addiction. Joan tries to explain why she asked, but Sherlock becomes more and more agitated at the thought that she might tell Gregson without his permission. Joan is finally able to reassure Sherlock that she isn't going to tell Gregson, but that she is just concerned that Sherlock can't be honest with the person he seems to be closest to, as least so far as his local acquaintances are concerned.

In the middle of this conversation, Detective Bell calls to confirm that he's found the woman suspect who was observed leaving the murder victim's apartment. We relocate to the hospital where we learn that the woman has been in a coma for three days. Bell leaves, convinced that the woman is a deliberate wild goose chase; Sherlock announces to Joan that he's going to stab the woman in the thigh -- where there are "lots of nerve endings" -- to test if the woman's coma is genuine. Joan, exasperated, tells him that if he wanted to know if she was really in a coma, all he had to do was ask the professional doctor in the room. She holds the woman's hand above her head, and lets it fall onto her face, which leads to this hilarious moment:

SHERLOCK: That's okay, but I can't stab her in the thigh?

Joan additionally checks the patient's vital signs and confirms that the woman is comatose; Sherlock storms out in frustration but has a burst of ebullience when he realizes that the woman in the hospital has a twin sister ... and his high spirits immediately droop when he discovers that the twin sister is a fraternal twin, not an identical one.

Later that evening, Sherlock agitatedly picks through his collection of locks while Joan brings him a violin that she found -- which Sherlock tries to claim was a trophy from a case, and Joan points out that his name is engraved under the strings, because she is a budding detective! -- and asks him if he wouldn't enjoy playing again to relieve stress while he works through his post-rehab regimen. A miffed Sherlock takes the violin from Joan and attempts to set it on fire, telling Joan to stop mucking with his things. Joan, frustrated, tells him that she only looked through his things because companionship depends on learning about one another. The argument is interrupted by a call from Gregson, announcing another murder with the same gun as before.

The victims appear totally dissimilar; the first victim was a white man, and this second victim is a woman of color. But while the police despair of trying to find a connection, Joan has been rummaging through the medicine cabinets and reveals that this victim uses medicine to treat the same rare genetic condition as the first victim. Sherlock deduces from that information that the two victims shared a parent in common; Joan believes, based on the DNA evidence, that the shared parent was a father.

Joan proactively seeks connections.
(JOAN: This medicine is used to treat it.)

Detective Bell comes in with paperwork which states that the most recent victim filed a complaint a few weeks ago about a man she thought was following her, complete with a picture of the man taken by Anna and then kept by the police in her complaint file. And while this is additionally a chance for Gregson to continue to be awesome by recognizing the man as a private detective friend of his, I want to point out what I mean about the Elementary police being aspirational for real-world police officers because this is entirely how the police should react when faced with a complaint like this: they should take the woman seriously, open a file on the complaint, gather evidence, and do what they can to address the issue.

The police in Elementary aspire to protect the citizenry,
and do their jobs well.
(GREGSON: Believe it or not, I know this guy.)

At the office of the private detective, Gregson asks him to divulge the identity of the client who hired him to investigate the second victim. The investigator refuses to talk about the case, but Sherlock abruptly takes him aside while Gregson and Bell watch cautiously. In the corner, Sherlock quietly informs the man that he knows the investigator struggles with a methamphetamine addiction, and that if he'll give them the information they need, Sherlock won't tell the police about his drug habit. And then, because it breaks my heart with all the loveliness, Sherlock says:

Sherlock centers people who are hurting above his own needs.
(SHERLOCK: Also, um, when you're ready to get your life back on track, Hemdale Rehabilitation Facility gets my very strongest recommendation. Uh, they even have a pool.)


Sherlock is an asshole at times, there's no doubt. But he has a genuine streak of compassion, even to the point of divulging a secret that he desperately wishes to keep from Gregson in the next room to a man who is not well disposed to him in that moment and is additionally a talented private investigator. How hard would it be for this man to dig up a few files, maybe a few old photos, and drop an anonymous note to Gregson? Not hard at all. But Sherlock forgets about that in the moment -- or just decides this is more important regardless -- in order to extend a branch of compassion to someone he believes is suffering. That is powerful, and I love that they did that in this episode where Sherlock was just a few moments ago so clearly agitated at the thought of his secret getting out to Gregson. Blub.

From the investigator we learn that the comatose woman (Yvette) and her fraternal twin sister (Rebecca) were the half sisters of the two murder victims, and co-inheritors of an enormous fortune that the two victims were unaware even existed. The police take Rebecca into custody for questioning, and Sherlock and Joan head back to the house ... where Ty is waiting with a bottle of wine and under the false impression that Joan invited him to dinner. Joan gently sends him packing -- without revealing Sherlock's privacy as her client, and with an amusing "wow, not even close" when Ty asks if Sherlock is her boyfriend -- and then rightfully lays into Sherlock for hacking her email and invading her privacy.

Joan establishes boundaries firmly.
(JOAN: Invading my privacy, not okay.)

Joan notes that this is about the violin discussion yesterday, and when Sherlock angrily announces that he doesn't want to be friends and that he's just biding time until the companionship is up and that he wants her to stay out of his past, she recognizes that a meaningful dialogue isn't going to happen then and there and walks into the house. A brief interlude -- Rebecca can prove her alibi for the murders -- and we cut to the evening's AA meeting. Sherlock stews at being dragged to an "addict festival" and threatens to put himself in a trance again; referencing their earlier discussion at the hospital, Joan produces a thumb-pin and tells him that there are "lots of nerve endings" in his thigh if he decides to zone off.

Joan never gives up finding creative ways
to communicate with Sherlock on his level.
(JOAN: Lots of nerve endings there.)

A testimony from a woman of color -- and look! we have a woman of color at group, a man of color on the investigative force, a woman of color as one of the victims, and a woman of color as one of the main protagonists, yay for some relief from the seas of white people in television -- leads Sherlock to leave the meeting, convinced that he's had a momentary breakthrough. Joan points out that she has no way of knowing if this breakthrough is real or if he just wants to get out of group for the night, and asks him what his insight was. And then she points out that she can't and won't force him to be her friend, but that if companionship is going to work they have to at least be able to trust each other.

Joan recognizes that relationships are built on trust.
She trusts Sherlock enough to live with him;
he must trust her not to reveal his secrets.
(JOAN: But we do need to trust each other.)

I love this scene so much because it's easy for the viewer to forget -- because we know Sherlock is a "good guy" -- how much Joan is already trusting him. She lives in his home, and sleeps under his roof. She is vulnerable in many ways. Even her personal life is deeply curtailed by her relationship with him: she doesn't have much downtime away from his acerbic and difficult self, and she can't talk about her work freely because of client privilege. Around Sherlock's friends -- like Gregson -- she must be constantly on-guard to protect Sherlock's privacy. Her job, and their relationship, requires that they be able to trust one another even if they don't like each other. And that's not totally different from a lot of relationships that a lot of women in the audience are going to be familiar with.

At the hospital, Sherlock makes a scene, shouting at Rebecca and at Yvette's doctor that he knows the location of the third heir and that he'll be protecting her from here on out. Detective Bell arrives to keep Sherlock from Rebecca, and Joan confesses that she betrayed Sherlock's trust and called Bell -- Sherlock assaults Bell and is locked up for the night. Only it was all a ruse to flush out the real murderer: both Joan and Bell were in on the plan all along and they were able to work together with Sherlock because they're a team and they trust each other even if they don't like each other.

Without trust and teamwork in Elementary,
the cases wouldn't be solved.
(SHERLOCK: I will not let you hurt the third heir!
BELL: Excuse me.)

And now for the reveal! The doctor was in on it all along -- he was the married man with whom the comatose woman (Yvette) was having an affair. They faked her suicide, and her coma, as an alibi; he brought her in and out of the coma so that she could kill the other heirs to her father's fortune. The "third heir" was made up, and they fell for it, and it was all because Sherlock listened at the AA meeting. And Joan makes that point, that without the attic-cluttering "natterings" he was so adverse to listening to, he wouldn't have had the necessary insight into human nature and relationships to make the deductions which solved the case.

At home, Joan gently asks Sherlock if he stopped socializing with people and stopped playing the violin and overall stopped doing things that give him pleasure as a kind of penance for whatever happened in London. She tells him that the thought occurs that someone could inflict that kind of self-punishment without even realizing it; Sherlock forlornly tells her that the punishment wouldn't be very good punishment if one weren't aware of it. Some time later, Joan smiles when she hears the halting sounds of a violin wafting from downstairs, being played for the first time in a while.

Elementary tells stories about healing.
(SHERLOCK stares at his violin case.)


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